Taking the Spending Plan Seriously

For many years in my other 12 step program, I went to meetings, spoke to people, but never took the Big Book seriously. Didn’t really read or study it. It was kind of there, on the side. It wasn’t until I understood that the Big Book contains the instructions, the “meat” of the program, and began to seriously study and follow the directions that my recovery gained traction.

In DA, the Big Book is just as important for the reasons outlined above. But so, too, is my spending plan. In it is the outline for how I spend (and save) my money. I consider my spending plan Divinely inspired as it was developed not just by me, but with the loving guidance of more than one pressure relief group team over the years.

Over time, I have had one or more PRG’s to tweak or reset my categories as my life and needs changed. In January, I may lose my private disability insurance, which is half my income. That will call for a drastic reduction in my categories, but happily, I have a plan that was set up with a PRG team quite awhile ago for that contingency at least as a stop-gap.

I need to be as rigorously honest about my categories as I am about my numbers each day. While the DA Spending Plan pamphlet recognizes that we cannot be rigid in our categories, I know that I cannot safely move money from category to category without the guidance of my Higher Power and others or the falling dominoes will eventually lead me to debt.

In addition, I need to accrue in categories in order to ensure I have enough for my needs and save up for my wants. That was a completely alien concept for me. I could never save before. But now, for example:

  • I have accumulated over $15,000 in my Prudent Reserve nearly $3,000 more than my debt, which I am slowly paying down.
  • I will have enough money to renew my AAA road service and buy tax software when the time comes because I accrue 1/12th of the annual amount each month.
  • I can afford grooming for my dog because I accrue 1/2 of the needed amount every month, so he can go every eight weeks or so.
  • I have nearly $2,000 saved for taxes. It may be more than I need, so I may be able to put away less in the future. But for now, I’m willing to keep funding it monthly rather than prematurely using it elsewhere.

Living in the Next Month

One of the greatest decisions I made was to create a spending buffer, a concept I learned from YNAB (my spending plan software). Creating a buffer means that the money I earn this month is spent next month, ensuring that I don’t live hand to mouth waiting for the next check to arrive. For those of us who get paid more than once a month, we often have a cash flow problem. Our spending plans show all our income for the month, but come mid-month, we are, in reality, short in categories, waiting for the next check.

To create the buffer, you need to have one month of spending available to use separate from any income you will earn. If you don’t have enough to create the buffer immediately, you can add it as a category and save towards it. I promise you, having all your income available on the first of the month will change your life for the better! It is worth working toward, even saving $1/month until you get there.

A Blueprint for Staying Out of Debt

The point is that my spending plan is the blueprint for the physical part of this program and the Big Book contains instructions for the spiritual side. When I look at my spending plan, I can see clearly on paper how much money, to the penny, I have, and how much, to the penny, is available in any category.

If I am honest and diligent about sticking to my spending plan, and rigorous in keeping it up to date, I will never debt again. If an emergency comes up, the spending plan becomes the means by which my PRG can help me find money to cover it. For instance, I have a Contingency category for emergencies. But if more is needed, rather than immediately turning to my savings, we can make choices to find accumulated money in discretionary categories. I know people who have funded medical emergencies in just this manner. Because they were diligent about accumulating in non-essential categories, when the emergency came up, they were able to fund it without using savings. Yes, there was disappointment in having to take from discretionary categories, but the miracle was clear to them so they could trust that the categories will accrue again.

A Work in Progress

My spending plan isn’t there just for show. It took years in recovery working with PRG teams to get my plan to where it is today. It’s still not perfect. Life changes, so my plan changes. But still, the bones of my plan don’t change.

I no longer basing my spending decisions on the amount I see in my bank account. That’s a huge difference for me. For the first time in my life, I have a significant amount of money available in theory, which can easily freak me out and allow my disease to convince me to have a party. By looking at my spending plan, however, I see that there is no “extra” money to spend.

Every Dollar has a Job

I love that expression, which I learned from YNAB. It means that I allocate every single dollar that comes in to a category. If I haven’t yet had a PRG to disperse money, then it sits in a category called PRG until I do.

Both Wants & Needs Require Boundaries

It’s not just my needs that have to be precisely allocated, but my wants as well. We each need a different level of detail to maintain our recovery. It takes rigorous self-honesty to know the level of detail you require. For instance:

  • I may need a separate category for Grocery and House Supplies and you may need to just allocate to a category called Grocery, with the understanding that anything from the store, be it meat or paper towels, comes out of that category.
  • You may need to have category for shoes and another for clothing and I may need just one to cover both.

The bottom line is, if we take creating, maintaining, and living within our spending plan seriously, instead of just giving it lip service, we are guaranteed to stay debt-free, one day at a time.

NOTE: There are lots of posts here about how to set up and work with your spending plan as well as reconciling with your bank account.

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