Budgeting really stinks. I have tried so many methods to try to stay on top of my budget, but always seemed to fail. So many tips, so many tricks, so many budget categories, so much micromanaging, and I was never able to get ahead. Always in the red. In this post I’m going to review 2 budget tips that will help you never go over budget again!
2 Budget Tips.
I’m going to work backward in terms of my list here and start with my two best practices. If you need to know anything about maintaining a budget, it’s these best practices. If you are planning to skip out on the entire post (which is just fine) I just need you to set these in your brain before you go.
#1: Balance your account every single day.
Make balancing your account the same as your morning coffee. Make it automatic. You wake up, you make your coffee, you check your account. Make it part of your daily routine.
Every morning I log into our online account, open my Quicken, and reconcile our Quicken register with our online bank account. I take a few minutes to look over all of our reconciled and pending transactions, insert those pending transactions into our Quicken account register, and check to make sure we’re on track financially so that all of our bills can get paid. There are no surprises when I budget, because I balance the budget every single day.
Tip: Reviewing your account daily will alert you to account hacks, too! We were hacked a few years ago and the hackers withdrew three separate $100 transactions in a matter of 24 hours. Fortunately, we were able to file a claim with the bank and get our money back.
#2: Encumber (set a placeholder) for future expenses.
I started doing this about three years ago, and let me tell you, it’s an eye-opener. By setting a placeholder for future transactions you have a very good representation of what your finances will look like in a week, two weeks, three weeks, and more and are less likely to go over budget. I budget out four or so weeks into the future so I can get the best birds-eye view of what’s going to happen with our account.
Now, I don’t just budget out our bills, I budget out EVERYTHING that we typically spend our money on. I have a weekly placeholder of $250 for our groceries, a weekly placeholder of $65 for gas expenses, and a weekly placeholder of $100 for other random expenses that might come up. And, yes, I have a placeholder for all of the bills that we pay on a monthly basis. Anything that we can spend money on, I have a placeholder for.
Random and annual placeholders.
I’ll also budget for things that I know will happen annually or randomly. For example, I knew that I would be signing my son up for summer camps as early as December the year before the camp takes place. Since I knew how much we would be spending on those camps, I set a placeholder in our Quicken register for March because I knew that’s when I was going to have to pay for registration. Sure, it sits in the register as a placeholder for a few months, but I knew it was coming and could make adjustments to our spending in the months prior so we didn’t have to pull a bunch of money from our savings to make those payments.
I do the same thing when it comes to our family vacation. I set the placeholder for the down payments on the beach house so I know exactly what our account will look like when those transactions take place.
Read: 3 Money Mindset Shifts to Make about why I chose to spend money on a small family beach house every year, even though it costs more that I’d like to spend.
Tip: By setting weekly placeholders for your weekly expenses you get a better idea of what your weekly account totals will look like in the future. I used to set a monthly placeholder for these expenses, but I just didn’t find it helpful.
Take a look at the below example. My example includes a table from West Elm that I wanted to purchase (see green highlighted text). If you look at the date I wanted to buy the table, it looked like we had enough money to do so. However, when you look a few weeks out, that little purchase would have put us in the red. That’s the beauty of the placeholder! You can see what your future MAY hold!
Now, in this case, I may have adjusted what we would have put in savings to account for the difference, but it’s more likely that I would have waited until the following month to buy the table.
Also take note of my monthly encumbrances. Can you see where I set aside money for groceries on a weekly basis (highlighted in yellow)? These amounts will get adjusted once the groceries are bought and I have an actual dollar amount to put into Quicken. Some weeks we may spend more and some weeks less, but on average we usually spend about $1000/month on groceries (which is insane, I know!).
Here’s the deal. We all know how to make a budget (I hope). If not, I’ll take a few minutes to break down how I made our budget and came to the encumbrance conclusions that I mentioned above.
Create your list.
Take a minute and write a list of all of your monthly expenses. This includes bills, groceries, etc. See the example below. The categories below are what you will find on my budget worksheet. These represent our family’s monthly income and expenses.
Note: I don’t include the one-off expenses on my list (vacation rental, summer camps, etc) because I always have a placeholder in my register for these expenses. I schedule them on an annual basis. If you need to, include those on your budget list and then add them to your budget register.
- $xxxx (my husband’s bi-weekly)
- $xxxx (my b-weekly)
- $xxxx (my husband’s bi-weekly)
- $xxxx (my b-weekly)
- Peloton $xxx
- PNC Credit Card $xxx
- Gieco $xxx
- Phone $xxx
- Mortgage $xxxx
- Line of Credit $xxx
- BGE $xxx
- Cable $xxx
- Swift $xx
- Ooma $x
- Simplisafe $xx
- Netflix $xx
Monthly Expenses (average of totals from previous months)
- Fuel $xxx
- Groceries $xxxx
- Pet Supplies $xxx
- Other $xxx
- Savings $xxx
Random Expenses (these are transactions that will usually be an annual placeholder)
- summer camps
- kids activities (baseball, art classes, etc)
- summer vacation
- Xmas spending
These monthly expenses incorporate what we will typically spend on a monthly basis outside of what we spend on our bills. These categories are broad, I know, but I find budgeting easier without micromanaging every little thing that I spend. For example, if I buy lunch, that would be included as a grocery expense. If we go to Home Depot for household goods, that expense would fall under the “other” tab. I don’t have separate categories for lunch, household items, clothes, beauty, etc. I lump all of those together in the appropriate “monthly expenses” category.
Personal Finance Tool – Plug in your numbers
Now, if you have a personal finance tool like Quicken, use the schedule bills feature to schedule all your bills, income, and encumbrances on your list. Remember to schedule your monthly expenses (food, gas, other) on a weekly basis. This will really allow you to see a snapshot of what your account will look like in the future.
If you don’t use Quicken, use whatever tool works for you! I know that some banks provide some sort of budget tool if you hold an online account with them, but I personally never found them useful. If you’re pretty good at excel, or even google docs, you can budget that way. But, in all circumstances, be sure to:
- Check and reconcile your account every day.
- Schedule your encumbrances (monthly expenses) on a weekly basis for at least 4 weeks out so you can set a good snapshot of what your account will look like.
Keep reading below…
The extras, savings.
Whenever I create a budget, I have this grandiose idea in mind that I will save $xxx amount of dollars every month. I will tell you that we are usually not able to save that exact amount every month, but we do put money aside every month if we can.
Just as I encumber my budget categories (food, gas, other) I also encumber what I hope to set aside in savings every month. Some months I can put a little more in our savings account, and some months a little less. Since what we spend varies month to month, what we can save varies month to month, too.
Again, when it comes time to make that transfer to the savings account, I take a look at my “goal” saving amount and see how it will impact our savings for the out weeks. Since it’s an amount that I already had encumbered, I should be able to transfer the entire amount, but as you know, unexpected expenses always make their way into the monthly budget and I use that savings encumbrance as our little cushion if needed. If necessary, and it always seems necessary, I adjust the transfer amount so we don’t fall short in future weeks, and transfer what I can to our savings account.
Personal Finance Tool
I’ve been using Quicken since about 2002. Before upgrading to the annual software, I was using a version from about 2014. I was told that it was no longer going to be supported by banks so I went for the upgrade. The costs for Quicken is about $34/year. Personally, it’s $34 that is well spent. I’m not looking for much when it comes to budgeting my account, and Quicken fits exactly what I need.
Our financial situation today.
Here’s the deal, at this moment in time we have a 10-year-old and a 13-year-old. While the expenses have shifted from child care to recreation, etc., we don’t spend nearly as much as we did when they were in daycare. So, we have more “funny money” to spend and to save. BUT, when we did have them in child care, we were toeing that line of “can we make the mortgage” or “do we have to sell the house”. I could tell you all about the time I sat down to reconcile the account and found we were in a $3k deficit with no savings and cried and cried and cried, but I’ll leave that for another day. Let’s just say it was stressful and intense, but it did get better once I found the right process to help us get to a good and solid place financially.
There will be plenty of times where money will be tight, but if you keep these best practices in mind, you should have a better view of what’s to come.