I was convinced that living on a budget would be so hard, and I have to admit that it was at first. I was very used to impulse buying and snacking. I can’t count the times I fingered the money in my pocket while thinking about buying a perfectly good set of sheets (that was on sale!) and the only thing that kept me from doing it was if I did, there would be no more grocery money for that month. It was so bad, that at first whenever I got up to the checkout lane, I would have to empty my cart of all the unnecessary items that would put me over budget. It was embarrassing to hand the clerk a bundle of chocolate, a cool new cleaner that looked like fun to try, and chips and granola bars simply because I knew I could not pay for them. So eventually I got better at not putting it into my cart in the first place.
After the first month or two, we found that the money we needed for gas was much less than we thought, since we weren’t driving around to shop! We decided to get rid of our cell phone and cable. Our Car insurance got lowered a bit, so we had a little more money there too. So we used that money to pay off more debt, and even added a few extra categories to our budget. Like money for a Gym membership for my husband. And a small amount to buy birthday cards for family members at the dollar store.
I decided to go with an envelope system, I knew that I could slip back into overspending if I didn’t make myself stick to cash only. There are basically two different categories for us, monthly expenses, and quarterly expenses. When the paycheck comes in I cash it out in specific bills and sort the specific amounts into the different envelopes. For the quarterly bills I put some cash into the envelope every month so that when the bill arrives I have the money to pay for it. The fixed costs (Rent, utilities etc.) envelopes get emptied when I pay those bills. The flexible cost (groceries, gas for the car) envelopes have to last me the whole month, if I run out of grocery money, that’s it for that month, I have to do without until the next month.
So far I have avoided using actual money amounts as much as possible, every area is different and every family is different. I have read books and blogs on budgeting, and stared in shock when someone brags that they feed their whole family of 6 on $150 a month. Well, maybe I just haven’t gotten this thing down yet, maybe we eat a heck of a lot more, or maybe it’s because milk costs almost $5 a gallon where I live, but that’s not possible for me. In this Budget example here I will use unrealistic silly amounts, since every household will look different. This is just to give an idea of how this stuff works.
Monthly Budget Example
Check on the 14th $90
Check on the 31st $90
TOTAL INCOME $180
Food and household items $20
Water bill ($9 quarterly) $3
Electric and gas $20
Gas for car $10
Birthday cards and stamps $1
Car insurance ($15 quarterly) $5
Gym membership ($10 quarterly) $4
Debt Minimum $14
Movie rental money $3
TOTAL EXPENSES: $155
In this example budget there are $25 extra dollars to put towards Debt elimination every month. Before our budget that $25 would have “dissapeared”
We allow ourselves some loopholes, like how we always put our change into the change jar and when we have enough we cash the change and go out to eat. We have figured out what convenience foods are worth buying, I still get chicken nuggets for the girls, but no Gerber toddler meals anymore. We get tortilla chips and salsa, but not frozen pizza bites. A few months ago, we even stayed in a pretty nice hotel while on a small trip.
We have learned how to have our fun responsibly. And there have been wonderful benefits. One year after starting our budget, we have paid off 1/4 of our total debt! Another strange benefit, has been that we have both lost weight! I think its because if we want to snack, we can’t just grab a bag and eat, and the thought of having to make something from scratch makes you re-think whether you are actually hungry or not! I have also learned alot about the difference between want and need. It is easy to justify why you are buying something, but that doesn’t mean that you need it. I used to spend alot of time thinking about all the stuff that we needed to get for the house, or our wardrobe’s, or the babies. And though I still find myself slipping into that mentality sometimes, I realize that if we’ve been living this long without it, we’d probably continue to do just fine without it.
And if we can’t live without it, we will have to figure out a way to budget it in.