That's what I counted in our envelope of cash that we keep for spending money on Friday afternoon.
$140 to get us to Tuesday, the last day of the month.
Now, to be fair, that amount may either seem like a little or a lot to you, depending on your circumstances. Your reaction probably also depends on knowing what exactly that money is earmarked for.
For us, that means we have $140 left to spend on anything that comes under the following categories: eating out, entertainment, random household expenses, kid-related expenses, or groceries. Want to order a pizza? Get out the envelope. Feel like a movie? Get out the envelope. Gotta have that cute knick-knack for the mantel? Envelope, please. Out of milk? That's right – no envelope, no leche.
We've had great months where we've kept our spending way in check, with extra money left to save. We've had horrible months (March, I'm looking at you), where the money pours out like soup in a strainer. Though we've always strived to live on less than we make, it used to seem a little less necessary. Personally, I always felt like we had the supplemental income that poker provided to help us out on those "soupier" months. We're almost 2 months into the post-poker world, though, and as far as we know it's not coming back for a long time.
Where in the past I would have made a feeble attempt to make that $140 last until the end of the month, now I feel as if it's a must. I only bought what I absolutely needed at the grocery today. I took the kids to the park instead of the Indianapolis 500 Parade. I drove cranky, famished kids home for lunch instead of going out to eat.
It's not that I want you to feel bad for us. In no way are we lacking for anything that we need. We redid our patio last month, and booked a summer vacation last week, and paid cash for both.
It was more of a realization, looking at that $140, counting the days ahead, and thinking of the wants and needs that added up to, well, more than $140. It was a realization that, until I go back to work at some point, things will be tight. It was the realization that if we want to stay on the right path and eventually live a life with some breathing room, it's time to Act Our Wage. Not just on some days, but every day.
If there's one thing I know for sure about personal finance, it's that the lessons one needs to learn are never easy. You can know the right thing to do with every fiber of your being (spend less than you make!), but your inside voice and the outside influences can convince you otherwise time and time again.
Yesterday we had $140. Tonight we have $73. Hopefully come midnight on May 31st we'll have at least a couple of quarters left to rub together. But no matter what, we know we have the peace of mind that comes with paying attention and realizing that what we have is more than enough.
Edited on May 31, 2011: $10. We finished the month with $10 left over. I think we kind of rock.