You budget how much for gifts?

gift

In this post, I’ll be discussing how much we budget for gifts each month.

Get to the point already!

We budget $100 for gifts each month. Over time, this amount started around $50 a month and has increased to $75 and now $100. We’ve kept it at $100 for quite a while now.

How do you stick to it?

Given what this category covers, we can generally stay under this amount pretty easily each. Sometimes we’ll have an amount that carries over and other times we might spend slightly over this amount.

What all does it cover?

As you would expect, this category covers gifts.

  • For birthday parties our daughters are invited to
  • For extended family members
  • Random acts of kindness or pick me ups for people
  • Cards and gift bags

It does not usually cover Christmas or birthday presents for the immediate family. We oftentimes use savings for that.

Checkup

How much do you spend on presents each month? What other categories would you like me to cover? Let me know in the comments below.

You can also see how much we spend on other budget categories here.

You Budget How Much For Entertainment?

movie camera entertainment

In this post, I’ll be discussing how much we budget on entertainment each month. Lots of things could fall under entertainment and depending on where you live or the types of things you value as entertainment, you may want to budget a more.

Get to the point already!

We budget $50 for entertainment each month. This amount has been very consistent for a long time. We decided to start budgeting for it to make sure we could plan a date night.

How do you stick to it?

We generally do a pretty good job of staying within that amount. Occasionally we’ll go over, and sometimes we stay under. We’re generally able to stay under it though because we’re usually pretty busy with other things, or find things to do that doesn’t cost anything. For example, we purchased season passes this year to Cedar Point. That can provide a lot of recurring enjoyment without affecting the entertainment budget.

What all does it cover?

This category covers A LOT! Below are a few of the items that would fall under this budget category along with some notes.

  • Movie rentals
    • Library movies are free and they can transfer any movie we’re interested in from another branch to our local branch.
  • Movie theater
    • We have a theater that isn’t too far from us that has tickets half of what you would pay at the “fancy” theaters.
  • Babysitting
    • We pay our babysitters pretty well because we want them to come back!
  • Other extracurricular activities, i.e.
    • SkyZone
    • Tickets to get into a park
    • Expenses related to entertainment like getting ice cream

Checkup

How much do you spend on entertainment each month? Do you have a hard time staying under budget? Let me know in the comments below.

You Budget How Much For Clothing?

clothing

In this post, we’ll be covering how much we spend on clothing. Not everyone shops for clothes each month. We tend to avoid it at all costs until it’s necessary.

Get to the point already!

Just like the fuel and restaurant budget, we budget $200 for clothing each month, for a total of about $2400 per year.

How do you stick to it?

How much we spend varies from month to month. For example, when the seasons change or a special event is coming we might spend more than $200, while other months we may spend a lot less. Luckily with YNAB the amount we have left at the end of the month will carry over to the next month’s budget.

What all does it cover?

This is a pretty self-explanatory budget category. It covers clothing and just about anything we wear. That can include coats, shoes, swimsuits, and more. We will sometimes use it for other things as well such as bath towels or bedding. They’re all made of cloth right?

There are certainly ways to keep this budget in check. One way is to hand down clothing from older children to younger children. Another may be to shop for clothing from places like Goodwill or consignment shops. We rarely buy clothing unless it’s on sale or we have discounts. We tend to do a few large purchases a couple of times a year, or when we’re desperate.

One major win for us is that we don’t buy clothing unless we need it. That means we’ll keep clothes for a long time until they’ve essentially worn out. We’re not “shoppers”, which means we don’t tend to browse clothes until it’s time to replace them. This helps us in keep our clothing budget in check.

Checkup

How much do you spend on clothes each month? Where do you tend to buy new clothes? Are you a shopper or someone who avoids it as much as possible? Let me know in the comments below.

Photo by mynameisharsha

You Budget How Much For Restaurants and Dining Out?

In this post, I’ll be discussing how much we spend on restaurants and dining out. Depending on where you live, the cost to eat out probably varies a bit. However, there is one way to make sure you stay under budget – eat at home! It’s healthier anyway.

Get to the point already!

Just like the fuel budget, we budget $200 for restaurants and dining out. This amount has been pretty consistent what we’ve used for this category.

How do you stick to it?

The short answer – we don’t. We oftentimes go over. That wasn’t always the case until about a year ago. Before then we’d sometimes go over, but could stay under more easily.

What happened a year ago that made us start going over? Volunteering at church. The group we volunteer with oftentimes gathers at Chick-fil-a for lunch and/or dinner various times on the weekend. That can eat up our restaurant budget pretty quickly with a family of four.

Under normal circumstances this amount is enough for us to eat out at a nice restaurant a couple of times a month, fast food 4-5 times, and maybe a date night.

What all does it cover?

Just like the grocery budget, the dining out budget can cover some items outside of just going to a restaurant. Whether it’s a sit down or fast food restaurant, it’s covered. It also covers quick visits to get some ice cream or frozen yogurt. Finally, it covers things we might buy while for immediate consumption. For example, if we were to go get a slush or pick up a bag of chips at a convenience store to eat right then, those would count towards the restaurant budget.

Checkup

How much do you spend on restaurants and dining out each month? Do you have a hard time staying under budget? Let me know in the comments below.

Photo by Sean MacEntee

You Budget How Much For Gasoline/Fuel?

I’ll be continue covering our budget this month. In this post, I’ll be discussing our fuel or gasoline budget. This one is a little tricky because it can vary a bit depending on a number of factors, such as the types of cars you drive and the number of miles driven each month.

Get to the point already!

Here it is – each month we budget $200 for gasoline or fuel. There have been periods of time where it has been more or less depending on what gasoline prices are. On average, $200 seems to cover it every month.

What do you drive?

We drive two different vehicles in our home, and they’re somewhat opposites when it comes to miles per gallon. Our first car, and the one driven the most, is a 2006 Toyota Prius and gets almost 50 MPG depending on the weather. It has over 200k miles at this point and continues to run well. I commute about 50 miles each day to work, not counting additional driving on the weekend.

Our second vehicle is a 2011 Toyota Sienna. It averages anywhere from 19-23 MPG depending on the type of driving that we’re doing. My wife drives it a varying number of miles each day. Some days that might be a lot, and other days it may sit in the garage.

What all does it cover?

Unlike the grocery budget, the gasoline category is pretty simple. It covers gasoline and fuel for our cars and lawn mower. There is one minor exception to this – vacation. If we’re driving somewhere for vacation, we tend to not use the fuel budget, but instead use whatever we’ve got budgeted for vacation instead.

Checkup

How much do you spend on gasoline each month? Do we spend more or less than you do? I’d love to see in the comments below.

Photo by Adam Hinett

You Budget How Much For Groceries?

grocery store aisle

If you’ve just started budgeting or planning to start, you’re probably trying to figure out how much to budget for each category. If you’ve budgeted for a while and you’re interested in seeing how your budget compares to ours, you’ve come to the right place.

In this post, I’ll be covering our grocery budget.

Get to the point already!

Here it is – each month we budget $500 for groceries for a family of 4. We previously budgeted $475 just a few months ago, but recently increased it. We’ve got 2 adults in our house and 2 girls, ages 10 and 8. (Man, can they put away the food though!)

We use our grocery budget for a wide variety of items.

  • Food purchased at a grocery store or to be consumed at home
    • This doesn’t include snacks purchased at a gas station to be eaten the car (that would go towards dining out).
    • It would include milk bought at a gas station for use at home, or snacks purchased at a gas station if we were taking them to a party.
  • Toilet paper
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Vitamins
  • Toiletries – shampoo, conditioner, body wash, etc
  • Razors
  • Dog food

How is that possible?

We do the majority of our grocery shopping at Aldi. It’s quick, convenient, has great prices, and the options are actually pretty healthy without us having to think about it. They sell the majority of what we need and for everything else we supplement with other stores.

We also use Target’s subscription service which saves us 5%, with an extra 5% off for using our RedCard. This allows us to get what we need (dog food, razors, and vitamins) when we need them.

You might now be thinking:

“Do you eat a lot of processed food?” Not really.

“You must eat out all the time. Show me your dining out budget!” Patience, young Padawan. We don’t eat out that much, maybe a few meals a week.

Checkup

How much do you spend on groceries each month? Do we spending more or less than you do? I’d love to see in the comments below.

Photo by MinuteDreamer

You Need A Budget!

Unless you’re independently wealthy, we all have a limited amount of money to go around each month. Without paying attention, you can easily run out of money before you run out of things you need to spend it on.

That’s where a budget comes in. For quite a long time, we used Microsoft Money or Quicken to keep track of what we had in our checking and savings accounts, but we never really did a budget.

I ended up creating a spreadsheet for us to track what we spent on groceries, eating out, fuel, and other things. We used this method for a while.

When Quicken recently decided to start making yearly updates, I decided it was time to start looking again at all my options. I wanted something that had the following features:

  • We could enter transactions on a mobile device and it would sync up with the desktop software.
  • It had to track both the budget and the amount in our accounts so we only had to enter a transaction in one place.
  • The budget amounts had to roll over from month to month. A lot of programs have a “budget”, but it resets at the beginning of each month back to $0.
  • I didn’t want to have to buy it again each year to get the latest features.

After some research, the product that best fit what we were looking for was You Need A Budget. It took a little while to make the conversion, but after using it for over 3 months I’ve been very happy with it. I’ll point out some of the highlights below:

  • Mobile Application – The mobile application is great. It doesn’t have all the features of the desktop software, but it downloads and syncs the budget and transactions so you can see them anywhere. When you enter in a transaction, it can track where you are using the phone GPS so the next time you enter a transaction in the same place, it will automatically fill out all the fields except for the amount.
  • Budget – The budget comes preloaded with some common categories, but you can add and delete them to meet your needs.
  • Online and Email Courses – Along with buying the software, you can enroll in a number of the classes they have to offer. Some of them are online and some are email courses where they send you new information each day to read through. These are includes at no additional cost.
  • Support – Got a question? Just send them an email. You can try emailing them before you buy the product to see how responsive they are. They also have forums where users can post questions and answers on how they use the software.
  • Backup and Syncing – The software uses DropBox to sync between different devices. This also means that you’ve always got a backup of your budget in the cloud if something happens.

While the software seems complicated, it’s actually very simple and flexible. The budget screen allows you to divide your money each month to the different categories. You’ve also got the account registers. When you enter a transaction into a budgeted account, you will pick the budget category the transaction goes against. The budget immediately updates to show the new amount available.

Everyone makes mistakes and overspends from time to time, and the software makes it very easy to move money from one budget category to another. If you can’t do that, it will simply reduce the money you have to budget next month to cover the overspending.

If you’re on the fence about doing a budget, or using software to manage it, they offer a 34 day trial to get you started. When you’re ready to buy you can get 10% off of You Need A Budget through this link: http://ynab.refr.cc/NG5M8W2 (Full Disclosure: I’ll earn $6 for the referral somehow if you use the link.)

Do you have a budget? How do you manage your budget? Do you have any question about how to use You Need A Budget? Let me know if the comments!

Easy budgeting for your bills

Bills

If you spend time each month “paying bills” like they show on TV, you may be doing it wrong. We’ve set up a system so getting the mail is actually fun again.

What did we do? We automated it and here’s how you can do it too.

Find all the bills that you pay monthly that stay the same amount or can be put on a budget to make them the same each month. Some examples include cell phone, cable, internet, natural gas, electricity, mortgage, car insurance, and life insurance.

Take the monthly amount for these bills and add them together. You then multiply it by 12 to get the yearly total of the bills. After you’ve woke up from the shock, divide that total by the number of paychecks you get in year. Check out this example.

Cell phone – $50
Internet – $35
Natural Gas – $70
Monthly Total – $50 + $35 + $70 = $155
Yearly Total – $155 * 12 = $1860
Paycheck Amount (bi-weekly) – $1860 / 26 = $72 (rounded up)

You now know how much you need to hold out of each paycheck to pay the bills you’ve selected. Now, what do you do with that money?

I’ve talked before about being a fan of online banks. The reason I’m such a fan is because of the flexibility. I can start a new account in a matter of minutes without having to go into the bank. On top of that, they’ll mail me a debit card. That being said, the next step is to start a separate account to use to pay these monthly bills.

You’ll need to fund the account with one month’s worth of money so you aren’t overdrawn. In the example above, that would be $155 that you would put in on the first of the month. If you don’t have that much extra, you can always start with fewer bills and add more later as you get the funds.

After funding your account for the month, you’ll need to set up automatic transfers (online banks also make this very easy) to occur the day after you get paid for the Paycheck Amount you calculated. This will make sure that the money for your bills is not spent on other things when it shouldn’t be.

Finally, you need to set up bill pay for each of the places that need to be paid. You can either do that through their website using the debit card or routing and account number for your account, or you can use the bill pay service provided by your bank.

That’s it! While it may sound like a complicated process, it’s actually very easy to do and definitely worth the trouble. When we’re away on vacation, I don’t worry if the bills will be paid on time. If a bill amount ever changes, we rerun the math and update the amount that gets transferred each month to our bills account. (Hint: Using spreadsheet software makes calculating the Paycheck Amount very easy when it needs to change.)

What do you think? Are you ready to automate a bit of your life? Leave your comments below to let me know what you think. If you have any questions, you can leave those there as well.

Bonus: If you’d like to get started using this method and need a little help, send me a note through the contact page and I’ll help you get started!

Featured Image courtesy of nuttakit / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Saving Money for Non-Budgeters

SavedPlus

Everyone wants to save money, but some people don’t have the discipline to “pay themselves first”. If you don’t balance your checkbook or put away a set amount of money with each paycheck, then SavedPlus might be a simple solution to help you save money without having to change your habits.

The way it works is simple. You choose a savings percentage between 5-20% that you want to save with every purchase you make. Then as you spend, that extra percentage gets moved from your checking to savings account. So, if you set your percentage to 10% and go to the grocery store and spend $75, an extra $7.50 will be moved to your savings account. You can change the percentage from the mobile app or web site whenever you’d like as well as check your account balances and set up goals.

To keep you from pulling too much from your checking, you can also set up a maximum transaction amount so that it doesn’t save an extra 5% of that new flat screen purchase as an example. In addition, you can choose to exclude single transactions if you want. To keep you from overdrawing your account, you can also set up a minimum balance for your checking account so that it stops transferring money if your balance gets too low.

In order to use this service, you give your checking and savings account information along with your debit and credit card info so it can catch all of your transactions and move the money from your checking to savings. How much does it cost to use this service? Nothing. It’s free. You don’t have to open any accounts with them since they use the accounts you already have.

For those of you who balance your checking account and keep close tabs on what you spend, this may not be for you. It would drive me crazy to try to keep track of the extra transactions. But for those who keep track of what is in their checking account by just looking at the balance occasionally, then this may be a perfect way to starting putting away some extra money for a rainy day or retirement.

For more information, you can check out their site, the FAQs, and the How It Works page.

Potential Savings: I haven’t personally used this service, but it seems to be getting some attention. According to their website, average users save $350 a month or $4200 a year. That’s quite a bit of coin for not having to change your habits.

How to Make Christmas Last All Year Long

Loan Featured

Loan 1Loan FeaturedLoan 3Loan 4If your holiday season is anything like ours, it usually involves putting up holiday decorations, trying to figure out what to get people, and running all over to our different Christmas obligations. It seems crazy at the time, but then the day after Christmas life kind of goes back to normal and it’s a little sad that it’s all over. Well, if you want to be reminded of Christmas all year long, I’ve got the perfect solution!

You can now walk on down to your friendly neighborhood banking institution and get a holiday loan. For the low, low interest rate of 12%, you can be reminded of the times you had and the things you bought during the Christmas season every month when you write your check to the bank or credit union.

Maybe you thought you just stepped into the twilight zone. This blog is still about saving money and getting a loan of any kind is NOT the best way to save for anything. Just about the time you would get this wonderful holiday loan paid off, it will be time for Christmas once again. Since you won’t have any money next year since you used it to pay back the loan, you’ll be stuck in the same situation next year. Never fear, holiday loan to the rescue!

I’ve got a better plan and it will work even if you haven’t been saving all year. Although it may require some…wait for it…SACRIFICE! If money is tight this year, try out the tips below.

  • Determine who you need to buy gifts for. Sorry, but this year, the postman, hairdresser, and the neighbor’s kids won’t be getting anything from you. You might even want to cut out nephews, nieces, cousins, brothers and sisters. If you have kids of your own, you’re siblings might welcome not having to purchase anything for them if you don’t purchase anything for their kids in exchange. Just tell them “instead of buying stuff for each other’s kids, why don’t you take the money and spend it on your kids since you probably know what they like better anyhow.”
  • Are you crafty? Ever heard of Pinterest? This could save you quite a bit and the gift will probably mean a lot more since you put your time into it.
  • Create a Christmas budget. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Just determine how much you can safely spend on Christmas this year without throwing your financial world into chaos or causing you to accrue debt. Then write down how you’ll divide that money between everyone on your list. This might be a good opportunity to find additional people you won’t be shopping for.
  • Don’t buy things for yourself when you see a deal! Pretty easy to say, not always as easy to do.
  • If things are really tight, just be honest with family and friends. They will most likely be understanding and may even be grateful that they don’t have to shop for you. You might even find that others are in the same situation, but were just afraid to say it. If nothing else, just going to Christmas events with family and friends is oftentimes all they’re really hoping for.
  • Start saving for next year! If you thought you could afford paying back that Christmas loan (which has a payment of a little over $106 a month), then you should be able to stash that money in a savings account so you’re ready for next year. You won’t just have $1200, but more like $1280. It might take some discipline, but if you can schedule it to come out of each paycheck, then you can make your discipline automatic.

The holiday season can be stressful enough as it is, don’t add to it by doing something you’ll regret the rest of the year.