Budgets Help You Gain Control in a Crazy World

Lately I’ve been feeling like the world is out of control. The news seems to be getting crazier with stories of cities overrun by people doing drugs openly on the streets or, lately, organizing looting raids. Businesses are pulling out of many inner cities, leaving them to a Mad Max-like state of chaos. News like this, combined with doomsday financial news, tends to get me worked up into a state of near panic. Suddenly I need to exercise more control over my own life. For me, this always means two things: preparing for the worst and getting a firm grip of my finances. I’m hoping this post will convince you to make a budget!

Where I’m Comin’ From

I grew up in a lower income household, although we always had enough to eat and were not poor, like some of my friends’ families. Mostly, my parents were not great money managers and didn’t have it “together.” This meant they bickered about money all the time. We moved a lot, too, when I was young as my parents always attempted to find a cheaper place to rent. One basement suite to another, mostly.

Finally my Dad got some good advice from a neighbour and managed to finagle a bank loan to build his own house with the help of friends in ’71. It was a prefab house without carpeting or any fancy finishing but it was home. I was always slightly worried we wouldn’t be able to pay for the house as I knew money was tight. The fear of losing it was never far from my mind.

Makin’ Do

Because I didn’t want to put pressure on my parents, I didn’t ask for things. I learned to “make do.” It’s amazing what I was able to create or invent when I needed something. For example, an old deck of cards could entertain me for hours on end. With malicious Kings, Queens in despair over unrequited love, Jacks as devious sons or valiant knights going off and fighting in the wars of the aces, the story kept changing, depending on which card came up in the deck. I filled many summer days with these stories.

“Making do” or “doing without” is a challenge I’ve had a lot of practise with since then, too. The trick is to be happy with the things you have and remember that any stuff you do acquire will need looking after. This has kept me from many purchases. Think about it. If it’s valuable, it will need insuring and you’ll constantly have to keep it in a safe place – maybe even locked up – in case it gets stolen. You will need to budget for maintenance and plan on repairing it, storing it or making room for it, and generally having it multiply and overrun your life if you’re not careful! (I have a slight book addiction.)

Buffett or Gates – The Smart Money’s on Buffett

Besides the practicals like budgeting, I’ve thought a lot about money and one thing I’ve realized is that it means different things to people. For many people, money means security. When you come from extreme lack, like people did during the Depression of the early 30s, a lesson like this stays with you throughout your life. The Depression-era parents of the Boomers were the biggest savers in history and passed on the greatest wealth transfer to their flagrantly spendthrift sons and daughters. (You can read more about my thoughts on the generations here: Get Out of the Box or Die Tryin’)

The mindset of the War Generation meant that when they had to part with money, they were almost frantic with worry. They had trouble spending or letting go of any money at all without a terrible inner fight. Billionaire Warren Buffet is a great example of the War Generation. He lives in the same modest 3,000 square foot house he’s had since 1958.

Billionaire Bill Gates, on the other hand, is a Boomer. He lives in a 66,000 square foot “house” called Xanadu 2.0. Ug. What a loser.

For people with a security money mindset, budgeting is essential because it allows them to see that they truly do have enough. Or, if they don’t, they can quickly cut down their lifestyle so that they will have enough. This should reassure them and help them to feel secure.

While I can understand this and sympathize with this fear, it’s not my main motivation anymore.

What?! Me worry?!

For some reason, I stopped worrying so much about security after my divorce. Maybe it’s because I had to let go of so much “stuff”. Moving four times in five years was excruciating for a home body like me. Besides having to give up a house and my car, I had to go through everything I’d accumulated over 30 years. All the stuff I deemed essential was actually – not. Time and again I’d open the boxes of carefully packed items and say to myself, “What in the heck was I thinking?!” Basically, if you can buy an item easily from a thrift store, don’t pay to pack or move it.

Or maybe I’m not worried about security anymore because I’ve been fired twice now from jobs I thought I’d have for life – after I’d already “lost” my home. I’ve faced my fears and…survived quite nicely. This last time I was able to make my payments – never missed a single one. Despite my initial panic, I always ended up with enough money. Sure I had to make adjustments (and my own toilet paper!) and once I took in an extra boarder but it ended up being kind of fun. I saw it as a challenge and was fully prepared to open my house up and live ala Golden Girls. I would do this if I was renting somewhere, too, if I had to. Sorry landlords but you want your rent don’t you?

More on Money Saving

I ended up writing a series on saving money called How to Make Your Money Go Further and, remembering my brokest time, living in Vancouver and shopping with 54 cents. You really don’t need to worry about going hungry. At least not if you live within walking distance of a grocery store’s dumpster. Think about it. They throw away so much food.

Getting a job working in a grocery store or a restaurant will ensure you get first dibs, too!

Money = Freedom

When I have enough money, I feel free. Free to create, to do fun stuff, to enjoy my life. This gives me a careful approach to spending because I know that buying an expensive car with payments every month will mean less freedom for me. Am I willing to trade my freedom for a leather interior? What a terrible deal! I also don’t feel the need to work all the time. If I cut my expenses back, I can work less to pay for my lifestyle and have more freedom.

The Church of Ramsey

You’d think, with my mindset about money, that I’d be an excellent budgeter. I’m not. In desperation, I turned to Dave Ramsey.

Dave Ramsey is like the guru of less – a guy who preaches about saving money and having an emergency fund. He has some very sound advice on how to get out of debt and has freed many, many people from the hideousness of debt by using a “baby step” method. This truly is crucial – especially with the state of the economy right now. Learn more here: https://www.ramseysolutions.com/

For many years now, I’ve kept a spreadsheet I got from one of Dave Ramsey’s followers and tracked everything I’ve spent. I still don’t know how to make that spreadsheet save my money!

The Big Money Picture

What the spreadsheet has given me is a big picture of what I spend money on every year. A kind of “macro” budget. It showed me clearly how much my property taxes and house and car insurance cost me every year so that I could divide those up by month. I began saving for these big predictable bills outside of the bank. Every cheque, I pull cash out of the bank and put it in envelopes with the expense written on the outside of the envelope, along with each month listed: Jan Feb Mar Apr May, and so on.

For example, house insurance will undoubtedly be going up so I am aiming to save $120 per month or $60 per cheque. When I put the $60 in the envelope, I put half a cross through the month, say August. When I put the next $60 in for the month, I complete the cross on August and it’s done.

What a great feeling when the bill comes in and I’ve got enough money in the envelope to pay for house insurance! Sometimes I pay the bills on my credit card to get the points and then go and put the cash in the bank and make a lump sum payment on it. Other times, like for my house taxes, I bring the cash down to city hall and drop it all down on the counter like a drug dealer.

I know many people love credit card points but things have changed.  Be careful of the additional charges that are now being added to credit card transactions. Many vendors now charge a surcharge to use a credit card and be darned if I’ll pay them an extra %!

Small Bills, Please

When I pull the cash out to cover these bills every cheque, I try to pull out smaller bills so that if the grid goes down, these envelopes of cash can be used for emergency purchases. So far so good.

This envelope idea is an old one. Some gurus advocate that you burn all your credit cards (or freeze them in the freezer in blocks of ice to prevent impulse purchases) but with the way things are set up now, you don’t even need your card once Google or Amazon has gotten hold of it! Anyone who is in rough financial shape may need to do go the extra mile and delete all their browsing history and cookies from all websites as well as freezing their cards!

Ye Olde Jar Technique

My favourite hard core money guru is Gail Vaz-Oxlade whose vibrant personality and helpful tools are really inspiring. No guilt here – just practical, often brutal, advice. I also like the way she dives into the psychology of money, like this article, “Financial Freedom is In Your Head.” But again, I never quite feel I’m “on top” of my spending or saving, even after trying her jar method.

And with the world going into hyper-inflation soon (I am almost convinced of it), it is imperative that I get a handle on my money.


One thing most budgeters like to advocate is using cash. It’s just a great way to be more mindful about money. When I have to dig the money out of my wallet and write it down in a small book I carry with me now, there’s a lot of room to think about a purchase.

Plus, using cash is something I want to do more of because the banks and governments are working on taking it away from us soon enough. It’s a small protest, I guess.

I will write more on Central Bank Digital Currencies in a future post. Basically, the government will control your money and see everything you buy. Theoretically, they could decide you’ve spent too much on travel or fuel and debit your account a “carbon fee”. And don’t think you can get away with that bacon or beer you enjoy without a surcharge for your healthcare costs! They could automatically debit it from your account next time you go to the doctor for indigestion. Good luck fighting it!

Thankfully, we can still use and enjoy cash.

I have stumbled on a way to really get a handle on what I spend. It’s an old Japanese method called Kakeibo.

From: https://www.amazon.co.jp/-/en/Helen-Carreon/dp/B0BS8RXZ7D


Kakeibo is a simple, hands-on way to budget that uses a pen and a book which was started in 1904 by a woman. I love that nothing else is required. It sounds deceptively simple because all you do is write down everything you purchase in a book. I don’t know whether it’s because I’m doing it immediately or due to the physical writing of it but after a month of this, I am already feeling like I know where my money is going on a “micro” scale. Something the spreadsheet didn’t allow me to see.

It reminds me of my Kobo, actually. I have many books on my e-reader and I do like the handiness of it but one of its main limitations drives me nuts. When I want to go back and refer to something that was in the book earlier, it’s impossible. Sure you can “bookmark” something but usually I have no idea of the importance of the character or the event until I’m way, way past it.

In a traditional book, you simply flip back and read a bit here and there to quickly find what you’re looking for. You have more of a grasp of the story in a very real way.

Kakeibo is the same. I can look at it and easily see what happened and how much I blow on “wants” without trying to go back through tabs on a spreadsheet and remembering amounts, etc.

Setting Up Your Kakeibo

It works like this. I draw up four boxes for four weeks of the month. Spending is divided into four columns: “needs,” “wants,” “cultural,” and “unexpected.”  

I do some math and decide how much I want to save for that month. I take the money I have left after paying for mandatory things and my savings goal and divide what’s left into four. This amount is written above each of the weeks. Whenever I make a purchase, I write the amount under the column it fits into.

At the end of the week, I total up what I’ve spent in each column and see if I’ve come in under my weekly allotment. You add up the month totals once you’ve finished all four weeks. One week I got blown out of the water when I had to go for surgery – I put the extra cost in the “unexpected” category. At the end of the month, I wasn’t over too much, although I couldn’t save the amount I had aimed for. This itself was a relief to me as I had imagined I’d spent a lot more than I actually did.

Some people get artsy and their Kakeibos are beautiful. Check out Sarah Harvey, for inspiration, “I tried ‘Kakeibo’: The Japanese art of saving money—and it completely changed how I spend my money.”

Skip the ‘Flix

For me, just knowing I’ll be writing down my purchases has stopped me from buying something silly. It has also allowed me to buy or donate money because I saw that I had “room” that week. Since I’d already factored in my savings, I can let myself spend money to help someone else. This feels good to me.

Something else I’ve noticed is how much I’m paying for a service like Netflix for how much I use it. I am considering cancelling it in solidarity with the Hollywood writers, who have been on strike since last May.

I like to pay writers directly and subscribe to them on Substack or Medium. Well, so far, I only subscribe to Charles Eisenstein and that feels good. You can follow Charles for free – he offers the same content to both paid and unpaying people: https://charleseisenstein.substack.com/ or find your own writers to follow. Most have a tier of free content.

Rest Assured

The point is that budgeting allows you to feel in control of how you spend – and save – your money. That’s it. There are many ways to budget so you have no excuse not to give it a try! Don’t give up until you find something that works for you.

In a world gone mad, getting a grip on your finances feels empowering – and it truly is. You’ll be in a much better position to survive dire straits like a job loss or an economic storm of any kind. You will easily be able to see how much money you can allot to prepping for disaster, too.

It’s a way to look after yourself and your family.

Let me know your favourite way to budget or any other money saving tricks you’ve picked up!


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