Adulting is Hard: How We Learned to Prioritize

Written in collaboration with Jeff Milkie.

As mentioned in a previous post, Jeff (the hubby) and I embraced the idea of minimalism and owning less when we moved across the country and shed much of our useless belongings. Originally, it was about money. The less stuff we moved, the less money it cost. We mostly had five-year old Ikea furniture, and it was more cost effective to sell it than to move it. But the more we purged and the less we bought, the more it became about freedom. Less stuff to take care of meant more time and money for priorities we hadn’t given much thought to. 

We moved to Buffalo for Jeff’s career, and I had no job and student loans from graduate school. I was forced to get creative and re-evaluate my relationship with money. I finally agreed to spend a Saturday afternoon with Jeff (after five years of marriage) and discuss a budget. My student loan made me feel like a burden and I wanted to get rid of it. I couldn't just put it in a Trader Joe’s bag and drop it off at Goodwill or sell it on Craigslist. This was my responsibility and I wanted to do everything I could to eliminate it. I was working freelance and doing some serious job hunting, but it was important to me that I found work I was interested in, which takes TIME.  And that meant really learning how we spent our money. 

I started slow by tracking every single dime I spent in a spreadsheet for a month. That meant collecting and recording receipts, online purchases, reoccurring expenses, etc. (Tip: do this as you go, letting the receipts pile up can be intimidating and you might forget something). Tracking allowed me to see where and how we spent our money and we were able to come up with monthly categories such as food and necessities, eating out, gas, travel, pet expenses, entertainment, etc. and create a balanced budget. These were in addition to fixed expenses like student loan, rent, electric, water, car payment, cell phone, etc. There are apps for keeping track of this kind of thing, but my hands-on approach forced me to evaluate every single thing I purchased. I gained a very real appreciation for how much money we were wasting on stuff and reoccurring expenses, like unused gym memberships. Running outside and pushups are free. We would make that work. 

Creating the budget and tracking our expenses every month for the last year and a half became like a game as I figured out how to spend less in each category and put more money towards the loan—watching the balance drop lower and lower each month. This is an ongoing process and we are not perfect. We still purge from time to time and we do our best not to buy things that are not already budgeted for on the expense sheet. But our budgeting efforts have paid off and we are now free of my student loan. This process has gone beyond paying down debt and we now use our budget as part of how we set our priorities, by keeping our belongings simple and our experiences full. Its not just about how we want to spend our money, but how we want to spend our lives.

Everyone’s experience and situation is different, this is what worked for us and our life. It’s more about a practice in learning new ways to do things, shifting perspectives when it comes to money, being mindful, and making time to evaluate priorities.

More on our experience tracking expenses and budgeting in the next post. And look out for later posts on how we are setting priorities and using our budget to achieve them. If Jeff is lucky, I might let him write about his love of data and all the other things he does with the spreadsheet.