Jan 19, 2010

Budgeting - What's Your System? (Merrick)

One of my biggest challenges since getting married has been keeping a consistent budget. Although neither Philip nor I are big spenders, I still have felt the need over the last few years to record our spending and document our progress.

I have tried many different systems, and this year I’ve finally come up with one that works for us. I understand that everyone’s needs are different when it comes to budgets, but let me just share mine with you on the off chance that it might work for you too.

Here were my three guidelines in coming up with a new budgeting system: First, I needed something easy. Second, I needed an accessible system. And third, I needed something that covered ALL my expenses in one spreadsheet.

From there, this is what I came up with:

1. I keep ALL receipts. (Philip and I only use a credit card, but we use it like a debit card or cash, paying it off in full EVERY month, and NEVER spending more than we have).
2. I write down every purchase in a weekly spreadsheet that has all the basic categories (groceries, gas, eating out, fun money, etc), and also lists our weekly budget for each of these categories.
3. At the end of every day, week, and month, I do a quick evaluation to see where we’re at – How much did we save this month? Did I go over my budget in any category? Where do I need to be more careful next week/month?

Now let me tell you a little more about my spreadsheets, since they are the basis of my entire budgeting system.

I have a monthly budget sheet, and a weekly budget sheet. That’s it – keeping it simple. My monthly spreadsheet is this one, which has been condensed and personalized so it only includes expenses that apply to us. The weekly spreadsheet is just a much smaller version of this that I mentioned in #2 up there. I printed out fifty two copies of the weekly budget sheet, put them in a binder, and put it in my kitchen drawer where it is now very accessible.

Here is how I keep myself accountable:

At the end of every single day, I pull out the binder and any receipts from that day, write them in the spreadsheet under the correct category, and then place the receipts in the envelope. After a ten second glance, I know what I’ve spent so far this week, and how much I have left in my budget for each category. Seriously, this takes less than two minutes every day. So easy.

At the end of each week I pull out the binder and spend five minutes entering all the handwritten expenses into an identical spreadsheet that is saved on my computer. Automatically the monthly spreadsheet pulls from the weekly spreadsheet and inputs each expense into the correct categories over there.

And lastly, at the end of each month, I pull up the monthly spreadsheet and enter in our income, the exact amount of our electric bill, gas bill, and a few other non-standard numbers, and viola! The spreadsheet formulates all the numbers and spits out how much we earned, how much we budgeted to spend, how much we actually spent, and our bottom line savings for that month. This takes no more than fifteen minutes.

Now remember, this is the Frugal WIFE blog – I do this all on my own, only asking Philip for his receipts and occasionally reminding him what our budget is for this or that. But it’s mostly the wives that are evaluating the finances, keeping track of expenses, and spending most of the money. So make a system that works for YOU. That YOU will follow. And that will hold YOU accountable. Once you find that system, whether it’s based off of mine, or is something completely different, you’ll be surprised how much easier it is to follow your own budgeting rules and spend way less than you earn.


Brit said...

Murock - you are genious. I am so happy that you outlined it so well and made everything sound so simple. I will definitely be trying this method and will report back. I want to have a wealthy life!

Brit said...

Would you mind emailing me the spreadsheet that you use for your weekly expenses? I'm ready to dive in.

Jenny said...

saving EVERY receipt stresses me...
(is there no other way?)

jle122 said...

I just started using mint.com. Its from Intuit who makes Quicken. Its free and online. EASILY downloads checking acct and credit card transactions everyday. So far I love it. You can set budget amounts too. It would decrease your own recordkeeping maybe

P said...

I just wanted to say I love this blog!! I came over from Everyday Reading and am so glad I did :) Thanks for all the info! Keep it coming!

Packrat said...

Janssen said to come visit! Great post. Looking forward to more.

Carly Jane said...

Follower of Janssen's blog here. I do something VERY similar (although I keep all my receipts in a 5x7 index card holder box according to category (and then at the end of the month they go are lumped and put in their monthly section). I mostly write my budgets spreadsheets out by hand (when I started our computer system was finicky at best. I might adapt your computer based monthly sheet to our needs. I'm also not great at going over my budget every day... but I do it at least every week (and we often go days without spending, so it works for us). Oh and at the end of the month we always sit down together and look at all the stats together (even though, you're right, I do all the paperwork all month long).

Thanks for sharing!

Lady Susan said...

I second mint.com. It will automatically put your transactions in categories (that you can easily change if not exactly correct) and will allow you to set your budgets. It also formulates graphs so you can see your trend over any time period you are interested in. Also, it sends emails when you have gone over budget and weekly updates to let you know where you stand. I find it very intuitive and user friendly.

Katie Rich said...

Luckily for me, my husband is the receipt saver, so I just need to give the receipts to him. But we do save all of our receipts until our weekly budget meeting where we go over everything coming in and out, see how we are doing according to our budget, and when necessary, plan for bigger events (like paying tuition).

Knowing exactly how much money you have and where you money is going seriously removes so much stress from life and marriage. I am always amazed when I hear about couples who do not have a planned budget!

Amanda Swafford said...

We also use mint.com. It's amazing and has really changed the way we spend money.

Jess said...

I'm going to 3rd or 4th Mint.com. We just switched over from Quicken and I LOVE it. I love the weekly emails, the fact that both me & my hubby can long on (from anywhere) and categorize stuff. It's great. I just can't wait until Android comes out with an app for my phone.