Organizing your Budget

When money is tight (and even when it isn’t), the most important step is tracking where your money is going. You must be diligent that all bills are being paid and you aren’t spending money on wants that has to be used for needs.  Money tracking looks different for everyone. Here are three techniques that can be utilized to help you manage your budget.

 

1. Basic Cash Flow Chart

Cash Flow Template

This is my go-to view for my budget. I can pull it up on my computer and see everything that I need to pay, when I need to pay it, and everything that is coming in.  I can make adjustments easily if an amount changes or I need a new line. The goal is to make the two totals even. Let me explain.

We live on a very tight budget, so you will see only the basics (with the exception of the YMCA) on our expenses. If we had more wiggle room, you would see a line for savings and possibly one for weekly fun money or date night. You can add lines for anything – Daily Coffee, Weekly Lunch Ordering Out, or Kid’s Allowance. If you plan where every penny goes before you earn it, you know that it has a place.  When you decide you want to do something that isn’t in the budget, it makes you look and see where you can take that money from.

For example, suppose I decided I want an Iced Coffee when I am out with a friend. If I get it, I subtract that amount from my grocery budget for the week. That way, my expenses still match my income. Now let’s look at another way you can organize your budget.

 

2. Calender/Monthly Planner

personal_budget_calendar_template

A calendar can be a great visual to know when money is going out and when it is coming in. This can help you plan grocery shopping and know what weeks may be a little tighter because they have more expenses.  If you Google “Calendar Budget Template” you will get a number of free templates that can help you organize.  This one is from EPrint Calendar.

Prefer something tangible? Get a monthly planner and you have a budget map that can go anywhere with you and is readily available even if your computer is turned off. Organizing this way can encourage sitting down and planning once a month so you are prepared for the next month. [BONUS: If you share your finances with someone else, this helps keep you on the same financial page.]

 

3. Cash System

When my husband and I first started budgeting, we took Dave Ramsey’s “Financial Peace University.” One of the biggest things we walked away with was using cash for all in-person purchases. It really helps makes the budget tangible. You take the cash out of your account and organize it based on where it fits in the budget; Gas, Food, Fun Money, Clothes, etc. When you purchase something that is not in the budget, it is used from another area. This provides an immediate cause & effect.

Going back to the iced coffee example from above, I would spend the money directly from my food budget and it would be immediately gone.  That way I don’t forget when buying food and spend more than I have left in the budget. Mr Ramsey sells a fancy envelope system. We went with a 6-pocket expandable coupon folder from Dollar Tree.

<– Only $1!!!! Talk about staying in budget. 🙂

 

 

No matter how you organize, it is important that you do some organization. Budgeting on the fly results in miscalculations and stress. Money doesn’t have to stress you out.  You can be in control. There is no shame in saying “I’m sorry, that just isn’t in the budget this month.”

Do you have any budget organizing techniques? Please share them in the comments!

Homework Station

Homework Station My boy hates writing homework. Last year, we had many battles about getting homework done. So this year, I am planning ahead! I decided he needed a way to focus, as his little sister is always up to something to distract him.
We are limited on rooms for homework, and his is certainly off limits. He would spend the whole time pulling from his book/magazine collection instead of doing homework. When I saw this in Parents Magazine, I had to make it. Not only will it give him his own space, but it also has all supplies with it already. No more wasted time gathering pencils or crayons. He will unfold it, prop it up, and VOILA! Instant Desk.
Here are the instructions for this budget-friendly carrel:

One 14″ x14″ x14″ cardboard box (I used a different size)
Ruler
Craft knife (Or Exact-o knife)
Duck tape
Large rubber bands
Post-it Mobile Attach and Go pockets
Pushpins
Binder clips (optional)

1. Flatten the box completely by carefully opening its seam.

2. With the craft knife, cut off all the box’s flaps.

3. Next, cut off one of the sides of the box; reserve this square.

4. You will have a tri-fold piece of cardboard remaining. Using your ruler as a straight-edge guide, cut a corner off each of the two sides with your knife.

5. Tape the reserved square of cardboard to the back side of the center section to create a double thickness (this will allow you to insert pushpins in the cardboard without them coming through).

6. Cover the sides of your carrel with stripes of Duck tape.

7. Stretch large rubber bands around the carrel to create a space to tuck notes and papers.

8. Stick Post-it Mobile Attach and Go pockets to the interior of your carrel.

Thank you Parents Magazine, for this fantastic idea!

Menu Planning – The #1 way to stay in budget

Menu Planning - The #1 way to stay in budget

Have you ever realized in the afternoon that you had no dinner plans? You look in your cupboard and feel uninspired. This leads to a trip to the store, where your growling stomach leads to 30+ dollars worth of dinner supplies and assorted snacks. If you did that every night of the week, you could easily spend $200! By planning your menu and shopping ahead of time, you can cut that cost down to a third. Looking at my menu for this week that I posted above, I would like to point out some money saving techniques.
Tip #1: Double Up. By this, I mean to use ingredients that come in bigger packages more than once. This week we reused the rice. On Monday we made twice as much as we needed and put half in the fridge for Thursday. Not only did we save money, but prep time was cut in half! Thursday also used the pizza sauce (homemade) for flavoring, so we will get two uses there, too!
Tip #2: Leftover Night. Once a week we pull out all the leftovers in the fridge and set out a buffet on the counter. Everyone goes through and puts what they want on their plate and pop it in the microwave to reheat. I recently read an article on US News that said the average family tosses 25% of the food they purchase. At first, I thought it was ridiculous. But when I think to pre-budgeting days, we wasted a lot of food – whether through old leftovers no one ate or produce that got gross before we consumed it. Often, we still end up tossing ends of bread because a new loaf is open to get the soft inner pieces and the ends get hard or moldy.
Tip #3: Use Frozen/Canned Food. In Thursday’s Rice & Bean meal, the beans are canned and the mixed veggies are frozen. At 79 cents for a can of Goya beans and 99 cents for 1-lb of frozen vegetables at Wegmans, this meal is downright cheap! Especially when you consider the other ingredients were also used in other meals.

These are just a few tips that I have found extremely helpful in using menu planning to stay within my budget. The article from US News is a really good one that also addresses budget. I recommend checking it out here: http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/my-money/2013/04/02/how-much-food-does-the-average-american-waste .
Up next – how about some Banana Chocolate Chip Mini Muffins with only 33 calories apiece?