Budgeting with Heather: 4 Easy Steps to Financial Failure

So you want to make a budget. As an expert in the area of list-making, here is an extremely helpful guide to follow:

Step 1: Plan your earnings for the next year. You love hypothetical math and have a grand old time with this step. Be unrealistically optimistic about these numbers, e.g., 

  • Imagine only the best-case scenarios (“My classes are unendingly devoted to the study of English and will never cancel!”)  


  • Grossly underestimate hourly variations (“My classes are unendingly devoted to the study of English, but one or two might cancel every three to six months!” Never mind the fact that all of Bavaria tends to go on holiday for about a month in summer. Plus ski holidays in winter. Disregard these facts completely.)

 Step 2: Anticipate expenses. But conveniently forget to factor in extras, e.g., 

  • Tax payments (If you work freelance like me you can hope that the German government somehow misses you and you can continue to pretend that this won’t happen eventually. Breathe a sigh of relief every time your mailbox is empty.)
  • Health insurance (“Is it time to renew that already? It can’t be!”)
  • Unexpected home repairs (ex: breaking your own door)
  • That wedding you will be in (“It’s in a year and a half, I don’t have to worry about a bridesmaid dress, shower gift, wedding gift, bachelorette night, flight home for the wedding, Godknowswhatelse yet!”)
  • Forget that just because it isn’t a regular expense doesn’t mean it won’t break the bank. Odds are, that’s exactly what it will do.

Step 3: Have a completely delusional and (again), unrealistically optimistic monthly budget plan for those expenses that you did acknowledge in the step above. This will include things like groceries, personal care products, public transportation costs and so on. The plan will look great, but conveniently forget that you have little-to-no self control in certain places, e.g.,

  • Grocery stores (As you almost always shop hungry and you have a fairly severe sweet tooth.)
  • Bars/Restaurants
  • Anywhere selling jewellery (And not even the nice kind… I’m talking the cheap stuff.)
  • Other retailers (i.e., all of them.)
  • Plan to live on almost nothing. Resign yourself to subsisting on soup and Wasa crackers. But then go down in flames at the store when you see the wine and colorful bags of Haribo candies.
  • Go into Müller to buy conditioner. Maybe you’ve been having a rough couple of days, and have gotten it into your head that buying nail polish in a tropical color will perk you up. Pick out a cheery Caribbean blue/green color. An orange bottle reminds you of a Hugo Boss ad you saw earlier with the very sexy Orlando Bloom on it. You should probably check that out. Find the women’s version of the perfume and kind of like it. Sniff again… really like it. Sure, you’ll take this, too. It’s only 30€ and you haven’t bought perfume in ages. Justify away. Now it’s upstairs for something sweet. Haribo is basically your Kryptonite and you’re powerless against it. Of course you have to go past the jewellery to get there… and really, what’s another pair of 4€ earrings in the grand scheme of things? 
  • Go home. Sit on the couch. You can’t seem to stop smelling your wrists. You know that smell. But from where? An hour later you sniff again and it comes to you… that guy. You’re wearing the chick version of a cologne that a guy you slept with wore. Feel kind of awkward about this, but you like the smell so hope that eventually your brain will associate it with something else. Only half-wish you could have those 30€ back. 
  • Regret purchases but not enough to actually return stuff. 

Step 4: Repeat this pattern for the next few months. Sit on the couch and look at pictures from your friend’s trips. Eat a bag of Haribo and feel better for about 10 minutes. Then feel nauseous. 


I’ve got some serious hypothetical plans for this year. One friend wants to go to Rome for a weekend, another wants to go to London, and another might be visiting Greece  and wants me to come down. I haven’t been to any of those places so of course I’d like to see all of them. But the big thing I’d like to do will be a little more difficult. Another friend is planning a long trip in Asia this fall, and I’d really like to go meet up with her for a few weeks, hopefully in India. 

I know that you can travel around South-East Asia for less money than Clinton Kelly spends on one of his pocket squares, but that knowledge doesn’t make me any better at saving. I’m sure the flight would be the worst part of the trip, and we would be able to travel on the cheap from there. But if I’m going to take off from work for a whole month, I’d have to save up a pretty good chunk of cash before that can happen. And if I did manage that, I would really, really, think about/want to buy a new camera for the trip. 

So I guess the point of all of this is that I need a more effective way to budget. I love hypothetical math, and you can often find me adding up pretend money on little scraps of paper when I’m waiting for my students or otherwise killing time. It’s super-fun to plan how my bank account will grow, but it’s also super-unrealistic. I think it’s time to start studying some real-world math. Suggestions welcome.


4 thoughts on “Budgeting with Heather: 4 Easy Steps to Financial Failure

  1. I think in the shops we might be soulmates. I am awesome at justifying things. And I would totally do the nail varnish thing. You need a kid. See, I now have Orla who says (un)helpful things like “That nail varnish is totally yucky” and I am like “but it's the exact colour of really lush green grass! It's like spring in a bottle!!”, to which she says “It'll make you look like you have bogeys on your fingers”….

    My only tip for you is try and get your trip to London etc confirmed asap. The earlier you book Easyjet/Ryanair/BMI Baby the cheaper the flights. AND if you can fly with one of these companies, then try and catch them when they're having a sale, (better people than me know when these are) or on the day the new flights come out.

    Aside from that I am rubbish with money.

  2. Haha. Your daughter sounds like she's a good help in the stores. The funny thing is that normally, I never wear nail polish. I bit my nails forever, and even now I don't wear them long (long nails + contact lenses = accidental eye-gouging potential), so I have no idea where the “nail polish will make you feel better” idea came from. Gah.

    Good advice. I have to do some looking into which airlines fly into/out of which airports and if/where/when we want to do this stuff. I know there are good deals to be had but it's just finding them.

  3. Last year both my most profitable classes canceled for the summer and they only gave me a week's notice. It really cramped my budget! I like being a freelancer but the money is unpredictable. It's very difficult to live on. Still be really careful about taxes. I know teachers who didn't pay and got caught. The government will make you pay your back taxes if they catch you. One of my colleagues is currently on a mandatory payment plan for the 8000 euro he owes Germany.

  4. I hear you on that Wiffy… part of the reason I came here from Prague is that things were so up and down there that it was completely impossible to plan. Luckily the schedule I have here is much more stable. Even in summer I was ok, and that's huge! Thanks for the advice on taxes also… I'm certainly not planning on dodging the tax man whenever he comes knocking. I'll probably find a Steuerberater because I think “Doing German Taxes Myself” is pretty high on the list of things I really don't want to do!

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