Household Budget

Finding room in your budget.
1. Don't discount something because it was a 'one-time' thing.
"Foo-Foo only gets a trim in the summer, so that $60 doesn't count." "We only renew the car tags once a year, so that $100 doesn't count." "Bubba broke his arm, so that $100 ER co-pay and $50 check-up co-pay doesn't count." "We had to have a car repair, so that $200 does not count."

Sure, these things may only come up once a year or less, but you have some sort of 'one-time' expense every single month. A funeral and everyone needed new shoes, a day out with the girls and lunch, some books and a haircut add up. Unplanned doctor visits, car repairs, the AC in the house went out, the mower died, the dog ate your belt, auto tag renewals, subscription renewals, a weekend trip, a birthday party invitation a week before the party, an outgrown sleeping bag or coat, a new camera, new tires, an art supply spree, a trip to the dollar store for dish detergent that ends up with bubbles and sidewalk chalk, some dog chews and a planter and a new dish towel-might as well because you need it all. But did you?

Always allot $100 in a month for unexpected things. This small padding will keep you from having to stress and will keep you from reaching for that credit card. If you don't use it, then keep half against the next month and use the other $50 as extra on your debt payment.
2. Watch for the little amounts.

As mentioned above, buying a 'few extra' items can add up. You rarely spend $100 at the store, but barely blink when the total is $30. Do that once a week and you have spent $120 in a month. When going over your budget, check for things like that-one friend of mine 'only spent' $3 a day for a coffee on the way to check in on her elderly mom. It was her break, a bit of a treat and not very expensive. But it added up to nearly $100 a month, more when she bought a bagel to go with it.

See what you can do without. Netflix  and Redbox instead of cable is a very common money saver, dropping the house phone for a family cell plan is another.

Get your new books at the library instead of a book-of-the-month club. Read your news on-line and drop the paper delivery. Look for the small expenditures and think of cheaper or free alternates. Think about the time and money you may be spending on lessons or sports-is that really well-spent?

3. Plan those meals.
I hate this one, but it works. Go around the day before you go grocery shopping and list the meals you can make with what is on-hand. Then add to your list with what you could use in the house if you had this or that to go with it. On one side of the page, write the meal idea, in the next column, write what you need to round out the meal. Then add the family favorite meals that you don't have any of the parts for and add that to the shopping list. Don't forget a couple frozen pizzas or other easy meals, it is more tempting to come home after a long day out and pop something easy in the oven than cook a full meal-so you can skip the fast food run. Aim for a 2-week plan.

4. Keep a running total of what you are running low on.
On the fridge, keep a sheet to jot down things like 'cat litter', 'cooking spray' and 'dish detergent' as you start to run low. Or, keep a list of what you only periodically have to restock and check it the day before you go shopping. Some examples would be shampoo, contact lens solution, printer ink, cleaners, bathroom tissue, condiments like mustard and soy sauce, batteries, trash bags, blank discs for burning pictures and music, light bulbs, various car 'fluids' and so on. Maybe you bake and need flavorings or your dogs run through chew treats like mad.

5. Keep a list handy for what you find you need.
Toys escaping? Add 'big bin' to your list. Dark corner? Add a lamp or better bulbs. Houseplant looking cramped? Add a larger pot on there. Keep a running list of things you have noticed you could use or that is needed but not immediately. Take it with you and mark off things as you buy them. Don't look for or buy things you don't have on your list, you don't need them. If you see something you are dying for, add it to the list, but don't buy it that day. When you go back over the list before the next time, you can always take it back off or decide to leave it on there. Impulse=blown budget. And yes, it really WILL be on sale at that price again.

6. Run your errands more efficiently.
Make your gas count. Can you put off returning the library books until the day you go grocery shopping? Could you make play date with some friends and run errands before or afterward? Can your spouse pick up something on the way home instead of you going out to get it? Can you go to a science or art center as part of the day or otherwise make your time out more than just errands? Plan as much in a day as you can, so you only have to be on the go one or two days a week.

7. Check your utilities.
Go for the obvious stuff-is there a dripping faucet in the house that can be fixed? Do you have efficient bulbs in your most-used lights at least? Is your hot water tank more than 10 years old? Could you adjust your thermostat to run the central unit less? Do you wash and rinse in cold water as much as possible? Can you line-dry your clothes or even wash them less often? Do your kids (or you) just throw everything into one pile, even if they only wore it a couple hours and it's not really dirty? Are your windows all shutting properly-are the doors leaking air? Could you put up heavier drapes to block the heat of the afternoon sun or the cold winds in winter? Do you leave the bathroom fan on? It only takes one hour for a bathroom fan to vent all the air from an ENTIRE house-that means all your warm or cold air flies away and has to be replaced.

You don't have to go crazy and micro-manage your house to keep utility bills from being any higher than they have to be. I have a friend who shuts off the main breaker in her house when she leaves and flips it on again when she comes in at night. No hot water heater or central unit running all day long. Saves a bundle. But this is not always practical, especially with a family that is usually home all day. You can however let the lawn go and just water your favorite plants, skip the kiddie pool and make a few trips to a friend's house who already has a pool to keep up, wash fewer clothes by reusing towels and making sure what is in the dirty clothes basket really is dirty. Boys are a huge help here-they seem to all go through a period of simply never changing clothes!  You can adjust the thermostat on the hot water tank and the central unit, extend the brief time each spring and fall when you don't have to run the AC by buying a couple window fans, shade your central unit-it really does lower the cooling costs. Small changes make smaller bills and it adds up.

8. Make your yard (less) work for you.

Mow less yard. Saves time and gas and you can apply for a wildlife habitat certificate. Leave a corner or a huge section-as much as you can spare-unmowed. Or replant with ground cover if you can't stand weeds. Use part of the yard to grow some easy veggies. That will save money and it's educational. Keep good-bug-friendly plants out to avoid having to use chemicals, and don't spray a bunch of gunk on your lawn. We all have to drink the water and we all live downstream.

9. Coupons and discounts are your friend.
Join Chuck E Cheese's coupon club and save on meals and tokens. Drop your book club and get wild offers to come back-"We'll pay off your mortgage and all you have to do is buy 3 books in the next 16 years" (and get a flyer a week from them and a packet a month stuffed with like-offers from 476 other book, dvd and music clubs and get on every mailing list for the 476 other clubs, so you get their flyers, too). Switch credit cards to get reward points and cash them in for gas cards. You don't need any of the other stuff they offer. Clip grocery coupons, shop the Scholastic Book Sale instead of Barnes and Noble. Take your car to get the oil changed by the little local place and save $20 a pop off the 10-minute places or the dealership. Take advantage of 'kids eat free' nights when you do eat out or split an entree. Get the grocery store card, just look carefully to make sure the 'discount' is actually less than the store brand. Or just shop at Aldi and skip the hassle-it's ALL store brand and it's all cheaper.

10. Shop Credit Cards
Transfer your balances to lower-interest cards and cards that give you points for purchases. Sometimes they are not one in the same, so always go for lower interest rates. Alabama Telco Credit Union has a Visa card with 7% interest. Don't go for the fast promos like 0% for 6 months if it goes up to 15-18% after that. Not unless you are positive you can pay it off before then.

11.Keep things maintained
Keep your oil changed, tires rotated, keep your air filter changed in your central unit. Keep your pets up-to-date on shots and flea treatments, keep your teeth cleaned regularly, your eyes checked. Fix things as quickly as possible to avoid bigger repairs later. Oil change-$23, new engine, $2300. See? We once let the fleas get ahead of us thinking, "Oh, the dogs only have a FEW fleas." $400 later, 2 shaved dogs and untold amounts of chemicals in our carpets and suddenly the $12 per dog for Frontline EVERY month the temps did not dip below freezing was a good investment.

12. Pay off Debt
Sounds simple, takes years.
List all your debt: credit cards, mortgage, car loans, student loans and so on. Did the amount shock you? When it is spread out over 2, 3 or more cards, the balances seem manageable. Add them up and the national average is $8k and rising.

You spent that money-you saw something and could not pay for it and got it anyway.
Sometimes you have to-you can't just do without a house.
Sometimes you don't have to-you don't have to have vacations every year if you can't even pay for your gas to get out of town.
How do you make it make a difference when you have a card balance of $2400 and you make 3 $50 minimum payments and check the balance to see where it is in 3 months and you have a balance of $2375?

The simple way is the 'Dave Ramsey' way and he has made millions with his plan because it works. Just pay your minimum balance on everything but the lowest-balance debt. Pay it off using all the money you can scrape together and when it is gone, pay off the next lowest and so on. People pay off $10,000 and more a year with this plan. It's amazing, but it requires something some of us can't do. Anger. You have to be mad at the debt and the drain and that's hard to do when you have 2 credit cards with less than $4k between them and the minimum payments are about $60 a month. Or when you have $150k left JUST on the house and the cards are maxed out and you have 2 car loans and a kid that needs braces. You just feel nothing at that point-what's another $500 at that point? Let's get a cabin for the weekend.

That needs more help than I can offer, but I can suggest 3 things that are not going to be easy, but will greatly reduce your debt:
1. Downsize-get a smaller, cheaper house or car and sell the one you struggle to make payments on.
2. Visit a debt counselor- not a debt consolidation company. Just talk over your options and see what is out there.
3. Get rid of your credit cards. If you can't make your lifestyle without them, you need a second job and some serious changes, not another card.
Starting in 2005, Americans on average spent more money in a year than they made across the board. Look what happened to the economy just a couple years later...
13. Make space
It's true, people have too much stuff and the clutter makes you feel bad and that is not the feel you want for your home, is it? How will that save you money? Well-you can sell what you don't use and make a little cash, you can stop adding to a collection, stop buying more storage for things you don't use anyway and you will be happier, which money can't buy. Being more content at home makes things easier all the way around. When you stay home, you spend less. Being organized lowers stress.

14. Use your skills
What can you do that can bring in some money on the side? Can you sing or are you an artist? Check online for small markets newsletters in the area you have some talent in. Let your friends and family know what you are offering. Advertise yourself in the local paper.

15. Give your kids an allowance
$1 a day is a good allowance, that's $7.50 a week or $15 if you get paid every 2 weeks. This is enough 'pocket' money and can be saved fairly quickly, so your child can cover their own wants. This is not for clothing, shoes or safety gear like bike helmets. It's just cash for toys, candy, games, special foods and so on. You can make it reliant on certain chores being done, or not. 'Earning' their money is a good lesson, though. Make a few other chores pay extra, $10 for mowing or $5 for washing the cars, $3 an hour for watching younger siblings and so on. This will save more than you give them, you can now say, "If you want it, use your money." (this is 2010 budgeting, adjust accordingly to the current inflation rates!)

16. Vacation on the cheap
Check my other page on travel for a full write up on going cheaper!

17. Pay for it once
I read not long ago that 20% of our incomes go toward buying something we already have. Some of it is needed replacements, like a part for a machine or new art supplies. But often, it is because we just can't find something. Tape, the scissors, the extra vacuum cleaner bags. Bike helmets, a piece of camping gear, more socks. Let's say 20% is too high, let's go for 10%. Where did the extension cord go? Have you seen the dust pan? Didn't we have a screwdriver in this drawer? Have you seen the matches? Where did you put that library book? My left shoe is gone!
10% of the average income of say $40k, making some $4,000 a year because you can't find it. See #13. If you can't find your stuff, you have too much stuff. Sell it, give it away, pass it along, toss it, burn it, turn it into yard art. Don't give it space in your house.

A place for everything and everything in its place. How simple, how well it works! Cleaners all go here. Tools, here. Camping gear in this closet, winter clothes in these bags. Sort books by subject, keep other like items together. Take the extra minute to put everything away when you are done and save an hour looking for it next time.

The night before you have somewhere to be the next day, go through and get together everything you need to take.
When going on a trip, make a list of what you need to pack, and make sure it gets repacked for the return.

Keep a list of what you have loaned out-books, videos, equipment.

Keep a list of what you have borrowed. Paying for something you borrow and you lost is a waste of money-you bought it and it's still not yours!
Paring down your books and supplies has another effect that I was quite surprised about. I have always been fairly organized, but we had multiple shelves of books. Once the youngest turned 10, I boxed up the children's books and put them in the attic for the grandchildren I hope to have one day, after the kids graduate from college and pay off their first house and car, of course. The rest of the books in the WHOLE house, I went through viciously. I bagged up books that we never had used, books that were out of date or were about things none of us were interested in. I sold many, gave away more and donated the rest. The result? I felt less guilt! Gone were the books on how-to that I never opened! I no longer passed the '101 interesting things to do on a rainy day' that had 20-step directions for making all kinds of things we never used it because it was complicated and the end results were large and required space and items I would have to go out and buy. We were surrounded by a few basic reference books on each subject the kids were most interested in, we had a very small collection of fiction and classics and my shelves were down to a row of books on just 3 sets of bookshelves. We filled the space with board games that had been living in closets, with art supplies I had in a box in the laundry room, with nature study stuff that had been scattered all over. It was and is a happy change that gave us energy and freed up all of us to enjoy our interests more.
18. Go for better
If you can pass clothes down through kids, get quality stuff, a $15 pair of good pants on sale that goes through 3 kids and can be passed to another family makes the pants $5 or less per kid. A $7 pair of pants that rips the third time they are worn, or only gets through one child, is a $7 pair of pants.