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A couple of weeks ago Brandon and I had to sit down and take a long hard look at our budget. While we discuss money together every week during Money Monday, we hadn’t taken the time to really look over our budget in a long time despite the fact that our income from both salaries and freelance work had changed. Our budget was severely out of date and we were beginning to notice the impact of not taking the time to regularly crunch the numbers.
The budget we had created for ourselves was no longer working the way it used to and it was time we committed to figuring out why. We had once had a healthy cushion each month for “play” money but were finding that it was smaller and smaller each month despite an increase in income. Somewhere there was a leak and I’ll be damned if we weren’t determined to find it. Well, after a couple of sit-down meetings we discovered the leaks (dining out + software subscriptions + pet care).
We then sat down with our financial advisor to go over our new numbers and create a new budget that is working for us again. If you find yourself in a position where your budget isn’t working for you anymore, you may find yourself making one of these budgeting mistakes:
You’re not starting on the 1st of the month
This is Budgeting 101 but your budget must start on the 1st of the month. Do not spend a single penny until you have sat down to review your numbers for the month ahead. Look over your fixed expenses (home, auto, insurance, utilities, etc) for anything that is over-budget and check your calendar for anything random or unexpected that may be due for that month.
- Are any of your utilities over budget?
- Is your car registration due for renewal?
- Is your pass for the interstate tolls due for renewal?
- Is anyone (yourself, spouse, children, pets) due for annual visits to the doctor?
- Do your kids have field trips or anything at school that is going to require extra dollars?
- Are there any birthdays or special occasions on the calendar?
Reviewing your month ahead on the first of the month allows you to adjust your budget as needed to manage the expenses you know are coming. You might find that you are able to go out a little less that month or you have to sacrifice your shopping budget for the month, but at least you won’t find yourself over-extended and unable to meet your obligations.
You’re not auditing your expenses
I’m so guilty of this one, especially when it comes to where I invest for the operation and maintenance of FBL. I am a bit notorious for thinking that I need this and this and this and, oh!, that shiny new thing over there too. It is by far my #1 budgeting mistake. I would sign up for a new social media scheduler so I had more free time to spend with my husband but I wouldn’t really evaluate the ROI for the monthly subscription. I would be drawn in by the flashy bells and whistles (oh look, it can schedule Instagram and Pinterest too!) without considering that I already have Tailwind which schedules those two networks. It’s a matter of identifying exactly what your needs are and finding the best investment to satisfy those needs without paying for features or options you don’t really need.
In your own budget, consider:
- Can you modify, downsize, or adjust your cell phone plan?
- Do you really need that entire cable package?
- Are you really using Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime?
- Have you considered alternatives to your gym membership?
- Can you trade childcare duties with another couple on date night to avoid paying a babysitter?
- Do you have option to mail order prescriptions and save on health care costs?
I recommend picking up the phone at least 1x every 6 months and calling your service providers (cable, cell phone, car insurance) to ask about packages, discounts, or rate adjustments. You should also contact your credit card companies to ask about your interest rates and see if they can be adjusted or lowered. You’d be amazed at what companies can do for you if you simply ask.
You’re not considering quarterly or annual expenses
If you’re not prepared, these can be a major budget buster! There are a few things in my budget that I pay annually (web hosting for FBL, Tailwind subscription, PicMonkey Pro, auto insurance) which can completely throw my budget for a loop if they come up and auto draft from my checking account unexpectedly. I have set the draft dates of these annual expenses in my Google calendar and set a 30-day reminder so I have warning before they are due to be paid. I also record the dates in my planner so I know to prepare for them. That also gives me time to call the providers ahead of time if I find myself in a situation where I need to switch to a month-to-month payment plan.
You should know which expenses you have coming up in your budget that are due quarterly (like self-employment taxes) or annually (like auto registration or car insurance). Keeping an eye on these and recording the dates and amounts in your planner ahead of time allow you to stay on top of your expenses so your budget isn’t busted by something you should have known about, but didn’t.
You’re not planning ahead (meals, vacations, etc)
Once upon a time I was one of those people that rolled my eyes so hard over meal planning because I was like, “Come on! It’s not that hard to have an idea of what you’re cooking and just buy groceries. Do you really have to plan it all out in such depth? Seriously?!” and now I find myself eating crow because, yes, you really do have to plan it out in such depth. When I finally sat down and started preparing meal plans a week or two in advance I found myself saving hundreds at the grocery store each month. Meal planning has helped me bring my weekly grocery bill down to about $70 which is incredible considering I was spending $160 – $200 for a family of two about a year ago.
I’ve started using Mindful Meals which is totally worth the investment considering the amount of money it saves us each month on meal planning and budgeting. I have also learned to save when traveling by booking the hotels in advance and asking for a prepaid rate (most hotels will heavily discount the cost if you prepay for your room) and I use CityPASS to see the attractions in major cities at a hefty discount.
Planning 3 – 6 months in advance can help you project your expenses, save on hotels and travel, and book sightseeing tours at a discount. It’s definitely worth the time invested.
You haven’t built your emergency fund
We have two emergency funds – one for basic emergencies like doctor’s visits, car repairs, and pet illnesses and another for major emergencies like a sudden job loss or surgery. The basic emergency fund is $1,000 whereas the other is equal to 3 months living expenses. If you haven’t built an emergency fund, and something unexpected comes up, consider your budget busted!
A successful budget typically allocates every single dollar you earn to a budget category (this is easier said than done because my blogging income is sporadic and it’s hard to budget every single dollar of an inconsistent income) so an unexpected major expense can wreak havoc on your financial situation. Your priority #1 when it comes to being financially healthy and stable should be to build your $1,000 emergency fund ASAP. To do this quickly, look at little things in your life that you can cut out temporarily until the money is saved. You can try things like:
- Don’t eat out for lunch, dinner, or coffee for 30 days
- Skip personal care luxuries (spa days, manicures, salon trips, etc) for 30 days
- Meal plan and maximize leftovers
- Sell items you’re not using in online yard sales or eBay
- Sell wardrobe items you’re not wearing on Poshmark
- Call service providers (see the auditing your expenses section)
- Cut cable and switch to Netflix or Hulu Plus
- Drink water and save at the grocery store
- Use your library to rent books and/or DVDs
- Cancel non-essential subscriptions
There are hundreds of little ways you can save extra money and your emergency fund should be a top priority until you reach $1,000.
You’re choosing replacements over repairs
If you’re guilty of replacing items you could easily repair that may be one of the reasons your budget isn’t working for you each month. I used to do it too though, so if it’s a habit of yours, don’t fret too much because you’re definitely not alone. I once tossed a coat I loved because the interior pocket liner tore a hole in the bottom of it. I once threw out a favorite pair of jeans because the button fell off. Despite these both being easy fixes, I chose to spend $100+ on replacements rather than spending $10+ on repairing the problem.
While there are times that a replacement is necessary (like if the engine is blown on your car), most of the time a repair is much more cost effective and keeps you on budget. Here are just a few things I recommend repairing whenever possible to save on costs and keep you on budget:
- Luggage (Especially if it’s a broken wheel or zipper, it’s easily repaired. If you can’t fix a zipper yourself, check with your local dry cleaner or alteration shop because they can usually do it on the cheap)
- Pillows or Dining Room Chairs (Sew up the hole especially if it’s on the seam or reupholster the dining room chair to cover stains or tears and update your decor)
- Jewelry (Your local jeweler can replace clasps, watch bands, or batteries. They can also reset stones and repair most minor issues)
When we sat down together to review our budget we found a lot of places we could cut back and adjust. We realized that between groceries, dining out, coffee shops, and work lunches were spending over $1,000 a month. We also were able to save money on our car insurance by calling them to inquire about our rate and receiving what they called a “loyalty” discount. Meal planning with Mindful Meals helped us reduce our grocery budget to just over $70 / week and I minimized the software subscriptions I’m paying for to help run FBL and found another $75 / month I could save.
It doesn’t take a lot of work but it does take being self-aware.
For more about combining your marital finances and getting on the same page, check out my eBook here and stop arguing over money.