On Using The Envelope System

Two months ago, Jared and I started using the envelope system to monitor our monthly spending.

Well, actually, two months ago I accidentally locked all of my money into a safe.

But as soon as Jared came home with the spare key, we started using the envelope system.  Basically, I sit down at the beginning of each month look at how much money we have and where it will get spent.  While most of our bills are paid online from our checking account, we have switched over to using cash for everything else.  Groceries, gas, doctor’s visits and other daily spending comes out of little white envelopes with handwritten labels.

It’s been just two months, but already our family habits have changed dramatically.

For one thing, Jared seems to have learned that gas station food is not free.  Items that cost under $5 are not basically the same as nothing. That realization alone is probably saving us a few hundred dollars every month.

Jared has also started playing a little game called “Let’s See How Little We Can Spend On Groceries”.  As a naturally cheap person, I am a big fan of this game and I think it’s sexy when a man uses coupons.  I also think it’s sexy when he carries in the groceries that he spent an hour shopping for and announces “HA HA! Guess who just got a week’s worth of groceries for $93!?”

I am not, however, a fan of Jared’s version of Indian food.  While I appreciate that legumes are both inexpensive and nutritious, I do not appreciate the massive amounts of chili powder and cumin that are being fed to me in the name of saving a buck.

Jared isn’t the only one, of course, who has been affected by the envelope the system.  The kids now get a weekly allowance – a practice we have always meant to do but usually forget to keep up with.  The beauty of an allowance is that I no longer have to explain why they cannot have the $18 inflatable whale from SeaWorld.  They cannot have the $18 inflatable whale from SeaWorld not because I am an evil mom, but because they already spent their last dollar on face painting, despite the fact that I warned them they were spending money on facepaint that would be sweated off within the hour.  And that is not my problem. Allowances are awesome.

Also awesome?  The fact that my son seems to have inherited my cheap gene.  While his sister was busy getting her face painted again, Devin was figuring out how much money he could save by his 18th birthday if he didn’t spend any of his allowance.  Ever.  At this rate, I won’t have to spend a dime helping him through college.

And then there is me.  I have, unfortunately, mostly lost the mindless bliss that comes from swiping a magic card in exchange for a beautiful new pair of boots.  Even though my official shopping ban has ended, I still haven’t bought much of anything in the last two months.  While that might be wise from a financial stand point, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have dreams about those perfect gray ankle boots I put back at Target 22 days ago.  They were so perfect. But I just couldn’t justify spending $30 from the Britt’s Spending Money envelope when my closet is already overflowing with shoes.

On the plus side?  I came home from Las Vegas with over $200 left in my envelope.

I’m still trying to find the balance between saving money and enjoying life.  My goal, after all, is not to never spend money.  I just want to avoid mindless spending.  I want to make conscious decisions about the things I’m exchanging my time for – because in the end, that’s what spending money comes down to.  I want to be able to say with confidence that, yes, this day at EPCOT was worth the 4 hours of work I had to do to earn the money to pay for it.  Or, no, this t-shirt that will shrink the first time I wash it is not worth giving up 30 minutes of my life.

While I’m still adjusting to life as a conscientious spender, so far the envelope system has been a success.

Now I just need to track down a few vegetarian recipes that don’t call for chili powder.

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