Mr. T and I were married in the midst of college. We were happiness-rich, but cash poor. We were both lucky to not be in debt because we were both given some assistance from our parents for college. After we were married, we combined our meager bank accounts and started an elimination budget.
We both worked hourly as custodians for our college football team cleaning the locker rooms and the coaches’ offices between 9:30PM and 1AM. Perks: football games were way more engaging because we knew the players intimately though we never met them (“the player that’s got that cute letter from a 6-year-old fan on his locker board has the ball!”). We also got random things out of the trash, like a barely-worn pair of shoes and a dozen tickets to the nearby waterpark. Also, we got to work together and we got a slight pay increase for working nights. Downsides: It was very late and we were tired. We got weekly wheatgrass shots at Jamba Juice to get us through.
The Simple Elimination Budget
The Elimination Budget just means you start with a number (how much you make) and then you subtract as you go. Do you remember the old check registers you used to balance your checkbook? (No? Does this make me an old lady?). When the money runs out on the piece of paper, you stop spending. Simple as that.
Each week, we worked about the same amount of hours (about 17.5 each) and we got paid the same amount (around $7.50 if I remember right). So, each month, we would make just over $1000. Our budget was literally a magnetized grocery list on the fridge. At the top, we wrote $1000. We paid 10% to tithing and saved 10% right off the top. So, we subtracted each of those from $1000 and were left with $800. Rent was $500. From there, we subtracted utilities (which were only about $25/month). Anything left after that was for food, gas, and other expenses. When the money ran out, we stopped spending. We invented meals from the pantry. We stopped paying for entertainment.
A Simple Budget for a Simple Time
Remembering these college days is bittersweet. I’m glad we no longer make only $1000/month. During the summers, we would work full time on campus to make enough money for tuition and books for the year. Those summers were stressful. It was also stressful going to school full time and working. But our budget was simple. We did have cell phones on our parents’ plans (because we only used them to call them), so we didn’t pay for those. We biked or walked to campus and only used the car for outings. We often even walked to the grocery store.
Applying a Simple Budget to a Complex Situation
I’ve been wanting to mix things up a bit with our money. My income varies significantly each month and some months (*cough* vacation), I earn nothing. Also, our budgetary needs are much more complicated. We have 2 cars that we use consistently, cell phones, a mortgage, medical expenses (instead of just being able to pay $15 to go to the university health center), 3 kids (and the random school fees, equipment, clothes, and medical expenses that come with them), Netflix, and vacations (that’s right. We live large).
For the past few months, we’ve been saving enough money to be a full month ahead in our bank accounts. Now, we can do the very same thing we used to do. At the end of the month, we’ll know how much to write at the top of next month’s elimination budget (our take-home pay). Mr. T’s already automated to max out his 401k this year, so that will be the savings we take away at the beginning. The top of the budget will just have our take-home pay. We’ll then subtract tithing and other donations, the mortgage, utilities, cell phones, etc. At the end of the month, whatever is left over will go straight to savings or extra on the mortgage!
It’s a simple, elegant solution to complicated money and I’m excited to return to simpler ways. No, I’m not giving up my fancy spreadsheet Mr. T perfected for my birthday last year. I still love keeping track of everything in a complicated way, but for figuring out how much money to save, the simple elimination budget is the way to go.