Once I shook myself out of the shock of realizing that I’d spent a bazillion dollars (literally) on Shamrock Shakes over the course of my life (But seriously, is it mint? Lime? Vanilla disguised only with alluring green food coloring? So good.), I knew I had to create a plan of action so I wasn’t spinning my financial wheels forever. I had good sense of what I brought in every month, along with what I had to spend versus what I actually spent. The next step was committing it to paper and creating a budget to live by. It was scary at first, but it turns out that, for me anyway, there’s a certain sense of freedom in knowing exactly where I stand financially, which I truly believe has moved me towards better, more deliberate decision making when it comes to spending my hard-earned cash.
As I’ve said, my small pot of monthly spending money meant I couldn’t keep buying my little snacks and tchotchkes and cute clothes for work, actual dinners out with friends, and vacations. So, as with all things in life, it turned out i kinda had to pick and choose. (Kudos to those of you who figured this out already. I wish you'd told me sooner so I didn't have those pretty but useless teal snakeskin ballet flats.) I ended up carving out a small portion of my discrentionary funds to go directly towards vacation spending, and left a little bit for the day-to-day vintage dresses, happy hours with pals, and the rare McDouble. (No use depriving myself totally, right?)
In any given month, if I come in under budget in the latter "discretionary" category, that money gets funneled back into the vacation line. So too does money I've saved from other more standard budget lines. If I come in, say, $20 bucks under in the transportation line one month, I dump that into my vacation savings pot. As long as my truly necessary lines are getting funded and paid for (mortgage, car, retirement, savings, etc...), I push any "excess" monthly money in those categories into the vacation zone. (Unless, of course, there are other major spending needs...like that time our sewer pipe blew up and we found out our insurance didn't cover it because it was technically "outside the domicile." GOOD TIMES! )
Do I screw up occasionally? (Often?) Totally, just ask the chocolate Frosty I am eating RIGHT NOW, but I've found that I'm making spending decisions way more consciously since committing a plan to paper. (See, for example, the fact that I avoided the Dunk'n Donuts Iced Tea on Friday and instead attempted to make iced tea at my desk by using the water cooler and an ancient tea bag. Hey, I'm $2.29 further towards my next trip. Don't judge.)