Bookkeeping, Budgeting, and (Mostly) Staying Out of Debt

In writing my most recent blog post about being too frugal, I mentioned that I had once kept in ledger books an account of all my family’s income and spending. This inspired me to go out into the garage and see if I could find those books among my boxes of memorabilia and, sure enough, I had kept them. Why did I keep them?  Well, it’s what frugal people do: they hoard things.

IMG_1302Now, though, those books provide an interesting insight into our monthly expenditures in the early years of our marriage.  They begin in 1979, the year our first child was born. At the time, we were living in the Northwest Territories where my husband was working as a mechanical designer at a Cominco lead and zinc mine.  Initially, I was also working there illustrating a mine manual, but I quit when I was pregnant. The ledgers go up to July 1989, which was probably when I first began to keep electronic records.

As I look at the details now, I realize how much simpler my financial dealings were then than they are now. There were far fewer monetary transactions, less shopping, no investments or savings to keep track of, only one bank account and one credit card. And, of course, there was a lot less money to spend.

Our income came from my husband’s work, and in January 1980 it totalled $1459.76 for the month.  We thought we were rich. It was the most we had ever had, it was supplemented by free housing, and Cominco had paid for our move up north. As Canadians, we also had free health care.

Out of that monthly income, we spent:

  • $99.08 on food
  • $250.00 on our tithe (10% of gross income)
  • $44.58 on clothing
  • $200.50 on our vehicle payment
  • $74.51 gas and vehicle servicing
  • $291.00 on travel
  • $28.60 on books and photos
  • 36.00 on gifts and entertainment, and
  • $113.78 on cash and bank charges.

We came out $7.85 ahead! Woo hoo!

Canadian Coins
Canadian Coins by KMR Photography via Flickr

By July 1989 we had moved back south, first to Trail, B.C. and then to Calgary, Alberta. Our income was once again entirely dependent upon my husband’s work because at that time I had gone back to university. We had to budget very carefully and draw down some savings to pay for my degree program, but we did it without getting into debt. I remember that I couldn’t even afford to buy a cup of tea on campus, and every day I took one of our own tea bags to put into a free cup of hot water. Our total income that month was $3251.87.

I learned to use credit cards primarily for travel and big-ticket items, and I also learned to move money around to get the best interest rates both in savings and in loans.

It wasn’t until I was in my mid-30’s that I realized the importance of investing for the future, and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to James Malec of Investia Financial Services who has helped me invest savings since the late 1980s. It is because of his good investment choices that I was able to retire a few years early and to enjoy retirement comfortably.  He has maintained his connection with me through moves to two different cities, and he still visits me once a year even though I am now 300 km from his home. Thanks, James! I am so glad I have an advisor I can trust.

These days I use bookkeeping software to keep track of my finances, but it is much too complex for my needs. Also, the categories are different than the ones I chose for myself back in 1979, so there isn’t really an easy comparison. What has stuck with me, though, are the record keeping, the budgeting, and the ongoing effort to either stay out of debt or to repay debt quickly. Those principles were learned from my parents, and they have been invaluable.





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