You’ve Got a Budget, Now What?

A budget doesn’t help you unless you use it. Much is said about making a budget, but what do you with one after you’ve got it?

Doug and I sat down together this weekend since it was the end of the month, and we looked at our budget and spending. It didn’t take much time, because there shouldn’t be any surprises.

Here is what we discussed:

1. We didn’t go anywhere because it was so cold outside, so my gas expenses were down.

2. I think our food costs are high. Doug says to keep it the same, because he likes our food and we don’t go out often.

3. There’s a dentist bill I don’t like very much. Moving on…

4. With spring coming, what do our wardrobes look like? Can last year’s clothes make it through the end of this summer? Does anyone need shoes?

5. We made a decision that it’s time to replace our old car. Our old car is twelve years old, and our “new” car is eleven years old. We plan to buy one with cash and avoid debt, so we talked about what kind to buy and how much we can afford.

When looking at a budget, whether it’s for you or it’s you and a spouse, there are a few key concepts to keep in mind:

Add grace to your budget.

There are bound to be accidents and mistakes. How do you categorize them? We literally have a line item in our budget called Grace. It helps us to not be mad when one of us does something wrong. (Read more about adding grace to your budget.)

There will be expenses you don’t like.

Chalk them up to the “cost of living.” Acknowledge them, but don’t dwell on them.

Plan your actions for next month.

Your budget needs to be tweaked from month to month. What will you try to do differently, and what purchases do you plan to make?

A budget isn’t supposed to make you feel trapped or constrained. It’s not there to make you feel bad. It isn’t something you use to pick fights with your husband. It isn’t someone standing over you questioning your every expense.

It’s a planning tool, and it’s yours. It’s there to put you in the driver’s seat so you don’t have to wonder where your money went at the end of the month. It’s there to help. Use it.

If you had a budget previously but it’s been a while since you looked at it, pull it out and take a look. Don’t feel like you need to catch up with receipts from six months ago. It’s a new month and you can start fresh!

Do you have questions or need help? Let’s share help in the comments.

About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.

Comments

  1. I like the ideas of adding grace to your budget (even listing it as a line item!) and chalking some expenses up to the cost of living. We recently had a hospital stay that was not “budgeted for,” so it will be paid for out of our emergency fund. But it was money well worth spending for our son’s health care.

    Our cars are 16 and 14 years old, and we are excited about getting a “newer car” that’s about 14 years old, but has only 70,000 miles on it and has been well maintained. I wonder if someday we we actually own a car that was made in the 21st century :).

    We are spending more now on rent, but consider the fact that living in a much more walkable, family-friendly community is worth it.

    Jenni @ Life from the Roof´s last post…Freezer Cooking

  2. We went through Dave Ramsey’s financial peace the year we got married and have stuck to a budget off and on since then. Last night we sat down and looked over things again. My goal for March is to really stick to the envelopes. We got our tax return so I’m going to buy some things that will help us save money in the long run like more cloth diapers, cloth training pants, a toaster/convection oven. Meal planning is also the goal for March. Sticking to the budget is the hardest part. Not planning ahead makes cooking hard. Not doing laundry makes it seem like we have no clothes. If I plan ahead better we spend less money.

    Tara´s last post…Thoughts on music

  3. We keep our expenses to less than 55% of our income, and we save about 35% in various places- IRA, mutual fund, and savings accounts for house, car, taxes and vacation. But I worry since a lot of these savings accounts will be spent, say when the time comes for house repairs or our next car, that we aren’t saving enough. And we’ve recently decided that I’m going to go to college, so I worry about how we’re going to have to adjust our budget to work with this new expense. We don’t have any debt besides our mortgage, so I’m really terrified of the eventual fact of student loan debt. I’m going to take on extra hours at work and we’re adjusting our savings a little bit to reallocate some to school funds, but that will probably only take care of my first year or two at the community college before I’ll definitely need help paying for university. I’m sure we’ll figure it out, but it’s a bit scary to think about.

    Jessica´s last post…Weekend Roundup

    • Jessica, you will be just fine. The same discipline you have now will carry into future years, and you don’t need to worry. Ten years ago I was much more concerned about every single expense. And even though being so careful back then has put me in a good position now, I still wish I could go back and tell myself that the dollar amounts weren’t quite so big as they seemed to be and I didn’t need to worry quite so much.

  4. Great advice. I find that every time we look over our budget we lose any feelings of being deprived. It is motivation to keep on trucking towards our ultimate goal of paying cash for land.

  5. Last month I mentally beat myself up over a $30 parking ticket. No matter how careful you are, life happens. Thanks for the reminder. I’ll be adding in some Grace to my theoretical budget
    :-)

    • I wish I could go back a few years and tell myself not to worry so much about the time my car got towed. The fine was $110, but now it seems small compared to the anxiety and stress I had over it.

  6. We are now doing Dave Ramsey’s Zero balance budgeting and I have to say I like it very much. I have always had a budget. Nothing fancy, just a simple spread sheet to put all the fix income/expenses on. I make 12 sheets each year and just adjust the numbers when the current month is in use. I agree with your grace point. I didn’t have it before, but now I do plan to leave room for some fun money without feeling guilty.

    Ourlives´s last post…Blogging Anniversary

  7. Awesome! I am really proud of you. You are doing a great job, and you are an inspiration to others!

    Mrs. Money´s last post…How Much Money are we Spending?

  8. I really like this way of budgeting. Much more down to earth, practical. It has to fit the family, and their style and this is pretty similar to how my husband and I approach things. Sometimes I think the idea of having a budget feels like such a huge deal to people, but it really isn’t. It’s just resource management. Thanks for the post!

    Vina´s last post…Go Ahead, Let Motherhood Re-Define You

  9. Looking into mint.com – just wondering if it’s okay for a “free” company to have all that info. Anyone use it?

    • I haven’t tried it because our current system (excel spreadsheets) works for us, but a friend of mine does financial coaching and she is always preaching about how great it is. It supposed to be very secure and useful! Sorry I don’t have first-hand experience, though :(

      Anna´s last post…A Great New Pair of Jeans!

    • I use Mint and really like it. The only problem I’ve had is that ING won’t allow them to pull your balance info, so I have to keep an eye on our savings accounts separately. But that is on ING’s side, not Mint’s

      Jessica´s last post…School Daze

      • Brigitte says:

        ING has since fixed this, but Wells Fargo has not. Even so, Mint wasn’t customizable enough for me–and there’s no forcasting. I found it very clunk and frustrating. I prefer Quicken’s software instead, it allows me to track my bills, input them automatically for the ones that are recurring, and see what’s left to budget from there.

  10. It’s encouraging to see other people who want to be diligent with their money. Sometimes I feel like the odd ball out amidst my coworkers who eat out every night and fly somewhere every other weekend.

    We’re hopefully moving into a place where rent will cost 40% less than it used to…all thanks to Dave Ramsey and us wanting to get out of debt for good! Now I need to read some more simplifying articles…

    Kait Palmer´s last post…Wardrobe Challenge Days 38-40 & Come Together Now

  11. My husband and I spent the weekend setting up a budget at pearbudget.com. Today is our first day living within it. We have always had just enough to be comfortable without much worry. But our son’s tuition doubles soon.

    Anyway, I have been worrying about those things that don’t fit into a category or that seem frivolous. I love your idea of GRACE as a budget line. When I read it, I hard myself sigh. I am going to add that right away.

    Emily from ReadyToWait.com´s last post…Pomegranate green tea

  12. Thanks for the tips. I think that the adding grace to your budget is important. For our budget we have a $100/month “just in case” budget that basically covers unexpected things that might come up. We also give ourselves weekly allowances which we can do whatever we want with.

    Thanks again!

    Sarah Sarniak´s last post…Easy and Cheap DIY Sawhorse

  13. Adding grace to your budget — that’s the best suggestion I’ve heard in a long time!

    Our current budget has dr. and dental bills in it that we’re not too fond of but because of them we’re healthy.

    Nancy´s last post…menu plan monday ~ the restaurant copy cat edition

    • Just last week I was frustrated about spending four hours at the doctor’s office, but then I had to remind myself that anyone in Haiti would be thankful for any care. I could no longer gripe after that.

  14. I like this reminder. We live on so little that every penny we spend has a consequence. Sometimes it’s hard not to get upset with each other. I was planning on using our tax refund to pad our monthly budgets with a little more forgiveness. I like the way you put it though. Thanks!

    Frances´s last post…Craving Smoked Mozzarella Fonduta

  15. Thanks for the reminder! The “grace” line is a must-have… in the past 2 months, we’ve had so many instances where we needed that “grace” – hoping the upcoming months are a bit quieter. :)

    One thing that we’ve recently tried and has worked for us is that we each get a small cash allowance each month that we can spend however we choose – meals out, frivolous things, etc. This means that my husband (who never checks our online budget unless I nag him like crazy) can be in charge of his own little “allowance”, and that I don’t have to worry about him (or us, actually) overspending on meals out or other things, and then we can focus on saving!

    • We have those discretionary allowances too, and they really help me. Then when Doug wants to buy something (like a new book or something fun) that I wasn’t planning on, I know where to put it in the budget. It helps me to stop trying to be so controlling, since I’m the one who looks at the budget more than he does.

  16. My husband and I also sit down together at the end of each month to go over the last month’s budget and plan for the coming month. We call it our “Weiford Family Business Meeting” ha! We have a line item also just labeled “Grace” that catches things like last-minute birthday gifts or a prescription if one of us gets sick. I tend to be uber-controlling with our finances and I working on pouring out God’s grace in times when money is so stressful. While saving is good, hording money is not and that’s really what I do. It’s good to let go a LITTLE sometimes.

    Anna M.´s last post…A Great New Pair of Jeans!

  17. I have only lately started budgeting and taking more serious control over money issues. I have no grace line in the budget so far, but in case I happen to receive a parking fine or such, I make myself think it as some little money given for a good cause as if it was a donation willingly made. Then I do not blame myself _too_ much after all.

  18. Slackerjo says:

    Years ago I had a vague, in my head budget, and it did not really work. Bills got paid and I had money to spend, but there was no structure to the system and I was definitely not saving any money. I was going to the bank machine 2-3 week taking out $40, $60, $80 here and there, not really tracking my expenses. About 12 years ago I created a budget on paper and I switched to the envelope system and ever since that, all my money worries have disappeared. I have no debt, an emergency fund and a modest retirement fund. All this on a modest income. It can be done.

    So now that you have a budget, relax. I’ll be relaxing in The Hague in May when I visit my brother.

  19. We do a budget every other week because that is how we are paid. Is it better to do one every month instead?

    We have been very strict over the last year, as we have been trying to eliminate my student loan. So every little “extra” thing that turns up makes me feel guilty. I need to give us some grace. Thanks for the post. :)

    Rachel´s last post…Oreo Ice Cream Cups

    • No, it’s whatever works for you. I think most people tend to do monthly budgets because their biggest bills (rent or mortgage, credit card, electricity, etc.) are monthly.

  20. Budgeting has never really worked for me, as I tend to purchase things when they’re on sale. If it’s a food item that’s a great price, I may get a huge quantity, throwing any sort of budget completely out of whack. My system (and my husband goes along for the ride) is simply to enter all income/expenses into Quicken. I have a rough idea of approximately how much I would like to spend in each category. Some months it will go over, and some months it will go under. I am really most interested in the bottom line at the end of the month, and I can compare different months, including how we did during the prior year’s period. I find this flexibility works really well for us.

    mother necessity´s last post…Somebody Stop Me….

  21. I am a longtime reader and first-time commenter — let me start by saying that I love your blog! I too have a “grace” line item in my budget (or rather a dedicated savings account). I call it my “Oops Fund” because I do a number of boneheaded things through the year. Last year, I accidentally scheduled a return flight on the wrong day and had to pay to change it. This year, I had a ginormous cell phone bill from too much texting. Hopefully next year I can move from “oops” to “grace” for more reasonable unexpected expenses!

  22. Ah, Budgeting. My best friend. Living with no revolving credit, it is not the debt, it is the paycheck to paycheck habit that is so damaging. I need to use the grace to guard my tounge so that I don’t flay my husband, or myself, for spending to the end and not allowing a savings.

  23. I like the idea of building grace (or the “oops” factor) into one’s budget. If you don’t end up needing this you can keep carrying it over for a bigger need or want. One way I try and build grace into my budget is that when we have extra $ come in (ie. our tax return), after tithing on it we’ll use even a small amount to buy something we want for our home or the kids… something my kids have been saving for, say, and could use some help with. This year, I will use some of it to buy stainless steel snack containers and buy a new bike for my teenage son. The rest will complete our emergency fund. My kids receive a small allowance each month and my “allowance” is a Tim Horton’s $20 coffee card/month :) Small luxuries help keep us on track and willing to spend carefully overall.

  24. Having a budget definitely puts my mind at ease. I know what bills are on the horizon, I know what income is on the horizon, and I know what other money we have to ‘play’ with. By ‘play’ with, I don’t really mean ‘play’ like go on vacation or anything, but more what we can spend a little extra on, like shoes or clothing or an occasional meal out. It keeps us in touch with our money, which keeps us in check, which definitely reduces stress.

    Farmer Gal´s last post…El-eh-va-tion

  25. I’m glad you say there are bills you just don’t like. I have an earthquake insurance bill annually that just bugs the pee-waddle out of me.

    Moving on…

    Meredith from Penelope Loves Lists´s last post…Organizing in a pretty pink place: girly office supplies

  26. Last month, we switched back to a mostly cash-based budget (which we also did when we were getting out of debt several years ago). It’s amazing to see the difference in my husband when he can literally look in a drawer and know how much money we have left for the two weeks. It makes something like me suggesting we eat out for dinner much more pleasant.

    Sally Parrott Ashbrook´s last post…Six Days Without Sugar

  27. I read one of Dave Ramsey’s books two years ago and have been using the envelope system and budgeting ever since. Because I’m a spreadsheet fanatic, my version of adding grace to the budget is to have about 15 sinking funds for things that come up sometimes (some expected, some not). Doctor and dentist bills, haircuts, school tuition, car repairs — all the things that don’t come up monthly, but you have to assume will come up now and then. Occasionally there are other surprises (this month was a doozy — I miscalculated our self-employment tax and got hit with $1000 tax bill I wasn’t expecting) but now that we paid off our last debt (husband’s student loan) and have an emergency fund up to 4Kish, that one won’t cause us to break out the credit cards. I was just gloomy for a couple days in frustration. All the sinking funds add to nearly 5K after two years of preparation, so they can act as a backup emergency fund if something really bad comes up.

    Amy F´s last post…16w4d: GTT, sinus infection

  28. Great article!! We use a simple excel spreadsheet to track expenses every month and although we don’t have a line for “grace” we tend to build it in in a number of places.

    We also have hobby accounts for my husband and I, so we each have our own pot of money to be free with. And another thing we have started doing lately to encourage saving is that when we come out ahead of budget at the end of the month we put half of the surplus directly into savings and split the other half between us as hobby money. It has been working wonders at rewarding us for thinking twice about that dinner out or extra “treat” at the grocery store!

  29. It’s interesting how differently people look at money; when I have cash in my hand I just want to spend it! I personally don’t budget on paper. While I think always having a good snapshot of your finances is crucial through Mint or something similar, I tend to follow David Bach’s method of paying yourself first (automating your savings and bill payments), and paying attention to the frequent little expenses that add up and learn to minimize them (latte factor). I would be the worst at trying to keep cash in different envelopes each month. As long as I set aside savings and necessary expenses first, it’s easy to decide what to do with the rest. Budgeting is similar to dieting in my opinion: counting calories works for some, but not others. In addition, you don’t have to “diet” to eat healthy foods.

  30. excellent, post, as always!
    we live frugally and i write a lot about it, both on my blog and for our local examiner. i just posted an article about where to start, but in the archives you can find an article about creating a budget. here is the link if anyone is interested.
    http://www.examiner.com/x-22477-Oakland-Frugal-Living-Examiner
    nicola
    http://whichname.blogspot.com

    nicola´s last post…february, in review. march, looking ahead.

  31. My husband and I also had to sit down and look at our budget due to him losing his job, and I think everyone needs to do it once in a while. Sometimes you have no idea what you are spending unless you sit down, uninterrupted, and go over it. We actually found that there were so many things we could cut back on and we barely notice – I love looking at my budget now. It used to scare me, but it really helps keep things managed and stress-free! Good article!

    Shannon´s last post…Groupon…

  32. I haven’t got a budget working right now but I use another system, which I guess is similar to the envelope one. I have accounts with one bank for my expenses, pocket money and something in particular, which is currently driving lessons. Then I have online saving accounts with a different bank so that if I do dip into my savings, it takes about three days for the money to get to my account. I’m saving for a housing deposit and a car, and I have an emergency fund. Excessive, perhaps but when I log in to view my day-to-day finances with the first bank I can’t physically see or access my savings with the second bank. To help my savings and to curb any “naughty” spending I keep a change jar, and I have a savings goal of $200 a month and I allow myself a treat every month, currently a magazine.

  33. I have really enjoyed your post today. My husband and I have been married for 15 wonderful years. We have always had a “budget”, but truly the only real guideline seemed to be that neither of us would spend more than $50 without consulting the other.

    As of November of last year, we have a budget in place and we have been sticking to it faithfully. The Lord has truly blessed our decision and has allowed us to already pay off a nice chunk of debt. We are hoping to be free by the end of this year (other than our mortgage, which we see as “acceptable debt”, but plan to tackle next).

    Budgets are tough at times and there are frustrations involved with waiting on things when the budget simply doesn’t allow for them, but oh, the rewards!

    Great reminder for why a budget is essential.

    Susan´s last post…Painted Flower Pots

  34. I use You Need A Budget. It is structured enough to be a zero-based budget but flexible enough that we can roll with what happens. It works really well for us. http://www.youneedabudget.com