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Q&A Tuesday: How do you track your money?

“What kind of system do you use to track your money?” -Ruthanne

[My apologies that it’s Wednesday and I’m just now getting the Q&A Tuesday up. I had good intentions, but it just didn’t happen yesterday!]

First off, contrary to what people might think, I’m more the creative and entrepreneurial one in our family and my husband is the numbers nerd. Without my husband’s attention to detail and love of spreadsheets, we’d be sunk.

What’s crazy is that over the last seven and a half years that we’ve been married, my creative and entrepreneurial spirit has rubbed off on Jesse a great deal, but, unfortunately, I’ve not become any more of a spreadsheet-lover.

So that’s why I’m so thankful for my husband. He has a sophisticated system he uses to track all of the money which comes in and goes out and he keeps us on track with our budget. We review these numbers quite often together to make sure we’re headed in the right direction and on the same page.

In the beginning years of our marriage, he used a ledger to keep track of all of our finances. This worked well, but it took at least an hour each week to stay on top of. He switched over to Quicken a few years ago and it’s been a huge time-saver. Plus, it’s so fun to be able to see all the instant graphs and spreadsheets available with a click or two of a mouse. (If you don’t already have access to Quicken, Mint.com is a very comparable free software which my husband recommends.)

Every single debit card transaction and check we write is accounted for in Quicken so that we can know exactly where we are financially at all times. Since we actually don’t spend a whole lot of money outside our regular bills and what we purchase from our cash envelopes, it usually just takes Jesse about 1-2 hours per month to input our receipts and make sure everything reconciles.

Unlike many people, we keep our cash envelopes separate from our regular accounting. We just take out $425 per month to fund these envelopes and we don’t track the expenditures in these accounts.

Our current cash envelopes are:

::Gifts — $30 per month which covers wedding, baby shower, birthday gifts and so forth.

::Vacation — $50 each month for family vacations (or, if we decide, a fun family outing).

::Clothes — $15 per month per family member (except Jesse, since he has a separate non-cash budget category for his clothing). This covers shoes, socks, clothes, under things, coats, etc.

::Eating Out — $20 per week ($80 per month) which covers our once-a-week dinner out. We usually vary whether we do something really inexpensive or a little on the nicer side.

::Groceries — $40 per week ($160 per month)

::Home — $30 per month which covers home furnishings, decorations and any other home items we need to buy (for instance, last month, we used the money in the envelope to replace our DVD player which had been on its last life for quite some time).

::Homeschooling — $15 per month which covers any supplies we need to purchase and some of our curriculum (I also used the proceeds from our garage sales to purchase some of our curriculum as we splurged on the Bob Jones Distance Learning DVDs for some of our curriculum this year.)

Instead of tracking all the expenditures in each of our cash envelopes, we’ve found that just adopting the “When it’s gone, it’s gone” approach works well for us. Because in reality, after using cash for so long, we’ve found that we rarely have empty envelopes!

How do you track the finances at your house? I’d love to hear! And if you’re married, are you the numbers nerd or is your spouse?

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  1. says

    I’m the numbers person in our house. For a long time I used an excel spreadsheet. I tried Quicken and Mint but didn’t like them. I didn’t have the control that I did in excel, plus there were some major annoyances with it. And it’s not for budgeting but for tracking expenses after the fact (subtle difference, but it is different). A few months ago I found mvelopes.com and I absolutely LOVE it!!! It works so well for us. Plus I can export data to excel if I really want to. It uses the envelope concept so you really are budgeting your money, not just recording after the fact. I’ve tried cash envelope system, but didn’t really like it and didn’t spend any less than I did when not using cash.

  2. Kelli says

    I’ve been using Mint.com for about a year now and I love it! I have never used anything else, so I can’t really compare it. But I was able to make my own categories and budget with what fit our lifestyle. ( You can even budget $100 for doctors visits every few months and then it will automatically shows a portion of that money as *spent* each month, so that when it’s time to spend your $100 you have saved up for it). What has helped me the most is having the visual graphs for each month and being able to compare our spending over the year. I was never organized enough to keep receipts before, but now that every purchase shows up on Mint I know how much money I spend on things :) There may be better options out there, but for being a free program I am very impressed.

  3. Valerie says

    How do manage a $15/month budget for clothes? I tend to buy clothes only a few times a year, but tend to spend more at those times. For example, I love J Crew’s clothes because they are high quality, fit me well, and are very professional so good for my work; I never shop there full price, but only the few times a year they are having a good sale, and then I’ll buy several things at once. Do you roll over the money month to month in your envelopes?

    I’m assuming your husband’s extra clothing budget is because he needs (more expensive) professional clothes. Is that right? I’m feeling that I am far less frugal than I thought with your $15/month budget, as mine (that I just calculated in Quicken) is more like $40/month average for the year.

    • Emily Rynders says

      I think she said $15 a person, which would be $75 for her family of 5. Our budget is about $100/month, mostly because my husband is not a fan of shopping at thrift stores for himself. Bummer.

    • says

      My secret is that I only have a few outfits. I have 3-4 dressier outfits which can be mixed and matched and 3-4 everyday outfits which can be mixed and matched. And two pair of shoes per season and a couple pieces of jewelry and that’s it. I wear things over and over and over again. :)

      So I usually only buy a few items per season and $15 per month totally covers that when I mostly shop the sale racks or clearance online. I usually shop at Target or the Kohls or Penneys clearance racks, with an occasional thrift store, garage sale or hand-me-down from a friend thrown in.

      • says

        @Crystal, I am a cosmetologist and I work in an upscale salon so I have to have my wardrobe updated according to the season or I am not considered credible- so I usually buy dresses on sale so I don’t have to buy multiple pieces (pants, shirt, belt, etc..) and it works out a lot better for me:) I love it when the $10 off no minimum purchase coupons come in the mail!

    • says

      @Valerie, My clothing budget is about $50/month. I try to just have a little less than two weeks worth of shirts (so 10), so I don’t have to wear the same shirt every single week at work. But for pants I only have three pair for work: black, gray, and brown. I really think your $40 a month is very reasonable for someone who needs five work outfits each week.

    • Amy says

      I am starting to think that buying higher quality clothes is a good idea, especially for classic items, like pants or sweaters. Most of my Old Navy and Target clothes only look good for a season or two, but I have several shirts from Banana Republic (bought on clearance 4 years ago) that are still in great shape! When you figure out the cost/number of times the item is worn, you probably come out ahead with the better quality clothes.

  4. Jamie says

    My husband is a spreadsheets lover too. So much so that he has designed his own spreadsheets in Excel for us to use. It’s pretty impressive. We’ve tried Quicken and Microsoft Money, but we both prefer his spreadsheets. I’m lucky to have married such a nerd!

  5. says

    Before we got married, I used Quicken and my husband used Excel. After the wedding, we decided he would do bookkeeping and I would do taxes and investing. I made him switch to Quicken and boy did he complain, but now he can’t imagine using anything else!

  6. Carrie says

    Since my husband practically develops a rash just balancing the checkbook, I do the finances. I tried the envelope system and failed miserably. If I have cash, I’m more likely to spend it. And when it was gone, I’d dip into the checking account. Now I have a separate account that has $400 automatically deposited into it every month that is exclusively for groceries and incidentals–anything but the monthly bills. I’ve found that it’s not the system you use, however, it’s a matter of self-control. I still find myself pulling out the credit card when we are over budget. Your post and the comments have inspired me to try once again to get “back on the wagon!”
    And as far as my husband needing extra cash–he has a separate account that is our “house” account, which also has money automatically deposited into it. This way, he can pick up supplies for repairs or a surprise for me without my knowing and I don’t pull my hair out when my checking account doesn’t balance because he forgot to record something! (He also uses duplicate checks–a life saver!) But the best benefit is that when we need serious house repairs, the money is there. (Due to the fact that he, fortunately, rarely spends anything without first consulting with me.)

  7. says

    I haven’t used Quicken, but I did receive a notice on my last bank statement that my bank would now charge $6.95 a month to download info to Quicken. It seems like Mint would be the cheaper option.

  8. Jen T says

    Any suggestions on how to convince your significant other that combining our money/budgeting together is a good thing? Maybe what we’re doing doesn’t need to change, but I feel like we could be doing more to make our financial circumstances better. Right now, he pays the majority of the bills with his money. I know the bills plus the gas on his car takes up a lot of money, so that probably doesn’t leave him with much anyways. On my end, I pay for the kids room, 99% of the groceries, clothing, etc. etc. (basically what Crystal would pay on the cash envelope system) There’s maybe one $20/month bill I pay that’s jointly ours. He feels that I have a lot on my plate and that I would easily get overwhelmed if we were to mix together our money, etc. Plus, he says he doesn’t want me to “control” him by controlling the money. I just feel like whatever money he has left, if any, that he doesn’t use “properly”. He’ll fill-up his gas tank at the nearest gas station, even if there’s a cheaper one in the area. If he wants to cook something special for us, he’ll go to one grocery store and spend X amount of money in groceries on stuff I know I could have gotten cheaper elsewhere if we just preplanned it (he’s not very good about communicating and planning for the future.. lol). We both really want to get out of our housing and debt situations, and but I feel like we need every dollar to do it. The extra $10-$20 he spends frivilously, at multiple places, could have paid off a bill by now. The same thing with the couple dollar coffees he’ll buy at school when he gets free coffee from work! Ugh.. The thing is that if we put our money and the bills together, I would be controlling the money. I have to.. he just can’t handle it. He’ll go buy blah blah blah.. and our PG&E is a month behind and he’s scrambling to come up with the money to pay it off.

    • Jen T says

      @Jen T, Oh and to reply to my own comment. =) He tells me after bills he doesn’t have any money to spend, so what’s the point? I try to tell him that if I know what’s going on with the bills and his part of the money, that maybe I can help him out and he can have some play money to spend. That doesn’t work for him either.

      • Heather says

        @Jen T, That’s a hard one. But I do think that keeping finances together is important for a marriage – not just for saving money.
        Although, even if you did it altogether, that’s not going to necessarily stop the impulse buys at the grocery store! That’s a separate issue, really.
        Good luck!

    • Leah C says

      @Jen T, My husband and I each have our own “personal” accounts that we get a certain dollar amount of our paychecks deposited in to for our own spending money and the rest all goes into our joint account to pay all bills, etc. This way if there is something we want to buy, it comes out of our own account and if there is no money in it, too bad, we will have to wait. :)

  9. robyn says

    crystal, i would love to know where you got a $30 DVD player. the cheapest we could find was $40 at walmart. of course it might be different because of your area, but i was just wondering. ours decided not to work a couple of days ago. wont even turn on. i HATE stuff like that.

    • jennifer says

      @robyn, Try Wal-mart.com. Seems the prices online tend to be slightly lower than at the actual store. I asked about a DVD player we were looking at-$10 cheaper online (w/free delivery to store) but the store wouldn’t match the price. Why? Because they want people to buy online! So, I bought it online and saved $10!

      Many Wal-Marts now do site to store shipping for free or ship to your home for $.97.

  10. Jen says

    I use Mvelopes and absolutely love it! I am a complete numbers nerd (I’m a CPA which I suppose proves it LOL). I used to use Quicken and Microsoft Money but really felt that those programs had flashy reports and charts to tell us where our money had already gone- past tense- but weren’t so hot at directing our money in the future. I love that Mvelopes lets us set up virtual envelopes for every possible expense, and we allocate each paycheck throughout the month to those envelopes. I set it up ahead of time so that every paycheck is allocated the way I want based on when our bills are due throughout the month. I love that if I swipe my debit card at the gas station and that night log into Mvelopes, there is my gas station transaction, and I just drag it into my “fuel” envelope, which is automatically reduced by what I spent. I can’t get used to cash envelopes so if in doubt I just log into Mvelopes and check how much I have left in each envelope so I don’t spend too much. I love it love it love it!! To me it’s worth every penny :)

  11. says

    Less than $200 for a family of five. Wow, I am floored. I need to get a lot better at this as a single woman if I ever want to be a frugal wife and mom.

  12. Lisa says

    We are a family of 6 and live in expensive CT! I am a stay at home mom, so it’s easier for me to do the budgeting. I created a simple spreadsheet on Excel but am seriously considering Mint.com. What I did first was to write down what our normal monthly expenses are. Then I wrote down the name of each month and the extra expenses for each. For example, in August I have alloted extra money for school supplies and clothing, in September the registration is due on our car along with an oil change, in October we have to buy 1 birthday gift, etc. I write out an entire 12 months like this. It ends up being pretty accurate and works for us.
    Since others were sharing, we allot the following for our budget in July:

    Gas: $90 (my husband drives a company car, so we only need to pay for the gas on my car)
    Cigarettes: $185 ( I really wish my husband would quit!)
    Food: $400 (there are 6 of us)
    Car Taxes: $96.54
    Eye Exam/Contacts: $155

    We don’t budget for every category each month because I’ve found it easier to do it according to the month but this way certainly wouldn’t work for everyone.

  13. says

    Crystal, now that you own a home, will you be adding in new categories to your budget? We bought our first place last year, and we have had a lot of unexpected expenses, even though my husband is quite handy! I just never thought about buying things like salt for a water softener or mulch for the flower beds when we rented.

    We basically decided to go with a small category for simple home stuff like decorations or mulch, but then also keep emergency funds for plumbing disasters, lawn mower breakdowns or dishwasher leaks (all three of which happened to us in the past year).

    • says

      Yes, we’re still working on tweaking our Quicken budget for what new expenses we’ll have a home owners. However, since we’re no longer paying a rent payment, we’re just planning to set aside some of that for the extra home expenses. That said, since we were in rental homes, not apartments, for the last three years, we’ve already been paying for many expenses like mulch for the flower beds and so forth.

  14. says

    We’ve used the Crown Financial Budget for about 12 years now; I will need to have hubby read this post, because he may want to switch, as he does everything on paper and it is so time consuming. And I’m more goal-oriented, so I think a program where I could see it would help.

    KRYSTAL – I have a question for you: Have you ever considered using a rewards-type credit card? After we’d had our budget for several years, we signed up for a Kroger credit card. We use it in place of a debit card and write every transaction in our check book. For our family of 8, we accrue $80-90 each quarter of FREE groceries. Of course, they are truly free since we pay the credit card in full each month.


  15. Heather says

    We budget by the year. We sit down together at the end of December and plan it out. But we do divide the year into the 12 months. That way it’s easy to manage infrequent items like auto insurance or car repairs and monthly items like food, diapers, and gas. After that initial planning, I pretty much do it all (bill paying, spending, and expense entering), even though my husband is an accountant! I keep him up to date on how we’re doing throughout the year, of course, and sometimes we have had to adjust things, like when we’ve had a baby. I use a spreadsheet I made in Excel. Very easy, and it’s just the way I like it. It’s also easy to compare the current year to how we did in past years.

    Also, one thing we do to save, is that if he gets a pay raise mid-year, we DON’T adjust our budget until our next Dec. meeting. Well, I enter in the increased income, but I don’t increase our budget/spending.

  16. Laura says

    Hi Crystal,

    When your child are a bit older, you may want to check out the Sonlight Curriculum for homeschooling. It is amazing – truly an amazing Christian program that includes literature, history, writing, and religion. You can send for a free catalog to check it out. At first, don’t panic about the sticker shock. You can use one program for all of your children since they’re pretty close in age. Further, I have been able to sell the curriculum for nearly what I paid for it – thinking of it like rolling a catalina – after using it (ebay is my favorite though Sonlight does have a forum you can use too). We LOVE Sonlight and have many friends who also use it. Best wishes!


    • says

      I’ve checked out Sonlight, but it’s not a good fit for us right now. We’re doing My Father’s World and Bob Jones this year — plus lots of great read-alouds!

  17. Mary says

    Crystal — do you have any words of wisdom for us? We had three children in three years, and I quit my job to stay home with them. It seems like we can’t make a dent in our snowball because of the constants of life with small children ——- doctor and Rx copays!!! Recently our oldest got an ear infection — it was $20 for the doc copay, then $40 for the Ear, Nose and Throat doc copay, then $15 for her antibiotics, which she ended up having an allergic reaction to, which meant a trip to Urgent Care and another $20 copay for the doc followed by yet another $30 for a different antibiotic and ear drops. And this is just one child! Plus my OB/GYN bills from the births, etc etc etc. I just feel like medical expenses are the ONLY THING keeping us from meeting our financial goals. My husband has a decent job with decent healthcare coverage (we pay $600/month for health insurance premiums alone) — do you have any suggestions other than “don’t have more kids and don’t get sick?” :) We love your site!

    • Elizabeth says

      @Mary, I don’t have a lot of advice, but some sympathy. Last October, I had my son at the doctor 5 5 times (at $20 copay a time) and had 3 prescriptions filled. We could afford it, but gosh, it stinks. I just tried to be grateful that he wasn’t any sicker than he was, and that we had a place to take him.

      Having kids is so expensive, and the medical bills is a huge part of that– especially when you lose your health insurance to stay home with them. Have you looked into your state’s CHIP program? It might be less expensive than carrying them on your health insurance. You might also want to schedule a phone call with your husband’s HR department to see if they think you are in the best insurance plan for your situation. We did that, and saved about $600 this year…

    • Kim says

      Try to include medical expenses as part of your budget instead of them being a surprise expense. We set $70 aside every month for copays and prescriptions. Some months we hardly use it and “roll it over” to the next month, because we have months like you are describing that we are in the dr’s office so much that they recognize my voice over the phone! If you are going to budget this expense, try to be very generous with the amount you set aside. Budget for what you would consider a “bad month” every month. Hopefully, having it as part of your budget will help alleviate the shock and sting of the bills.

      If you have medical debt, make payment towards that debt part of your monthly budget. If you don’t have debt but are open to more kids, start putting money aside each month in preparation for the OB/GYN and hospital expenses. Use your past bills as a guide as to how much you should be saving in preparation for a future pregnancy.

      I hear you on the cost of health care! Our decent (but not great) insurance costs $500/mo and our net income is $2000/mo. One fourth of our income is health insurance- yikes!!

      • says

        @Kim, Have you looked into a health insurance alternative, such as Medi-Share? It has been a great option for us, and our monthly premium is less than it used to be when we were with Anthem. The $ we save on the premium now gets added to our budget envelope for medical payments/expenses (which we would use until we hit our deductible, if necessary). They have a family plan that’s not based on the # of people, and also a significant discount for “healthy” families. Just an idea!

    • says

      This might seem like a crazy suggestion, but we found that it’s less expensive to go to the Walgreens walk-in clinic than to our doctor. So we’ve been opting to go there if it’s something simple (like a suspected ear infection, etc.) Just something to consider. We also try really hard to fight stuff naturally before heading to the doctor — so we usually only end up with around 2-3 trips to the doctor per year for our whole family. However, we’ve also been blessed with pretty good health so far — and I know that’s not always the case for everyone.

      Have you checked out other health insurance options? You may be able to get private coverage (not through your husband’s work) for less than $600/month. I’m not completely sure because it depends, but that’s definitely something to consider. We’re privately insured and currently pay around $570 per month for our family, although it sounds like you have better coverage since we have a high deductible.

      Also: do you have extra healthcare costs like this budgeted for so they don’t ruin your budget every time they come up?

    • says

      @Mary, Others have talked about adding in medical expenses already, so I’ll skip that.

      But for ear infections, a garlic ear oil works really well for us. You can make your own, but you can also buy it at a health food store or online. The brand we use is called Herbs for Kids. I bought it online last time. It lasts a really long time. Usually 1 treatment is all you need; sometimes I’ll do it twice. It takes away the pain almost immediately, and by the next day the infection is usually gone. The children will wake up and say it’s all better. I have 6 children under 8 and I’ve used this every time. We’ve never needed to do anything else for an ear infection.

        • Mary says

          @Jaime @ Like a Bubbling Brook,

          THanks everyone! We don’t qualify for CHIP or the state’s medicaid program (we are one dependent away from qualifying, but not a good reason to have another baby! ha!) :) We will look into the private insurance market, I think Dave Ramsey suggests Zander?? We do have medical debt, which is currently in the snowball — we so far have NOT put copays into the budget because I wasn’t sure where to start. I think we will need a cash envelope — good idea about the “rolling over” to the next month if we don’t use it (We are brand new to this whole budgeting thing and brand new to one income) I will also look into the walgreens clinics. Target offers $4 generic Rx, so I need to print out their list of which ones are $4 and carry it in my car. Thank you Thank you everyone!

    • Krystal says

      @Mary, If you have medical debt always contact your hospital/clinic and ask if they have a financial assistance program. I ended up in the ER then into the dr office and with numerous prescriptions and it was crippling us. It is one thing to budget for it but when it all comes at once and the total out of pocket money is 20% of your income you can feel very overwhelmed. They figured it and we qualified for them to write it off for us. Some people might not feel comfortable with this but it was the best for our family. Always contact your drs office or hospital before you get overwhelmed with medical debt.

    • Alea says

      I’m with Crystal on private insurance. I pay about $320 for premiums each month for myself & 4 kids. I know that varies a lot between states. (hubby is covered for free through work). Our deductibles are super high, but we have a copay on visits (one wellchild is free each year) so unless there’s something really major we don’t even get close to meeting it. Plus, their max charge on kids is only 3, so when we had the last one, it didn’t even go up!

  18. Jessica says

    I am the numbers nerd! I use a spreadsheet for our bills. The money for envelopes is just considered one ‘bill.’ I bank at Wells Fargo and their online banking has a really sweet spending report. That helps us see where our money goes if we do have a situation where we need to use the debit card at the grocery store and such. With the spending report it is easy to know exactly how much should be put back into the bank from a particular envelope. There is also a budget tool. Pretty cool!

  19. says

    I am the number’s nerd in the household. It makes my husband cringe. We come from such different backgrounds with how we were raised. I feel more secure in knowing that the bills are paid. I use an old MS Money 03 CD to do most of the bills, but I have recently started using Mint.com. I have always wanted to use the money envelope system but I have some hesitations. I have been trying to stay on budget but get side tracked a lot. I try to blog about it for accountability but once I’m out with my ATM card something else takes over. Find my most recent budget post @ http://absentmindedmother.blogspot.com/2010/07/budget-update-74-710.html. It might make you feel better about your spending at least.

  20. Anna Larson says

    Thank you for noting your figures in different budget areas. In trying to figure out what’s “reasonable”, I’ve often wondered what other’s numbers are in these areas, but it’s not exactly something that’s PC to ask! We found your post encouraging.

  21. Nicole says

    My husband and I have started using Quicken as of about 4 months ago. We are both definitely number nerds (accountants), but I usually do the budgeting and bill paying as it is something I really enjoy. We have set “goals” on Quicken as to what we can spend in each category and try to stick to that as close as possible. We pay everything with our credit card and then pay that off completely at the end of the month – we love the cash back bonuses! I have Quicken linked to our credit card account so it automatically downloads everything and I can then categorize it. I input all the checking account stuff (pretty much just bills) manually which doesn’t take too long at all. It’s great to see where our money is going and how much we will have at any given time in the future! You can also print off cash flow charts which, as accountants, we both love. :)

  22. Jojo says

    I use the envelope system and a note book to record the envelopes and auto withdrawls every month. During the year I write down things that come up that I have to pay that I don’t have an envelope for like AAA membership, pictures of the kids, and DMV, and sports and turbo tax.

    I also take the highest amount for PGE and NW Gas and Gas and keep the leftovers that usually comes during the summer months for the increase we get during the winter months. Any leftovers for gas goes to oil changes and those nasty maintenance amounts. Once a year – on my anniversary of envelopes, I take the overage and put it in savings.

    I also “borrow” from the envelopes and record it – for “emergencies” so I can owe back to it. This keeps our hands out of the savings account.

  23. Nancy says

    We have a family of 8 with one needing a special diet. We budget $120-$150 per week for groceries, plus $30 for carryout. Before the envelope system and coupons, we spent roughly $300 per week. We use Microsoft Money, an excel spreadsheet with Dave Ramsey’s budgeting worksheet loaded on it, and the envelope system. My husband and I spent the last 20 years letting our money control us. Since learning about Dave Ramsey from your website in December, we have dumped $18000 toward debt and saved 20% of our emergency fund. Thank you, Crystal.

  24. Emily Rynders says

    One area we struggle with is the “home” category. We do not spend on decorations and furniture, but it is all the stuff to take care of the lawn, the grill that broke, the nails and the screws and the stain, etc. It adds up so fast. I want our home category to take into account replacement cost for things like the water heater, furnace, and A/C but I really struggle to do that. Any advice?

    • Kim says

      @Emily Rynders,
      If you anticipate those major house items going out soon, you could look into home insurance. We have AHS on our house. The first year was paid by the sellers when we bought this house. I don’t know what the cost will be for us to renew at the end of the year. The good thing about it is that is a fixed rate, so it eliminates the element of surprise in our budget. If the annual premium is very high, it may not be worth it though.

      • Ryan says

        We did look into a home warranty (completely different than home owner’s insurance) that covers some systems like A/C and appliances etc. The problem is that unlike medical insurance where the company makes money because most people are fairly healthy, all the systems and appliances in your home will eventually break and need to be replaced. In order to make money, they have to charge you more over time that the replacement cost (or else deny the claims you file). If you have enough wiggle room in your budget to save the money for these things yourself, you’ll save money in the long run.
        I have a friend that swore up and down that her home warranty had saved them a “ton” of money. I ran the numbers and even in our situation where we’d had a couple repairs and replaced a water heater, the home warranty would have cost more (keep in mind you will pay basically a “co-pay” every time someone comes out for service in addition to the premiums).
        Another problem with home warranties is they generally will only replace an item if it’s completely un-repairable. So if you have an ancient olive green refrigerator you’d like to replace, you’ll have to shell out the cash yourself unless that can’t find someone to fix it. Then you’ve paid for it twice (buying it at the store and paying the home warranty the money they’d need to replace it).
        Anyone else have any thoughts on home warranties? Seemed like a rip-off to us.

        • Kim says

          Sorry, I meant home warranty. Thanks for the info. We’ve enjoyed ours so far during the 6 months we’ve lived in the house, since it only costs $60 for a repair &/or replacement regardless of how many hours and trips it takes to get it fixed. BUT, it is free to us this year. We may very well find that it is not worth it at the end of the year when we have to decide to pay for it. I’ve heard they raise the rates after the first year, too. We have a 40+ year old home with several things that are on the brink of dying (AC, water heater, stove, dishwasher) so we’ll have to evaluate it when we get a price quote.

        • Emily Rynders says


          We had one at our old house. We kept it for a few years and in those years it did seem to be a decent investment because we had some major parts fail in our A/C and some other appliances. But like you said the rates kept going up, and the out of pocket trip cost for each repair visit went up too (to $100 per) and I just didn’t see that we were saving money. My MIL is enrolled in something through their local utility that does repairs on major appliances but they don’t offer it here.

      • says

        We were also given a one-year home warranty when we purchased our new house. Co-pays were $90 per visit. The renewal was going to be $500 and we chose not to do it. One of the major reasons was that we had no control over the contractor assigned to do the work. When the hot water heater burst, we had no choice in the model; the one they approved is not as energy efficient as what we would have purchased on our own.

    • Ryan says

      @Emily Rynders,
      We have a “home improvement” category that is basically for saving money for those large expenses that come up every few years. You can do a quick web search and find out the expected lifetime of various appliances and things like a new roof, replacing flooring etc that may need to be done depending on the age of your home. We found that our HVAC system may give out in the next few years (we’re already past the life expectancy), so we know that next time it breaks, we’d like to replace it rather than try to fix it. We also need a new roof soon. These will each be over $5k, so we obviously need to be saving for that right now! For us it was most helpful to list all the large items in our home that will eventually need to be replaced and see which ones are coming up soonest and have a rough idea of the cost. We have it in a spreadsheet and sort it by how soon we think the expense will come up. This can be incentive to work on saving money for those items and then check it off. Like we now have the money saved for our roof…previously if we lost shingles in a wind storm we’d just replace them even though we knew the roof is on it’s last leg. Next time it happens, we’ll schedule to have the roof replaced. It is great when you’ve planned ahead and are ready for those situations ahead of time. Of course there are always things you didn’t plan for but most of the big items around your house, you can estimate when you’ll need to put money towards them.

  25. says

    We pay most of our set bills through our checking account. Those that fluctuate (gas and groceries) get a set amount in a cash envelope every month. We also take our offering money out in cash at the beginning of each month – that way we have it set aside. We have our calendar marked with paydays and which bills come out of which check. Once we get paid, we pay the bills right away. That way, if there’s extra money in our checking account, we can use it for something else.

    The problem with this is that my husband is of the “If it’s there, I’ll spend it” mentality, so generally extra money in our account gets spent on (mostly) silly things like eating out and junk food that we don’t need. I had charge of the numbers for awhile, but kind of got sick of it, so he updates the checkbook, but that’s about it. I really need to take charge again so that little bit of extra money can be spent more creatively on better things.

  26. says

    I am the ‘free spirit’ my husband does spreadsheets for a living. I always break out in a sweat when he breaks out the computer for budget time. His spreadsheets have saved us thousands of dollars though, so I can make it through the pain :)

  27. Elizabeth says

    Thanks for sharing, Crystal. I have a family of 2 adults and a 2 year old, and we aren’t nearly as frugal as you are! We have no debt, other than a mortgage, and save at least the recommended amounts, but you’ve challenged me to see where I could save a little more. We’re not quite tithing, and I’d love to get up to 10%. Keep up the good work!

    • says

      We’ve tithed 10% off our gross from the day we got married — even when we were barely squeaking by. We truly believe that by making giving our first priority, God has stretched the additional 90% much farther. I’d encourage you to do something radical and make tithe the first thing on your budget line. You might just find that 90% left stretches far beyond what seems possible!

    • Kim says

      While I think 10% is a good tithe, I believe it really comes down to an issue of the heart. God doesn’t want a percentage from us, He wants our heart. If you give 10% out of obligation or duty, then it really is not what He desires. Any amount given from duty or guilt is not Biblical. I’d encourage you to pray with your husband about it. You may find that God gives you a peace about 5% right now or you may find that He wants you to sacrifice some “extras” (b/c in the US, just about everyone has “extra” by the world’s standards) to give even more than 10%. I don’t think there is a right number for everyone, so the goal is a right heart!

      • says

        While I absolutely agree that God wants us to follow in His footsteps and be givers — not just to give out of obligation or duty — 10% is God’s idea as that’s what “tithe” literally means. So that’s what we’ve committed to give from the beginning. And we’ve seen God do amazing things as we’ve committed to walk out Malachi 3:10 — http://bible.cc/malachi/3-10.htm

    • says

      @Elizabeth, God gives us all that we have. He doesn’t need our money. He wants our hearts.

      Through the prophet Malachi, the Lord declared:

      “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:10).

      The word “tithe” denotes a tenth part. In French, the word for tithe is “dime.” :)

      I would encourage you to pay a full tithe, and see the fruits of this promise in your own life. You can only gain a testimony of the law of tithing by living it.

      And it is in those hardest months–the months where you don’t know how you’re going to pay your bills AND pay your tithing, when you learn that when you pay your tithing first, God will bless you.

      I have seen this in my own life, over and over. The numbers don’t always work on paper, but they WORK after tithing is paid. You can see miracles in your own life.

      • Elizabeth says

        @The Prudent Homemaker, Thanks for your thoughts. Obviously God doesn’t need our money, but there are a whole lot of people who do. We could give more (well, who couldn’t really?) but so far we haven’t made it a priority, and in looking at our budget, I think we can find ways to do better. I am hoping to find ways in the next year or so to thoughtfully increase our support of organizations that do good and necessary work.

      • says

        @The Prudent Homemaker, Our money isn’t our’s at all, it is the LORD’s!! :) We make sure that at least 10% comes off our budget at the first of the month, even before we receive our paycheck. We know and have faith that God will provide in the future and when we are faithful to give no matter our circumstances, He truly blesses us. Every other category is meaningless and so unimportant. Keep up the great work ladies!

  28. Rachelle says

    We have been using Crown Financial’s mvelopes system for 8 years or so. I love it! It is linked to my bank account(s) and I also have all of our debts (mortgage, school loans, etc.) linked. Although we don’t have credit cards anymore, you can link those. It tracks each purchase made and bills that have been paid. All I have to do is drag each transaction into the proper mvelope. If I make a Walmart/Target purchase, I can split the receipt between several envelopes. It has a debt reduction plan that you can use if you are trying to pay down debt. I can go in and adjust our budget as needed if anything changes (I am a teacher so I reduced the child care envelope for the summer.) I put all income into the income folder throughout the month and then I go in and ‘fund’ each envelope once a month. The whole thing is so simple and I would recommend it to anyone. There is a fee to use it but the $14.95/mo is SO worth it.

  29. Tabatha says

    I am trying to read the comments to see if my questions can be answered through them…But getting a little overwhelmed…What I was just wondering is do you carry the envelopes around with you??Or do you have place you always keep it in your house?? I would just be afraid carrying around envelopes I Would misplace it with my money in it..I guess that is why I feel more comfortable with a debit card but really going to try the cash thing…I think it would be alot easier I can always carry even 3-4 dollars for a long time and dont even think about spending it but dont mind swiping the debit card for a $1 purchase…It is crazy…Thank you so much for you post they are really helping us just by couponing!! Thank you!!

    • Megan says

      all of our savings is in the “savings fund” tucked away in our house. when I need to take some out for clothing or such, I take out a couple of $20’s (or however much I need for what I need to buy for the day) and take it to the store with me. If I spend less, it goes back in the envelope when I come home. This has also proven to be a great tactic to avoid overspending on unnecessary items at the store and to reduce impulse buying. Hope this helps!

    • Jill says

      @Tabatha, I wonder where people keep the money in their house. My husband does not want all of this cash hanging around the house for the envelope system.

    • Dawn says

      @Tabatha, we have a specific place we keep our envelopes. For example…$300 envelope funds groceries for the month and I will pull out $60-$75 to take to the grocery with me when I go, change goes back in the envelope at home. Then when the envelope houses less than $100 I usually just tuck it in my purse for when I need to go pick up milk, bread, etc. It is weird at first but becomes so second nature in no time! Also, gas envelope at home and we just take out $20-$40 when the gas is low and go to fill up.

    • says

      @Tabatha, We have a coupon organizer/small expandable file that I tuck into my purse when we leave the house. We always try to be purposeful when we leave the house and with check cards/credit cards sometimes we would swipe without thinking of the cost/use/room/need of the item. With the cash we have to look at what is left and weigh it against what we would really want or need later in the month. I think the other thing we have found helpfull is to know view leftover blow money. In areas where we have seen alot left over every month we have lowered the budget as needed and then kept a record of what was left over each month but put the money in savings. That way if later in the year we have a great need in that category, we haven’t spent the money having fun, but have it stored up for later use. Good luck!

  30. Megan says

    Our monthly bills:
    – rent ($500)
    – electric (varies)
    – gas (varies)
    – water ($35)
    – sewage ($20)
    – cable bundle ($100)
    – one cell phone ($57.44)
    – his credit card (minimum payment $20 or so)

    My fiance pays the rent, cable bundle, and his credit card payment every month. He allots money for gas for his car and his cigarettes. I’m responsible for the other smaller bills (cell phone is mine) plus my own gas. The car insurance for both of our cars is a once-yearly payment of around $700 which we pay at tax time. I usually get the clothing for everyone (which is almost never for us adults!) and I get the girls’ clothing for next to nothing due to clearance shopping paired with coupons/gift cards I’ve won off the Internet. We end up having a couple hundred that goes into savings each month after all of this (pssst – we make less than $20,000 combined per year!) Anything is possible!

    Things that are a no-no in our finances:
    – car payments (ours may be old but they’re paid for)
    – fast food (save for if we’re out of town)
    – any more than one credit card
    – store-specific credit cards
    – student loans (we’ve been able to finance our schooling with grants!)

  31. Jill says

    Can any one tell me how much Quickens cost? Does the program ever become outdated? My other question is for those of you who have envelope systems where do you keep your money. My husband is so hesitant to have all of this money laying around. My other issue is motivation. I find that I create a spread sheet use it for a month or so and then get busy or forget about it and it goes by the wast side. I am commited to saving money but can’t keep motivated to keep up a budget and/or spreadsheet.

    • says

      @Jill, I’m using Quicken 2003 and it works just fine still! We bought ours at Sam’s Club–obviously, years ago, but they are still a good price for buying it.

      I have a spreadsheet and I have a master month, with all of the expenses on it, and then I show myself 3 months at a time, with adjusted prices for utilities in those and once or twice a year bills in them. I just copy the master month over to the righthand column each time so that I neevr have to rewrite it.

    • Melissa says

      @Jill, even at the beginning of the month, we only have $400 in cash in our home. This is definitely a worst-case scenario, but if someone broke into our house and stole the envelopes, I think the $400 would be the last thing on my mind. Really, we should all have some cash in our home for emergencies or if (like happened in New York several summers ago) there is a power outage and ATMs don’t work. I had a friend stuck at the airport there with no cash and no way to get cash or use a credit/debit card because all the machines rely on electricity.

  32. says

    Call me crazy (and some people will!) but I have never put myself on a budget in my life because I do know this truth: *Diets Don’t Work and Budgets Don’t Either.* This is because diets and budgets are about deprivation and concentrating on lack rather than abundance and looking at what you *do* have, what you *can* enjoy (i.e., planning healthy fresh salads vs thinking about the cake you can’t have, and likewise, looking at the little bits of money you *do* have, and only spending money in hand, never money you don’t have.

    And I do know a thing or two of what I speak, having written a personal finance book for Thomas Nelson: “A Girl and Her Money: How to Have a Great Relationship Without Falling in Love,” and having spoken on national and international television about all things personal finance.

    By the way, I have never had credit card debt in my life, have only paid cash for the two new cars I have bought (and driven until they retired), and do know that contentment has next to nothing to do with the money you do or do not have in the bank.

    One of my top tips which I have practiced for many years: I you use a credit card (pay it in full each month), but I always know how much I have spent, and am never afraid to open, nor am surprised when I get my bill. The 3″ x 5″ brightly-colored index card I keep next to the dollar bills and single credit card in my wallet always has a running total of the amount spent for the month. I jot down recurring bills that are automatically put on the card, such as my phone bill; I jot down gas I just paid for, whatever. I can always look at that card, and sometimes it gives me a little permission to spend a little extra. If the balance is really low and I’m nearing the end of a cycle, I’ll feel a little free-er about buying some cute thing I see, but I’m also just as motivated perhaps not to spend, especially if the balance is a little on the high side for the month. It’s excellent information, and can be used as a little barometric measure for spending. Hope that helps.

    • says

      I’m here to say that budgets do work: without them we wouldn’t have paid cash for our house last week! :) The problem with most Americans is that they’ve bought into the lie that budgets are ball and chains. In fact, they are just the opposite. They are freedom to tell your money how to work most effectively for you. We love having the boundaries a budget gives: we’re in charge of our money, we’re spending it on purpose — not just letting it run through our fingers like sand and hoping the ends meet at the end of the month!

      Wouldn’t you rather be free from the cycle of being broke (as your website and handle says you are)? Try a budget, stick with it and it will change your life — and you’ll likely give yourself a huge pay raise!

      • says

        @Crystal, @Crystal, Yes Crystal, Broke Girl is my handle, and maybe that’s inaptly put– it’s all about disconnecting financial status (whether rich or poor) from happiness. [Phil 4:12, in whatsoever state…learned to be content.] Meaning, I *could* be broke but still happy, because it’s not about the money. Fact is: like you, I have saved and scrimped, but differently from you, have never used a budget. I actually started one (made up my own little envelope system, with pennies and nickels) when I was 10 years old, and for various reasons I won’t detail now, realized that just wasn’t going to work, and have never looked back. But I totally don’t mean that as a “dis” on those for whom budgets work like very well-oiled machines. That’s just me. As a single girl, I am financially free, own a beautiful home I purchased myself–no inheritance, etc., and have no debt. I’ve taught others how to experience financial freedom, from women on welfare in the basements of Chicago’s housing projects to the ladies who lunch in Southern California. This I did observe: the fear in the eyes of the women on welfare was no different from that of the rich ladies who had lots of money, and were worried about what to do with it all. That’s what I really mean to speak to. Erasing the fear about finances. I do respect envelope systems and the wonders they have worked for the financial lives of many people, esp. young couples. I should probably bow out of this discussion–I do encourage people to use whatever system works for them; I mean, if it isn’t broke, don’t change it. Pun seriously not meant to be–I dislike puns.

        BTW, huge congratulations. I hope we would have a housewarming party for you. Since can’t all be there in person, maybe there is some other way your discussion group could contribute. Ideas for great handmade housewarming gifts, or tips for new homeowners or something. Personally, I’ve grown out of my wee toolbox to a big tool closet and have learned how to do many fun, successful money-saving DIY projects.

    • says

      @Sharon Durling, aka Broke Girl, Would a wording change help? We use a spending plan – we plan each month where our money is going to go. To us, it’s a different way of thinking than a ‘budget’ which has somewhat of a limiting connotation as you mentioned. Totally believe in the spending plan and can’t believe how much we’ve saved and how well we communicate about money.

      • Dani says

        @Lindsay, Even though I consider the two the same, the wording might actually help people who can’t stand the thought of a budget! I use the word budget and don’t mind it, but spending plan does sound better!

  33. Amber says

    I’m completely in charge of the finances around these parts! I contribute 20% of my income to my 401k at work and will begin contributing to a health savings account and a 529 soon, and we both contribute to our Roth IRA’s each year. We use automatic bill pay for phone, internet, my health insurance and electric and we pay for a ferry pass with the debit card each month (120.00) and a check for rent $700). We have one envelope for food ($200), we each get an envelope for gas ($50 each), and we each get our own envelope of “fun” money (he gets $50, I get $20). He works out of town 3 days a week and therefore gets a little bit of extra “fun” money. I prefer to spend mine on coffee! We don’t touch any of my income which isn’t much, but it still helps!

  34. Denise B. says

    We too use Excel. We started the budget spreadsheet after reading Debt Proof Your Marriage. After 4 months it was so exciting (and also an eye opener!) to see exactly where every dollar goes. We are now doing the Dave Ramsey Total Money Makeover and switched to envelopes for certain catagories. It is AMAZING how much better we have been with our money since the switch. We used to track our purchases for the different catagories (paid for by the debit card), but since we switched to the cash enveolpes our spending has been half of what it was. It is true that it is so much harder to use cash and see it go away! Tracking our money and using the spreadsheet budget has been life changing for our family.

  35. says

    I’m very impressed by your grocery budget. We’re at $220/month for a family of 3 – and I can’t seem to get it much lower. Granted…being in SoCal may have a bit to do with that, but still…

  36. Jane says

    Hi Crystal! I’m wondering about the $30 a month allocated towards gifts. Most people have registeries, and the items listed often cost more than $30. How do you still get people a meaningful gift without coming off as cheap?

    • says

      We usually spend around $20-$25 on wedding gifts — and usually have no problem finding something on registries in that amount. In our area, that’s a pretty typical amount to spend on a wedding gift. We normally only get invited to around three weddings per year, so up to this point, $30 per month has well covered our gift-giving.

      • says

        @Crystal, This is definitely regional. Here on the East Coast (NY, Pennsylvania, DC area) I would never dream of giving less than $100 for a wedding gift from a couple. A bridal shower would be a $25-$30 gift. We are pretty big savers in our family and we follow a budget, too. It’s just interesting to see the differences – especially in regional costs and expectations. Our gifts budget is $150 per month – up from $100 per month because $100 wasn’t covering all of the big events – like weddings and Bar-Mitzvahs – that we are invited to each year.

        Of course, having the budget is the important point. Just interesting to see the differences from the East Coast to the Midwest.

          • says

            I guess I’m glad I have frugal friends and live in the Midwest! :) $100 per wedding gift sounds outrageous to me; there’s no way most people here could ever afford that. And there are usually very few items on the registries here even much over $30 or $40!

        • Dawn says

          @Michele @ Saving Money In Real Life, Seriously? $100? I can’t help but think these are nothing but selfish, unrealistic expectations. I would rather give – and receive – a heartfelt, meaningful gift than an exorbitant gift and that either I or the giver could afford. I have received pricey gifts from people that I new could not have afforded it – meaning it was put on a credit card or financed. Knowing that took all the intended joy out of the gift. And the saddest thing is, many times the gift was not given from the heart but in order to impress. This completely defeats the spirit of giving. We need to adjust our attitudes about ‘giving’ no matter what society tells us. Scripture tells us that the ‘blessings of the Lord should never be a burden’. If giving/receiving a gift means that someone is spending money they don’t have we are not blessing anyone. And if a couple is selfish enough to expect or even demand a gift that the giver can not truly afford, I am thinking they need a reality check.

      • Jen says

        Wow that’s definitely regional. Here in New England about $200 from a couple is a standard wedding gift from a couple. And they usually want cash, LOL.

        • says

          @Jen, We got married in CT, but my husband’s family is from Indiana. It was interesting to see the variance- we received gifts in the $25-$50 range from his family and checks for $200 from just about everyone on my “New England” side. One’s no better than the other- and I should note that these particular Eastern folks could afford it- but it is interesting to see those regional differences.

      • Emily says

        We live in Michigan and spend $40 per wedding and $30 per wedding or baby shower gift. After the baby is born, we bring over a meal and spend about $25 for clothes for the new baby. Birthday presents are about $30 along with Christmas presents. For our parents we spend around $50-100 for Christmas.

      • jennifer says

        @Crystal, I can’t imagine $100 for a gift either! We’re a neighbor to the East-Iowa.

        Like you, we don’t attend or get invited to many weddings each year. The ones that we do are my husband’s co-workers, many of which I’ve never met. I feel it’s fair to purchase a $20 gift and call it good.

        • says

          @jennifer, I just stated what was a “typical” gift on the East Coast. I don’t know that people getting married in NY have any more selfish expectations for gifts than people getting married in the Midwest. It’s just the normal gift around here – no different than the norm around the Midwest might be $30.

          I agree that I would not want anyone to go into debt buying a wedding present. A guest’s presence and his heartfelt good wishes are all that is necessary.

          However, our family can afford $100 presents, and that’s what we budget, so that is the minimum we’d give if my husband and I were invited to a wedding. I would hope that someone who could not afford to do so would buy something less expensive.

          Another thought comes to mind on why the typical wedding gifts are different in the East than in the Midwwest. A typical wedding on the East Coast (Northeast and Mid-Atlantic) is the marriage ceremony, a cocktail hour, a sit down dinner or a buffet dinner, a band or dj playing music for 4 hours during all of this, and dessert. It’s a lot different than punch and cake at the church. I think that is part of the reason gifts are much bigger here than out there.

      • says

        @Crystal, I almost commented yesterday about this. :) We don’t have the “eating out” category but we spend a lot more than $15/mo on gifts. And we don’t even celebrate Christmas! heehee

        But I guess we just LOVE to give gifts to others. For baby gifts, I usually try to do at least $30. For weddings, $50 or a lot more if it’s a sibling. We don’t do birthday gifts except for a couple close friends. We don’t do Christmas but when we see family members, we give gifts (like when my family came to visit… we gave them all presents). :)

        We’re frugal too, and most of our friends are similar to us — frugal and not well-to-do, so I see it as a blessing and encouragement to give large(r) gifts to a young couple starting out at their wedding or having a baby… I know they’re in a similar boat as Joshua and me and I know how encouraging it is to ME when others have been generous. :)

        In the past I have tried to do more homemade-type gifts and not spend a lot of money on gifts, but Joshua has helped me be more generous in many ways, including gift-giving. :) (Of course, we never buy gifts on credit… we always use cash.)

        • says

          I realized maybe it wasn’t clear from my post, but we spend a lot more than $30 per month on *giving* — but that comes out of a separate giving category in our budget. That category is for things other than birthday gifts for our children and wedding gifts — when we just want to bless someone in need, give an anonymous gift, etc. We LOVE to give and we’re so thankful to be in a position to bless others abundantly. It truly is more blessed to give than to receive!

  37. Jessica says

    Mint… I know people with Iphones that like it, can see all your balances (bank accounts and credit cards) on the go. Personally, I’m not a big fan, but that’s because it doesn’t get along with my bank. Each time I logged in I had to reauthenticate my accounts. It could stay logged into my debts but not my money funds for the same company/website. For a while I took the time to keep reauthenticating (I had emailed them requesting they fix the errors, but they still can’t mesh with 4 different insititutions I use, so I don’t use it any longer) and often found that it didn’t correctly categorize my transactions, calling a gas purchase grocery, or grocery retail. I liked how you could easily see graphs and charts of spending, and it would show the trends of what and when you tend to spend, so if it meshes with your institutions, go for it, but I had to spend too much time correcting labels.
    for trackingc what you spend, see what your banking institution offers. this year, my bank changed their online banking system, and I can now categorize my purchases. I can create new labels, and can search or make reports going two years back, however I can’t split a transaction.

  38. says

    Since others put their budgets out there, here is mine. We live in the DC area with a high cost of living. We have a 15-year mortgage (only 7 years to go!), so it’s on the high side.

    Mortgage $2,300
    Phone $45
    Cable $45
    Computer $45
    Electricity $125
    Water $25
    Gas $200
    Cell phones $35
    Gasoline $240
    Car Insurance $125
    Food $400
    Preschool $300
    Activities $50
    Religious School $50
    Summer Activities/Camp $150
    Entertainment $80
    Vacation $200
    Clothes $100
    Gifts $150
    Auto/Maintenance $100
    IRA savings $834
    Education IRA savings $500
    Misc $133

    • Melissa says

      @Michele @ Saving Money In Real Life,

      Thank you for posting Michele! Your budget looks very similar to ours. I was feeling FAR less than “frugal” after seeing Crystal’s meager budget, and feeling guilty for possibly being “big spenders” compared to most of the readers on this blog! But we live in a high cost of living area (Bay Area, CA) and I am coming to accept that “Frugal is different for everyone.” For some people, it is making your own soap and eating nothing but beans and rice, while for others it is just about being smart with the money that you DO spend. We fall into the latter category. My husband makes a nice living and I enjoy being a stay at home mom to our 20 month old daughter, but we live a “luxurious” life compared to what I hear from Crystal and most of her readers. And I need to stop feeling guilty for it! We use coupons and shop sales, but yes, I have brand name clothes and drive a nice but economical vehicle (a Honda hybrid). Everything we do is economical — for US! I guess that is what I am taking away from this post. $40/week for groceries, $15 a month for clothes, and $30/month for gifts is just never going to work for us. I am no better or worse for spending more money that that (a LOT more money than that), but it is what works for our family and provides us the lifestyle we are happy with.

      Crystal: I am curious – now that you will no longer have your monthly rent to pay (or a mortgage — congrats!) will you be loosening up the purse strings a little to enjoy that “extra” money? If not, what are you saving for now?

      Thanks for a great post – it really got me thinking!

      • says

        Yes, stop feeling guilty! :) Some people were appalled at the numbers I posted here and others thought they were very low. Don’t get hung up on numbers, just do what works for you!

        As far as loosening up the purse strings, we have a long list of specific financial goals we’re now working towards right now and some serious giving we want to do as well. So we’re not planning to change our budget much since, in all honesty, we’re really happy with how things stand and don’t feel like we’re scrimping much at all — at least compared with how we lived when we were first married! We are likely going to allow a few more splurges here and there (and we are planning to finally buy some decent home furnishings!), but we are really, really content and would rather use the extra money to give generously and invest our money so we can be in a position to give even more. I’ll be sharing more about our current financial goals near the beginning of August.

  39. says

    I forgot to add that our budget above does not include health insurance, dental insturance, taxes, and our 401(k) donation since that is all taken out of my husband’s paycheck.

    Also, I am the numbers geek in our family. I was a finance major in college and have been using Excel spreadsheets to do my fianances since I graduated in 1989! Back then I was using Lotus spreadsheets – I’m really dating myself. LOL!

  40. says

    “How do you track the finances at your house? I’d love to hear! And if you’re married, are you the numbers nerd or is your spouse?”

    Cash envelope system. Hubby wants to do all the finances… I am the numbers gal… even though I am not really agood number nerd.

    I have approx 20?ish envelopes. They are all the bills. ie- meds, supplements, car registration (x2), car insurance (x2) Tithe, etc etc etc

  41. Jeanette says

    Crystal or anyone else who can answer. What is your husband will not use the envelope system, but lets you control much of the money just as long as he can have his own debit or credit card?

  42. Laura says

    Hi Crystal,
    I love your site !!!! I live in Camp Pendleton, in Southern California. Yes, we are a military family, and although our job requires a lot of attention, time away from family, and sometimes very stressful, it does have its payoffs. My husband is a Marine, and he is a wonderful man who supports my couponing. I used to work for a bank, so I was always the numbers nerd. I love math, and I think thats why i love couponing. I keep our budget very tight, although its hard because there is always guilt involved when my hubby gets deployed. He’s away from us for six long months, so sometimes its hard to say no to his splurges, or that extra money spent on activities before he leaves. We’ve gotten a lot better because we were able to sit down and talk more about our money. We hope one day we can purchase a home as well, maybe not cash, but certainly one day. Its hard for us to settle down, only until we are for sure that we will stay in one location for a long time. I used to spend over 100/week on groceries when it was just us two, now I can spend 30-50/week, never going above that. I have found that I have less food at home, and I don’t throw away that much food anymore, I try to use mostly nonprocessed foods. Just sticking to basics is what works for us. Very easy meals, and very nutritious . We have the Commissary which helps out sooo much because they have lower prices than any store I know, and I shop sales only. The only thing we need to work on is our eating out. Sometimes when I see what we spend on in a restaurant, and I see the food we get, I always tell myself I could have cooked that for a cheaper price. I’m more frugal than my husband, way more. I can go without buying clothes or shoes for a long time. My husband on the other hand is a little looser with his money, good thing I manage our money.
    I currently use an App called AceBudget. it lets me track our spending, i can set categories for the budget, and whether it was a debit purchase, a credit card purchase, or even a cash purchase, I’ll quickly track it, not letting any purchase hide. I noticed my hubby would use debit and that would quickly mess our budget. This definately works. I was using the envelope method, which is pretty much the same as i am doing now, except its done on my phone. I pay quicker this way, and I can see charts on my phone. I will try MINT.COM very soon though. I love that you can see all accounts in one. I don’t prefer cash over debit, because i’m the person that tracks every penny no matter what, at the end of the day i’ll still check what i’ve spent. Thanks for all you do.!!!!!!!!

  43. Laura says

    I had one question for you .
    I noticed your budget, which OMG, hats to you. How do you do 20/week on eating out. do you only go to restaurants one day a week, whats your secret. I’m still trying to convince my hubby to not order drinks at restaurants. I try using coupons at restaurants but even some on Restaurant.com say you must have a min purchase of 35. 20 /week is amazing. let me know your tips on Eating out, dining, or even during the week.

  44. Laura says

    I looked at my budget right now,
    I was wondering how you only budget certain things, do you have one for automotive, do you have an allowance for your husband and yourself.
    We do but I don’t know how much is fair. I would like it lower, and he likes it just the way it is. currently 50/week for each. I know thats too high. Do you guys do this sort of thing, allowance for each. ?

  45. says

    Crystal, thank you so much for sharing these parts of your budget with us. I was curious as to what you spent on your one night out a week. I was surprised to see your gifts and clothing budgets as high as they were, though! Does your husband really wear out his ties that quickly?

    I use Quicken and an Excel spreadsheet. On my spreadsheet, I have one “master month” on the left-hand column, with all the highest prices for utilities figured in (summer and winter expenses) and then a couple of empty columns for space, and then three months at a time on the right-hand side. I just copy and paste the master month in for the next month at the far right-hand side.

    Then, I adjust accordingly after pasting. In summer, our electric bills and water bills are highest; in winter, those are lower, but our natural gas bill is higher. Because I do three months at a time, it’s easy for me to see the quarterly bills, like our HOA and trash bills, and plan accordingly.

    As I pay bills, I erase them from each row after they’re paid, and I keep a running total at the bottom so that I can see what we need for the rest of the month.

    I also have a row for tithing. Anytime we get paid, I add in tithing to that month for the amount we got paid. That space might get filled several times a month–or not at all, if we don’t get paid.

    I track everything in Quicken, and I pay with a debit card. I can look at what I have in that category for the month, and know what I have to spend. Once it’s spent, I come home and enter the transaction in Quicken, and subtract that money from the money left in that category in Quicken.

    My husband introduced me to Quicken and Excel, and I LOVE them.

    I find that looking at our budget in Excel gives me a chance to ponder on our needs, and prayerfully make the best decisions for our family each month. As we don’t have a regular income, our budget looks different than others. Bills come first. There is an amount that we plan for for food (including diapers and tolietries and household items for our family of 8), and amount for Misc., which includes things like garden expenses, medical expenses, clothing, and gifts. (I track all of these in Quicken, breaking down clothing by person, etc.). However, many months, I have to delete the amounts for food and misc. when it is apparent that there isn’t going to be enough income for those items. This year I’ve spent $602 for food, diapers, and tolietries for all 8 of us (and I have 2 in diapers). I also was given $150 in gift cards as gifts that I have spent for those items. I’ve spent $25 on clothing for the whole family, which was only a new purse for me (mine broke) and some thread and a pattern and ribbon for a jacket for the baby.

    We are still eating mostly from our pantry and garden. I still have 3 turkeys left and a couple of hams, and a little more besides that, so we’ve been eating a lot of beans lately to help to the meat stretch further. I was recently given 160 pounds of bananas, which I canned for our baby and for making banana bread and smoothies.

    We have lived from our pantry before, and I have to say to those who are struggling–keep paying your tithing first. Miracles will happen.

  46. says

    And I just wanted to add, that eating out and entertainment costs are not in our budget. If you don’t have the money for them, then staying home is the best place that you can be. My husband always says the food is better at home, too!

  47. says

    I am the number nerd in my house. My husband didn’t even know how to keep a checkbook ledger when we got married (and had overdraft fees as a result!). I use an Excel spreadsheet. We have all of our monthly bills broken out as well as how much we put into savings, tithe, gifts, clothing, groceries, diapers, etc. We have done it this way for 3 years and I really like it. We have never tried the cash system, although that may be a very good plan for our eating out budget, as my husband has a very hard time staying within that amount – he really likes to eat out!

  48. says

    I am the numbers nerd and I LOVE Mvelopes as some others mentioned. It has saved me so much time over the spreadsheet “system” that I have used in the past. I like that at any time I (or my husband) can log in and see exactly how much money is in all of our accounts and in each of our envelopes. I am happy to say that next month we will be paying off our final debt, our house, and I owe that first and foremost to God’s blessings but also to using this system that has helped us stay on budget.

  49. Olathe Mom says


    I love posts like these, which ALWAYS encourage me to work our budget a little harder!

    A couple of questions, because I think I am *always* in awe of your numbers.

    Do your children/or you as a couple receive clothing as gifts? I suppose I am asking: does your $15 per person completely dress your family, or help fill the gaps in a gift/hand-me-down wardrobe? We have a similar clothing budget amount, but mine only succeeds in filling the gaps. I find that simply purchasing shoes for four children (even one pair per season) often involves an entire month’s clothing allotment. I do shop garage sales/ thrift stores for my boys, in particular. I count my blessings every day– we have grandparents who generously give clothing as gifts.

    Second, does your homeschooling budget area also cover local museum admissions, etc., or does that come from a separate category? Or perhaps lots of field trips, etc., are not a regular part of your homeschool. I’d love to know! We have currently set up a $60 monthly “homeschooling” budget that does NOT purchase curriculum. It is simply for supplies (including toner), field trips, etc.

    Thanks for your transparency!

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