Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The Most Wonderful Time Of The Month

Well, today was bill paying day.

Bill paying day is officially my favorite day of the month now.

Paying off my bills isn't like weight loss. It isn't as disconnected. With weight loss, you eat less, and you exercise, and you hope in some vague, ambiguous way, it will show up on the scale.

When I pay bills, I pay, and I immediately see the numbers go down.

Today I finished paying off the first one--a Chase Visa with a $400 limit. Which, of course, frees up more money to go to the next bill, which is Dell Financial services.

Although the total payoff for Dell is a number remarkably close to the amount I'm getting back in my tax refund. So that bill may be paid off next month.

Which will leave me free to start paying off my car early.

It also means I'll be getting to the point where the fact that my bills were so high will work for me. Because the bills that are paid off will give me greater power to pay down on the ones that are still outstanding.

It doesn't mean life is easier in other areas. We're counting our blessings that February is a short month, so we can make the $100 we have left in our food budget last for the next twelve days.

It does mean we probably won't be ordering out for pizza any time soon.

And of course, it will be discouraging to get the bills in the mail next month and see the balances creeping back up as interest inches the "amount owed" a little higher each time (Did I mention that, of my $40 monthly "amount due" on my Dell account, a full thirty dollars was going towards interest? Do you know that I'll probably mention it again?).

But I'll get to knock that down with greater and greater vigor.

Now, I get to do it all again on the 16th of next month.

Start a budget, if you haven't already. Dave Ramsey says, "A budget is people telling their money where to go instead of wondering where it went." If you can't do a budget yet, at least track your finances. Keep a log of how much went where. How much are you really spending on eating out? How much are you really spending on those magazines you pick up at the check out counter?

I was shocked--shocked--to read an article a guy wrote where he advised people not to balance their checkbooks. "You have better things to do with your time," the article said. "You always have a pretty good idea what's in there."

Pretty good, nothing. I remember when I first got my check card. I worked at the bank, got a snazzy little card with my picture on it, and I had a "pretty good idea" what was in there right into repeated overdraft dips into my savings account.

Keep a checkbook. Yes, it's time consuming, but time is money, and if you don't have the money, than you have to be willing to give up the time.

Then track those purchases. See what money is going where. Even if you don't think you can do a budget now, tracking your finances will help you get an idea of what you would need to do to create one.

Because in reality, the more desperate your financial situation, the more desperately you need a budget.

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