so i noticed in the frugal mamas discussion that a lot of you mentioned your food budget. i for one am horrible at budgeting and i guess i just need help. i really want to get to work on a budget and be able to stick to it before the baby comes, so that when i am not working i can adjust it and hopefully stick to it without pulling from our savings account too much. does anyone have any recommendations on sites to go to for budget help, or have any tricks that they use? no one ever really taught me how to budget, so i've just been winging it. thanks!!
I would start by writing out all of your expenses. it really helped when i printed out a few months bank statements and categorized where the money was going. groceries, gas, entertainment, etc. I took all the numbers that wouldn't change, like mortgage/rent, car note, car ins, etc and put those in the "necessary" column, then tried to figure out what we could do with the discretionary spending, like opting for no cable, less expensive cell phone plans, cloth diapers, not eating out as often, etc. It really helped dh and I see how far we could stretch a dollar. when we first purchased our house after relocating, we had the lowest income we've ever had, and yet for the first time we could afford a house. It was really nice to see that.
good luck with your budget!!
We use a credit card for everything we do (paid off each month, so no interest payments). We signed up for Mint.com, and categorized everything we spent in the last three months. It took some adjusting to get everything to make sense, but with it we were able to get a good estimation of what we spent each month on what. We *instantly* stopped spending as much on meals out. Just seeing the numbers was enough to change our behavior. We decided together how much we wanted to save per month, where that savings would go (some into long-term emergency funds, some into short term, some into specific item budgets like a wedding weekend). We also added up all our annual expenses (car registration, insurance, vet checkups, dog heartworm medication, annual subscription to the newspaper, etc.), and set aside a monthly amount to go to the annual fund. So whenever those annual expenses hit, we pull from the fund and always know we'll have the right amount available. No surprises.
We sit down each morning for two minutes, check the expenses from the day before, categorize them, and take stock of our budgets. Is it the end of the month and I've spent my lunch budget (we don't bring our own lunches every day)? Then no buying lunch today. Can we go to the movies? Yep, because there's plenty in the "everything else" budget and we're close to the end of the month.
So our budget is broken into lunches (when we dine separately), restaurants (when we dine together), groceries, monthly expenses (all fixed monthly bills), gas, fixed monthly transfers (e.g. to the annual fund), and "everything else." Once we have this baby, we will have a monthly kid budget for clothes and items, probably very small ($20/mo?) so that I don't go silly at Target or something.
If you don't use cards, none of this will work through Mint. Another method of budgeting that is really great is the "envelope" method. At the beginning of the month, each envelope represents a budget (food, entertainment, etc.). You load it with the month's or week's amount of cash for that budget and when the cash runs out, you can't buy anything else that period. This only works if you start with reasonable budgets, and if you use cash. But I think it's very effective.
We use Quicken and set up our budget that way. I admit, we're not awesome at cutting off our spending if we hit our budget line before the end of the month, but it helps to know for the next month where to start scrimping early.
We also try to overestimate a lot so that there's extra at the end of the month, which goes to savings, on top of having a savings budget line (which gets automatically deducted).
Like RosieL, our savings are all divided up: Emergency, future, travel, health. Even though DH and I don't always agree about how much should go into what category, we do feel better about spending money on travel when it comes out of the travel account, versus just pulling money out of savings.
If you're not good at self control, I second the cash envelopes method. That way when it's gone, it's GONE.
I use quicken as well! It works great and provides categories (you can create them too) and even has a budget worksheet if you choose to use it. Every time I start it, a pie chart shows how much you spent in each category as well as listing the amount on the side so you know. It really helps! We tried the envelope bit, but I felt uncomfortable having that much cash in the house. I do withdraw for tithe though.