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4 Things We Learned From Our First Month of Budgeting

Guest post from Tammy of SkipperClan

One year ago, we wiped out our savings when we sold our house at a loss for a military move. Since that time, we have become more disciplined about shopping smart and using coupons. I’ve gotten deals on restaurants, oil changes, and birthday gifts through tips on and other discount sites like Groupon.

The problem is that deal shopping is only half of the process of saving money.

Deciding how much to spend for each category is actually the first step, and one we neglected. Crystal gives great advice in her book about budgeting and this month was our first month where we did the budget, on paper, before the month began. We budgeted every month when we were first married, and we have been attempting to stick to our budget over the last year but this month things seemed to ‘click.’

This is what we’ve learned.

Record budget items as they come in.

Whether it is email reminders about regular bills or an expense that only happens once a year, our budget is more accurate if I follow this process. Like most families, our schedule is busy. I found myself procrastinating if I thought I had to set aside the time all at once to budget for the next month.

Focus on one category at a time.

When we tried to dramatically cut our grocery, eating out, and clothing categories all at once, we gave up quickly. I think it is similar to other healthy habits, gradual changes are easier to maintain.

Ask if it can wait.

If it is a day or two before the next paycheck and both cars need gas, then we might each fill the tank half way. If I am inspired by Pinterest to make Christmas gifts but I need supplies, I evaluate my current stash and make something different. Sometimes the expense is delayed just to ease cash flow, but sometimes we decide we did not really want to purchase the item at all.

Be accountable.

There is power in being held accountable in areas we want to change, finances are no exception.

In our case, I shared with a mentor a little about our situation and asked her to pray for us. I gave her permission to ask how things are going in specific areas that we are working to improve such as increasing my income and being consistent about using our budget each month.

She might ask when we see each other in person or send me a text. I can text, call or email her when there is something specific for her to pray about concerning our goals.

How much you share with an accountability partner should be agreed upon by your spouse, if you are married. Ideally, you might find another couple who can fill this role.

 If you are using a budget each month, what is one tip you would share with someone trying to get started today?

Tammy has been around the world as an Air Force spouse, is happily married to her high school sweetheart, and is navigating the teenage years with her two kids. Her goal at SkipperClan is to encourage and empower women with practical strategies for life. You can find her on Twitter as @Tammy_Skipper.

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  • Cassi says:

    Such great advice-We started budgeting 3 years ago and it has made a whole world of difference in our lives. We are happier because of it all! I think the tip about taking things slow is a good one-it really does take time to figure out how much you need in any given area. In reality it took a whole year for us to develop an ACCURATE budget…we had forgotten about the PO Box fee, the summer activities fees, the car tags etc. but after a year we knew all about those once a year things and were able to budget for them-if we add a new once a year item, I place a line for it directly into our budget spread sheet (which I did recently when we got Amazon Prime). The nice thing about those once a year expenses is that they don’t seem nearly as daunting when you break them into 12 months!

    • Yes, it is the unplanned (and forgotten) occasional expenses that lead to adjustments every month. June has been particularly challenging in new ways. We spent our auto repair budget early in the month on parts, only to discover I needed to replace two tires (at least!). From now on, we’ll put that money aside in a cash envelope, then spend it the following month just in case a more urgent repair is needed.

  • Jessica says:

    Reevaluate the budget each month and use cash.

  • Sakura says:

    I’ve been “budgeting” for awhile now, but I sat down and wrote down everything and budgeted to zero. The toughest part was breaking the larger categories down into smaller ones, July is when my tracking will start. I’m trying to switch over to more cash and to set up autopay on as many of my accounts as I can. My bank recently changed their online software and it is amazing. My plan is to learn how to use it properly to help with budgeting.

    • Sakura, I used to try to break down our categories more but found it made budgeting more difficult. We are tweaking every month, but it is easier for us to keep a few basic ones, otherwise I procrastinate on doing the budget 🙂 I think you’ll find having the bank tracking software very helpful in seeing where the money actually goes; at least until you use more cash envelopes. Best wishes!

  • Yvonne says:

    Great post. My husband and I have recently started the Dave Ramsey plan and started using the envelope system this month. We’re already seeing a huge difference in our budget and despite it taking some extra time (paying cash in the petrol station, rather than paying by card at the pump), we both agree that the benefits outweigh the hassle.

  • Dona says:

    The hard part is catching the unexpected fun event. This past week I forgot a festival was taking place in our town and I have spent more than usual from my dining out envelope and our household envelope..and I still have a week to go. I hate when things sneak up, but it is hard to say no to walking through our park and not splurging on fun activities for the kids like riding a zip line or getting their faces painted and having bag of cotton candy 🙂 Still I am determined to do my best the rest of the week and just stay home as much as possible!

  • Lindsey says:

    I always keep a little money in a “medical” fund and “car maintenance” fund because we have 3 children and our copays are $50.00 each! Also, our cars are paid for (woot woot), but they have over 100,000 miles. This way, if one of the kids needs to go to the doctor or we need the brakes checked, the money is already there and we don’t have to dip into emergency fund. And tonight I paid the LAST PAYMENT for my husband’s student loan. we started aggressively paying it off in January and IT IS PAID!!! Praise God!!!

    • Congratulations on paying off the student loan! That has to be an incredible feeling! Both of our cars are over 100k miles and paid for as well, but it can be challenging figuring out how much to keep in reserve for repairs while still actually making repairs. Do you keep a certain amount on hand at all times for that?

      • Lindsey says:

        We spend, on average, about $600.00- $700.00 per year on things like brakes, tune up, tires plus about $150.00 a year on oil changes. So, I usually keep about $100-$150.00 on hand and then if I know we will need new tires or something, I will make plans in the next month’s budget to beef it up. If there are major repairs, then we take what we have on hand and add to it from the $1,000 emergency fund

      • Alexis says:

        We set up a separate account for bills. We auto deposit in there the amount for everything (broken down into monthy amounts) that is any kind of bill we receive. We also plan for $100 per month in car repairs and $100 per month in home repairs and approximately $150 in medical (doctor, rx, dental, optical). So when any kind of an issue comes up, it is in the slush fund for that activity. At the end of the year, I can see on my excel spreadsheet exactly how much we spent, and if I need to adjust the amount we are withholding for misc repairs. Most years we pretty much use up each category.

        By having a separate bill account, I never have to worry about going over or running short. That account does not get touched. Only the money in the incidental can be used – and only for non-bill items (like food and play). This helps keep us in check without worry. 🙂

        • Stephanie says:

          Aleis- How do you go about setting something like that up online? Not sure how to go about it, butit sounds like agreat idea

          • Alexis says:

            Just open up a separate checking account at any financial institution. I find it helpful to have both accounts at one bank, some people prefer separate banks. Then add up all of your bills and expenses that you want to be a part of this account. (ie my mom includes food in her bill account, I keep food separate as a cash expense). Divide annual or irregular bills by 12 to get a monthly total. The monthly sum of these totals is what you need to deposit into the account every month. (You can also take the total annual number and divide it by the total number of paychecks you get every year – this is how much needs to go into the account every payday). Now you can auto deposit it from your paycheck directly into the account, or you can do an online transfer every payday. 🙂

            The point is that you LEAVE any money in there that doesn’t get spent over the month – this is your slush fund for irregular bills and expenses (like auto repairs). It feels a little tight at the beginning – but as the slush fund has time to grow there is plenty of money to pay any bill when it comes, and you don’t have to worry about the car breaking down, because you already have the money set aside for that. It’s nice having a slush fund because if I have a car repair that is bigger than my “car” money currently has, I can borrow from the “home” money (in the same account). Somehow, it ALWAYS works out in the end. I still keep track of expenses to ‘tweak’ the deposit amount, but I only have to readjust annually.

            The flip side is that I also don’t EVER have to worry about forgetting a bill. The money in my “other” account is for me. For food, for play, for savings.

  • Judy says:

    My biggest tip is to work the budget together with a partner. I’m the nerd in the family and I keep track of everything on the budget. My husband, not so much. We communicate every day about expenses and the “how are we going to pay for that” scenarios. Our budget covers many categories and some money put into “miscellaneous” seems to help cushion the unexpected items. All three of our bathrooms need repairs. We will need to save for each repair and tackle them in order of importance. As long as I know my husband is on the same wave length as me, I know we can budget and save for these repairs. It has made a world of difference for us to TELL our money where to go each month instead of just watching it go.

  • SandyH says:

    One of the most important pieces of advice is to delay a purchase.

    Impulse buying is such a real thing, whether it be online, from TV, or in a store. Some people struggle with it more than others, but if at all possible, I now delay a purchase more often than not. And strangely, this includes the grocery store! An example: I had already done most of my weekly shopping, when my daughter, who lives nearby, called to ask if I would like to run to the store with her, if I needed anything. I said yes, (mostly because I wanted to see my grandbaby!)and ended up spending another $50 on groceries that I wouldn’t have spent. It could be argued that these could be considered a “stockpile”, but it blew my grocery budget for the week out of the water. If I hadn’t spent that money, we still would have eaten for the week just fine.

  • Em says:

    I just wrote in my saving journal: I did not keep up on my recording of purchasesand transfers for three paydays. When I balanced it all yesterday, it all worked out becasue we have a budget and I know roughly how much is in each area!!!

    We have done a budget for almost a year and have wiped out thousadns of dollars of debt!

    Writing it all out and having an extra savings for the unplanned/unbudgeted items really helped. I keep a calendar where I write down expenses for the month and highlight unbudgeted items in pink so now we can go back and make the adjustments to cover those things next year!

  • Dee says:

    I know most of you believe in using cash and that works for you to stay on budget. Hubby and I use credit cards for everything and pay them off every month. (We travel a lot to see our adult kids and extended family. So we want free flights and hotel rooms.)

    We are trying to decide if we can retire early and really live on a certain income. I keep track in It updates transactions every day in our cash, checking, savings, credit card and investment accounts. We only have a mortgage, but it will track any loans, too. I can look at the budget tool and know how where I am in any budget category.

    I get a quick snapshot of our overall net worth, too. Even though our cars are paid in full, Mint tracks their book value, as well as the Zillow estimated value of our house.

    I spend 5 minutes every day to check that any new transactions are assigned correctly, when any payment is due, and glance at our budget.

    Best of all, it is free.

  • tess says:

    Waste! the biggest thing i cut out of the budget last year was rotten food. I tended to buy 7 bananas at a time, but we only ate 3. I bought a gallon of milk that would expire. Cereal in larger boxes would get 1/3 of it thrown away because it had been open so long it went stale. While my cost per unit might go up a tad, i try to be realistic about what we will consume. If a 1/2 gallon of milk costs less than a full gallon it is money saved even though the cost per ounce is higher.

    • Andrea says:

      This is so true! One of the dangers of warehouse shopping is not being able to use up the large containers of things before they go bad.

  • Having a written budget really does make all the difference. Stick with it and you’ll be glad you did. Plus, every month making and sticking with a budget gets easier. Congrats!

  • Renee Bush says:

    I am still working on a budget. Im a single mom who is making 14K less than I should be. I currently found a little part time job that is 6 hours a week and pays me $120 every 2 weeks. Its not much but it helps to put money in the savings that otherwise could not put. I’ve also talked to my principal about moving me out of the grant funded classroom so my salary can go back to normal. Praying on that. So far Im making it off of coupons. I really hurt my savings when I had to purchase a car in January because my old one was “dangerous”. I no longer felt safe driving it and could not really afford to fix everything on it. My car note is affordable since my daughter is no longer in daycare anymore.

    I have also found I could save almost $30 a month by having my car insurance EFT from my bank account. I was my own car now and find cheap to free summer activities using the free parent guide, groupon or the local recreation center. I have also been taking extra workshop trainings through my county that offers stipends.

  • One of the best things we learned is that we had to focus our budget on our priorities, not anyone else’s idea of how we should live.
    If we wanted to budget in a few fast food meals for the month, for example, then it was our decision. It is also ok when we do not budget a lot of money for eating out four or five nights a week like other families we know, because we made the mutual decision that there are better things we wanted to spend our money on.
    Making your budget for your personal priorities makes it much easier to maintain, and you’re less likely to mess up because you lose motivation!

  • Amie says:

    I really want to aggressively tackle my debt, but I’ve been doing it alone and not making too much headway because every time I mention getting our bills together to really look at things, my husband sighs or winces, mumbles, and walks away. Any advice on how to get him on board with this? I think we need a specific goal, like pay off X, save for X, etc.

    • Jill says:

      My husband is not involved when it comes to bill paying etc. He wants me to handle it. So, what I have learned is I would look for books that would help me like I read the Dave Ramsey book Total Money Makeover and got some good ideas. I learned I am the nerd in our family I like doing numbers and them working. He does not. It is O.K. I just keep on doing what I know to do, I pray ALOT! and I do include him in stuff when I feel God leading me. Hopefully this will help some. Just know you are not alone!!

    • Amie says:

      Dave Ramsey is great to read. Also try to get your spouse to not make any large purchases without talking w you. It’s hard to snowball debt, if one person is spending money.
      Also have a fun money envelope. I’d talk to your husband. You understand he’s a bit hesitant to try. Maybe he’s afraid of the discord that can happen. Or he grew up w parents fighting over money.
      If you are able…start doing the snowballing and show him what 3 months has done. Tell him you just need support. Good luck.

  • Jill says:

    How do you get started on a budget when you find yourself always trying to catch up?

  • LaNay Whitaker says:

    We have been doing this for a year now. We started with just a set cash amount for
    Groceries. Then we added an “allowance” for each of us. This allowance covers gas and discretionary spending. He smokes and I get my nails done EO week. We had small categories but it got stupid confusing and time consuming for our lifestyle. Now we have a budget for our set bills, food, allowance, and an emergency fund. Every extra penny outside of that goes into a “saving” fund. This fund covers unexpected expenses and our splurges. This is what has worked best for us.

    • we have found those “wallet spending” or “blow money” categories to be essential for our success, I was just telling someone this week how my husband actually spends less each week when he has cash! Glad to hear you have a practice that’s helping you save.

  • Debra Coody says:

    I am going to start budgeting my money and seta budget. The only debt I have are student loans. I have managed to pay off everything else. I am relocating Florida in 2016 so I have already started shopping around for a place to live. Another expense I will have is a new auto am very scared to take on that bill as I have not had an automobile note in 4 years. i am also going to start my own business from out of my home. So I read everything and want advise on these ventures.

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