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In this episode, one woman shows us how her spending habits have changed since she started budgeting 5 years ago. Click here for more accessible budget tips:

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Through weekly video essays, "Making It Work" showcases how *real* people have upgraded their personal or financial lives in some meaningful way. Making your life work for you doesn't mean getting rich just for the sake of it. It means making the most of what you have to build a life you love, both in your present and in your future. And while managing money is a crucial life skill for everyone, there's no one "right way" to go about it — you have to figure out what works best for *you,* full stop.

Video narration by Andrea Cordaro

Video by Grace Lee

Based on an article by Valerie S.

The Financial Diet site:

Making It Work is brought to you by Lingoda Language Marathon.

Start learning a new language anytime, no matter where you are. As someone who is not into haircuts, makeup, and clothes, there is this uncanny effect when I look at photos of myself.

After age 16 or so, I kind of always look the same, while everyone else around me has grown and changed. I know I've evolved drastically since then, but how will history know? What record is there of my life and growth?

Weirdly enough, the most detailed record of my adult life is my budgeting spreadsheets. They've kept an account of not only my daily activities but also how I've learned to take better care of myself and become a responsible adult that I can respect and trust. Here's what I've learned from looking through my past five years of budgeting spreadsheets.

Number one, get help from a loved one, if you need it. When I got out of grad school and was that my first career job, I felt completely incompetent at work and was dealing with independent finances for the first time. I'd been with my boyfriend for seven years.

We had the kind of intimacy where I felt no shame around my adulting failures, something I didn't feel with anyone else at that time. When I was struggling to feel in control of my finances, I just openly asked him where the hell I should start. He shared with me a Google Sheet with his own finances.

He didn't judge me or my ignorance. He just matter of factly walked me through how he monitored his spending and earning and setup the spreadsheet formulas, and I was able to build a template of my own. My own attempt only lasted about four months, the statistical average for keeping a New Year's resolution, but I think the essential lessons of managing money stuck with me.

Know where your money is going. Even though I didn't keep using this particular format, I kept the core functions for years to come. Number two, if nothing else, automate.

After the initial spreadsheet, there is a long gap where I did no financial tracking or budgeting. This was around when I ended up ending the relationship with the guy who sent me that initial exemplar budget, my college sweetheart, and best friend. I realized I was going to have to rewrite the story of what kind of person I'd be and what kind of life I was going to live.

I had real soul work to do, and I did not have the emotional energy to look closely at my finances. However, because I had a job that paid well and offered a retirement account, including matching contributions, I was still building my financial health on autopilot. I'd also set up automatic payments to a savings account at a separate credit union for a true emergency fund.

In those five years, I put away $10,207 in savings and earned $21,919 in a retirement account. After my breakup, I also luckily didn't have to think about how I to cover my rent. Because my boyfriend had been paying off student debt while we lived together, I'd never asked him to contribute to housing costs.

My rent was $1,200 a month, about half my take-home pay. I lived in a large apartment in NYC, but on the very outer edge of the city, far from everything except work. I can't really praise myself for financial savvy in choosing my housing situation, but in the end, living somewhere I could afford on my own income alone ended up giving me a safety net I didn't know I'd need.

Number three, spending patterns will change over time. When my current self reviews my past self's purchases, I'm often bewildered by my old spending habits. How much did I spend a Bed Bath and Beyond?

And how did I carry that much home on the subway? What clothes was I buying once a month at $100 a pop? I don't even like shopping for clothes.

I have no memory of these trips to the zoo. How could I have spent over $100 at the zoo? Some of these purchases baffle me now, because I've gotten older and wiser.

For instance, I now unsubscribed from all promotional emails. Other purchases seem foreign to me, because I no longer need a lot of stuff. I don't need to buy glass containers for leftovers, because now I own them, and I use them every day.

I don't need to buy fancy dresses, because I've already bought them and can cycle through them as formal occasions come up. I've gone through different phases of my life, where I need to spend money on different things, and that's OK. I can be grateful to my past self for buying the items that improve my life to this day, and I can be proud that I've learned from my shopping mistakes.

Number four, labels and attitudes matter. I have a weird thing for giving digital files quirky names that amuse me. When I finished my personal spreadsheet, the Tragic Treasury, the following year, I called it Tragic Treasury Revisited, followed by Son of the Tragic Treasury, and Tragic Treasury Strikes Back.

It made me smile to think of a budgeting spreadsheet as an old serial adventure film from the 1930s. My current document is called For Future Me. When I review the names of these spreadsheets, I have to say that the more positive the name, the more sound the financial health.

Law of attraction is to woo-woo for me, but the way I used to label my spreadsheets, I was giving myself a poor evaluation on money skills, before I had any evidence to pass that judgment. I make less money now, but I no longer see budgeting as a glass half empty, and honestly, I think having a positive self-image makes a difference. My life and my spreadsheets are radically different from when I started using them consistently.

I've since changed jobs and moved out of the city, and I've found the time for exercise and therapy that keep me sane. On the one hand, I need budgeting more than ever to spend within my means and save extra money, but on the other, I have the experience and mental clarity to more effectively manage my money. Unlike the vacation snapshots of yore, my financial self today looks nothing like who I was five years ago.

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