If you’ve ever been waiting impatiently in line at Target or Wegman’s or even J. Crew behind a woman who had to sift through a bunch of envelopes to pull out cash and count out the exact change for her purchase, that woman was probably me.
Yes, that’s right. I’m one of those “nerds” who carries around an envelope system, strongly advocated for and created by Dave Ramsey. No, the concept wasn’t created by Dave; as he would say, our grandmothers invented the idea. But he has expanded upon it with his own stylish wallets, with slots for your license, debit card, (notice I didn’t say credit cards,) etc.
For those of you who may not be familiar with the envelope system, it’s a way to keep yourself honest with your spending habits. Each pay period, you take out the exact amount of money you know you’re going to need for, let’s say, food (and yes, this means you must budget. I know, GASP!) Then, once the money in the designated envelope is gone, you cannot spend any more money in that category until the next pay day. So, if you only have $12 in your envelope and you’re really craving a dinner from your favorite restaurant, too bad, so sad. This keeps you from “twenty-dollaring yourself to death” (another Dave-ism,) not keeping track of how much you’ve spent, whether it be on food, gas, clothes, etc.
Before the envelope system entered our lives, I had a HUGE spending problem. I would walk into Target to buy a birthday card and a Rubbermaid bin, and I’d walk out with $200 worth of home goods, scrapbooking supplies, and candles (no joke.) So I was in DESPERATE NEED of a system, one that was black and white, without any loop holes. Because if there was even one, I’d find it and throw another six summer place settings in my cart. The envelope system is perfect, because it’s simple. If it’s not in the envelope, it can’t be spent. Period.
Now of course this concept is a simple one, but it’s not easy to do. It takes a TON of discipline. And I’m not going to say I haven’t wavered. But since adopting what I like to call a way of life, things have gotten SO much better financially for me and my family.
While filling my envelopes this past week, I couldn’t help but think about how this relates to the career book I’m continuing to read, “48 Days to the Work You Love,” by Dan Miller (see previous posts for more details.) One of the days in the book is dedicated to analyzing the seven areas of your life that need to be balanced for true fulfillment: career, financial, social, family, physical, personal development, and spiritual. Miller goes on to say you must deposit enough energy into each of these areas with the motivation to be consistent and passionate about it.
So how does this even parallel with the envelope system I’m so obsessed with? Well, think about it. In the envelope system, if you don’t put enough money in the gas envelope to last you two weeks, you’re going to be sitting on your butt at home, feeling sorry for yourself because you can’t afford to drive to your friend’s house across town. In the scenario Miller depicts, if you don’t exercise enough, dedicating time and effort to your physical well being, you’ll be sitting on your butt at home, feeling sorry for yourself because you don’t look or feel as good as you know you could.
Take a moment to think about those seven areas of your life. Where are you completely fulfilled? Or maybe overflowing? What facets are at an all-time low? I’m sure this isn’t something you think about often (I know for me it’s not,) but if you focus on it for just a few moments, it’s not difficult to see where there’s excess and where there’s deficiency. Take Miller’s advice– do everything you can to stay in balance!
And as for those envelopes, try it out. Even if it’s not Dave’s official system, try making your own (following the same principles of course.) It’s going to seem crazy at first– your friends will make fun of you, the people in lines behind you will mock you. But after 21 days (they say that’s how long it takes to successfully create a habit,) you, your family, and your bank account will be better for it.