Please Don’t Make Me Sad

Posted: August 11, 2011 at 4:00 pm

Whenever I mention our budget on Twitter or Facebook, I get requests to hear more about how we handle budgeting. I take the requests to heart because I love giving you all what you want, but I also tuck them away for a later date. A later date. A later date. I kept putting off a budget post because a) I am no expert and b) it’s different for FFF stuff and while I find it interesting, I don’t want the rest of you running away thinking “what the heck happened to our fun-loving Tina??” You running away would make me :( . Please don’t make me sad. Instead, join me as we talk moolah and share your own ideas in the comments! Don’t make me bribe you with my huge stash of cash fifteen dollars.

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Reader’s Request: Budgeting in the FFF Household

Until recently, Peter and I never really tracked our expenditures and would get things we wanted when we felt like it. We shopped for deals and weren’t frivolous by any means, which worked well in our minds. Then, in May, we attended a “financial learning experience” with motivational speaker Joe Sangl at our church. We felt like we had been hit upside the head with a 2x4 and decided to get serious about setting up and living off a budget. Here’s how we did it.

Get A Trusty Spreadsheet: Joe Sangl mentioned having pre-prepared budgeting spreadsheets downloadable for free on his site. Free? I don’t have to make it from scratch? Yes please! We nabbed one, saved it as a Google doc (to access anywhere and be able to easily share the document), and sat down with our calculators together.

Figure Out Monthly Bring-Home Income and “Spend It”: We determined how much income Peter brings home every month and added it to the spreadsheet. Then we started filling in the various columns for different spending areas and spent our money how we normally would in the spreadsheet. Like virtual shopping so to speak. Only…ouch. We blew through our monthly income pretty fast. Time to figure out where to put our dough.

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Begin With the Essentials: We determined the biggies that had to stay and the regular bills first. For an example, here are some of those essential spending areas for us:

  • 10% tithe to the church
  • mortgage payment
  • car payment (last one paid today in fact! so extra money to savings now!)
  • bills (electric, water, car insurance, etc) – Any without a set monthly amount or bills paid yearly (like car insurance), we estimated an average monthly expense to put in the budget.
  • goal amount for general savings each month
  • amount for random things that come up like purchasing gifts
  • any specific items needing to save for – We are making a point to save money for an anniversary vacation for next year.

Take a Hard Look at Other Spending: Now it was time to cut where we could. Entertainment budgets, grocery budgets, baby budgets, etc. We used to enjoy going out for a date night once a week…we now take a monthly date night out and eat in a lot more to bring our entertainment budget down significantly. We set a strict, but realistic, budget of $85/week for groceries that I can meet shopping deals, using some coupons, and learning to say no to things I don’t really need (like two packs of goat cheese every week). It was hard, but we realized there are plenty of places to make sacrifices to make a budget work. And sometimes you have to do that. Plain and simply.

Create A Spending Spreadsheet: Along with our overall master budget spreadsheet, we have separate “spending tabs” for each month. These tabs have columns for each section of our budget where we can easily put in our expenditures and have the spreadsheet add it all up for us. It helps us quickly see where we’re at with total spending over the month…because a few dollars here and there adds up FAST and can quickly send you over budget if you don’t keep tabs on it.

We update our spending spreadsheets every day – that bill that posted or that stop at the gas station. In fact, I have a link to our Google Doc in my bookmarks bar so I never forget to update it regularly!

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It takes only a few minutes and helps keep us aware of where our money goes and allows us to remain mindful of our status in certain areas. There are also sites like Yodlee and Mint that will sort it all out for you, but we personally prefer doing it ourselves to increase the awareness of our spending.

At the End of the Month: We sit down at the end of the month to see how things went. We determine which parts of our budget roll over to save for other months – for example, electric bills that fluctuate or bills we budgeted for monthly but only have to pay yearly (car insurance). Other areas, such as grocery/entertainment/extra spending/etc, we add up the difference. If under budget, we take the excess and put it aside as “fun money”, to pay down more of our mortgage, add to our vacation fund, etc. If over budget, we would have to take it out of our personal spending budgets that each of us have – Peter from his side projects and myself from my blog money.  Then, we make adjustments for the upcoming month and off we go again. Is your head spinning yet?!

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We will eventually budget to save for new countertops. The teal tile makes me barf.

It’s a huge learning process, but I can already see the benefits! I hope this didn’t bore you to tears and helps in some way if you were thinking about budgeting. I cannot recommend Joe Sangl’s site and information enough if you want a deeper overview. It really helped us.

  • Do you use a budget?
  • What would be the hardest area for you to cut spending?

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56 Comments to “Please Don’t Make Me Sad”
  1. Years ago I went to a Dave Ramsey “Financial Peace” seminar, so we use a modified version of his plan. Except we don’t pay for our cars in cash. We are good savers, but not quite that good!

  2. We “sort of” budget (but I know that has to change soon!). I track all of my expenses and tend to save a LOT more than the hubby. I generally have a good idea of our spending habits and so far am satisifed with them. Now we are obviously trying to save more, so I’m trying to be more cognizant of that.

  3. Dave Ramsey all the way!

    We also use Mint.com for our “spreadsheet.”

  4. We budget alomst the same exact way. We are saving for a real home (we’re in an apartment) and so we count every dollar we spend. We made our own spreadsheet though but I love the one you posted and I never thought to save it to google so we both had access. Ours is currenly on our home computer and we look at it weekly.

  5. I’m a huge nerd and LOVE budgeting. It makes me feel in control.

    We recently did a budget overhaul and set up everything with Mint.com. So far, I like it because I have access to it everywhere (it has an iphone app) and it automatically updates everything for me. It even sent me a notice of some unusual spending on the card, which was good because it turns out my card info was stolen. We were able to nip it in the bud right away.

    It’s also helpful because Hubbs brings home a different amount of money each month (commission), so it helps to have things organized since we have a different amount to work with every month.

    Love the budgeting posts! I love hearing what works best for everyone :)

  6. Oh how I love budgets! It’s just sad that we don’t really stick to one! I use Mint to see where are spending goes and since I’m the one who spends the money on the essentials (groceries, toiletries, etc.), I can see where I need to cut back. Lately, I haven’t been so good about that. My hubs is CHEAP – he hardly spends any money. But, the money he does spend is usually on dinners or happy hours! We almost ALWAYS go over budget on our entertainment spending. Boo. I will definitely be checking out that spreadsheet!

  7. Rebecca says:

    My parents did Financial Peace a few years ago and I think it works out. My dad has this notepad that has how much money to spend or whatever per week, I think based on his and Mom’s paychecks? I don’t entirely get how it works, but it’s something about our budget each week or something. And it seems to work!
    I don’t have a budget or anything yet, but in/after college I’ll be thinking harder about it! We were just discussing meals and groceries last night, actually, trying to decide on that for this fall. It’s confusing and I’m nervous for it, but eventually I’ll get the hang of things.
    I think it helps that I don’t spend a whole lot of money. Ever. Most of my money goes toward gas, I think! Haha. :) Although a few weeks ago I spent almost $200 in one night, but it was a concert thing and I bought extra stuff besides the ticket… It was worth it. And I still have plenty of money in my checking and savings… My sister, on the other hand, seems to spend money faster than she makes it. =\

  8. We use almost the same system…I take care of everything – Glen just works.. :-) Glad to see others tithing too! We have a lot more room to be flexible now that were expats — still gotta save, save, save! I try and tell all my friends to set up a budget..it’s totally worth it and it gives me a sound piece of mind. :-) xoxo from Trinidad

  9. I don’t have a budget per se, but I’m usually fairly good at not spending too much. I only have a debit card and that really helps keep me in check. Lately though I’ve been spending more than I’d like to, so I’m going to check out the spreadsheets you recommended!

  10. We don’t do a detailed budget every month but do have an overall cashflow sheet that helps us see where our money is going and what’s coming in. It works for us, and allows me to spend more on somethings one month but less on others. I know what our total spending should be so I just try to make all the purchases fit within that instead of budgeting individual items like groceries or entertainment, etc. We also have a bunch of rental properties which we keep completely separate and the accounting/bookkeeping of that is like a full time job! That, I’m way more detailed with!

  11. I’m a huge fan of Mint.com — it’s amazing how quickly money trickles away on small things, and Mint really makes me aware of this.

  12. Karin says:

    Love Dave Ramsey! I’ve been living his principles my whole life. I love to run spreadsheets and budget. It is eye opening and fun. (I know, I’m a geeky finance girl). I find it hard to keep the grocery bill low. I’m impressed with $85 a week. That is awesome.

  13. Lisa says:

    The hardest part of budgeting for me is when the boyfriend wants to eat out at restaurants a lot. My budget and my waistline doesn’t like it!

  14. Jess says:

    I have my own version of a budgeting spreadsheet that I live and die by. It’s my way of knowing from month-to-month where I can afford to spend on a special night out, or can pay more towards a certain bill (um, credit card, or an extra car payment or something). It’s also great for planning ahead when you know you have a special occasion coming (like a wedding, a party, etc.) so you can plan ahead and spend accordingly. It’s the best way for me to NOT stress about money, because I’m in control, I know what I can plan for, etc. My sister uses it now to and loves it. I should trademark the dang thing ;-)

  15. jobo says:

    Great budget process!! This is pretty similar to mine. My sis created a great spreadsheet that I now use and it has COMPLETELY changed how I spend and save. It is great to feel more in control of what I spend and knowing I can actually save too! (the teal isn’t that bad!I kinda like it! But I bet after awhile it gets stale huh?)

  16. I L-O-V-E this post. I budget almost to a fault, but at least it’s keeping me on track paying back student loans!

  17. I loved this post! So interesting to read about your budgeting tactics. My husband and I don’t really budget at all- we just keep track of which bills we have to pay in the upcoming weeks. I’d love to get more organized about it and actually create a budget!

  18. teresa says:

    I can’t tell you how much I needed this information. Just the spreadsheet will make a huge difference.
    Thanks!

  19. As a poor university student….I definetly have a budget! Its hard sometimes to have one when you love expensive shoes….or textbooks haha :)

  20. Sarah says:

    I love Mint! I’m saving for a downpayment on a house (which will take forever because DC is super expensive) but besides that I’m pretty lax with my money. I’ve lived paycheck to paycheck before and it’s nice to not worry as much about my money now.

  21. Michelle S. says:

    Thanks for doing this post! I misjudged my budget when I signed up for my personal trainer so money has been really tight, and will be until March. Not only do I need to know how to budget now to ensure I have enough to cover the basics but I also want to get into the habit of spending wisely so that when I’m finished paying of my training session, I’m still smart with my money. Since I’ve gone so long on a tight budget I’d like to continue, to a certain extent, so that it allows me to save up some money. Thanks again! It’s a huge help.

  22. Great post! I’m always interested in budgeting tips, but when they come from real life experience, they carry more weight.

    We’re not on a budget now and pretty much buy what we want when we want. But since neither of us wants for much, it works out. I can do without many things, but would have the hardest time cutting down my grocery bill. The majority of it consists of produce, which I eat a lot of. I allow myself to buy it because I spend hardly anything on cosmetics, clothes, shoes, haircuts (do it myself), or nights out.

  23. This post is so helpful and love it! For years hubby and I have been tracking loosely in our heads a budget, but it’s driving us nuts and I want to start a budget asap on a spreadsheet. I really want us to start saving more money and have an even bigger nest egg for when we have kids, so its imperative we start a budget and see on paper where all our money is going. I hate to admit it but our grocery expenses comes to approximately $150-200/week. I know, that is awful and I try so desperately to cut back but I guess I just have to stop buying what I want…so hard though!

    Do you think you could do a post on how you make your food stretch for so long and keep your budget to $85? I would love to know your tips and how do that so I can start saving all that money!!

  24. I love budgets. I’ve been using mint.com recently because I don’t have a steady income and being in college and living in boston adds up FAST. Plus it puts me on the right track for when I DO have a steady paycheck. I’m obsessed with saving – sometimes it’s a flaw

  25. This is so not boring! We are still trying to figure out the best way to manage our finances… it changes every month! Thanks for sharing:)

  26. Oh man, I am bookmarking this post FOR SURE. We just bought a new car, and definitely need to set a strict budget -something neither of us are great at.
    These are awesome tips, and I am totally checking out that spreadsheet!

  27. I don’t know if we have a real budget to be perfectly honest with you. I think we are pretty far ahead and have all the investments we should have, we put money away, and I do shop on a budget. But as far as fun things like vacations, etc, we kind of just go for it. We figure it will change a lot when we have kids!

  28. Errign says:

    I just finished writing up a budget post to stick in my drafts folder! I actually LIKE budgeting. I use a spreadsheet, my checkbook register and online banking to maintain mine :)

    P.S. I have a giveaway coming up tomorrow, in case you’re interested!

  29. Lori Lynn says:

    I’ve been struggling with my finances for a few months, and I need to work on a budget. I know there are some things I can cut out, but it is hard with wanting to eat healthy. I do tend to shop a lot at Trader Joes and Whole Foods, and it’s really easy to spend a lot of money there. I guess if I do that, I have to take something else out!

  30. Great information! I started a spreadsheet like that once and kept at for awhile and then stopped for whatever reason. I should get back onboard the budgeting wagon!

  31. When creating my first budget last month and discovering my bank’s financial tracker I was actually surprised to see how much I spent on food!! I often try getting what’s on sale and stocking up but I think I need more discipline in the area of meal-planning. Since I’ve been more mindful of that though my spending has gotten better :)

  32. This is a great idea, and a great reminder to myself of what I should do when I move into my first apartment post-college in a few short weeks! Thanks so much for this!

  33. Sarah says:

    We do have a budget, spreadsheet, the whole shebang…but I really have a hard time staying within budget for groceries! Food is my favorite thing to spend money on; in fact, grocery shopping is my kind of retail therapy (not clothes/shoes/accessories shopping).

  34. This was a great post! Andy and I just started working on a budget for when we get married and this will be a great help. Thanks, Tina! :D

  35. Shady says:

    I know this is a bit of a random comment but if the teal tiles really bother you that much, how about a ‘cheap’ fix for the short-term until you can afford to change them? I hope it’s ok that I put this here but check this linke http://www.homedepot.ca/know-how/projects/apply-a-decorative-and-epoxy-countertop-coating for ideas on epoxing your countertops to give them a natural stone finish. Afterward you can use a grout pen to give yourself grout lines if you want. Just a thought I had.

  36. The Chick says:

    Yes, we do have a budget that we revisit monthly. We don’t use credit cards and like you, we spend everything on paper before we actually spend it.

    We graduated from Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University about 2 1/2 years ago and it was truly transformation for us. Last summer we became debt-free except for our home. 3 weeks ago my husband lost his job and I cannot even begin to express in words how freeing it is to know we don’t have a bunch of debt hanging over our heads. I recommend that class to everyone-even the most seasoned financial advisor-I believe everyone can get something out of it.

  37. Emily says:

    Thank you for posting this! I am the one that took over the budget when we got married, but I always feel like things are still out of control. I love the idea of tracking daily expenditures. He has always been one to spend money and not really track, whereas I was the one that tracked everything. Unfortunately I think he has had more influence on me in this area :( . I am going to go check out the site you recommended and we are going to work together on our budget now. I can’t, and shouldn’t, be doing it completely on my own. I have read Dave Ramesy’s book (Financial Peace) and we are trying to follow those principles, but it’s just not working, our spending is out of control right now. Ugh. But again, I thank you for posting this!

    • Tina says:

      I hope you guys get it all sorted out! It’s an adjustment but very wroth it and something I believe anyone can do. :)

  38. Julia says:

    This was such a great post Tina!
    Tyler and I also have a budget. It was difficult when he was out of work, we tried to stick to our budget as much as possible. As soon as he got his first paycheck when he started working again we sat down like you and Peter did and figured out how much we wanted to be saving every month, how much our monthly expenses, and how much we could spend on things like going out, entertainment, recreation, and shopping.
    We also rolled all of our overage from when we weren’t bringing in any income and are working to pay that off.
    I love how conscious having a budget makes you of the things you spend money on.
    We use a program called Moneywell for our budgeting. It is based on the “envelope concept”. I would highly recommend it. It allows me to look and see how much money I have left to spend on certain things each month, which makes budgeting a lot easier.
    Sorry for the long comment, just wanted to share. And thanks again for the great post!

  39. mm says:

    I’m a HUGE advocate of budgeting!! We loosely follow Dave Ramsey’s ideas about budgeting/saving. I manage all the money in our house and track all of our expenses/payments in my own spreadsheet. We both work, but we live entirely off my husband’s income and put all of my income in savings, since we currently don’t have children and want to put ourselves in a position where I can stay home if I want to once we do have kids. My income is auto-transferred immediately when the paycheck hits the account. We each have a set amount of “allowance” each month that we can spend (or save) for ourselves that can be spent on whatever we want, no questions asked. We have 2 vehicles that are paid off, but we’re also currently saving for a new car that we figure we’ll need in a few years. For the last 2 years we have been debt-free, except for our 2 houses, and we feel very blessed.

    Every few months we re-evaluate where we are and what we want to save up for, and adjust accordingly. It’s such a bonding experience to agree upon and work toward financial goals together! And it’s just so exciting when you see them become reality! :)

    • Tina says:

      I agree with what you said about it being a bonding experience. It really does take team work and can bring you closer to worth through a budget together. You’re so right. :)

  40. Khushboo says:

    Wow this was a super helpful post and one that I will defo be coming back to ! As of now, I don’t really have a strict budget except for spend less than I earn. Now that I’m an ‘adult’, I want to start saving and being more wise with my money. First step will defo be setting up/downloading a spreadsheet! Thanks Tina!

  41. Flo says:

    I’m just in the process of documenting all we spend for a month, so we can start a budget in Sept. I’m so excited, your post has made realise I’ll feel so much better for doing it!
    May I ask what a tythe is? Does it mean donation? If so what a wonderfully generous thing to do :)

    • Tina says:

      The tithe is the Biblical principle that since all money comes from God’s blessings on us, we are to give 10% back in order to help do His work. So we give 10% of our earnings to our church monthly to go towards things like mission trips, helping the church run smoothly, kids programs, support for programs in the community that help the homeless/hungry/etc, and so much more.

  42. We don’t have a fixed budget, but I’ve been tracking all of my spendings for about four years. I’m still broke, but now I at least know why. ;)
    My man and I are usually very frugal, we hardly ever eat out or buy clothes for ourselves, but somehow there are big unexpected costs coming up very often, mainly because of his kids. They go on school trips, need new clothes, haircuts, contacts, etc. That’s a few 100 $ extra down the drain almost every month.
    I really don’t know how I could be even more frugal! Even I need a hair cut a few times a year, I also want contacts because my glasses always slip off my face when I run, and my cheap-a$$ sneakers are killing my knees.
    Sorry for ranting, but money is a though topic at the moment for me.

    • Tina says:

      Hey, rant away. We all need a good rant now and then. ;)

      And yes – kids can drain money like no other. We have to set aside a significant bit for things for ours. I know it will only get more $$$$ as they get older. I can only imagine!

  43. [...] many, many ways we affect our health beyond our eating and fitness habits. Like flossing, sleeping, taking care of our money, hydrating, taking the stairs, or saying “I love you”. But you know what? Those DO [...]

  44. I’m so glad you finally decided to share this! I was wondering the other day how you manage to make your grocery budget work. We seriously need a SERIOUS budget. The one I made up on paper doesn’t seem to work out so well. I keep track of our bank info in a spreadsheet–I need to do the same with an actual budget because it keeps not working out so well. Thanks, Tina! I’ll check out that site.

  45. Brooke says:

    i’m a geek – but i love budget talks. :P heck i even chase my readers away once a week to talk about several different parts of our budget and how well (or not) we’re doing that week/month.

  46. I used to be so good on budgeting until I hit major health problems then dropped it to get well.

    Now I need to get back on it. Thank you so much for this. I haven’t found a way I like but I love your description…especially the 10% tithe off top and choosing groceries.

  47. My sister in law is actually helping me with my budget as I start my first grown up job :) I was fairly decent with my money until my school schedule got busy and I let it slide. Music, books and grocery shopping are my weak spots.

  48. Joseph Sangl says:

    Thanks for the shout out! I love all of the great comments as well. One thing I know for sure – establishing a written budget EVERY month and sticking to it has completely changed my life. The time and effort it takes more than pays off when you are able to pay cash to fund a dream.

    Blessings!
    Joe

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