I often wonder how other people create budgets, keep track of household accounts and generally manage their income and expenses.
A long time ago, after my first marriage broke down (why do we say 'broke up' when it is really a break down?). We sold the home we had lived in for most of our three children's lives, there wasn't much equity to share, just enough for me to buy a car, pay off my share of debt and pay a deposit on a rental. After that we, my three teenagers and myself, lived in a couple of rentals, with a few months in between where we were homeless. Thankfully not on the street, I slept on my mother's couch in her tiny one bedroom apartment and each of my children stayed with family or friends. They were tough times and my income just didn't meet our basic expenses. I couldn't face the reality of my financial situation and very quickly had a large plastic bag filled with unopened bank statements, bills and, I am sure, final demands for payment. I couldn't pay any of them and my bank account was overdrawn, I had no solution and so didn't open them. My theory was 'why get even more stressed when there was nothing I can do about it?' I was, of course, well aware that the problems would not go away and that ignoring them was irresponsible at best.
I don't know what would have happened if I had not won a green card in the lottery - what was known as a Morrison Visa - (incidentally, did you know that a green card is actually pink?) My eternal thanks go to Bruce Morrison, the author of the immigration Act of 1990 that allowed me to apply for this visa and to the Universe / fate / luck - whatever you call it, for allowing me to win that visa. See more about Bruce Morrison here.
Luckily, when I won the visa, my children were no longer children and so I was able to follow the route so many of my ancestors took when times were rough. When I left Ireland I knew that this was probably my one and only opportunity to correct my mistakes and create a new life. I also knew that the streets of America were not paved with gold, but I was fairly sure that I could make a new life for myself. I was determined it would be a successful one, to spend only what I could afford, open every envelope delivered to my address (assuming of course it was addressed to me) and keep careful track of every penny coming in and going out, including keeping all receipts and bills carefully.
And I did. I started out keeping a note of my spending and income in a small notepad but as soon as I bought myself a computer and discovered it came with a free version of Quicken Light, I used that and have been using Quicken ever since, over 18 years later. However, having once been totally irresponsible I did a complete 360 and became totally anal. I spent hours each weekend carefully documenting my spending, checking each receipt against my records, filing every piece of paper relating to income and spending. Very soon I had boxes of receipts everywhere, each box marked with the date range. Each box never accessed again but gathering dust and taking up space in my small home. When I moved these boxes came with me.
On the plus side, I knew to the penny what my financial situation was, and what I could and could not afford.
I met my husband in 2001, five years, almost to the day, after I arrived in the US. He convinced me that I really didn't need to keep 5 years of receipts that were not tax related - the receipts I saved included grocery, gas and other items long since consumed and reconciled in my accounts.
So, now I keep receipts through the week, once I reconcile my accounts I dispose of them with the exception of receipts for goods which may or may not need to be returned in the foreseeable future. I keep only 3 months of paid bills, and I might add, all bills are opened and paid on time now.
Thankfully technology allows me not only to keep track of, and reconcile, my household expenses, but also to keep a very close eye on my bank accounts online. The reward is that I can now not fear the mailman and I can sleep at night.