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How To Stick to a Family Budget

Mar11

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By Amanda of The Naked Ledger who is contributing her financial wisdom to the Guide to Everything weekly
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Photo by peasap
1. Set a worthy goal.
There is nothing more boring or painful than saving money simply for the sake of saving money. I know this because I’ve tried to do it myself countless number of times. Sure, I simply SHOULD save money for the future because technically I can (ANYONE can), but that goal is too nebulous to ever force me to put my plan into action. But stop buying fast food for a month and put that savings toward a trip to Italy? I AM SO THERE. The future goal has to be important enough to you and your family that you’re willing to make a sacrifice in the short term to get it. Pick a goal now. Ready, set, goal.

2. Start with ten percent.

Assuming you know where you’re money has been disappearing (if not, read last week’s column!) you might already know exactly where you should be cutting back. But if not, it’s good to start with ten percent. For example, if you added everything up last month and spent $600 on groceries, try spending ten percent less this month and put that $60 in your savings account. If you make small changes like this in multiple budget categories, the savings can really add up and the reduction in spending isn’t as noticeable or painful as you might think.
3. Leave the kids at home.
If you have the opportunity to shop WITHOUT YOUR CHILDREN, do not pass go, do not collect $200, go directly to the store. If you can wait until your spouse can watch the kids or go shopping on your lunch break, you will undoubtedly save money. Not to mention that when you don’t have feisty little ones hanging off you and begging you for every little thing (my kids beg me for candy every time we’re at the store even though I’ve broken down and bought it for them exactly NEVER), you might also find the time to stop and read trashy magazines in the checkout aisle, and therefore save money on that impulse US Weekly buy (score!).

4. Brush yourself off and start again.

Budgeting and dieting share many things in common, the worst of which is how easy it is to fall off the wagon. But just like with a diet, the worst thing you can do is to adopt an all or nothing attitude like, Well, I didn’t stick to my budget this week, so SCREW IT! I’m going to Sephora! We can all agree that attitude doesn’t help. What does help is to admit that sticking to a budget is hard and that your family is a work-in-progress. Brush yourself off and start again the next day. Don’t let bad spending habits snowball out of control, just forgive yourself the indiscretion and get back on track.

5. Shop less often.

I realize you’ve likely heard this before, but the fewer opportunities you take to spend money, the less you’ll spend. I never used to think I had a shopping problem until I noticed that our monthly credit card bill (the one we pay off every month!) varied in direct proportion to how busy I was at home with writing and work. The busier I am, the less we spend. Every day that I put off shopping because I just didn’t have time to get to the store was one less day that I spent money. So now I go out of my way to intentionally shop less often and find it significantly easier to stick to my budget. Simply keeping busy is saving my family over $200 a month. Italy here we come!
I’d love to read your comments about what helps keep your family on a budget.


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5 Responses to “How To Stick to a Family Budget”

  1. Tina Mar 12 at 12:38 am Reply Reply

    I had to realize how much it frustrated my husband when I went over. Not just annoyed but hurt him and made him feel like I didn’t care about our family finances and how we were doing. (He’s the money person in the family, and spends so much time working on the budget, the best way to get the debts we have paid off, the best way to invest what we do, etc.–I joke I married him to pay the bills because I hate that and he married me to shop because he hates that.) I realized I was being selfish and for the good of our marriage (not just the bottom line) I HAD to change my attitude. Since then I’ve tried to stick with just cash, or really keeping track of what I have in my budgeted areas and sticking to it. Also, we don’t use credit cards. The amount I get each pay is it, so I keep track of that and when it’s gone, it’s gone.

  2. Deb Mar 12 at 11:27 am Reply Reply

    Well, the economy has me pretty freaked out right now, so that is a huge incentive for me. My other incentive-izing goal is a new computer once all our credit card debt is paid off, and then once that is paid off please-oh-please can I have Merry Maids come twice a month? Since scraping other people’s dried pee off the toilets is not fulfilling (there. I said it), this is also a huge incentive for me. Plus, one of these years I’d like to just SPEND our tax refund rather than putting toward the credit cards. That is, assuming there are any deductions left by the time that happens…
    I agree on the shopping less often. I shop every other week at the grocery store and really stock up, and on the opposite week I shop at Wal-Mart to stock up on those things.
    I also do a lot of freezer cooking – that is, I shop the sales (the flyers can be found on the internet), prepare meals and get them in the freezer. I never put anything in the freezer that has not been prepped for meal making (I have converted your super awesome Cashew Chicken and the surprisingly yummy Magic Meatloaf to freezer meals BTW) and that has eliminated a lot of throwing away of mystery meats that are freezer burned. Plus, having a plan helps eliminate the Oh Crap, I Just Spent $200 And We Have No Food thing.
    We also get out cash once a week on Fridays, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. That covers Starbucks, pizza night, and any other small purchases. This one thing alone has saved us several hundred dollars a month.

  3. Scissorbill Mar 12 at 11:41 am Reply Reply

    Cash works for us. It’s impossible to overspend when you use all cash!

  4. Max Mar 19 at 5:31 pm Reply Reply

    We define a weekly and a daily budget (equal to weekly budget divided 7) and do our best not to spend more than we’re “allowed” to. This also builds trust because we both know each other’s expenses and are mindful of each other. And it takes us not more than a minute a day to remember all expenses and write them down (no need to classify them if you don’t exceed the budget).

  5. Budgeting Mom Mar 26 at 2:34 am Reply Reply

    Thanks for these tips. These are really hard times and it has really taught me how to stick to a budget. I don’t usually go to the mall anymore. The more I go there, the more I am inclined to spend. Hope there will be better days ahead.

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