The first time I started a budget I did it all wrong. I started with our monthly income, subtracted mortgage, utilities, car payments and credit card payments. Imagine how happy I was to find money left over! Hooray! We had money to spare after paying all of our bills! Little did I know, I was doing this totally wrong, and it’s part of the reason we stayed in debt for so long. When I saw that we had money left after paying our bills, I thought we were doing pretty good. In this post I want to discuss my three major budgeting mistakes. Why instead of having money leftover, I should have ended up with a total of $0. Unfortunately, most people are making the same mistakes I did. Let’s review what these mistakes are and talk about what you can do to change them.
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I did an entire post about major items people often forget in their budgets. In this post, I am going to break them down a little bit more and tell you exactly how to fix them. When I first started my budget, I accounted for all of our monthly bills, payments and memberships. That’s great; I definitely got started on the right track, however, I shouldn’t have just stopped the budgeting there. I had still left out two major aspects of my monthly spending:
As a teenager, I had learned how to balance my checkbook. Naturally, I had assumed budgeting these for gas and groceries would mean just keeping track of how much I spent on them. When I went to the store, I would subtract what I spent from my total “leftover money” for the month. The problem was, we were often out of money by the middle of the month. This was happening because I didn’t make any sort of plan for grocery or gas money. Because I had no spending limitation, I didn’t think twice about how much I spent during any grocery store trip nor did I pay attention to how much I was driving.
How was I supposed to budget for these items when they were never consistent and changed from week to week?
By the time we had moved into our “big house” (you can read about our downsize here) I had already built up a big client base for my photography business. Moving into a bigger house meant bigger studio space, more clients and a bigger income. The major, major problem was that I didn’t manage this money wisely at all! This is terrible if you own your own business and terrible when it comes to creating a budget for your family.
Because Tom had a consistent, full time income we just based our bills off of his income and considered any money I made “fun money” that we could spend however we wanted. So bad.
Often times, I was making so much “fun money” that I would take a $1,000 and put it toward my student loans. We would plan last minute all inclusive vacations and purchase brand new furniture without batting an eye. At church, I would grab wads of cash from my wallet and throw them in the offering plate. This may sound great in theory, but really we were causing ourselves to drown because we didn’t make a plan for any of this spending. Even if we had good intentions.
How do you plan for an inconsistent income?
Dave Ramsey says one thing you can expect from life is the unexpected. You know at some point you car is going to give out on you. It’s common knowledge that your washing machine won’t last forever. This means that no mishaps in life should be surprising to you. They are expected to happen. Are you planning for them? Things like:
We were barely setting aside money for savings let alone planning for these things to happen. But they did. The truth is, it’s hard to put money aside for something you currently can’t see. Planning for the future is tough when all you see is the present. In fact, studies have shown just how damaging this can be. Read my post all about it. Starting to be financially wise now is the best way to ensure a financially stable future.
How do you plan for what you can’t yet see?
Where there are problems, there are solutions! No need to worry. It may take some getting used to but there are definitely fixes to these major budgeting mistakes.
In order to start budgeting for things like gas and groceries, you are going to need to go through your last 3 months of spending and add up how much you spent on each. You will then take the total amount spent over 3 months and divide that number by 3 to get the average amount spent. So it will look a little something like this:
Do this separately for gas and groceries to get your individual amounts. Now you know your average total for each of these areas. This is also a great way to take notice if you are spending way too much in one of these areas. **Don’t forget to include restaurants, fast food and coffee stops as a part of your grocery budget!**
Now that you have these totals, you can sit down and do a $0 based budget. You can use the simple budget in my Fun Sized Budget Bundle along with my other budget and finance printouts or try Dave Ramsey’s EveryDollar app. It’s a $0 based budget app that you can easily do online or from your phone.
Getting started with a $0 based budget, you must add up all your monthly expenses and be sure to include your new gas and grocery amounts. Once you have added up all your expenses, how do they compare to your monthly income?
If you have added up all of your expenses and find yourself having more expenses than money coming in, then it’s time to take action! Here are the next steps to take:
Truth be told, you may have already cut the cable, you eat for cheap and rarely drive yet still find yourself coming up short. Chances are this is due in large part to your debts. My biggest recommendation is taking advantage of multiple free credit analysis reports. CuraDebt and the Credit Assistance Network both offer free reports. Because they both offer different services, it is a wise idea to see what each of them has to offer you. This well help you better understand your credit and help you take steps in managing it and paying it off.
You could also get started with the Debt Snowball method that my family and I used to pay off $6,000 in 6 months.
Paying off credit card debt and still being able to pay for your bills can be a draining experience and it very well may be that your best bet is to find additional sources of income. If you are being as frugal as possible but still can’t manage to squeak by, the best option (and possible only option) is to start looking for ways to make some extra cash.
There are really so many great ways to make an additional income these days. Sometimes it just takes a little creativity.
If you have money left over after accounting for your bills, gas and groceries you are off to a good start! Here are some other expenses you may not have considered:
If you haven’t started yet, it is super important that you start building a savings! Having an emergency account in place is a wise safety net to have when unexpected expenses pop up. I will talk about starting an emergency fund a little later. Besides an emergency account, here are other things to consider if you find yourself with money leftover:
If you are bringing in additional part time income, like I do, here are some ideas on how to better manage it.
The number one thing that doesn’t work when you are making an inconsistent income is jumping the gun. I would have photography clients booked for the entire month, so I would add up how much money I would be bringing in. This is not a bad idea. It’s good to be prepared and know what money you potentially have coming your way. That way, you could make a successful plan for it. That’s not what I did. Instead, I planned on that money coming in and would spend it prematurely. I bet you can guess what happened next. You know it… those clients would cancel or have to reschedule. So many times I spent money before I had it and then we’d be left scrambling to stay afloat.
Planning ahead does work. Keep track of money you have coming in and start making plans for where you want it to go. It’s very important that you do not spend it before it comes in! A wise idea would be having a separate account for your extra income. By doing this, you can keep your additional income separate from your main source of income. At the end of the month, decide where you want to spend or save this money. Do not spend it as soon as it is in your hand without having a plan first!
Do not let life’s little surprises surprise you. If you do not plan for unexpected events, then you will most likely find yourself blindsided and searching for money to help you get through it. Avoid this by planning far in advance. The best way to do this is by using an envelope system or Sinking Funds.
The first thing you’re going to want to do is get a list together of all the events coming up in the next year that you will need money for. Things like:
Now, get an envelope system together for these expenses. Christmas, for example, if you plan on spending $500 on gifts and events, you are going to want to figure out how much money you’ll need to set aside each month.
Once you have figured out how much you’ll need to set aside each month, give each category its own envelope and start breaking your expenses off into these envelopes each month.
After coming up with the list for things you know will happen, it’s time to come up with a plan for those little surprises. Since you never know which might surprise you, it’s important to get an emergency fund in place. This account should have a a minimum of $1,000 in it. See how you can do this. Leave this money in this account so that you are covered when unexpected events present themselves.
If you still have debts you are working toward paying off, it’s very important to still have this emergency fund in place. Having your emergency fund set up will prevent you from having to dig further into debt during hard times. Once you have your $1,000 in place, it’s time to shift your focus toward paying off your debt. Get a free debt consultation.
Once you have managed to tinker with your budget until you are at a $0 balance at the end of the month, give yourself a pat on the back. Working at maintaining a budget like this is actually a highly rewarding experience. You will find yourself having more money…even if you don’t actually have more money.
Taking the time to tell your money what to do can be a very liberating experience if you allow it to be. Creating a $0 based budget allows you to be more in charge of your money and your life. Which is just the way it should be!
Renee is the blogger behind The Fun Sized Life. After downsizing with her family, she also took the time to get serious about he finances. Now she is sharing the wealth with all of her readers.