I have two types of Excel worksheets for my budgeting: one breaks down the budget by my weekly paycheck a month at a time, and the other is for the year, a tab for each month. Naturally, I spent some time this month looking at 2011 as a whole.
The biggest change since I've started these spreadsheets is my attitude. Because I see it as a work in progress instead of a constant struggle to make ends meet, I don't berate myself for going over in a certain area. The red numbers are simply a good starting point to figure out where I can make changes.
I also have let go of any guilt associated with not being able to afford certain things. I view everything differently.
There was a musical I really wanted to take the girls to see, but I could never justify the costs. I thought about it multiple times, but it was never worth it to me. When the girls were seeing their relatives in Northern California, they were taken to see the musical. I was thrilled that they got to see it, and they loved it. And I was even happier that I hadn't broken the budget to take them myself.
Prior to 2011, I would groan about every birthday party invitation the girls received because of the presents I would have to buy. Now, not only is it easier to buy without fearing it will break my budget, I also am much better about only spending what we can afford. Because the girls (and their friends) are older, I'm usually okay with just giving cash. It saves on wrapping, time and effort, and $10 itself may not be very much, but the recipients are thrilled to add it to their stash.
Basically, my definition of "wants" versus "needs" has been sharpened to help us truly live within our means.
Of course, there's still a long way to go. Still credit card debt to be paid down, and my emergency savings is still anemic, but those are goals for 2012. And beyond. I know there will continue to be unexpected costs, and some huge costs in the future (just a couple more years before Sylvia's old enough to drive), but I'm fairly confident that we'll keep getting through it.