As frugal as I am, I still end up wasting large chunks of money every year. Contemporary advice about personal finance recognizes that everybody has a Latte Factor and encourages people to identify and eliminate it. They ask, what’s your Latte Factor? In other words, what is something that you mindlessly spend money or energy on regularly that you could remove or adjust to have a high positive impact on your financial stability and lifestyle?
For some, it’s a latte in the literal sense. I rarely buy coffee and many others in the frugal financial realm would claim the same. But I still have a Latte Factor, everyone does. Mine is Being Irresponsible.
For me this lies in cars, fees, and not taking better care of my belongings. I have overdrawn on an account that I thought had the protection to prevent that from happening, which led to multiple charges. I have overpaid for a used car because I didn’t do my own research or check Kelley Blue Book beforehand. I have killed a car because I didn’t put oil in it.
Everyone makes mistakes, but after my most recent wasteful incident, I decided it was time to quantify just how much these mistakes cost me and how I can do better.
I attempt to be responsible, but I leave little things on the back-burner that come back to bite me later.
Before the 1,850 mile drive from Missouri to Oregon, I had my truck checked over really well and spent quite a bit to have necessary maintenance and replacements done. I felt pretty good about it. But I neglected to fix the small, long-standing problem that was keeping my check engine light on. I was told it wasn’t harmful to still drive around with it, so I forgot about it in the midst of the larger, more costly repairs.
Neglecting to replace my spark plugs, a problem I’ve known about for months, ended up costing me $520. I felt incredibly stupid and angry at myself for letting it become a much more expensive fix than it would have been had I fixed it immediately.
My Irresponsibility Fund
I looked back at my spending/budget sheets from the past few years to identify the costs that were due to my irresponsibility. I then calculated those costs to list below.
My goal is to reduce my irresponsibility costs from year to year. Then, I will take the difference and use that money towards new tattoos. Some people think getting tattoos is irresponsible, so I thought it was fitting to use my Irresponsibility Fund to fund them, and they aren’t factored into my budget as of now anyway.
Side note: my original goal was to get a tattoo every year, but using my money to travel is more important to me, so I’m only 2 tattoos in so far. Also, I do fieldwork for my career, so I don’t have to worry about them affecting my ability to find employment.
If my irresponsibility costs increase from year to year, I’m obligated to make up that difference in side work.
Here there is a fine line between irresponsibility and excess spending. Would a shopping binge count as irresponsibility? Would a car accident count as irresponsibility? These are things you will have to decide for yourself, but knowing myself and my habits, I’ve been able to target specific categories that I feel fall under this umbrella: Costs that would have been prevented, had I been responsible in the first place.
Explanation: I couldn’t find anything in my spreadsheet that fell under this category, but at that time I was also less diligent in my recordings. However, this was the year that I killed my car because I didn’t put oil in it. I had paid $4,000 for it and only drove it for two years. I went 6 months without a car after that. I’m not sure how to quantify those costs, but the $0 is not an accurate reflection for 2016.
Explanation: Overage data charges on cell phone (didn’t notice that I wasn’t connected to wifi), late Redbox returns, late library book return, overdraft fee on debit card, fees on bank account that I didn’t notice or know what they were for.
Explanation: Having all of my spark plugs replaced on time would probably have run me about $200. I ended up paying $520 for waiting. So I’m counting it as costing me $320. The other big factor this year was paying late fines on highway tolls. Paying them on time would have cost me $10. Forgetting about them cost me $173. So I’m counting it as costing me $163. $320 car + $160 tolls = $480 of irresponsibility.
Yikes. I’m seeing a rising trend in irresponsibility costs, even as my knowledge and discipline with finances has increased. According to my plan, that means so far for 2018 I’m obligated to make $261 in side work to account for the $261 increase in irresponsibility costs from 2017 to 2018.
You may think that I’m being too harsh on myself, but really looking back over my spreadsheets allowed me to feel less guilty about my recent car mistake. I found that I had the spark plugs replaced on two different occasions the year before, but they must not have been done correctly or completely. I still should have acted sooner when the check engine light was still on, but I can ease up a little on the guilt factor.
Being honest with yourself in your budget is the most important thing you can do to help shape your finances to where you want them. I’m not happy to look back on all the money I’ve burned on mistakes, but it’s necessary in order to keep improving my budget, my mindset, and to work towards my goals. This is also why it’s important to make notes as you’re populating your spending sheet. Dates and notes can later be extremely helpful data to help you remember what was going on at the time of certain purchases and help you put them into context in the grand scheme of your budget.
I have a greater sense of immediacy now because of my move and chosen homeless lifestyle. If something is dirty, it has to be cleaned now. The scarcity of wifi and phone access means I have to pay bills and fees NOW. I hope this will help me reduce the amount of costly mistakes that I tend to make. Of course, life happens and that’s why we have buffers in our budgets and emergency savings, but it’s still sad to have to dip into them.
Also on a side rant, I’m convinced that everyone should have at least half a day off on a weekday every week just to stay on top of the things that keep us functioning. Making phone calls, doctor’s appointments, paying bills, running errands to places that have work hours that conflict with yours, etc.
What about you? Would an Irresponsibility Fund apply to you and if so, what factors or behaviors fall into yours? How will you keep yourself accountable for losses and how will you reward yourself for gains?
Making categories for a budget can be difficult, but must be personalized to your own unique situation. For some, maybe your wasteful spending comes from blowing money at the bar on drunk nights out. Maybe your refusal to set up automatic payments from your account has cost you fines for paying bills late a couple times. For me, my Irresponsibility Fund is an exercise to help put things into perspective for me and encourage me to improve on myself.