Learning To Budget (When You’ve Never Had To)

Budgeting is just part of life right? Well, for me this is somewhat of a first. I was blessed to grow up in a household that didn’t worry to much about money. Don’t get me wrong, my parents worked very hard to get to where they are today, and budgeted quite a bit when they launched their business almost 40 years ago. They spent many 16+ hour days trying to get momentum, and put every extra penny in the bank.

But I was born when they were a little older, and their company was well established. There wasn’t much need for a budget at this point in their lives or through most of mine. Combine this with the fact that I was a pretty low maintenance kid and teenager who didn’t ask for much, I never really had to think about money. I learned hard work through school and tough athletic programs, but if I needed money for the movies, my parents gave it to me. If I wanted to go to dinner with friends, they were happy to help me out.

My parents were and are extremely generous with their money. They give a ton to charity, have helped out the community whenever asked (often without being asked), and 20 percent is a lower end tip for them. That charity obviously extended to myself and my brothers, so I never had to think about money or what it would be like when I was no longer on their payroll.

When I got married about two and a half years ago, we both came into the marriage in good financial shape. Neither of us had debt, and before the baby came we both had full time incomes. We were totally living the DINK lifestyle. Due to that, we were able to save the amount for a house downpayment in about 3 months. Sure, we talked about a budget and generally watched our spending, but we certainly didn’t strictly follow one.

Fast forward two years to a baby and a full house renovation later. Now, we need a budget. A real budget. Not something that we follow in theory, but chuckle about as we indulge in another dinner out. I started getting overwhelmed thinking about how we were going to stick to it and make sure we didn’t go off course due to tiredness or convenience. I knew just rationally looking at expenses and income was not going to be enough incentive for us to automatically start sticking to a budget. Let’s be honest, it’s hard to make a mental shift, and even harder to make that mental shift when it isn’t something I would exactly call fun.

So I got serious and looked for some tips on budgeting on the web obsessively. I spent hours reading about budgeting tips and going through our rough draft budget. I came across a few tips that have been instrumental in forming our budget and sticking to it. This also led to some of my own tips and tricks that have really helped our family stick to a budget. Here are some of them:

Every Dollar Has a Job (Dave Ramsey)

Write down your income and your expenses. Your expenses should equal your total monthly income. Expenses include cost like rent and insurance, groceries, and even savings. Most people write down their income and expenses and hope to have some left over after for savings but instead, savings should be a factor. If you go through your expenses and there is money left over, give it a job. Having that “extra” that isn’t assigned anywhere will end up causing confusion, and it is easier to say things like “we have that extra in the budget so I’ll just buy this”.

Cash Envelopes (again, Dave Ramsey)

After you have budgeted out your expenses for the month, get envelopes and withdraw the amount you are going to need for the month. Label each envelope, and put the allotted amount in them. This obviously helps keep you from overspending, but also helps you see where your money is going very clearly. Obvious note here: Do not exceed the amount in the envelope.

Have Clear Goals (This is pretty standard advice)

Understand why your budget makes sense for your family, and what your saving towards. Having clear goals will help you stay on track, and avoid spur of the moment purchases. The more clear the better!

Get Excited! (Wallet Win)

I read a blog post by one of the owners of this company that said she and her husband would put on music and get really excited to do the budget each month. I was skeptical because, let’s be honest, budgeting does not sound like a fun task. But I was all for trying new things, and so my husband and I gave this a go one month. We put our own spin on it and made is a pseudo date night. We had wine and fun snacks and talked about how the budget was going to help us achieve our goals. We also talked about fun incentives for meeting these goals. For example, we started a vacation savings account and decided to start putting some money aside just for a fancy date night each month.It actually was really fun and we laughed a whole bunch. We also get to watch the vacation account growing and talk about all the places we would like to travel– all being made possible by our budget!

Change Your Mindset (Wallet Win)

This website actually has some really great advice, so if you’re looking to budget I really recommend it. Changing your mindset from looking at your income as limiting to looking at how your money can work for your priorities was definitely something I had never heard before. I always looked at income as restrictive, but they insist you should look at it as an opportunity. How can your monthly budget help you achieve what you are excited about? Just by that simple switch, budgeting all of a sudden doesn’t seem like something we do begrudgingly, but an exciting part of our goals in marriage and life.

Play To Your Strengths (This one is actually my own discovery)

Figure out what is going to motivate you, and use that as fuel to keep you going. I am REALLY competitive. I hate to lose. So, I started looking at budgeting each month as a competition. Staying on budget became a win/lose scenario, and I found myself excited to go to the grocery store and look for deals. I came home bragging to my husband that I was 10 dollars UNDER budget, thank you very much. Use whatever incentivizes you to keep momentum going.

Adjust As Needed (Again, pretty standard advice)

Needs are not stagnant, so don’t make one budget that never gets adjusted from the month it is created for. Birthdays, holidays, and unforeseen events should all be taken into account when creating a monthly budget. Evaluate each month and take unique costs for that month into account in your monthly budget. My guess is that your December budget should look different from your July budget.

That list certainly isn’t comprehensive, but a solid jump start to getting a budget going and sticking with it. What are your favorite budgeting tips? I would love to hear from you!