I wrote a post before about how I try to stay as thrifty as possible to assuage my stay-at-home mom, doesn’t-bring-home-the-bacon guilt and I mentioned that a technique I’ve used before is to track my spending.
I rarely buy things for myself and whenever my husband or I do, we always spend within an agreed upon limit. However, more times than not I am walking to the register with my thrifty purchase in hand feeling so guilty for spending money on myself when this $5, $10, $20 could be going to our savings or bills or loans. Whenever we’ve gone over budget in the past I spend a good few days just blaming my selfish shopping because my (illogical and unreasonable) guilt always forces me to assume that the overage was from something I bought for myself.
Well, for the past 6 or so months we’ve been feeling the squeeze and wondering why it always feels like we are burning through our one income. However, rather than just blame myself I decided to be proactive and take a month to track every last penny and what I found was shocking but also encouraging! Also, since our little one joined the family we’ve never actually tried to reorganize our budget to fit her needs as well.
If your family has added a new member, you’ve taken on some new financial responsibility (like a new car or home), or you’ve never even given thought to tracking and budgeting I highly recommend you give this a try! When I say I tracked every penny, I don’t mean I wrote down in detail every single purchase. Instead I created general grouping for our purchases with little, slightly more detailed subheadings. Here is the template we used:
College Loans: Total (or any other debt besides mortgage and car payments)
Rent (or mortgage): $
Phones (we use cell but include it here): $
Heating Oil: $ (We actually don’t spend on this monthly but if I continue this template for the rest of the year I’ll be able to generate a monthly average for our use and budget it into a savings accordingly)
Household products: $ (cleaning products, paper products, air fresheners, etc.)
For your tracker add any other utilities you pay like garbage, sewer, cable.
Gas: $ (We have two cars and added gas for both for our tracker)
Maintenance: $ (We didn’t have any maintenance this month, thank goodness!)
Gas: $ (Because we don’t go on trips every month I put the gas for it in a separate category. By the way, a trip is anything that requires driving for more than an hour and you stay there all day or over night.)
Misc: $ (our misc. this month was a new high chair, pacifiers, sippy cups, and house safety because little miss has discovered what electric plugs are!)
Groceries: Total (This was any food item bought at a grocery store including snacks and impulse buys!) This is where we spent the most money so next month I am going to break it down further to see what groceries we are spending the most on meaning, Meat, Veg/Fruit, Dairy/Eggs, Breads, Boxed/Canned Items, and Pantry Staples.
Eating Out: Total (This included ANY type of fast food, including a $1 cup of coffee!!) I was very happy to see that we stayed well within our eating out budget this month even though we went on a few dates!
Clothes: $ (For us)
Craft Supplies: $
Garden Supplies: $
This category is where I put all our “selfish” buys. This month I bought for myself a few blouses, some craft supplies (which were on sale!), and potting soil. I was very happy to see that out of all the categories, I spent the least! on items purely for myself! 🙂
Income: How much money did you bring in this month?
Spending: And how much of it did you spend?
After looking over how much we spent we decided which numbers were unsustainable and adjusted them accordingly. For example, if your family of two spent $300 on groceries for the month and in the past has gotten by on $150 but was uncomfortable, maybe try $200 or $250 for the next month as your budget. Personally, we plan on setting a budget about $50-$75 lower than what we spent on food, we won’t be taking a trip this month or buying Autumn anything but food and diapering supplies, but out spending everywhere else was spot on.
I was very disappointed with our grocery spending. I know we like to eat but I had no idea I let it get so out of hand. This month we have set a budget and I am going to track our spending again in more detail. Also, even though he never spends too much and it usually is on whole foods, sometimes Keith will buy a few groceries before he comes home from work and those little spontaneous trips can really add up! So we are stopping that this month as well.
Even though I guilt over our personal spending and gripe about groceries, what really eats away at our income and sets back our saving goals really is our college loans. Sometimes I look at Keith’s pay check and then at our bank statement and just think, “Where the hell is our money going!!!!” It is so frustrating to work so hard and feel like there is no return. Until I knuckled down and tracked every penny I truly thought we were just the most wasteful, spendthrifts imaginable! But looking at the facts I see now that what is killing us are those stinking loans.
I shouldn’t let it upset me so much though because it is our conscious choice to pay extra in every month in an effort to save on interest and cut down the life of those buggers. Unlike a mortgage which can be recouped and even profited from, this kind of debt is just a prison and if you owe to loans or credit cards I HIGHLY recommend budgeting yourself and making those payments (plus some!!)!
Oh, and one last little piece of advice. If you have direct deposit, ask your employer if they can send a portion of your check to a savings account instead of to checking every month. That way, after you’ve stuck to your monthly budget you won’t be tempted to do a little shopping with any left-over because the better portion of it will already be in savings! We put 10% of everything Keith makes directly into the savings and never touch it. I honestly forgot we were doing it until he brought it up the other day. Ha.
So if you’re interested in being a better penny pincher I hope my little template works out for you and happy budgeting!