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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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343 Comments

  • Amanda says:

    I also use Quicken, although mostly for the ease of getting reports at the end of the year to do taxes and for reconciling accounts. It also gives me a quick look at how our finances in general are with all the account balances on the left margin. I use Excel spreadsheets for our monthly budget because it allows me a lot of flexibility for each months changing needs. I also use spreadsheets to track our savings account, which has columns for our emergency savings, vacation money, and a variety of other things we have an allotment for monthly into savings but that we use when we need it. We even put unused birthday money into savings to earn interest until we’re ready to use it. It just gets its own column so we know what it’s there for. LOVE EXCEL!!!

    • Beth says:

      @Amanda, We also use excel for monthly budgets. The flexibility is great. We can also download expenditures right from our accounts right into our excel sheets to track spending.

  • Kim says:

    I didn’t find Quicken helpful for me and I am hesitant about Mint.com because I don’t want to give them my bank account password and such. Has anyone used Dave Ramsey’s software and can comment on the ease of tracking expenses? I would like to get pretty detailed with my categories and be able to do things like break down my Walmart and Target receipts to show the category of each item purchased rather than just having to list the total of the receipt under a Miscellaneous category.

  • I’m the numbers nerd in our house, though I haven’t been as much lately. Before we got married, and we were meeting with a pre-marital counselor, they asked my husband how much debt he had, and how much his monthly income was. He didn’t know the answer to either, though he carried no other debt than school loans. At that point, I knew I needed to do the numbers in the house :).

    I need to do cash envelopes again – I hated having the change in each envelope, and often will make purchases in a store for several different categories (like Target, for example).

    The thing I have the hardest time tracking is different expenses that might come up throughout the month. If we do cash only, it’s hard if my husband needs to pick up something on the way home from work, because I carry the cash.

    • Crystal says:

      We don’t put the change back into the envelopes. I put it in my wallet and then use it to make exact change whenever I can. When my wallet change pouch gets full, I empty a lot of it into the girls’ piggy bank.

      What kinds of things would your husband need to pick up from work? Could you have a $25 or $50 “blow” or “extras” category in your checking account for that?

    • Marie says:

      @Jenni @ Life from the Roof,

      I attempted to do the envelopes, too. But, like you, I had trouble when making purchases at Target, Walmart, etc. when my purchases spanned several categories (gifts, groceries, baby care, etc.) I tried breaking down the purchase (after leaving the store) to get my envelopes “straight”. I ended up frustrated and I gave up. Do I have too many categories? I would love suggestions from others on how to do this. Thank you!

      • Crystal says:

        I either separate my orders by category, or I add up my total ahead of time and pull money from the different respective envelopes. I might be off here or there by a dollar or two when mixing categories in one purchase, but it always works out pretty well.

        • Marie says:

          @Crystal, I also just do separate transactions. I try to only do that if the line isn’t very long; or if someone is behind me with only one or two things, I will just let them go.

      • Emily says:

        @Marie,
        I keep my “cash” in a separate checking account that my debit card is linked to (we call it our debit account, and our card is not linked to our main checking account that our bills are paid from). I put x amount of dollars in there per month to cover my categories similar to what others use real cash for. I just use my debit card to make those purchase, which to me is just like cash. Then when I get home, I can go into my Excel spreadsheet and deduct the amount spent per category from my running balance in that mini account in my debit account. Hope that made sense.

      • Cathe says:

        @Marie,

        I found it worked better to include household cleaning and maintenance supplies (but not major purchases like DVD players) with my food budget.

        I LOVE EXCEL for everything from budgeting to homeschool records.

      • Julie says:

        @Marie,
        I keep my groceries and toiletries cash/budget line item together since I am often combining those two at the same store. That seemed to help me a lot. My diapers budget is cash also; but i ask to separate transactions if i’m buying diapers while getting groceries or toiletries. If I buy them online, i just redeposit the money. Hope that helps!

  • Nicole says:

    Crystal,
    My husband and I are starting the Dave Ramsey program and I have always had this question with the envelopes and never found an answer. When you do have left over money in your envelopes, do you carry it over to the next week/month or do you put extra into your savings? Just curious how other people did this.
    Thanks!

    • Crystal says:

      We put the bills back into the envelopes and carry them over to the next week or month (on occasion, we’ve put the extras into savings, though — it just depends upon what our current financial goals are). The change goes into my wallet to use to make exact change as much as I can when checking out. When my wallet change pouch gets full, I empty a lot of it into the girls’ piggy bank.

      • Alea says:

        @Crystal,

        Thank you – that’s waht I was wondering too! Do you keep all those in your purse, or are many left at home until you need them?

        • Heidi says:

          When I had extra I would either carry it over or use it on other sections where I may have been short. Carrying over money was nice for envelopes like hair cuts/highlighting, and auto.
          I also bought a small coupon organizer and would separate my money in there by labeled categories, and then just take that with me or just take out what I needed. I hope that this helps.

    • kate says:

      @Nicole,
      we are working thru Dave Ramsey’s plan – completed the course in May – we are on baby step 4 (yay!) – we almost always just considered left over ‘blow money’ for the last couple days – we usually didn’t have much & since we had been so diligent the entire week we would maybe go to Starbucks, or Target, or if it was a good amount we could do a bonus well planned bonus date night – if it isn’t too much I would allow it to be a reward for all your frugality the entire month – but that is just me =) Kate

    • @Nicole,

      Except for the grocery fund, I roll the cash over from month to month. Example: The gift fun may not be used every month but by rolling the money over I can cover the month when we have 3 birthdays and a wedding. I pull cash (but keep it separated by the category) when the envelopes get too full. I have a friend that pulls her extra cash around October and that’s how much she has for Christmas.

      Extra grocery money is put towards whatever we’re saving for at that moment.

  • Diane says:

    We use mint.com at our house and love it! It’s nice to be able to link your bank account to it, so you don’t have to enter each and every transaction. I also like that you can make it remember your budget from last month, so you don’t have to do all that all over again either.

  • Sarah says:

    I’m the numbers nerd I guess. 🙂 I set up an Excel spreadsheet that lists our income each month and each of our monthly bills. We enter in our paychecks, and as we enter bills in (including cash left out), the spreadsheet automatically keeps track of what’s left for the month. This will help us at the end of the month to know how much extra we can throw at our debt. We’re new to this kind of budgeting and working on Baby Step 2, so we’re still experimenting with this. Right now, we’re leaving $600 in cash out a month for groceries and household expenses. (I set my own goals for how much I want to spend at Walmart, Kroger, and CVS during the week for these items, and I keep track of these by hand on the fridge where I can easily see it.) I’m hoping that as I get better at couponing and shopping the sales, that the cash we take out each month will decrease. You’re site is definitely helping. Before reading your site, we were doing $750 in cash a month!

  • Kara says:

    WOW! That is all I can say! You guys are a true inspiration! I can’t believe how little you spend on groceries a month!!! How in the world??? I am going hard core with the coupons right now, have got great deals, but nothing like the amount you stated above! I think when I go this Saturday though, I will see a huge drop, since I have been on here I have bought diapers for really cheap, etc. So don’t have to get as much!!! You keep living for Jesus & honoring him in all you do! I truly cried with joy when I read the story about your house! We are about to pay my car off! Can’t Wait!

    • Crystal says:

      Well, remember that we’ve been doing this for a long time — so practice really does make a big difference! In addition, we live in an area of the country where the cost of living is lower. And finally, we keep our meals really simple.

      However, keep at it and little bit, by little bit, you’ll likely see your grocery bill lower, too. 🙂

      • Nicole B says:

        @Crystal, I’m impressed with your grocery budget too! I started at $50/week (including diapers). But it was never enough so we just swiped our debit card. Then it went up to $60, and now we’re at $80. I was hoping to be going in the other direction though! We do only buy organic milk, dirty dozen items, cage free eggs, and are in process of switching to pastured meats and it is a little more expensive since they don’t have coupons for the meats. So I think we aren’t doing too bad.

        • Megan says:

          @Nicole B, We’re the same way, Nicole. We only buy organic dairy/organic produce/natural-local meats and usually organic baking goods as well. We spend 25-30 a month on organic milk alone! And I live in AR where the cost of living is CHEAP.

  • Amy says:

    I do the numbers in our family and am a complete nerd because I love it. Unfortunately, I’ve been doing it mostly by hand with a ledger because I haven’t yet invested in a computer program. I’m glad to hear multiple praises for Quicken.

  • Lee says:

    It is nice to see how you spread it out over the whole budget part. I think it helps me stay on track seeing how other people are doing! Thank you! I need to track things a little better and I am working on it but I am really struggling with it since the new baby has come (5 months ago!)

  • Hannah says:

    Very, very helpful! Thanks for the information…I’ve always wondered the breakdown of others budgets and how it compared with ours!
    I, too, am very nervous about using mint.com. Has your husband used this program before, and is there a reason why he doesn’t use it currently?
    Thanks!!

    • Crystal says:

      Yes, he’s tried it out before and liked it. He just prefers Quicken because that’s the system he’s used for awhile.

    • @Hannah,

      We’ve been using Mint.com for 3 years and love it! We structure our budget a bit differently than Crystal’s, and it works really well for a low-maintenance tracking of money and investments. One of the features we love most about Mint is that we can feed all our accounts into our one Mint account. So when we sign into Mint, we can see our totals in each of our bank accounts, college savings, stocks, etc. All in one place! Super easy.

  • Courtney says:

    Wow! I am still trying to wrap my head around $40 a week for groceries! How do you do that? I always try to buy on sale and shop the sale flyers from the Sunday papers, and recently have gotten the coupon thing started, and I still have about $100-130 a week in groceries! I do have to buy a lot of organics because of some obscure food allergies, but still!! I don’t suppose you have a sample shopping trip posted somewhere do you?

    As for the “who’s the numbers geek” question… I guess that’s me. My husband was keeping track of the money until a couple of months ago. His job became more demanding and he was getting more and more frustrated with the idea of the money he works so hard for not getting us through the month. So far I just keep a written record of our spending, subtracting each transaction from the amount of money in the bank. Then I know we have enough money in there at the end of the month to pay the credit card bill. We never carry a balance month to month and our only debt is our house payment.

    I don’t think my method is working well enough though. It sounds like the best way is really your envelope method. Is there a book or anything you would recommend for someone to start learning that method?
    Thanks for the great posts you always put on here!

  • Amy says:

    We use the Crown Money Map software. I still have a lot to learn about the program, but I do most of the entering each month. My husband is the numbers, and computer nerd. Before we bought this software, I kept track of everything by hand. Ugh, that took a lot more time!

  • Melissa says:

    This is so fun reading everyone’s thoughts! Great inspiration! My husband is definitely a numbers nerd, but I love plugging in receipts and tracking our budget. We pay a lot extra on our house every month and I love watching the numbers go down. We’ve almost got it paid off! I used quicken when I was single but now I prefer just using the spreadsheets he set up. His job at work is an analyst and he works with spreadsheets all day, so he came up with some really elaborate ones so I really enjoy using them. I used to do quicken but with the two boys, I just couldn’t keep up with it so now we just use the spreadsheet, but I would like to get back to doing quicken. How do you manage to find time to do that, Crystal? You’re amazing! It’s been so long since I’ve used it that maybe it would be easier now than when I used to? How much time does it take you? What parts of it do you use? (is that a silly question?)

    I like the idea of the envelope system and used to do that when I was single, but I really enjoy getting rewards back from our credit card (cash back that goes back toward our bills and they’re always running promos for extra cash back which I apply sometimes back to our balance to save even more money), other perk credit cards (some of which we get gift cards for eating out, etc, which saves us even more money), etc. If we’re responsible with them and view them as cash out when we purchase things (via deducting them from our running “total” for that month’s category) then I am comfortable doing that. We also have a miscellaneous gifts/missionary fund in addition to our tithe every month b/c inevitably there’s things that we haven’t budgeted out for that we want to be involved in ministry-wise at church every week…..

    • Crystal says:

      I don’t do any of the numbers stuff; I married a numbers nerd. 🙂 I just keep track of the cash — he takes care of everything else!

      And WAY TO GO on almost having paid off your house — super job!!

  • Wendy says:

    I agree that Quicken is wonderful! We put almost everything on our credit cards, and then pay them off in full (automatically) every month. We also have pretty much everything else set to direct deposit or direct debit from our checking account, so I rarely use cash for anything. With Quicken, I can just log in and it will automatically get everything inputted for me from our two cards and our bank. Then I just have to go through and approve things (“Yep, that looks right!”).

    The big advantage is the budgeting software in Quicken, which I use all the time. Every purchase gets assigned to a category, and I can always pull up charts and graphs of what we’re spending in which categories and when. I can also do all my banking at 2 AM when I can’t sleep – then once or twice a year I take all the credit card statements, etc. I receive paper copies of and file them in my actual physical filing cabinet.

    I like not having to spend time on it, and I like being able to pull up our exact current finances at a moment’s notice!

  • Sarah says:

    http://www.mdmproofing.com/iym/products/envelope-check-register/
    I found this free spreadsheet and it has helped me since I haven’t gotten around to carrying cash envelopes. This spreadsheet helps me see how much we have set aside in each category. It works great for the envelope concept.

    I haven’t read much on the rest of the website, but this spreadsheet has done the job for me. It works on my Mac and with Open Office.

    Eventually I might look into Mint or You Need A Budget.

  • Nat says:

    Great info! We love mint.com

  • ann kris says:

    My hubby is the nerd..haha! and i am so glad about that. He tracks our spending on an Excel spreadsheet on a daily basis. We don’t use cash envelopes but we write down numbers on the excel spreadsheet in advance and plan our month accordingly. We also write down yearly goals and numbers. I love the number game 🙂 It gives me a Rush!!

  • Andrea Q says:

    I’m curious about your husband’s clothes budget. How do you keep him dressed appropriately without spending an arm and a leg? I try to shop outlets, sales, etc, but it is really difficult to find affordable professional business attire.

    • Crystal says:

      He spends more than $15 per month on clothes, but not too much more. He usually buys a new suit, four new dress shirts and three new ties every year — usually taking advantage of the best rock-bottom sale we can find at Pennys (or sometimes another store if they beat out the best sale we can find at Pennys). And then he wears them over and over and *over* again until he’s gotten every single bit of life out of them. I think the biggest thing we do to save money in the area of men’s dress clothes is to just only have a few quality items that you get at a rock-bottom price and wear them over and over again. This doesn’t work for people who like to have lots of different clothes to wear and choose from, but it works well for us!

      • Michelle says:

        I have a somewhat related question (if you have time, andI totally understand if you don’t!) Any suggestions on how to keep the dry cleaning bill down? My husband also wears suits and dry cleaning them is so expensive!

        • Crystal says:

          My best advice is to check rates at all your area dry cleaning places to see what’s the best rate for things you regularly have dry-cleaned. Some stores offer special deals on special days. In addition, see if you’ll save money by getting a membership. Finally, if you don’t get a membership, always use coupons. You can usually get at least 30% off by using coupons (and sometimes it’s worth investing in an area Entertainment Book in order to get coupons for dry cleaners).

          We also try to stretch the time in between dry cleaning as long as possible. But that tip might be a little *too* frugal for some people. 🙂

        • Beth says:

          @Michelle, We use coupons from the entertainment book to help keep those costs down. We find that those coupons make the entertainment book a worthwhile investment for us.

      • Catherine says:

        @Crystal, Just a quick comment about your husband’s work clothes. Have you checked Kohl’s for ties and dress shirts? We always to find great deals there. Recently I bought my husband a silk tie for $3.50 and a dress shirt for $7.

        • Crystal says:

          I’ve purchased items there occasionally when they have brands he likes. We’ve found that usually the really great deals are on brands which don’t hold up as well. But it just depends. I keep my eye on their sales because every once in a while something really great comes available.

        • Jen T says:

          @Crystal, Sometimes Ross or Marshalls has name brand shirt/tie sets for $10-$15. They’re usually in a plastic box. =)

      • Andrea Q says:

        @Crystal et al, Thank you for your responses. My husband’s only matching suit cost over $400 and was an unexpected expense because he was asked to be a pallbearer. I rarely go to the mall, but I will check out Penneys the next time I get a chance.

        • Jennifer says:

          @Andrea Q,
          Not that this would help many people (maybe someone?), but when we married 5 years ago, my husband decided to wear a suit instead of a rented tux. The main reason was so that he’d have a nice suit on hand and the cost was just part of my parents’ wedding budget which had wiggle room since we saved in many other areas. I don’t remember the cost, but it made much more sense to put money toward a suit which would be used again rather than the “perfect” wedding dress which wouldn’t.

    • Nancy says:

      @Andrea Q, We have tried shopping at Ross, Marshalls, Kohl’s, and Penny’s and other stores but they don’t carry suits, pants, shirts in my husband’s size – 2xl tall. What pieces they might carry are odd colors or styles that don’t work with what he already has. We were fortunate to find a shirt on sale for $20 the last time at Penny’s which was his size and would stay tucked in . We had to go to Men’s Warehouse for 2 pairs of pants on sale altered to fit was $250. God made him tall but it sure does a number of the budget . . . 8) Now we are trying to fit a suit into the budget and that one will take awhile to save for. All of you with average sized spouses, thank God you can take advantage of the budget friendly stores. 🙂

      • Andrea Q says:

        @Nancy, My husband also wears 2XL tall, so I know where you’re coming from. I mostly get dress shirts through Eddie Bauer online (the outlet section) or LL Bean’s factory store. For us, it’s the suit jackets, dress shoes and outerwear (like a dress wool coat) that really do a number on the budget. Thankfully, he has short legs and we can get trousers just about anywhere 😉

  • Danielle says:

    We use Mint.com and I love it. When I first found it I was a little skeptic about giving them my bank info but it is very secure and after a year of use we have not encountered any issues with it. It can even keep track of your CC balances, car loans, etc.

    We are getting ready to start Dave Ramsey’s book and method and I’m a little nervous about combining the envelope system with our use of Mint.com.

  • angela says:

    Mint!! We LOVE it! I used to be the one in charge of all bills and accounts but now that we have Mint, my husband is excited about budgeting! Don’t be afraid- read here to ease your mind. http://www.mint.com/privacy/
    Besides their excellent security, you can only see your accounts and cannot actually move any funds through Mint. Also, you register anonymously and so Mint does not store or even know any of your personal information like your name or phone number.

  • Erin Casey says:

    Wondering how many in your family that you are able to spend just $40 a week on groceries?

    Also, do you have any tips for those of us that don’t have groceries stores that accept home printed coupons and/or don’t double/triple coupons. All I’ve got for grocery shopping is a Super Walmart and two small grocery stores, neither of which take coupons printed at home and they are much higher priced than Walmart. Walmart is currently taking home printed coupons, but I’ve been told by numerous mgr’s there, that it will be coming to an end soon. I miss living in an area with more food shopping options and stores that double/triple coupons, etc. I saved $29.00 the other day but even after that I had still spent $120 for my family of four. I’d love to see this cut a bit!

    Thanks!

  • Anna says:

    I am the number nerd in my home. I’ve always used a ledger for about 12 years in our marriage, but for the past year I’ve used Quicken and I absolutely LOVE IT!!! I wish, I wish, I wish…I would have started using it years ago. I had tried other programs like Microsoft Money and even a program Crown Ministries was offering for a time…(they might still be offering it. It was like the envelope system, but on the computer). Anyway, I could never make them work for me, so I just did it by hand. It took a lot more time doing it by hand, and now that I have two kids, time is so precious and Quicken makes it SOOOOOO much easier!

    Also, I just recently quit my full time job so that I could stay home with my girls. I am so inspired by your story and your honesty with how you budget and how much. It helps me to realize that I can do it, too! Our income is decreasing quite a bit, but I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!!!!! Stories like yours are confirmations.

  • braxtonway says:

    I like the idea of budgeting groceries, however, I am a little confused at to how this works on a weekly basis. In weeks that items such as detergent, or items that generally purchased in bulk are needed (such as toilet paper, ect.), do you ever go above the $40? My point is, it seems like there are weeks in which $40 would be sufficient, and other weeks that $40 would not be enough.

    • Crystal says:

      I get $160 for the month and that has to last the whole month. So, some weeks, I’ll go over the $40, but then I have to compensate with being under on other weeks. Because when the money in the envelope is gone, it’s gone. I try to stock up on items when they are at their rock-bottom prices so that we never pay full price for anything.

    • Tabatha says:

      @braxtonway, I budget per two weeks since that’s what my husband gets paid. That way we have a rough idea at what we want to spend week to week but if the first week I’m out of a lot of things and need to spend more that week, the second week I don’t have as much to spend. Sometimes, I’ll go buy stuff to last the full two weeks. This month we are trying “once a month cooking” to help save on our grocery budget and so far it has saved us significantly!

  • abbie says:

    Crystal, would you be able to start the monthly financial check up again? It was great to read goals of others and for a little accountablility.
    I am the numbers person. My husband likes making the programs for me to put the numbers in. 🙂 I even enjoy doing the taxes.
    I have realized since going to the envelope system there is less to keep track off and that is nice.

  • catherine says:

    PearBudget.com is THE way to go for us. I am the numbers person in my house and quicken/mint all had too many categories that I didn’t use and didn’t have ones that I wanted. We have been using pearbudget for the past year and a half and it has really made a difference. We see where every dollar goes, we paid off our car 9 months early because we realized when we actually had “extra” money because it was money that didn’t have another place to go in our budget and it is easy enough for my husband to understand what I’m talking about/showing him but fun enough for me to use. It doesn’t take too much time either and has just been wonderful for us. I think they offer a free month trial. it’s really affordable and was created by two teachers who were trying to find a better budgeting program. Anyway, I love it and suggest it to all my friends so, I’ll suggest it to all of you 🙂

  • SPKarenO says:

    We’ve used quicken before, but after a couple of computer crashes have been very unmotivated to start fresh with it.

    We do have an excel spreadsheet with our budget on it, but have done very little to track anything.

    It’s July, so we’re re-vamping and checking in on our budget and how we’re doing this month. We went to a cash system in January so we’re evaluating it this month and looking at what we need to adjust here and there and building a plan for better tracking.

    I’m going to try out my own system of ledgering using just a composition notebook – i do want to track that cash! – and we’ll see how it goes for a month or so.

    I’m seriously impressed with how much – scratch that – how little you put in your envelopes each month. I’m feeling better about my own budget – compared to you, I’m living like a Queen. Which begs the question – how can I save more!?!

  • Janice says:

    I am the numbers nerd! My husband has such a draining job that when he comes home, the last thing he wants is to spend his few hours at home looking at a bunch of numbers – so we look at “the numbers” every few weeks to make sure we are on the same page! We pull out cash for groceries, gas & a little “mad” money every payday, but all other sub-categories we have set-up in savings accounts through ingdirect.com – If we need to make a purchase from the “house” or “travel”, etc. category, we sometimes will use our one credit care for big purchases and just transfer the money to pay off the balance in full. Our “system” is kind of a hybrid of Dave Ramsey and Mary Hunt –

  • Makayla says:

    Question: Do you have a misc. budget? I’m just curious where things such as hygiene products, diapers or car maintenance fall under. Would that be your home budget? I was sharing with my husband your budget and tried to convince him that we could do $40 a month for food too (we do $50 right now) and he pointed out that you have an eating out budget and we include that in our food budget… I guess I can’t win there. I don’t use coupons and we eat a special diet that is slightly pricier in some areas because I have celiac disease. I wonder what I could do if I did use coupons and not just shop at Costco.

    • Crystal says:

      Those items come from our grocery budget. And I’ve been blessed in the past year to earn enough Swagbucks to cover all of our diaper purchases. But I used to work those into our grocery budget.

      • Makayla says:

        @Crystal, Ours come from our grocery budget too. I was wondering if you did it different. I guess you don’t. I use cloth diapers so I used gift money to cover the diapers. I guess my husband’s right. I can stop wanting to slim the budget in that area. 🙂

    • Kara says:

      @Makayla,

      My mom has celaic disease as well. She has been able to find coupons for gluten free items. I know Earth Fare has some gluten free items and some other “speciality” stores.

      • Makayla says:

        @Kara, I did try that for a while, but we started grinding our own rice and buying the gluten free starches straight from the manufacturers once every two years in bulk… then I make all items from scratch. It’s nice every now and again though to buy something when out an about on vacation.

    • Jessica says:

      @Makayla, Costco has coupons! They are costco only coupons and I don’t think they accept other manufacturer coupons, but we get them mailed to us monthly!

  • Kara says:

    We have just recently switched to the cash envelope method. I thought I was staying within budget using the debt card every time, but alas I was over spending some weeks.
    Here is what our envelopes look like (this is as of today):
    Grocery: $150 for two weeks

    Daycare: $110 for two weeks

    Gas: I didn’t pull anything out, we are going to Myrtle Beach to visit family this weekend and will fill the truck up in SC (cheaper!)

    Haircut: $20 for two weeks

    We don’t buy any clothing items very often. I just bought Ds,Dh and myself clothes at Sears on sale. Dh’s uniforms we take out of the account.

    I found a spreadsheet on momadvice (i think is the name of the website) and have used since late last year. I have grown lax on using it, but it works for us.

  • Karen Rucker says:

    I think I’m the oddball here. We have several bills each month that are set up on autopay. Electric for home and office, water, trash pick-up, home phone/internet/satellite bundle, office phone/internet, life insurance, long-term care insurance, and car insurance — all come out automatically. We keep reminders of that date and amount that’ll come out on our calendar.

    As for the rest… there really isn’t much to spend. Your $160 for gifts, vacation, clothes, and eating out is much more than what we spend on those, although we do eat out fairly often. So mostly we don’t bother tracking it that carefully. Most of it goes to gas (since we live outside of town and have to drive the kids to and from school daily). I keep telling my husband that if we didn’t have to pay for insurance and gas we’d have three times the spending money we do now.

    I’m the numbers cruncher. Hubby has many wonderful skills including home and auto repair, but tracking spending is not one of them.

    • Crystal says:

      Many of our bills are on autopay, too, in our Quicken budget.

      And I’d encourage you to go ahead and budget for your other expenses — you might be surprised at how much or how little you’re spending! 🙂 Telling your money where to do instead of just letting it go where it decides is usually always going to be a better plan for financial success. But yes, we likely spend more than some people on gifts, vacation, clothes and eating out right now. We didn’t spend pretty much anything on any of those things for the first few years of our marriage. But it’s just what works for us at this season of life and we’ve allowed ourselves the wiggle room since we’re debt-free and living on significantly less than we make.

  • marney says:

    Maybe I missed it, but I don’t see auto expenses in your envelope system. How do you budget for gas and car repairs?

    I used to use Quicken but went back to writing things down in a ledger. Somehow it feels more “hands on” when trying to mange my money.

  • Catherine says:

    Crystal,
    Have you ever used Dave Ramsey’s software? I just got it for FREE when I ordered some books from his site (on the $10 sale you mentioned a few weeks ago). I haven’t had a chance to check it out yet. Just curious if you or anyone else has used it.

  • Dawn says:

    my quick question is what do you do for gas? I am funding a gas envelope at $400 a month and it is KILLING us…but we both work so far from where we live that I don’t have an answer for how to fix it. Just wondering if you have an envelope for it to?

    • Crystal says:

      Gas is currently coming out of our Quicken budget, though we’ve done it with cash before, too. I’ve found that it’s usually easier to pay at the pump with a debit card when I have three young children in the car. 🙂

    • Tabatha says:

      @Dawn, We have gas money in an envelope and when we need gas my husband will go get it the night before if he knows I’m going to need it the next day. Luckily we live a block from a gas station. If that wasn’t the case, we would get a gift card. There is only one gas station we use every time we fill up so using a gift card from them makes it very easy. I can load the money onto the gift card that we have budgeted and then it doesn’t tempt us to over spend using the debit card (which is entirely too easy to do.)

  • Rachel says:

    We finally broke down and started the envelope system last month and we’re really excited about it! It seems to be working well for us. However, we’re paying for ALL non-fixed expenses (including gas) with cash which can get kinda tough. How do you plan for things that come up like car taxes, oil changes, registrations and other non-regular bills?

    • Crystal says:

      Those are all accounted for in our Quicken budget. Since we’ve been living on a strict budget for over seven years, we know pretty well exactly how much those are going to cost us over the course of a year, so we set that money aside each month to make sure everything is covered.

    • Dawn says:

      @Rachel, I have an auto savings account and put money in it every month to cover registrations, insurance and repairs. I just transfer the amount needed to our checking account as needed.

  • Kim says:

    In case it helps anyone to have another comparison, here is our budget. We are a family of 3 in DFW, TX (medium cost of living) on a very tight budget.

    $200/mo Groceries
    $40/mo Eating Out
    $20/mo Entertainment
    $35/mo Clothing
    $25/mo Gifts
    $10/mo Misc.
    $200/mo Gas
    $50/mo House Maintenance (if not needed on any given mo, we save it for a big problem like a dead appliance)
    $60/mo Car Maintenance (this goes towards licenses, inspections, oil changes, & repairs for our 2 older vehicles- like the house category we save leftovers for a rainy day)
    $70/mo Health Expenses (includes dr’s visit copays and RX medicines; does not include monthly insurance premiums)
    $250/mo Giving (to our church and missionaries we help support)

    We used to separate expenses into categories, but found it difficult on our tight budget. Now, we lump all the first 7 items on our list into one total for the month. This gives us more flexibility and makes tracking our spending simpler. Since I’m in the first trimester of a difficult pregnancy, my husband can pick up fast food more often if we cut back on our grocery spending for example. If we are planning a drive to see out-of-town family, we will tighten up on some categories to allow more money for gas that month. Make sense?

    To track our spending, we write the grand total on a notepad at the beginning of every month, then list receipts down the page as deductions. We can always see how much we have left for the month and can plan the rest of our monthly spending accordingly.

    Hope this helps someone. If not, oh well. (:

  • Katie says:

    We usually manage to stay on track but the next few months we have huge bills: Car insurance (we pay these upfront and yearly to save money); holiday (we try to manage one family holiday a year – paid in full in cash) and a car service (my husbands drives a lot and these consequently cost alot of money); my sister’s wedding (we have to buy gifts, pay for hotel accommodation and get outfits).

    We have worked so hard to save and now we are having to pay money out which is hard to bear. How do you account for these type of costs? I know a holiday is a luxury but my husband works very long hours and earns a good salary – he needs a break to be able to do his job. We are taking alot of the food with us on holiday so once we have paid the travel costs there is practical nothing else to pay.

    • Crystal says:

      Sometimes, you just do what you gotta do and set aside saving for a month or two — or more. We did that when we were hit with some unexpected medical bills, when our car was totaled and when my husband lost his job. We just put savings on hold and put all money coming in towards the expenses. We try our best to budget for the unexpected, but you just can’t always know. That’s when it’s wonderful to have an emergency fund in place and be living on less than you make!

    • Kellie says:

      @Katie,
      I look at car insurance, homeowner association fees, pet vaccines, vacations, and other yearly expenses as monthly bills. We look at previous years’ amounts for these, divide by 12, and set this amount aside in a savings account every month. When the big bill comes, we have the money for it, and do not look at it as parting with hard earned savings, just paying a bill, like the electric or water bill.

      • Katie says:

        @Kellie,
        Thanks for the comments. We have the money for these expenses as we have saved during the year. Its just so hard to see that amount of money leave your savings!

        Its just managing the guilt of spending that I find difficult.

  • cait says:

    Thanks for such great information and inspiration each time I read a post! We are a budget crunch time right now due to paying out of pocket for my masters and finishing up my husband’s undergrad by paying out of pocket. However, thanks to the envelope system, and doing this from a few months into our marriage (we’re celebrating #2 on the 19th) we are at a place where we can finish school and come out with NO loans! Love that! One question I have is where is shampoo, body wash and other personal hygiene items in your envelope system? I’m tempted to go straight to just using freebies I get in the mail for that stuff. Also, we do $50 a week for groceries for the two of us. What are some tips to keep the grocery budget down when you are buying for kiddos too? Prayerfully I would like to stay at home when we have kids and I know the envelope system will be even more valuable. I know that cutting the envelope amounts down as much as possible will be vital then.

    Again, thanks so much for what you do. I think you should be a regular on Dave’s show! 😉

  • Ryan says:

    I’m curious if your gift category includes Christmas. We have a part of our extended family that is very into giving and requesting lists for Christmas presents. When we try to use the lists, we tend to spend more simply because we can’t usually get those items for a good deal with only a month or two to go before Christmas. So far, we try to stick with their lists because that’s how they’ve always done it, but we end up budgeting $100/month year round to cover birthdays and Christmas (plus the occasional wedding or baby), which is a more than I’d like to spend. Ideas?

    • Crystal says:

      Yes, it does include Christmas. We keep Christmas pretty simple in our immediate family and draw names with extended family so we don’t end up spending that much on Christmas — especially when we do our best to get great deals on the gifts we do buy.

      Maybe some others here have some ideas as to how to go about dealing with a sticky situation like yours. Anyone want to chime in?

    • Karen Rucker says:

      @Ryan,

      At some point, you’ll need to just tell them that their lists are outside your budget. Either that or start adding gift cards for the gas station to your own list!

      If you’re not to that point yet, try starting to let them know that you’d rather give them surprises for Christmas this year. They can feel free to follow lists with each other, and you can even give them a list of what you’d like if that would make shopping easier for them, but you enjoy the thrill of picking out the perfect gift and you’d really like to do that for them. Then as long as the gift you are giving is nice, they need never know what you paid for it.

      Remember, Christmas gifts aren’t supposed to be exact trades where the monetary value of each item is perfectly matched. They’re just tokens of love and appreciation.

      • Emily Rynders says:

        @Karen Rucker,

        For ours, we are expected to pay $40. That is just on my husband’s side (two gifts from he and I), then there is my brother, his wife, my parents . . . Christmas is crazy at our house. I have no idea how you keep your gift budget that low. I feel like I have had one birthday party a month for the past three months–that alone has killed off $20 each month.

        • Sarah says:

          @Emily Rynders, One tip that might help when you are invited to lots of birthday parties.
          Try to buy ahead coupons and sales have gift closets stocked with hasbro and my little ponies.
          Books work great as gifts to middle school or younger and can even be second hand if they are in great shape.
          Teen girls even like items from CVS and Walgreen’s which can be bought with ecb’s and rr.
          As children get older there are more cost. Two paychecks are sometimes a necessary way to handle household expenses. One paycheck can work if the pay is enough.

    • @Ryan, We’ve simply skipped gifting altogether at Christmastime and I love it. My extended family rents the gymnasium of a neighboring church (not one we attend, but that is friendly to us), and we have family volleyball, basketball, and then dessert and singing together afterward on Christmas Day. Best time to bring up any gift reduction is probably right after the holidays–best to begin at that time, any attempt to discuss / establish slightly reduced expectations for the next year. Perhaps offer some alternative suggestions about how you might go about spending less although I do get that this could be very hard for your “family that is very into giving and requesting…”

      • Ryan says:

        @Sharon Durling, aka Broke Girl,
        Love that idea! Our family has various get togethers but none where any money is spent on anything other than food. I can envision various fun events we could plan to do together instead of spending $30/person on Christmas gifts. Some other family members are on a tight budget and usually would not be able to go out and spend money on fun activities. But….if you take $30 times however many people in our family they are buying for….that’s more than enough to plan a special fun day for the family!

      • Katie W. says:

        @Sharon Durling, aka Broke Girl, We just started picking names, we get one family (my parent’s, my sister’s family, ect.)
        Get a list of an item or items to choose from that they want and go to the store and get a 25 dollar gift card. So everyone gets something but we aren’t robbing the bank to buy everyone something. 🙂 We love it! It really saves alot during the holidays!

    • Jessica says:

      @Ryan, We always go with clothes and book for xmas gifts to extended family kids. Figure they get enough toys from “santa” and their parents and grandparents. If you pay attention, Pennys often has buy one get one for a penny sales. We start keeping an eye out in early november because winter stuff it already out, and their parents certainly don’t mind giving us their sizes early. But by shopping early, we are able to find things that match their personalities and style, getting a whole outfit, not spend an arm and a leg, and are able to find the sizes we want/need. Last year I got a bunch of xmas stuff in October because stores were running sales for breast cancer month. If you stockpile, it’s a similar concept, keep an eye out for a good deal, use a coupon. As long as it’s still useful to them, I don’t think it’s imperative it be on the list. Sure kids prefer toys, but that doesn’t stop us.

    • @Ryan, Perhaps you need to tell them that the requested gifts are out of your budget. A famly gift of a board game and some home baked goods might work better. Homemade carmel corn, home-canned jellies and jams, etc. would be a good gift for an entire family, and cost a lot less.

    • Katie says:

      @Ryan, In my family we have recently started “Goodwill Christmas” where all of our gifts for my brothers and sisters, mom and dad are purchased at a thrift store, garage sale, super clearance or are homemade. It has been a blast!! We have all agreed we like this way better as we tend to get things valued way more than what we could all afford new.

      *As for wedding gifts, here if you give a family member less than $50 it is considered insulting… although as a family of 3 we give $20 at friend’s weddings- we consider it a date, and we would spend $20 to go out to dinner and dancing, and having friends around make it that much sweeter.

    • Kassandra Wood says:

      @Ryan, Hi Ryan! We fell into a situation very much like this. When we came out of our shell and told our family that we would be doing light gift-giving, we were surprised to find that everyone else was having the same issues. Sometimes it just takes one person’s voice to make everyone’s thoughts heard. Another idea may be to ask if you can host a Christmas party (this doesn’t have to be at your home, it can be at a banquet room, neighborhood club house, etc… some can be rented for as little as $25. Everyone can bring a finger food and you can play a gift-giving game. I like to play the “Numbers” game. Everyone brings a gift between $5 and $10. Everyone grabs a random gift…. Then you draw a number. The person with the highest number has the most power, the person with the lowest has the least. If your number is higher than someone else’s, you can take their gift and give them yours. Another tradition we have is a Christmas Eve Gag gift-giving… The monetary cap is $5! LOL This time, we put names into a hat and everyone draws names… (or if you have out of town guests, you can choose a person for them). Then, you purchase a funny or gag gift for that person. Even the children enjoy doing this. One year, my cousin who has Shirley Temple curly hair was given curlers… LOL Lastly, perhaps you could exchange one gift per family… this is what we do, too. Board games make WONDERFUL family gifts, as do simple gift cards… $25 at Applebees will go a long was on Kids Eat Free Night. 🙂 I hope I’ve helped.

    • Glenda says:

      @Ryan, Two of my favorite wedding gifts were from friends who had very little money. The first volunteered as her gift to help me prep the day before (we were doing much of our own wedding–food etc) and that was worth more than ANYTHING else I received. The second was a small waste can-sized wicker basket filled with apples and tied with ribbon. It was pretty, thoughtful and 19 years later I am still using it as the garbage can for my bedroom.

      I like to make small baskets as gift and they can be given as a ‘family gift’. I often buy generic items after Christmas and in Jan when prices are majorly cut for yearly inventory. I gave some friends a small wedding basket made from a $1 basket, some nice but discount candles (which I needed only some of)and gels and lotions from my ‘stash’ for a romantic evening together and it got raves and cost me only a few dollars. Food baskets can be nice for families and I’ve found my friends love me to do cookie boxes for them as their Christmas gifts since none of them bake. I often ‘go in’ with one of my sister’s to buy gifts or make up baskets–they can be a little more elaborate but still not cost much for each of us.

      I’ve also just outright told family that my budget doesn’t allow me spend much or buy for everyone. Some people stop giving me gifts and that’s okay too. I FINALLY got it into my family’s head that I’d rather have a useful gift than just something to set on a shelf. I ask for gift cards and am brash enough to say “If you’re going to get me a card could it be for here or here please?”. They laugh but do it anyway and my husband and I were able to visit our very favorite restaurant (Carraba’s) four times on the gift cards we got (which helped out budget) and visit our Barnes & Nobles for books (our passion).

  • monica says:

    Crystal, your website is great! I’ve been trying to figure out how to use coupons for a while now and your website is the only one that makes it really easy! I have had mint.com for about 7 months and I’m really seeing the benefits. It takes about 3 months before you get used to it and have it work for you. I continue to make changes on how I categorize things and I’ve added and taken out a number of categories. Also the new goal features is AWESOME! Instead of having categories in my budget for travel and credit card payment, I now have them in my goals section and it’s soo nice to see progress or lack of! I’ve become much more motivated to reach them now that they are goals.

    My husband and I just started the cash system again and we’ve found that 1 lump sum per month per person really works well. He gets $500 and I get $500 and we “pay” ourselves $250 on the 1st and 15th. That way if you run out on the 11th, you know that another $250 is coming on the 15th. I’ve tried the envelops, but we always forget to bring them and end up using our credit cards. Also, for myself, my “cash” is in the form of a debit card from ING Direct checking. It’s segregated from the main checking out so I know exactly how much I have left at all times. Works like a charm! and can’t ever use the excuse that I don’t have cash…

    I really enjoy reading everyone else’s methods cuz it definitely helps us refine ours.

  • Alice says:

    I started using Quicken this year after using Excel last year, and I love it. It’s great to just easily look at reports and see how much we really spend in each category, and how we can do better. Of course, with a baby on the way we’re going to have to figure out a whole new budget soon!

    The only part I have difficulty keeping track of is my husband’s travel business expenses, which he puts on his own credit card, and his reimbursements, which may not come until several weeks after his trip. And then sometimes he earns a little through extra per diem or mileage, so it can be a bit confusing to sort it all out.

    • Lindsay says:

      @Alice, Alice, my husband’s job used to be that way too. I finally created a “Reimbursible” category just for reimbursible business expenses. Then the expense check went in there too so eventually it balanced out to $0.

      For mileage….I personally put it somewhere in the Auto category, figuring it was helping us out with gas and auto repair/maintenance expenses.

    • Jessica says:

      @Alice, when I got reimbursed for mileage, I took the extra and made an extra car loan payment, or put it in a “future car” savings pile. I figured my car earned it

    • Andrea Q says:

      @Alice, It is confusing! My DH uses a credit card for his. Any mileage “overage” goes to savings.

  • Delores says:

    Well, I would like to see some numbers for people with large families (we have 6 children) who live in an area where there are just not great deals. We don’t have an Aldi’s. Local stores don’t double coupons. I can get some good deals, but just not that many. For my family of 8, I can usually get by on $140 a week, but then another about $150 over the month for bulk purchases of things like flour and oats.

    Also, maybe you, Crystal, could do a post (or maybe you have already done one) on what to do if your husband does not feel the same way. My sweetheart is awesome and I love him, but he just does not feel the compulsion to get out of debt like I do. He used to, but I wonder if now it is just so overwhelming so he doesn’t care. I am praying that with our next income refund we can pay the rest off. I will work at it until then, and am praying for a change of heart in my husband, and am praying for more ways to bring more money in and to cut costs.

    Finally, another question: has anyone tried those laundry soap nuts? Do they really work? I know this isn’t the topic for that question, but I don’t want to forget to ask it! With 6 kids I get easily distracted. 🙂

    • Steph says:

      I’ve heard good things about the soapnuts. My brother-in-law farms, and my sister has had good success getting dirty barn clothes clean with the soap nuts (farmhousenaturals.biz, I think). We still do the homemade detergent, but I’m wondering if borax isn’t good and we should switch too.

    • Alea says:

      @Delores,

      I guess I’ll chime in. We have 4 kids (ages 1-1/2 to 8) and around here, that’s not a large family, but for a lot of people it is! We live in a rural area, so no chain stores. About once a month I head to our nearest big town (1 hour away) and stock up on stuff that either isn’t available here, or is just too spendy.
      I have $50 per week, plus about another $140 per month for bulk stuff and our milk which comes straight from a dairy. That doesn’t include pork or beef – we get half a beef every 2+ years and one hog each year. It also doesn’t include everything I can from my garden, which is quite a few veggies – though I’m not a fanatic about canning every bit. I really think I’m probaby spending too much and just recently went to a cash system to try to make it less. (It’s hard when I can just charge it to my acct. at my little local grocery and pay the bill at the end of the month!)
      One thing our local grocery guy will do, that I haven’t taken him up on much, is sell food by the case at a discount. I’ve considered it with flour and such, but at this point don’t quite use enough to make it work. That would make the stuff you can’t wait for a deal on a little better priced.

  • Kathryn says:

    Our system is very similar to yours, but our roles are reversed, with me being the detail/numbers person who keeps the books. We keep our records in Microsoft Money; we enter the cash for our envelopes under broad categories (e.g., Groceries, Entertainment) as twice-monthly withdrawals. Comprehensive financial software is particularly useful for us because we run two businesses. Our tax preparer is willing to do our taxes dirt-cheap because I can quickly provide her with detailed, easy-to-understand reports with all the info she needs.

    • Alisha says:

      @Kathryn, What are you doing now that Microsoft Money is “no more?” I was so sad to see that they’re no longer downloading as of 6/30. I’m trying Quicken but am not crazy about it. 🙁

      • Kathryn says:

        @Alisha, I just keep using the version I already have. It has all the functionality I need (including Internet connectivity), and I’ve had no trouble with bugs or other security/stability issues in the 10 years I’ve been using Money, so I’m not concerned about upgrading/updating. I only wish Windows were so easy to use long-term!

  • We’ve used Crown Financial Ministries’ recommended program, Mvelopes, for four years and LOVE it. It is like a virtual envelope system on the web 🙂

    There’s a nominal subscription fee to join, but it’s free for the first two weeks for those who want to just try it out (if you use the link here, I do get referral credit: https://my.mvelopes.com/n-enrollmentv2/index.php?page=referral-user&accessCode=D001001001&referral=78129 ).

    We did try Mint once, out of curiousity since we’d heard good things about it, but they did not support our local bank so I never really had the opportunity to give it a shot 🙂

    That’s alright, cuz I’m pretty sold on Mvelopes, anyway!

  • Lori says:

    I use Excel and the cash envelope system. But this is all the wrong side of my brain too…

    The “fun” that I have with our budget is in the clothing category. I have five kids and I like them to be very well dressed so I make a sort of game out of it – to challenge myself and to make budgeting more fun. First, I use a rewards debit card to buy discounted gift cards from ebay or plastic jungle. Then I wait for big sales to combine with coupons at the popular stores. When they’re outgrown I resell them on ebay and recoup most of my money! I have a fairly simple spreadsheet that tracks my total yearly spending at each store and subtracts ebay profits, debit rewards and gift card discounts.

    After all is said & done, it ends up coming to roughly $65 per month for a family of 7! Not bad when you consider some items don’t make it to the resale part!

  • Katie Kerr says:

    I am currently struggling with where we live. We live in an expensive Canadian city. The coupons here are almost extinct for groceries and we barely get by with a $400/month budget for food. We are just out of school with a decent job but no savings and it seems like we will never be able to afford housing here since a small war-time bungalow is three hundred thousand dollars and on my husband’s salary it would take us a very long time to get a down payment. I am wondering if you have any suggestions for young couples starting out in very expensive cities where there is only so much you can do to cut costs? I would really appreciate this. Thanks,
    Katie

    • Tabatha says:

      @Katie Kerr, Have you tried moving out of the expensive city but still within decent driving time for your husband? I used to drive 30 minutes to work (one way) just to get out of the “expensive city” and we were able to afford a lot more. Just a thought!

      • Katie Kerr says:

        LOL it seems we may be destined to have to pay out big bucks. My husband is a pastor and a big part of our minstry is having lots of people in the house and we need to be close to the church for that to work. Oh well.

        • Anne says:

          @Katie Kerr, Katie, my husband is a pastor in an inner city church in Atlanta, GA. We live close to the church in order to best serve the needs of the church, but that means we pay a huge montly rent payment. (Teensy bungalows here go for minimum $500K.) But don’t lose heart! Make a budget and stick with it. God is faithful, and when we are faithful with what he calls us to and with what he gives us, you can win with money. We have been diligently doing the Dave plan for the last four years and we have no debt, a fully funded emergency fund, and we are able to give and invest like we’ve never been able to before. Next goal – saving for the house we will (one day) buy. Good luck!

  • Tabatha says:

    We actually use Dave Ramsey’s budget work sheet every month. I like the ease of using paper. We had tried using computer programs in the past and it just doesn’t work for us. We forget to put it in the computer and then it ends up all weird and wrong. The paper/pencil method works well for us as I leave it on my desk so I see it all the time. As far as cash goes, we use the envelope system and say “when its gone, its gone.” I just recently got a new type of envelope system in the mail and I absolutely LOVE it! (www.timelessjourney.etsy.com) <— is where I got it. 🙂

  • Celena says:

    We use Microsoft Money (came with my computer in 2002!) and it works very well for us. It’s a little outdated, but it does what I need it to do. I’m sure we’ll upgrade to new software at some point, but I know how to work this quite well so I’ll stick with it for now.
    We have a category in our budget called “Annual Expenses” that covers things like my husbands life insurance, car registration, car insurance, propane, and garbage. We know how much we spend on all of these a year, divide it by 12, and take out that much money each month. The money goes into a separate checking account that we use to pay those bills from. We never have to worry about not having the money, because it comes out automatically and we know there is enough going in there each year to cover all those costs. We also have an excel spreadsheet that I really like, but don’t use as often since I don’t want to have to enter everything twice (into the spreadsheet and MyMoney). It works for us!

    • Alisha says:

      @Celena, Is yours still working as of 6/30? If so, How? I miss it!

    • Krystal says:

      This is what we have always used the whole 8 years of our marriage! Mainly because it was already installed on our computer and was free. We upgraded when we got a new computer last spring to Microsoft Money 2004 but I enjoyed 2000 better (that might be because I don’t like change). Its budget was easier to use but there are a lot of debt reduction features on the 2004, which are really cool. We got the newer software on ebay last year for very little.

  • Kristine says:

    I think our big “ouch” is gifts. We live on the East Coast where the mentality and “expected” amount to spend of certain gifts is much different than I would like. We go against the grain as much as possible, but are still finding this difficult to really curb. My family is a little easier as they too are on tighter budgets, and are understanding when we need to cut back. However, hubby’s family has money to spend and spend they do 🙂

    Next year we are going to ask to opt out of sibling gifts, but we are already half-way through the year this year and it wouldn’t be fair for all since some have already given/received. We also already opt out of the extra holiday gifts (hubby’s family gives for Valentine’s, Easter, Halloween, etc….) – although we always feel badly since we are the only ones who don’t bring gifts, but we still leave with a big pile of loot. I also try and do homemade, clearance finds, etc. as much as possible – but that only gets you so far too.

    The amount is usually $50 and we have about 27 people that we buy for throughout the year (family is divorced). Do you all have a lower number that everyone is okay with? Or do you all have less people to buy for? I feel like hubby and I go around and around on this issue all the time – we enjoy giving people what they like/want, and don’t want to hurt feelings, but with so many people to buy for it is getting hard to manage (note: no one else in our families have as many people to buy for. We have more b/c of divorce/remarriage/etc)!

    • Heather says:

      @Kristine, Wow! That’s crazy. You don’t mean $50 a gift, do you? Cause if you do, it’s time to rebel and risk offending someone! I’m on the East Coast too, but only one branch of the family spends more than I’d like, but that’s just at Christmas.

    • Emily says:

      I know where you are coming from. We are in the same boat and told our families that we like to have experiences instead of gifts and hope they start to catch on. So far, it is has worked. For Christmas we decided to instead draw names and the name you draw is the person that you have to cook for at their house. The two people had to pick a time and then they had time to hang out. Why wouldn’t anyone like the gift of time spent together? For this past mother’s and father’s day we had a family Olympics where my husband and I created two teams and games where two different teams would face off for different events like three legged race and other silly games.
      Try to find another family member who might sympathize with you. Or, being the passive aggressive person that I can sometimes be, just tell them that you guys can’t partake in this year’s festivities because it is out of your budget and stay home. That could send a message???

    • Elizabeth says:

      @Kristine, We’re fortunate to come from families who aren’t divorced (so we only have about 11 outside the immediate family to buy for), but we spend $50-$100/per person per holiday (BD, Xmas, Mother’s/Father’s Day). We can afford it (or we wouldn’t do it), and as far as I’m concerned, giving gifts (and charity) is part of why we try to be frugal in other places… but of course, you shouldn’t feel like you HAVE to give that much money.

      • Ryan says:

        @Elizabeth,
        I like the idea of being able to be generous with others as well, but we get so many gifts that we don’t need, especially the kids, that I wonder how many of our gifts turn out that way too, and then it’s a waste of the giver’s money. Several of the family members we buy for are ones we’re close with, so we have an idea what they’d like but there are others we literally only see at Christmas. These are the ones that are most awkward to buy for since we really don’t know them and we’re giving more out of obligation. We sometimes do gift cards/money, but then I feel like we’re just swapping money with everyone.

        I’m not sure how to balance the spontaneity of giving gifts that are a surprise (to people you may not know well) versus just buying straight from a list (which then it seems like why bother, why don’t we all just take our own money and go buy what we want). I love the times we’ve been able to give something special and homemade that we knew the person would love, but we don’t have the time to do that for 15+ birthdays and Christmas presents every year (plus weddings, babies, Mother’s/Father’s day etc).

        • Heather says:

          @Ryan, I was so excited about finally standing up to our families and ending sibling gifts – our siblings are all late teens, early 20’s – becauscoined was very rude if the gift didn’t cost enough. Since we have 3 between DH and myself, this was going to save us $150 at Christmas… until two of them had kids unexpectedly and now we have a new expense. Since DH and I are childless and doing pretty well – in their eyes – we get VERY snippy comments from the one if our gifts aren’t up to standard… nice right?

        • Elizabeth says:

          @Ryan, I agree… this is an issue! It does become harder as we get older to find gifts that are meaningful yet not wildly expensive. I often send flowers or special foods because they are appreciated, but don’t sit around collecting dust! We do lists sometimes, but I think those can be special as well, especially if you can save someone the hassle of researching something to buy. For instance, buying electronics can often be so confusing and challenging, I think that the bigger gift sometimes is having someone wade into the “LCD vs. Plasma” or “Which is the best digital camera?” (or garlic press, or whatever) question. If someone just says, I want this camera (or whatever) it is a bit like trading gift cards. 🙂 So, we’ve found that asking for something general, and then letting someone who knows a lot about the subject find it for you has been a good way to go.

    • Janice says:

      @Kristine, Just stop – Start sending cards instead with a nice note…We used to buy for all sorts of extended family also, but now we are just down to 4 parents, our kids and one niece…it has been such a relief for EVERYONE!! We all are so glad to simplify and stop filling up our homes with stuff we probably don’t even want! Just stop – if they want to continue giving you gifts, that is their choice and all you need to give them is a big smile and thank you note!

  • Lynette says:

    I love mvelopes from Crown also!! It has many advantages over quicken, which I also used for many years. For one, quicken tracks your spending after the fact, mvelopes helps you plan how you want to spend by using the classic envelope system. If you have a smartphone, you can have instant access to your budget in real time. I love how spending on my credit cart is taken immediately out of the proper envelope and placed in a credit card payment envelope–I can take advantage of some great rewards programs on my credit cards and have the money sitting there to pay them off in full every month. At first I resisted the monthy fee and held onto my inefficient quicken/ledger method, but it has more than paid for itself in ease of use (once I learned it) and the time/money saved by having things up to date. They even offered me a lifetime membership after about a year, so no more monthly expense ever!! It is the only program I know of that combines a budget with the financial tracking–at least when I used it quicken really wasn’t a budgeting tool.

  • Lindsay says:

    I’ve also used Quicken for years, and you can automatically download transactions from your bank and then you just need to categorize them. So easy! I am the numbers guru, but my hubby is totally on board which really helps. We have a ‘money meeting’ once a month where we review the month and plan for the next month. It doesn’t take long at all now that we have a system going. And it’s so fun to see where we are. We also take that opportunity to check in on our goals for several other things in our life.

    Incidentally, we just upgraded our Quicken from an older version, and at quicken.com you can get Quicken WillMaker FREE when you buy Quicken. We finally have our wills ready to sign and notarize!

  • Laura Jane 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.

  • 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.

  • 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:

      @Valerie,
      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.

    • Crystal 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.

      • Katie 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!

    • Laura Jane 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.

  • 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!

  • Aryn 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!

  • 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.)

  • Jennifer 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.

  • 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!

    • Andrea Q says:

      @Jen T, Check out Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. You will be further ahead if you manage your money together.

    • 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. 🙂

  • 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.

    • Monica says:

      @robyn Try KMart or BigLots. I’ve seen them for around $30 at those places before, in NC and WV.

    • 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.

  • 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 🙂

  • Jennifer 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.

  • 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.

  • FindSavings says:

    We use Quickbooks for everything…business and personal. We find it very helpful. It can do so much!

  • Amanda 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).

    • Crystal 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.

  • 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.

    Blessings,
    Danielle

  • 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.

  • 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!

    Laura

    • Crystal 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!

  • 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:

      @Mary,
      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!!

      • @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!

    • Crystal 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?

    • @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.

      • @The Prudent Homemaker, Sorry to jump in on the conversation, but I wanted to let you know that I wrote down what you mentioned about garlic ear oil. Sounds like a great trick to try! Thanks for suggesting it! 🙂

        • 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!

        • @Jaime @ Like a Bubbling Brook, Just wanted to say, if you are nursing or have a breastmilk stash. A few drops in the ear will help an ear infection. You can put some drops of it in/on your eye too for an infection. Works like a charm…..(my hubby’s a dr and he agrees!)

    • 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:

      @Mary,
      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!

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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. 🙂

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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:

        @Kim,
        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:

          @Ryan,
          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:

          @Ryan,

          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.

      • Andrea Q 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.

  • Katherine 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.

  • 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 🙂

  • 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!

    • Crystal 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:

      @Elizabeth,
      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!

      • Crystal 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

    • @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.

      • @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!

  • 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.

  • 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:

      @Tabatha,
      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.

    • @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!

  • 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!)

  • 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.

    • @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.

  • 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.

    • Crystal 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!

      • @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.

    • Lindsay 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!

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • Kimberly 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…

  • 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?

    • Crystal 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.

      • @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.

        • Andrea Q says:

          @Michele @ Saving Money In Real Life, I agree! Non-family birthday parties are at least $20 each and it seems like we have one each month.

        • Elizabeth says:

          @Michele @ Saving Money In Real Life, I agree– I’ve lived in the East Coast (including Atlanta) my whole life, and $100 is the default wedding gift amount, $25-$30 for a shower gift (if you are under 25 years, you can probably get away with a little less).

          • Crystal 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.

        • Dawn says:

          @Michele @ Saving Money In Real Life, Should’ve proofed one more time (ugh!)

          Should’ve read: “an exorbitant gift that either I or the giver could *NOT* afford.”

          and: “I have received pricey gifts from people that I *KNEW* could not have afforded it…”

      • 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.

        • JessieLeigh 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.

        • @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.

        • @jennifer, that wasn’t really addressed to you. It was more addressed to Dawn, but the “reply” feature is a bit confusing on the comments section here!

      • Tammy L 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.)

        • Crystal 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!

  • 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.
    imperative

  • 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!

      • Crystal 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.

  • 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!

  • Challice 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

  • 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?

  • 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.!!!!!!!!

  • 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.

  • 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. ?

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • Dianna 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!

  • Heather 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.

  • Olathe Mom says:

    Crystal,

    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!

  • Elisa says:

    Not a question about this, but what does your husband look like anyway? I have seen pictures of your adorable kids, but never of your husband! I am just curious I guess 🙂

  • Sarah says:

    Crystal,

    My husband and I have been taking the Financial Peace Univ class at our church and I’ve been following you for about a year now. I’m really starting to get the hang of couponing and becoming fairly successful at it. My problem is that my husband is not as “cooperative” as I wish he could be. Basically he’s kicking and screaming the entire way. I don’t want to complain anything because he is an incredible man but how do I get his buy-in for all of this? Even after hearing everything Dave says he’s not ready to get on board! He’s still convinced that he just needs to make more money, not that we need to be better stuarts of the money we have. Suggestions?

  • Courtney says:

    Crystal- do you think you could do an open post where people could comment on what envelopes they have…how much….how many kids…general location?! I think that would be extremely helpful for those of us who are considering switching to a cash envelope system!

    • Dani says:

      @Courtney, I agree, I have my strict budget but have considered the envelpope system myself. Plus its nice to see what people that are in your situation or close to are doing just to see if you can cut back spending a little more!

      Also, is there anything cute to use for this envelope system? (lol I know, but envelopes get all bent and torn in my purse!!)

  • Angie says:

    Crystal, How do you only spend $15/month on clothes for each person? I find it especially difficult in the winter when there are boots, coats, snow pants, etc. top buy in addition to the regular clothes, church clothes, shoes, church shoes, underwear, socks, etc., etc.,

    • Dani says:

      @Angie, My budget is also comparable to this. I don’t have to buy clothes each month though so some carries over. (also, if I know I won’t need anything, I might use mine for the kids, they go through more) I shop sales a lot!! I also have a Kohls card, so I recieve a 30% off once a year and I stock up then, still usually shopping the clearance and sales rack. I also buy off season. For example, at the end of winter I bought about 75% of my son’s clothes for this fall and winter and about 50% of my daughter’s ( didn’t find as mcuh for her). I got long sleeve shirts at Target for $1.50 to $2.00. I got two hoodies from Kohls for about $4.00 a piece (toddler sized). One hoodie was Nike and one was Osh Kosh. My kids actually have really cute clothes and often get comments on how cute they are dressed too!! Also, when family ask what my kids want for birthdays and Chrismas, I tell them clothes! Of sourse they also seem to through in a toy lol, but they understand what they need! This helps out greatly! For Birthdays I ask for summer clothes and for Christmas, I ask for winter. That really only leaves me getting fall clothes and things they need along the way.

      Sorry so long! Hope this helps a bit.

    • Crystal says:

      Well, it probably helps that we don’t live in a place where there are long, cold winters. Usually, a warm coat and hat and scarf will do. And we’ve found that if we buy these a little big at the end of the season, we can get a great deal and they’ll last for 2-3 years per child and then can be handed down to the next child!

      • Dani says:

        @Crystal, I actually did that for my daughter, well my dad did. He bought her a winter coat (she was about 7 months old) in a size 2T. We used it for two winters! Best thing was he got it on clearance at Walmart for $8.00!!!! It was plain, just pink, but cute!

        • Lisa says:

          LOL!! I think winters are really long and cold in Kansas! But, that is a former Florida girl talking. I think my winter clothing budget is bigger than yours!

    • @Angie, We are from Oklahoma but lived in Michigan for a time….they had great sales on winter items at the end of the season(same thing in Oklahoma). We are a family of 4 and our clothes budget is $30/month. I stock up on things at the end of the season and save a ton!! Last year at the end of summer, I got adorable shorts from Children’t Place for $0.99/pair and golf shirts for $1.99/each. I bought about 4 of each size and color in 12M, 18M, 2T, 3T, and 4T. I have two boys who were a 3month’s old and 2 years old at the time. They are wondeful shots with botton sizing waists and I just have them packed in the trundle until we need them. We usuall don’t spend $30/month regularly, but since I have the money stockpiled from each month, when a great sale comes along, I snag up all we need. It’s truly been a blessing!

      JCPenney’s also has fabulous clearance racks for the entire family. Most of the times I can get sweaters, tops, bottoms, skirts, dress pants, or anthing else we need for under $6/piece for us grownups, and under $3/piece for the kiddos. I hit the jackpot one time and got lots of pairs of dress pants in different color’s and sizes for$1.29/pair. Use those awesome coupons too!!!

      Good luck, and have fun!

  • Dani says:

    I’d have to say I am the numbers nerd!! At the beginning of every year I write out every single check I will get throughout the year and what each check will be used for. I do this in excel. I have columns for each bill, savings, and my spending money money. My spending money varies from week to week based upon the bills due that week. By writing out each week, I know if I need to stock up on extras the week before if the next week is going to have less spending money.

    Also my mom and I each write out one financial goal (ex. pay off credit card or save $100.00) and one personal goal (go through old clothes or clean out kitchen cabinets). Then at the end of the year we see who reach the most goals!!! Believe it or not, this helps so much! It’s like a competition to see who can achieve the most (in a friendly way of course!). Our goals can be completely different, and usually are based upon our needs. Its fun to do and keeps me motivated. I have always found telling someone my goals helps me to satay motivated because people usually ask how you are doing towards that goal!

    On my spreadsheet I will keep track of how much money I need to save to reach my financial goals each month.

    I check this sheet at least once a week to adjust total savings and keep on track to which bills are due!!

  • Leah says:

    How do those of you who make irregular paychecks (I am a server, so my checks are extremely irregular, not to mention that I get paid bi-weekly, so I have 2 “extra” checks/year) track your incoming/outgoing? I have a hard time doing cash envelopes, because I my incoming is so sporadic.
    My problem becomes particularly complex due to the fact that I can take home cash tips, but receive credit card tips in my bi-weekly paychecks (this is not the norm for servers), so I might have a lot of cash coming in and a small paycheck at the end of the pay period or little cash and a large paycheck. I realize this is uncommon, but if anyone has any good ideas for how to manage/track this I would be grateful!

    • Dawn says:

      @Leah, We have irregular paychecks due to my husbands job. We have a ‘master budget’ with all the necessities on it (mortgage, food, gas, utilities, etc) based on what I know his smallest paycheck could be. Then we split the budget in half (he gets paid every two weeks.) according to when then bills are due. When he gets paid, I sit down with this budget and a list of upcoming needs or events and work in what I can after necessities are covered. When I have spent everything on paper, I stop. (Dave Ramsey says if you’re below the line, you’re out of luck 🙂

      Twice a year, when we have an ‘extra’ paycheck, I save as much of it as I can and use that money to pay ahead on as many things as I can. With 3 kids, that is usually paying ahead on their school lunches, putting away for summer camp/activities, school clothes/supplies,etc. Or it could be knowing the car will be needing new tires in the next few months… That way I don’t have to fit those things into my monthly budget.

      Hope that helps!

  • Dani says:

    I have a question! I am about to start the envelope system. My bills are all due at random times throughout the month. I get six pay checks a month. (two jobs, one pays out bi weekly and one weekly). I’m not sure how to get started with this. Do you fill envelopes weekly or monthly? (probably doesn’t matter, but I feel like this is important. I have done my budgeting the same way for so long that switching makes me nervous. I know it will help because there has been a few times I went over my weekly budget from using my debit card due to being in a hurry or something coming up and not writing a transaction down. My kids are the same age as your two youngest and things don’t go as planned sometimes lol. My balance of 0 in my bank is actually $100 so I never overdraw my account, but I have gone over my budget.) Any advice for switching and doing it smoothly would be greatly appreciated!

  • Trixie says:

    I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE working with numbers! I manage an Accounting dept by day and then do the accounting for 3 small businesses in my spare time one of which is a bookeeping/tax biz. Lots of fun.

    Anywhoo, I use Excel and track everything to the penny. I’ve been doing this for 13 years now and it’s so fun (shocking) to look back at my old budgets from 1997.

    My best advice to people is that you don’t have to love crunching numbers to have a good budget that works for you and your family. It is not really necesary to go to the degree that I do and make yourself miserable if numbers are not your thing. I just do this because I like to.

    I’ve had several clients over the years that have done very well, just by working with a rough outline of their expenses, living on a mostly cash system and doing direct deposit for saving for bigger bills, special stuff and a rainy day. Find a way that works for you (and your spouse can live with without feeling like you are ordering them to “do it my way or else”.” and stick with it.

    I’m a big beliver in having different savings accounts for the things we want to do. Right now I’ve got some going for vacation (now THAT’s a fun account to squirrel away every extra penny into!), one for some new furniture, a new wardrobe (I recently has Weight Loss Surgery and am needing a replace all my clothes) and of course our normal “if we become unemployed” and ” regular” savings accounts.

  • Tiffany says:

    Crystal,
    Please tell me how you buy a DVD player for only $30???
    Thanks!

  • Monica M. says:

    Hi Crystal, thanks so much for sharing. I have a question. We are debt free besides our home. I was wondering when you where saving for your home did you stop everything else like roth iras, vacations, going out eat, etc and just put all that money toward saving for your home?

  • Rachel C says:

    I would like to know how you budget $40 a month in groceries!!! We are feeding 4 people (baby is breastfed and WIC supplies baby food), we get WIC for me and the two other kids, but we still can’t seem to budget less than $75 a month for groceries.

  • Lorilyn Tarr says:

    We each have a notebook (since we think COMPLETELY opposite!) Since we have 2 different savings accounts, and each one has catagories for specific things ( christmas, extra heat money, vacation, school clothes, and regular savings) it gets kinda crazy. I keep track of the actual checking account money (when checks clear, when money transfers, etc). Every payday we sit down together for 10-15 minutes and go over the budget and numbers. Just like you, we have cash for certain items that we get out every payday. But it is most important that we are both on the same track and know exactly where are money is going. Every single dollar has a destination and is accounted for. (except our spending money of course! ) This works for us!

  • Martha says:

    We use the envelope system for our food, eating out, fun money and date money and the rest I track via Budgettracker.com. I import my transactions and put evething in categories. I love the graphs i use. That cost $29 a year and its awesome

  • Jenn says:

    Has anyone mentioned Moneydance yet? (http://www.moneydance.com) It’s a nice, light alternative to Quicken. Most of the same functionality without the bloat, especially if you use a Mac. Pretty much, anyone who raves about Quicken has a PC.

    Now here is my best tip for organizing your categories in any application: Name them “01-Rent,” “02-Auto,” etc. Most reports print your categories alphabetically, not in order of importance. Using the number prefix allows you to choose how things are organized. It can get a little hairy when you factor in subcategories but here’s where my other piece of advice comes in: keep your categories as broad as possible, use subcategories sparingly, and use search to drill-down when you need it. So instead of 04-Heat, 05-Phone, 06-Electric. Have 04-Utilities. You only ever pay one company for phone service so you can search for that company name when you need details. It will save you a ton of time in data entry and your reports will be short and sweet.

  • juli says:

    I have the same question someone else posted about but since there are no responses to it thought I’d ask it again:) Where do people keep their envelopes? My husband and I just started the envelope system but we can’t decide where to keep the cash. It just seems so much safer in a bank…which is why we have always used debit cards in the past. We don’t want to put it where it can be easily stolen but we want to be able to get to it quickly if we need it. We’re just curious about what other’s do with theirs.

  • Margaret says:

    We keep it much more simple than most. No spreadsheets, lol.

    I have a binder that has a folder for each month. In each month’s folder is an expense sheet and a pocket for reciepts. I go through the receipts and write expenses/income down 1-2 times a month, and at the end of the month add up the totals.

    We do not have a set budget. It’s very much a personality issue for us. Our goal and our method is to spend as little as possible, and pile up as much cash as possible. :p

  • Mary says:

    $40 a week for food? Seriously? How?? For three meals and snacks every day (except that one meal out)? I just don’t get it…

    • frances says:

      @Mary,
      its says 40 a week not a month

      • Mary says:

        @frances, I know. 🙂 40 a week seems like a goal I could never accomplish..I do the coupon thing and feel like I’m saving all I can..I can’t seem to get below 70 a week… ??

        • Andrea Q says:

          @Mary, Crystal has been couponing for years and she’s mentioned that she uses fairly simple recipes. She did recently mention that she may have to increase her grocery budget due to her growing kids and husband’s request for fewer casseroles.

  • Cindy Diaz says:

    We have four in our house , my husband and I and a 3 and 2 year old. I understand the frustrations of others trying to lower the grocery budget. We have lower the budget successfully from $150 to $75 a week. I would LOVE to see this cut even more. We are dealing with milk and soy free allergies though. I has gotten easier now this year because the youngest is potty trained. We are going to the envelope system next month and I am looking into software for tracking money. I would prefer peachtree, because that is what I use at work.

    any suggestions for kids with allergies?

  • Jerilyn says:

    I like mint.com. It’s so helpful. We used to have a program (microsoft money) but it stopped working and then we got a new computer.

    We don’t have a rigid budget. We set a certain amount in our categories- the exact amount for certain things: rent, ultilities, insurances, etc.- and then overestimate in other areas (gas, etc.) so we don’t track those rigidly. We do cash for groceries, misc/hygiene, eating out (which is rare) and our blow money.

    Everything else that does fit will have to be worked from another category, or when we get birthday money, or when we get our tax return. We don’t keep really tight numbers because it sucks the fun out of it and makes me want to throw the huge budget out of the window- but we keep track of it and we’re on the frugal side so we usually don’t spend a lot and the savings add up.

    I put our spare change in a jar and use it to buy my newspaper and other fun things we like to do (date nights!) All of my savings from rebates, etc. go to my special envelope for the next thing we’re saving for. Spending this envelope this weekend on a get-away and starting to save for our next family weekend in November!

  • Kim says:

    First of all I’m the numbers nerd. When we started FPU classes we didn’t have a computer so we’ve been using Dave Ramsey’s budget sheets that I’ve modified to meet our needs. We thought about switching over to the computer now but ….if it’s not broke don’t fix it 🙂 We have a combination of things for tracking spending. We have cash envelopes but I keep the grocery, household, baby, and my “blow” money in my wallet with a index card of how much is left in each category. I go through my receipts when I’m home. I don’t keep change in the envelopes. All the change goes in my wallet. We also have a checking account for “non-monthly” expenses, such as vacation, gifts, car repairs, insurance, etc. My husband has cash as well but with business trips and such we still have the credit card too. We have to pay for hotels, dining, flights, etc. then get reimbursed when the expense reports get done. (Don’t like this but have to be happy he has a job.)

    • @Kim, it’s the same for my hubby, too… he has to use our own card for business expenses, then gets reimbursed from his company. Since we have to use our own card, we chose a card that gives points towards vacation stays (the Marriott card from Chase). All the points my hubby accrues through the year for business travel and expenses are used for our annual winter vacation 🙂 Little does his company know that they are enabling us to take a nice vacation by placing us under this “burden,” lol! Just an idea, if you aren’t doing this already! Good luck!

  • Keri says:

    I loved reading about all of the different budget systems that work for you ladies..gave me some great ideas. We currently use Excel (love it!) and sync it with our back account/bill pay.

    Crystal~ I was impressed by your $160 a month budget for groceries.
    We are a family of six, 4 of them males:) and my allowance for groceries is more that twice what yours is. I’m a huge coupon/bargan/meal planning shopper.. but would apreciate any other tips you have on stretching those dollers.
    Thanks & blessings.
    Keri.

  • Star says:

    Crystal, I just wanted to say how very much I needed this Q & A right now! My husband and I are working very hard to pay off debt and get our finances under control, but tracking has been the hardest part for me! Neither of us are numbers nerds LOL.

  • Kimberly says:

    This is very very similar to our budget!! We only have one kid and use WIC, which helps a lot! Hope I can still keep it down if we ever have more kids. My husband says we can’t afford more kids, I’m praying he gets paid more or something!

  • Debbie says:

    I keep track of our money. Crystal, I also want to let you know that we will begin making substantial payments to the principal of our house starting August 1st. We already send $250 every month, but now we will be sending between $500-$1000 toward the principal. I know we can do it! Thank you for being such an inspiration. God is good!

  • Kristi says:

    I am curious to know what is considered groceries in your grocery envelope. We also do the envelope system in our home. I am learning daily how to become more frugal with coupons, stocking up when there are sales, etc. We are a family of 5 and I constantly struggle to stay under budget. I usually shop at Walmart. This includes many things besides actual food that I feed my family through the week. I buy diapers and wipes for my 16 month old twins, cleaning supplies, makeup and hair products, paper goods, personal item, etc. I don’t know if I am just not doing a good job at managing my money or if this is typical. Any advice?

    • Alea says:

      @Kristi,

      Every time I’ve shopped at Walmart for food I have been amazed at how expensive it is. Especially for as often as they brag about their great prices.
      And I think you can usually get all the other stuff you mentioned at a pharmacy store (walgreens, riteaid) for cheaper too, if you watch the sales.

  • Laura says:

    I had a question my husband made to me, If we are using “CASH ONLY” whats the point of Quicken, or any other software. Seems that for these softwares you would use your debit card more frequently.

  • My husband has tried to get me to use Quicken, but I just don’t have the patience to figure it out. I made my own spreadsheet for our budget. I have tried to use the envelope system, but I almost lost my mind! I hate having cash and it was screwing me up all of the time.

    What works for us, is every payday I divide the money up into different accounts:
    Savings
    Quarterly & Yearly Bills
    My Account
    My Husband’s Account

    Then I leave the rest of the money in the main house account to pay the bills for that payday.

    My husband usually just buys gas and some groceries. I buy the rest of the household items, clothing, gifts, etc, etc. Creating the Q&Y account was the best thing we ever did. Now when the quarterly or yearly bill is due, that money is already sitting in the account.

    Even though I have a budget for each category, I am with you and just figure when the money is gone, it’s gone.

  • Kim says:

    I may have missed this question already, but what do you do with your online purchases? Do you take money out of your cash envelopes and put it back in the bank or how do you keep track when you buy groceries or clothes online but obviously don’t use the cash out of your envelope to do so?

    Thanks!

  • Kara says:

    Crystal:
    Do you take out the $425 at the beginning of the month or do you take out the weekly/ biweekly amount? Also, do you and Jesse get “personal” spending money each week?

    • Crystal says:

      We take it out at the beginning of the month. We don’t get personal spending money, per se, outside of the categories listed. But we do use our Swagbucks-earned gift cards to get little treats here and there. If we didn’t have the luxury of some free gift cards from Swagbucks, we’d likely put some “blow” money into our categories to allow for some fun wiggle room.

      • Tara says:

        @Crystal, You said “we take it out at the beginning of the month” (referring to the cash for your envelopes). My question is take it out of where?

        I want to start using this system but am having a hard time figuring out how to get the actual cash into an actual envelope. My husband works FT, I work PT, we both get paid every other week (opposite weeks), so there is a direct deposit every week to our joint ckng. acct., but the week I get paid the deposit is much lower than the week he gets paid. So while we may have $ budgeted monthly for groceries, I usually don’t have ALL of the actual $ budgeted until the last paycheck of the month. But I can’t wait until the end of the month to buy groceries or gas, etc. We are pretty much a month behind in paying all of our bills cuz we can’t get any company (gas/electric/phone) to change our due date to a day that works better for our paychecks. (ex. our mortgate/school tuition/car payment are all due the same day, but if I pay them all out of the same paycheck (my husband’s)I literally have no money to buy food.

        Anyway it’s all a big mess and I’m trying desperately to figure it all out. Any advice from anyone would be greatly appreciated.

  • christina says:

    We have been married 9 years. We are only 27 years old. We don’t have a financial plan. We are total mess. I families were never able to give money advice because they are worse off then us. We have a lot of debt. We took the Dave Ramsey class but we are still trying to figure out how to use it. Because we have three jobs between us and we hardly just get the monthly have to haves paid. Not sure how to take care of anything else. I would like any advice it all possible. Please keep it simple to start us out. We would love to be debt free and purchase a home. We have three children.

  • Tricia Young says:

    Hi Crystal! I just made my budget based on your example and I think we can do it!!! I’ve been working on a budget in my mind and we know how successful that is! I’m starting the envelope method August 1. This isn’t tested yet so I’m not posting it as a ‘successful budget’, but it is another example of how a family is going to break it down. A question that just arose for me that I thought I’d ask: I am making a lasagna for a sick neighbor this evening. I have to run to the grocery because I do not have noodles, ricotta, sauce, onion, or mozzarella…a lot I know! We’re leaving for a week in a week and cleaning out our pantry and fridge so not much is stocked…bummer! Question: Would you take these items out of your gift budget? I’m thinking I would if I had started, but curious how you figure these spendings in.

    Thanks so much for all you do!

    Oh yeah…our breakdown…
    Gifts $30
    Kids activities $100 (dance is $55 so this will be anything we do as a stay at home mom all day)
    Clothing $15 (for our family of 2 adults and 2 kids) I’m also going to shop consignment stores with my trade money from my consigning as well as seasonal large consignment sales…this works for our family and while I understand only a few outfits I like kid’s clothes too much!
    Eating out during day $50 (This is something my girls and I love to do, but this may be lowered after August when I see it can be around $30…we pack a lot of picnics.)
    Groceries $280…we eat strictly organic so $70/week is typical for us, but I aim for $250/month.
    Home $30…same as Crystal.

    I really hope this budget works! In addition will be my husband’s lunch out everyday (part of his job and something he enjoys and won’t quit), gas for my vehicle, and $200/month for preschool for one child.

    Total: $505

  • Michelle says:

    I’m definitely the nerd in our marriage and we use YNAB for budgeting and absolutely love it. I’ve looked at about four different budgeting software options and just can’t find anything I like better than YNAB!

  • Kris says:

    Thanks for all your inspiring posts! We did the cash envelope system for the first time this week (well we didn’t use an actual envelope, the cash went straight into my husbands wallet) . It was exhilirating and a little scary, to be honest. We went over $2 but kept enough aside from our pay check to account for that as we get use to this way of living. I learned a good lesson from it and am excited to keep doing this from week to week. It really made me more aware of my spending and to prioritize more on what grocery deals we’d pursue. My husband is more the money cruncher. He has all our bills and expendisures on a spreadsheet. I think the cash only system may change our life! Hopefully one day once we’ve paid off all our debt we’ll be able to pay cash for a house. God bless you an your family!

  • Leslie says:

    Just a question: How do you only spend $40 a week on groceries? I know it is catching sales and using coupons and things, but we go through 3 gallons of milk a week and that costs me $11 which leaves $30 for 3 meals a day for 5-6 days a week. (I know, I should probably get better at coupons!!)

    • Tabatha says:

      @Leslie, I just started the budget plan & I was going to do $80 every 2 weeks(which we know equals 40 a week) I was not sure I could do it..But I have so far.I did the one B1G1 meats at Winn-Dixie..I looked at the sales paper matched the sales & planned my dinner around that..Also looked in my cabinets for all the side stuff to see what we needed & bought a little more to go with it that I did not have & I think I should have about $4 left which will buy the gallon of milk we will need around the midddle of next week…It really me think while I was buying..I use to pick up stuff jsut because it was on sale or because I wanted it..(not because we needed it). We have food in our cabinets but not stuff we eat all the time because it was impulse buying..Which is not good!! Then I went to Walmart matched sales and bought the snack, breakfast, and lunch foods we needed.. Hope this helps I have a family of 3

  • Jennifer says:

    As I was a CPA before kiddos, I’m definitely the number person here. I’ve used Quicken for over 10 years, but have only updated the software once, so I’m still on the 2004 version! If it works, why change, right?

    I’m an Excel junkie as well, but when tax time comes, it so much easier to glance through Quicken categories. I don’t use nearly all of the features, but the reports alone are worth using it — especially since we have 2 home businesses.

    I’m so NOT a cash envelope person that I record any cash transaction we make (like the farmer’s market or garage sales) in Quicken as well. Keeping it up-to-date probably takes me 30 minutes each week, but that includes business stuff, not just household.

  • Tabatha says:

    Well we started this week the envelopes & I am really liking it so far & have stuck to budget so far…But I was just sitting here thinking..Shouldn’t I really try to start getting out of debt before I start the envelopes…I know the grocery one is a envelope to def. have it really makes me think.I found myself picking stuff up & then using my caculator & then not liking the number on there & putting back the stuff that was not on my list to begin with..So this is FOR SURE helping me in that area. But I was just wondering instead of me doing alot of envelopes I really need to get myself out of debt…Right???Just wondering how everyone else is getting out of debt & also able to do envelopes dont think I could do both.

  • Julie says:

    I dont see an envelope for household items? Toilet paper, diapers, soaps, etc. What envelope do you use for those items? I have a very similar envelope budget to yours but I also have a household items envelope.

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