This is great timing. This is my first Budget post and fortunately we are only two full months into 2012!

So I am 1/3 of a family of 3 living in a moderately priced city which according to is 1.60% lower than the U.S. average. We live in a nice neighborhood (by our standards) with great neighbors that we love! We don’t travel a lot, don’t eat out a lot, don’t shop a lot and we still have to work very hard to keep our expenses in check. Why? Because I hate that end of the month feeling that goes like this…where did all of the money go, did I pay the light bill, why can’t I save money, whose fault is this really? Sound familiar?

Well adjusting to the lifestyle of common cents living vs. the freestyle spending that we enjoyed for so long means that every dollar has to be assigned. If not, it’s lost which usually results in costing us more money! How does that work? Well, if we pay a credit card payment late, it will cost anywhere from $25-$35 to catch it up. Overspending in other categories, which is usually discretionary spending can affect your ability to pay the essentials—the mortgage, utilities, gas and food.

Let me also express my OVER THE TOP JOY of no longer having student loan debt or car payments. When I left the University of South Carolina with my Finance degree, I was ready to work and it’s a good thing because I left with nearly $30,000 in student loan debt. And because I was really ignorant about the real cost of debt, I stopped by the Ford dealership and picked out a new, black Ford Probe. What else do unemployed college grads do? The salesman was so nice. He let me pick the standard 5-speed model that I wanted and they were nice enough to finance the purchase at full sticker price. Please hear my sarcasm.

So with no job, a new car payment of $325/month, car insurance paid for by my parents, and 2-3 credit cards, I moved in with my boyfriend who was not looking for a dependent. After my parents found out, the lines of that plan were re-drawn and they moved me into an apartment in another city. OMG this seems so pathetic in writing. Thankfully a position quickly became available and I began my new career at a whopping $28,000 a year. With a new car payment, $30,000 in student loan debt, credit cards and not a lot of preparation (obviously), my financial life began.

It’s about 15 years later and I have had several nice corporate jobs, 8 years of self-employment, 12 years of marriage to that boyfriend, 1 bright 5-year old and thousands of financial lessons in-between. When we were first married, racking up credit card debt was a way of life. We have been fortunate to pay it all off and even managed to live debt-free for a while. Then in the throws of what seemed like a strong economy, the switch flipped and overnight our lives took an unexpected turn. When Lehman Bros. collapsed in September 2008 it created shockwaves around the world that are still being felt today. There has been enough blame passed around so I digress but I am forever mindful that when titans sneeze get your handkerchief and run for cover.

We tried very hard to remain positive and wait the bad economy out but who knew that it would take so long and would run so deep? My real estate sales sunk like a rock and our finances were slipping like sand. It took more than 1 ½ years to find a job with enough income to take the financial noose from around our necks and even though it wasn’t the six-figures that we once enjoyed, God continued to be AWESOME in our lives. With former savings gone and retirement liquidated to save our butts now everyday living has new rules. We are in what I call the re-building phase. Our living expenses (the mortgage, the utilities, food & gas) are again stable and we have a savings account that doesn’t have to be wiped out just to pay the water bill. God, “Thank you.”

So now the bane of my existence is repaying consumer debt that grew out of control.
How much?
Too much.
A few 10 thousand dollars.
Our goal is to pay it off in 18 months. Yep, it’s aggressive but we have a plan and we believe we can do it.

Enough about all of that because it’s exhausting. I will use this blog as part therapy and part sharing to learn from others and to show others that debt can be eliminated and a productive and satisfying life can be lived free from its’ bonds.

Within my monthly updates, I want to show areas where we have tightened the belt by taking measures to limit costs. I will also share how we are eliminating our consumer debt!

So we here go!
Groceries: $384.84 Down 25% from January
Eating Out: $235.76 FLAT
Gas: $524.79 Up 9.1% from January
Savings: $100.00 FLAT
Utilities: $693.98 Down 34.2% from January
Repayment: $435.00 FLAT

February Goals Recap:
1. Save an Extra $200 – Didn’t make it. Valentine’s Day dinner & a weekend with guests caused a bit of unplanned spending.
2. Reduce the Satellite package to the basic Family package – Did it although some days there are tears. #IreallymissHGTV
3. Keep the Grocery Bill to $350 for the entire month – Missed it by $34! Will use even better meal planning in March.
4. Reduce the Family plan on our monthly cell plan – Decided against this move due to more potential days of working from home which will result in more minutes used for daily dial-in meetings.

What are you doing differently this month to make sure that you stay on track?

Image: vichie81 /