Sunday, November 01, 2015

staying on budget

Over a year ago, I crafted the ultimate Google Sheet (Google's answer to MS Excel): a massive, month-by-month, play-by-play budget that ran from September 2014 through December 2019, the year I turn fifty (I turn fifty on August 31 of that year). This was perhaps the most herculean effort at fiscal self-discipline I had ever made. I stepped back, beheld what I had wrought, and pronounced it a thing of beauty. And since its birth, it hasn't disappointed.

I also began to notice certain things as time went by: first, planning a budget is nothing like actually following a budget. To the extent that planning a budget is an act of concentration and will, faithfully following that fiscal path is a far, far greater act of will. The second thing I've learned—and this is likely a corollary of the first thing—is that budgets inevitably experience turbulence. Unforeseen things happen; your budgetary jet will encounter plenty of chop along the way, and that's life. You plan as well as you can; you make adjustments where needed, and you hope for the best even as—per the cliché—you prepare for the worst. The third thing I've learned is specific to this particular budget: it's unsinkable. I've already taken massive hits, both last year and this, and I'm still pretty much on schedule. I have four main objectives, all of which have been folded into this budget:

1. Pay off my car.
2. Pay off my OneMain financial loan.
3. Pay off my eMax student loan.
4. Pay off my Sallie Mae student loan.

I've scheduled things so that I meet Objective 1 this coming December: by the new year, my Honda Fit will have been paid off. Despite hemorrhaging money while I was in the States (how can you not hemorrhage when you're on vacation?*), here is where things stand:

Planned balance by end of calendar October: W4,275,160.
Actual balance as of today: W4,056,512 (Shinhan Bank) + W120,000 (Daegu Bank).

That's a difference of W98,648. In terms of the big numbers I'm dealing with, that's almost an exact match: I'm right where I'm supposed to be, despite having had to cough up over $200 to get a new passport, despite having spent a small fortune on that resort-hotel room, and despite having gone out for not-exactly-cheap lunches and dinners several times while I was in the States. Even factoring in the roughly W100,000 difference noted above, I'm still going to have a couple thousand dollars in the bank after I pay off my car this December. And the budget will immediately reinflate to monster size within the next few months, such that I'll be reaching Objective 2 in the spring of 2016—a mere three or four months later.

So while this may be a knock-on-wood moment, with some fog-shrouded iceberg of a financial disaster looming unseen before me, I'll take a second to pat myself on the back for remaining pretty much on course with my now battle-tested budget. This Titanic, at least, sails on.**

*Yeah, yeah, I know there are hemorrhage-avoiding strategies, but those strategies often work against the spirit of going on vacation and trying all the heretofore forbidden fruit. Example: budget travel in an expensive place like Switzerland is possible if you're willing to sleep in Campingplätze (or go couch surfing), eat only from the open markets, and do a lot of walking to avoid transportation costs. But is this what most tourists come to Switzerland to do? No: they want to try various levels of Swiss cuisine; take paid tours inside museums or the houses of famous philosophers and scientists; hit a jazz festival; or ride funiculars that take people from low, warm valleys up to high, snow-buried mountain peaks. Even so-called "budget tourism" guides like Lonely Planet can't get around the cost/pleasure quotient except by offering extremely stripped-down walking routes and hole-in-the-wall dining options.

**May any hubris in this post not come back as titanically bad karma.


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