The Beauty of Budgeting

budgetI’ve long since been a big believer in budgets for managing personal finances. For me it started when I was back in university, trying to figure out how to pay tuition and rent and still have money left over to eat. It wasn’t always easy, that’s for sure. From there, I just sort of naturally continued to keep a budget in one form or another.

Todd, on the other hand, doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to managing money. That’s part of the reason why we continued to have separate finances up until about a year ago. Combining our finances and putting me in charge of things was one of the best financial decisions we’ve made as a couple. I realize that this may not be the answer for all married couples; but for us, it just works.

For the most part, for the past year, we’ve been following the same budget, tweaking things here and there as we discovered what was (and wasn’t) working. And then…we were thrown an unexpected financial curveball, that required we throw our entire budget out the window.

…or did it?

The beauty of having a solid budget in place meant that I was able to, rather easily, sit down and figure out where to start making cuts. I knew exactly how much money I had to squeeze out of the current budget, and began chopping away at any non-essentials, and lowering the amounts allotted to variable spending amounts, like food.

Without a budget, “finding” several hundred extra dollars every month would have been an overwhelming task. However, already having a solid budget in place made this task manageable, and I daresay easy.  We’re now working with a temporary modified budget, that we can easily modify again when our financial situation improves once more.

Dealing with financial curveballs and unexpected life changes doesn’t have to be as awful as we’ve always been led to believe. Todd and I are definite proof of that. So if you needed one more reason to come up with a solid, realistic budget for your household finances, this would be it.  We’re very quickly learning that feeling in control of your finances, even if they kind of suck at the moment, is a very good feeling indeed.

Until next time,

~Kelly

 

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The $21 Challenge

CaptureMonths ago I came across a book while I was browsing at the library called “The $21 Challenge”. The idea is that for one week, you challenge yourself to spend only $21 on groceries for your family. The idea is to rely on the food that you already have in your home to come up with meals for the family. The goal is to save money and to challenge yourself in the process. Of course, the idea isn’t to do this every single week, but rather, every once in a while.

Full disclosure: we spend a lot of money on food at our house. Despite the fact that my daughters are only with us 50% of the time, our regular grocery budget is a whopping $640 per month. Now, I will add that this grocery budget also includes toiletries – soap, shampoo and the like, as well as extras like cleaning supplies and laundry detergent. Also, we almost never eat out or order in. Still. This seems excessive.

So I read through the book and was intrigued by the idea. Could it really be possible to feed my family on just $21 for one week? I put some serious thought into giving it a try, more than once, and then honestly, I kind of chickened out. I thought about the amount of effort required behind this kind of experiment and I honestly just wasn’t feeling up to it. And to be honest, I like eating well. So while I may toss an inexpensive meal into our regular rotation now and then, for the most part I prefer to eat better than that.

Now, with the financial curveball life has thrown our way, it feels like the perfect time to finally give the $21 Challenge a try. I checked the book out of the library again, and this week, I’m going to tackle this challenge head on. And of course, I’ll be writing all about it. Is it possible for our family to survive the week on just $21 worth of grocery money? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, I would love to hear if anyone has any special tips and tricks for cutting their grocery budget. Sure, this $21 Challenge might save us money in the short term, but I’d love to hear some more long-term solutions.

Until next time,

~Kelly

Re-evaluation

budget

So summer is here and with it comes a lot of unplanned expenses. Things like Girl Guide camp for our daughters. Our family vacation week in August. A plane ticket for Todd’s oldest daughter to come see us. Then of course there will be school starting again in September, which always carries with it a certain number of expenses.

We’d been doing pretty well in the finance department since we started our new plan last fall. The past few months have been challenging, however, as a number of unexpected expenses have been popping up. We’re still paying off our debt, but we just can’t seem to build any amount of significant savings. We’ll get a bit of money saved up, and then something will come along that will require us to dip into it.

While frustrating, there are some positives to be seen. Firstly, the good news is that we actually have a savings account to dip into. That one is huge for us. Secondly, there is the fact that we haven’t had to further add to our existing debt to get us through these past few months. Also huge. Thirdly, we haven’t had to make any super uncomfortable budget cuts. What these three things tell me is that our system is working. We’re successfully adulting. Go us!

Recently we sat down and starting going over our budget, looking at the places where we could trim the fat a bit. We’re not yet at the point where we want to do anything drastic. We’ve decided to start with making a few small changes to generate some extra cash first, to see where that gets us. If it proves to not be enough, then more drastic measures might be necessary. More good news? There are places where cuts can be made. We may not like them, they may not feel all that comfortable, but seeking out constant comfort was what got us into this crappy financial situation to begin with, now didn’t it?

So…onward and upward.

Until next time,

~Kelly

The Day We Blew The Budget to Smithereens

untitled So, since planning and implementing our budget late last year, I’ve got to say that Todd and I have done a pretty dang good job of sticking within that budget. We stick to the budget that we have set for ourselves, and we even plan ahead for things coming up down the road (like birthdays, etc). So all in all, we’ve been feeling pretty good about things.

And with those good feelings, came a bit of complacency, methinks.

This past Saturday we did our usual grocery shopping. We split it up over several different locations, in order to ensure that we get the best deals going. We make stops at a local place called Gateway Meat Market (that always has at least one or two crazy insane cheap items — like this past week, broccoli for 17 cents per head!), sometimes Walmart, Costco, depending on what we need, with our last stop always being the actual grocery store itself.

This weekend we made stops at Gateway, Costco, and finally the grocery store. As we were at our last stop, pulling up to the cash register it hit me: we weren’t going to meet our budget this time.

And boy, was I ever right on that. In fact, not only did we end up being over, but we ended up being WAY over. So much over that we spent all of this week’s allotted grocery amount, and almost all of next week’s, too.

So how it in the blue hell did THAT happen?

Looking back there were lots of reasons for it. Many of these things could have been prevented, but again, my complacency led me down the wrong road.

1. This week is an irregular week.

Our youngest daughter turned 10 on Sunday and so this week we’re having a big birthday feast to celebrate. Our family tradition is that the birthday person gets to choose any meal they want. This year, Mo chose home made sushi. This is something we only usually make a couple of times year, just because it’s one of the more expensive meals when you consider all the extra things (like seafood) that need to be purchased. Still…it’s her once a year birthday request, so who am I to say she can’t have it?

2. I didn’t do a pre-shop inventory.
Usually, in order to stay on budget, I create a meal plan, which involves first taking stock of what we already have in the house. Last week was insanely busy at work, and I just didn’t have the time (or the energy) to go through my freezer and cupboards like I normally do. I went by memory, which means that — whoops! — I wasn’t sure what we did and didn’t have in the house already. This resulted in buying a lot of things we didn’t really need this week — rice vinegar, sushi rice, coffee cream…after I started putting things away at home, I realized that we’d bought a number of things that we didn’t really need to buy at all. Let’s just say we’ll be eating a whole lot of apples for the next little while. Sigh.

3. I strayed from my list.

One of the cardinal rules for staying on budget when grocery shopping is to make a list and stick to it. These past few months I’ve been pretty good with doing exactly that. But this week, I’ll admit, I fell into the trap of making a few extra purchases. “Oooooh! Look! Pork is on sale. I should pick up a couple of packages.” (Not on the list). “Wow! This giant package of Naan at Costco is a great deal!” (Also not on the list). “Let’s pick up some extra seafood for that chowder to make it extra delicious.” (Again, not an item that had been planned for). While unpacking all of our groceries I was able to see just how many extras we’d picked up. There were quite a few of them.

4. I shopped while I was hungry.

I know…I know. It’s one of those things that everyone knows, right? Never grocery shop when you’re hungry. Todd and I had been out running around all day, doing a ton of errands and other than some coffee and a gluten free muffin from the Farmer’s Market, I hadn’t eaten anything else all day. Big mistake. Shopping hungry likely had a lot to do with all those extras I slid into the cart (“Yum! Sweet potatoes!” “A little extra bacon won’t hurt…” “Gluten free cookies! Just what I need!”) So yeah. I can confirm that there’s a reason why “they” say don’t go shopping hungry.

So all of these factors worked together against me to result in a whopping grocery bill when all was said and done. Now, in the past, I would have simply shrugged, chalked it up to “life” and shopped again as usual the following week. Likely putting it on the credit card.

Well…not this time.

After a quick conversation, Todd and I decided how to handle this overage. Since we basically spent all of next week’s grocery money, the only thing we can do is not spend any more until next payday (March 13th). Of course, there’s still $13-ish left in our grocery budget (which is good, considering I forgot to pick up dish detergent — whoops!), which we are free to spend, but if there are any food purchases that are required over and above that amount, we are left with two choices:

1. Suck it up and make do; or

2. Find the money somewhere else (and by somewhere else, I mean not credit cards or our savings account).

So that’s the plan. The good news is that our house is basically crammed to almost overflowing with good food, so making it through the next couple of weeks theoretically shouldn’t be that challenging. Of course, I’m saying that two days after buying food.

I could be singing a whole other tune come March 11th or 12th.

Time will tell, I guess.

Until next time,

~Kelly

 

Meal Planning: A Step-by-Step Guide

Handwritten Shopping ListI think I wrote before that after our housing costs, our next biggest household expense is food. Food is an important thing to me; I’m a big believer in healthy, home made food. It’s one of those things that I actually don’t mind spending more money on, but obviously if I CAN save money, I definitely want to.

In the past, while I always set a “food budget” for myself, it was really only a rough guide. I routinely went over budget and spent more than I’d planned on, justifying it by telling myself that “It was on sale” or “I had a craving” or “It looked really good.” Um…yeah. While this meant that we always had plenty of delicious food around, it also led to a lot of unnecessary food waste, which is really like just flushing money down the toilet.

In any case, when our food budget got tightened up with all the other changes that we made, I knew it would become more important than ever for me to have a solid meal planning process in place. I’ve used this plan for a while now (despite straying from it whenever it fancied my interest). For those of you who have never written a meal plan and have no idea where to start, I thought I would share my own step-by-step process with you.

Step One: Take Inventory

Before I begin making my meal plan, I have a look at what I have sitting in my freezer and pantry for meal making. I often pick up extra things on sale (when my budget allows). So before I start planning, I see what I currently have to work with. I often have meat for a meal or two as well as frozen vegetables in the freezer, and things like pasta sauce, rice and pasta in the pantry. Makes sense to start with what I’ve already got before I buy more.

Step Two: Check the sales flyers.

My next step is to check what’s on sale this week and try to incorporate those foods into my meal plan. A sale on something like ground beef or chicken means that I’ll be incorporating those foods into the meal plan. Same goes with vegetables that are on sale as well.

Step Three: Look at the week (s) ahead.

I tend to meal plan for a two-week time period, and so the next step in the process is to look ahead at what’s going to be happening for the next couple of weeks to determine if that’s going to affect my meal plan at all. Things like dinner out, having friends over, or evening activities that might require us to have a quick meal before we have to head out. Knowing what nights these things are happening help with the plan.

Step Four: Assign a meal to every night of the week.

I then write out a list of meals for the next two-week time period. As I do this, I consult my list of foods that I already have, as well as what is on sale. As I do this, I add items to my shopping list. As part of the meal plan, I always have a night or two in there that I leave open. This allows me to take advantage of “flash sales” at the grocery store that I just happen to see when we’re out there, or nights when we eat leftovers or just grab something quick and easy like scrambled eggs on toast because I’m too pooped out at the end of the day to cook anything.

Step Five: Finish filling in the grocery list.

One I’ve made my meal plan and written what I need to make those meals on my grocery list, I then continue to finish my list, with things like food for breakfasts and lunches, snacks, and any staples that we might have recently run out of. And then I always re-write my grocery list and group like things together to avoid confusion in the grocery store and having to double-back more than once because I missed things on my list the first time.

And…voila! That’s how the magic happens in terms of meal planning at our house. Do you make a meal plan? Does your method differ from mine any way?

Until next time,

~Kelly

Have Yourself a Frugal Little Christmas

treeSince Todd and I are still so new to this whole budgeting game, we decided that we didn’t want to make any heavy-handed goals about the holiday season. We knew that it was going to be tough for us, since we had our entire blended family together for the holidays (something that only happens every other year). Of course, it’s always more expensive to have everyone together for the holidays, when you have to factor in additional travel, gifts and food. We were apprehensive about making lofty goals and then failing to meet them.

I’ll admit, I was a little nervous going into the whole thing. Sure, we had money saved up specifically for the holidays this year, thanks to my small part-time job, and our change jar. Add to that money given to us by both of our parents for Christmas gifts for the family, and we were in pretty good shape — theoretically. Of course, we all know that theoretically doesn’t always work in the practical world. And let’s face it, in the past, neither one of us have been the most responsible when it comes to spending. And Christmas? Well, Christmas is a perfect excuse to over-spend. Lots of people do it.

Another way that I generated additional money for us over the holiday season was to save up our grocery loyalty points. I generally save up my points from Superstore and use them twice a year — once during our family vacation week in August, and again over Christmas. Since I’d only just used them all in August we didn’t have a ton of points; but we did have an extra $80.00 that I was able to add to the grocery budget. Of course this came in handy with both buying extra food for Christmas dinner, and  with the extra family members around to feed.

All in all, with all of our savings and grocery-points using, I’m happy to report that Christmas 2014 was a rousing success in the financial department: for the first year in memory, we did not go into debt to pay for Christmas. Now, I know that for a many people that’s just par for the course, but for Todd and I, this is a definite milestone, and further proof to both of us that our new financial plan is, indeed working.

In addition to not going into debt, we stayed on track with our debt repayment plans, even adding money to our savings account.

Wait….what?

That’s right, kids. Not only did we not go into debt, we continued to pay down our existing debt and save money on top of everything else. #humblebrag

And you know what this tells me? It tells me that if WE can do this, then truly, anyone can. I only wish we’d started sooner.

How about everyone else? Did you manage to stay on track financially over the holidays?

Until next time,

~Kelly

Wants VS. Needs

wantsvsneeds

When you’re living on a budget it is extremely important to be able to distinguish your wants vs. needs. So many of us (Todd and I included) fall into the trap of referring to things we “want” as things that we “need”. The truth is, when we stop to really examine our budget, the list of needs vs. the list of wants is actually a whole lot smaller.

One thing I’ve noticed since implementing our new budget is that I’m stopping to ask myself a little more often, “Is this something that I need to buy, or is it just something that I want?” Asking myself this small question has actually prevented me from spending money needlessly on more than one occasion, and that self-restraint has actually left me feeling pretty darned, too. Who knew?

Now, it needs to be said that there’s certainly nothing wrong with indulging in a few “wants” here and there. I think that most of us need a little indulgence now and then, even those of us living on a budget. Heck, especially those of us living on a budget! I know that some people out there are great with the whole “extreme self-restraint” thing, but Todd and I are definitely not among them. We’re all about taking small, manageable steps with all of this. So although I may have walked away from a tempting shoe sale recently because I didn’t actually need any of the shoes I tried on *cough* humblebrag *cough*, I have made some other “purely wants” purchases in the last few weeks, just for the purpose of treating myself a little.

Spending your hard earned money on things only becomes a problem when a) you can’t distinguish between wants and needs and b) you don’t have the money to pay for all those wants.

It’s so easy to justify purchases by telling yourself, “But I NEED that!” when it comes to that shiny new whatever that is calling your name. That’s definitely how Todd and I got ourselves into this spot with more consumer debt than we want, and I’m pretty sure we’re not alone in that. Now that I stop to really consider if an item is something I truly need or just want, it’s a whole lot easier to walk away from something when I don’t have the cash available for it, instead of just whipping out that credit card like I did so many times before. Sure, I may want a new pair of shoes, but with all the pairs I’ve got at home, I certainly don’t need any more.

Just one small change in wording has gone a long way in changing my perspective.

Until next time,

~Kelly