Simple Budget for a Non-Budget-er
It’s no secret that I’m not exactly great when it comes to keeping a budget. In fact, the running joke in my family is that I am the one to “swipe and walk away”… especially at Target. Am I the only mom with that problem? You literally go in for two things that cost maybe $10 total and walk out with over $100 of stuff in your cart. I don’t know how it happens – it just does. Blame Target. I have literally never had a budget in my life. I know how much we make & I try my best to stay below that.. but that is it. There is no strategy, no plan, no anything, on how to actually make that happen. I just cross my fingers and hope for the best. In the months leading up to our decision to actually create and implement a budget I went over two months without even logging in online to check my bank account. I know I have some of you cringing right now but sadly it is true. In my defense I’m really not an extravagant spender and figured that since I wasn’t buying anything out of the ordinary that our checking account was just fine… which it was 90% of the time. But I knew that we could, and should, be smarter with our money. We have had this beautiful opportunity to sell our home + make a gigantic profit on top of living rent/mortgage free for the time being. I just started to feel like we were wasting this incredible opportunity to do more good and save even more. Our littlest babe was in the hospital for 5 days this past summer which means that we have accumulated quite a bit of medical debt. I knew that I didn’t want to start 2019 with leftover medical debt so I became determined to buckle down and pay it all off before the end of the year – and that was going to be no small feat since it was already inching closer towards the end of the year. How were we going to do this?
Enter Dave Ramsey.
My husband and I took his Financial Peace University class the year we got married and we learned so much! We were able to pay off 3 credit cards in no time using the Debt Snowball method. In a nutshell, this is where you take all of your debt and line it up from the smallest total balance remaining to the largest. You don’t worry about interest rates or any of that – simply your smallest to largest total debt. Then you keep making the minimum payments on everything but put your focus on paying off the smallest debt first. Any and all extra income goes to paying off that smallest debt. This is when you work extra hard and get creative on coming up with ways to generate more income. Sell everything. Pick up extra hours. Get a second part time job. Once that smallest debt is gone (and it goes away faster than you would think!) you take that minimum balance that you were paying and throw it on your next debt in line. The reason you start with the smallest is because it seems so daunting & overwhelming when you are looking at everything all at once. If you pay off the smallest debt first you get really excited & get some momentum and motivation to keep going! Trust me. It works.
But the one thing that we learned about in Financial Peace University that we had not implemented is the cash envelope system. This is where you use cash only for everything. In an honest moment it seemed more difficult than anything & I was mostly scared that I wouldn’t budget correctly and then I’d mess us all up. However, deep down I knew that this had to be the key to even more financial freedom for us. In the spirit of continuing on our debt free journey I went online about a year ago and ordered this cash envelope wallet. I knew that if this was going to work then my wallet at least needed to be cute, right? It had to be something that I actually wanted to use. However, I didn’t start actually using this wallet until recently and I so wish I would have started sooner!
This is the simple & incredibly easy way that I have been able to stick to a real, grown up adult, budget & actually stick to it.
Make a list of everything that comes out automatically every month. Insurance, phone bills, internet bills, utilities, mortgage/rent, cary payments, etc. Also don’t forget the small things like Netflix and Amazon. Make a list of your income and other places that you plan on putting your money such as medical debt, your vacation fund, or into your savings account. Personally, I am in love with my planner from Plum Paper. You are able to customize your planner & I have a bills tab at the back of every month where I keep track of all of our bills. By the end of the month this page is usually scribbled all over.
Budget for pay periods and not the entire month. Honestly, this was the game changer for me. I had always felt like in order to have a successful budget I had to plan for the entire month all at once. Isn’t that what normal adults do? That just didn’t work well for my compartmentalized, linear, black and white brain because each pay period my income changes based on the amount of extra hours that I worked. I thought that maybe I could just use my base salary and budget for that & then consider the extra money as a bonus but I wanted to be intentional on every single dollar we earned & budget down to $0. Besides, I’m not exactly a numbers person (hello – had to retake freshman math my junior year in high school!) so this makes it a little easier & gives me less of a chance of screwing it all up. Here is what I do:
Use a highlighter and color code the pay periods so I know what dates I am budgeting for.
Write in all of the automatic scheduled payments that will be coming out on their due dates.
Because I’m a checklist loving nerd, I draw in a little box that I can cross off as soon as it has been paid.
Budget down to $0. Now that you have all of the essential bills accounted for now it is time to plan for how you are going to spend the rest of your paycheck(s). This will definitely look different based on if you have one or two sources of income and how often you are paid. For us, after my husband gets paid on Friday the first thing that I do is go to the bank and withdraw a certain amount of money for groceries. This grocery budget is what we will use to buy groceries for the next two weeks. Remember, we are budgeting for two weeks at a time here and not week by week. If we want to go out to eat – it has to come from that grocery budget. Then I also withdraw our “fun money” budget. This is the amount of money that my husband and I both get to spend however want for the next two weeks. Instead of both of us going out for lunch with our co-workers day after day after day, now we have to be intentional and thoughtful on when we are going to use that money to eat out with our friends or do whatever we want with it. Then… I wait. I wait until I get paid on Monday to finalize the budget for the next two weeks. The first thing I do when I get paid on Monday is pay for daycare for the next two weeks. Are you sensing a theme yet? Then I sit down and budget down to $0. I know it sounds scary to purposely bring your checking account down to $0 but trust me – it’s a good thing! I figure out how much we need to set aside for gas based on how much we had been spending in the months prior, how much we will need for household items like toilet paper and shampoo, if there are any out of the ordinary expenses for the kids, and if we will have any other expenses like vet bills, etc. during the next two weeks. Once we have accounted for all of our monthly automatic payments, our groceries, gas, and other expenses then I figure out how much to spend on our medical debt and how much to throw into our savings account. By the time I am done on Monday every dollar has a place.
The wallet that I use has 6 different zippered compartments for things like groceries, gas money, fun money, household items, clothing, etc. You can personalize it and make whatever labels you want. Honestly, the thought of paying for gas with cash sounds terrible with three kids, in the middle of winter, in Minnesota. So my husband and I figure out how much we have been spending on gas every 2 weeks and leave that money in our checking account to use with our debit cards at the pump. But that is literally the only other thing besides automatic payments that we leave in our checking account. The rest we take out in cash to use or we immediately put on medical bills or transfer to savings. Then it doesn’t have a chance to be spent elsewhere.
If you are anything like me the thought of having a budget sounds incredibly restricting, right? That is what I thought. But what my husband and I have found is that it is actually so much more freeing to have a budget & cash only system. The nice thing about budgeting for two weeks at a time is that on payday every dollar has a place. All of the money that we will need for groceries is in my wallet, all of our automatic payments are accounted for, both weeks of daycare are paid at one time, etc. If there is miraculously anything left over before next payday it’s because we either didn’t use all our grocery budget or gas budget for those two weeks. Before when I was taking it one week at a time I would cross my fingers and hope that there would be enough money in our checking account next week to cover whatever was coming out but I really had no idea. I was spending, actually no, I was wasting so much money on things that we didn’t need & was just hoping that we could pay for the things that we actually needed to. Instead of me controlling my money – it was controlling me! Now we think twice before we need to make a Target run. Okay, what do we really need? If we only have $50 cash for household items then that is all I can spend – literally. Then I actually do come home with just baby wipes and shampoo instead of baby wipes + shampoo + candles + fuzzy socks + wine + chocolate. You guys, since we started this cash only system we have put an insane amount of money a pay period towards our medical bills and our savings account. A. Freaking. Pay. Period. If you would have told me that we could have done that months ago I would have spit my coffee all over your face. But because we have been intentional on every dollar that means we are being intentional on knocking out medical debt and adding to our nest egg. Seriously, what on earth was I spending that money on before? Probably the candles + fuzzy socks + chocolate + wine. Not to mention all of the Starbucks trips & times spent eating out.
If you have some serious financial goals to crush I highly, highly recommend adopting the cash only system. I know, I know… it sounds crazy. It sounds like a headache – not to mention incredibly old fashioned. But I am telling you that it works. It is literally the only way we have been able to put away so much money each pay period because otherwise I just keep swiping my card and walking away. Don’t be that girl. Don’t be the former version of me. You can get out of debt and you can build a good nest egg for yourself! It just takes a lot of hustle, hard work, dedication, and finding what works best for you. Did you see that part? What works best for you.
* Disclaimer: I was in no way compensated from Dave Ramsey (although it would be pretty cool if he heard our story), the nice lady in Tennessee who made me my cash envelope wallet, or the creative people at Plum Paper. These are all things that I have used personally & personally love. Like, really love.