“What’s one of the things you think we could do better this year?” I asked my husband.
I knew his answer before he said it, “Finances. We’ve been hemorrhaging money on a regular basis and ignoring the problem.”
He was right. When I went from working full-time to part-time, we knew it was going to leave us tight on money. But so far the bills had been paid and the account had always had money in it. So I’d ignored the problem.
I didn’t want to make a budget and stress about money every month. But the last couple of months had made it clear that we were coming up short.
Why I Hate Budgeting
The problem with budgeting is that I don’t have time to constantly record everything that we spend and balance a budget. I’d read a lot about money and budgeting over the years, but nothing ever seemed to work for me.
We’d gotten by for a long time without paying much attention for a few reasons. My husband and I are both fairly frugal. We carefully evaluate most of what we buy. And try not to buy things we don’t need.
We carry no debt. We rarely use credit cards (unless we want to accumulate some points). If we do, we pay them off before interest accrues. If we finance something, we pay it off as quickly as possible.
We had low expenses and a high income for most of our marriage. We lived in an undersized house and were both bringing in full-time professional incomes.
So we got away without budgeting or tracking our expenses.
But shortly before I left my full-time job we upgraded our house to fit our 4 kids. And then I took a lower-paying job part-time.
Now we needed a budget.
“You need to help me then,” I pleaded. I hated that money matters always fell in my lap. “We need to find something that works for us to track our expenses and we need to set up a time to check on things weekly.”
He agreed. We set a weekly date on our calendar to check on our budget, together. And we went hunting for an app that would work for tracking our expenses.
In the end, we settled on using Mint, because it was free and made sense to me (some others were confusing). We both downloaded the app on our phones and used the same login so we can both access it.
Setting Up A Budget
I got to work setting up our budget over the next week. It was fun deciding to budget for things we never have money for – like vacations, Christmas, or entertaining.
But at our weekly meeting, we learned that I had budgeted far more than our income. 😥
Together we went through and slashed most of what we’d been happy to spend money on.
Our personal spending had to get knocked down to just $50 each a month. And the kids had to go down to $35 each. Which seems a little impossible to me. But looking at the reality of the money we have compared to what we’re spending was a wake-up call.
After slashing those budgets, we were left with an accurate picture of the one category that we have the potential to save on.
Saving Money on Groceries and Eating Out
If you follow Jordan Paige, you’ll know that she suggests budgeting $100 a month on groceries for each person in your household. We have 6 people in our household, but 2 are only there part-time. So based on her suggestion, we should be budgeting $500 a month on groceries.
And groceries include household or misc. items – like toilet paper, detergent, diapers, etc.
We realistically spend about $1000 a month on groceries and another $600-$800 on eating out. This was our biggest identified area of potential savings.
Evaluate What Your Spending Money On
The first step to cutting our food spending was going to be identifying where we were spending the money.
One hidden issue that I found was my Amazon spending. I was ordering one thing from Amazon multiple times a day in some cases. Most of these were grocery-type items. This was adding up to a lot of unknown spending.
Implementing the Strategies
Here are Jordan’s grocery-saving suggestions (simplified):
- MEAL PLAN. [I follow my own meal planning method and it works for me]
- Only go to the grocery store ONCE a week! [Try]
- Order your groceries online and do grocery pickup instead of shopping in-store! [Already do this]
- Make frugal meals. Save “fancy” meals (that include expensive meats and finer ingredients) for Sundays, rather than making them throughout the week. [Already do this]
- Don’t waste a thing! Use, use again, then reuse leftovers again! Don’t let anything go to waste. [Already do this]
- Buy extra groceries when they’re on sale, as long as it fits in your grocery budget. If something is on sale, don’t just buy one…buy several and store it! Pantry, freezer, keep it on-hand so you aren’t paying full-price when you need something. [Already do this]
- Try a different store! You might be shopping somewhere that doesn’t have the best deals each week. Look at the ads that come in your mail. Find the store with the best deals and shop there! [Try]
- Make extra and freeze it. If you’re cooking something, double and freeze it so you have an inexpensive freezer meal for a crazy day when take-out looks appealing. [Maybe]
- Make sure your grocery budget is ONLY for consumables – don’t include eating out. [Done]
Immediately I decided to implement the “only go to the grocery store ONCE a week” and choosing different stores strategies (2 & 7).
In the next few months, I have decided to implement strategies to get our grocery bill down. (Read about the best ways to save money in this post.)
Mom on a Budget
This is a new journey for me. And I invite you to come along with me.
Step 1: Decide on Your Financial Goals
With your spouse (if you’re married) discuss some of your financial goals.
This is the dreaming part. Don’t worry about numbers yet. Just think about what you want to do. Do you want to be able to take a vacation regularly without worrying about where the money will come from? Want to have enough money to save? Maybe you want to sell your house and live in a trailer for a year so you can finally be debt-free?
Whatever your goals are, setting them is important because living on a budget can be discouraging. It’s important to set your sights on what you’re working towards before you get to the hard part of cutting your spending.
Step 2: Create a budget
Choose an app or format that you’ll use to create your budget.
Step 3: Determine Your Areas of Focus & Set a Small Goal
Look at your budget. Try not to get discouraged. Is there an area where you can cut expenses? I’m talking about a big area where you might be overspending that you think you can cut down on.
Here are a few ideas:
- Credit Card Spending
- Car Payments
- Spending (determine what you are spending excessively on and set a goal for cutting)*
*For example, I spend a lot of money on books if I’m not careful. If I just lump this into a general spending category, it’s hard to know what I need to get under control. If I look at what I’m actually spending money on and add that up in different categories, it’s easy to see what’s draining my account.
Step 4: Schedule a Weekly Checkin
Decide on a weekly date and time that you will check in on your spending (together if you’re married). Put it on the calendar. It’s a date.
Go over your budgeted categories and recalibrate at this time. Do you have enough money in each category to make it through the month? Are there any bills that need to be paid? Pay them during this time. How much do you have to spend in your categories this week?
Give Your Goal Everything You’ve Got
Focus on this goal for one month, track your spending with your budget, and come back with me to report on your progress at the end of the month. Adhere to your budget in all the areas, but don’t try to cut additional budgeted areas.
For example, my focus is on cutting food costs. I’m not going to worry about cutting down my budgeted $50 of spending money. I’m just going to work on food.
Note: Don’t feel discouraged if you have debt. The great thing about paying off debt is you save money in interest AND free up income to spend elsewhere.
So let’s get our finances in order together this year. Don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss my updates.