Budgeting is a bitch. It really is. But it’s a necessary evil, especially if you have a family. Money comes in, money goes out. And you hope more is coming in than going out so you can save for your future financial goals. When it was just me and my husband, the pre-kids honeymoon phase, budgeting wasn’t nearly as hard. The bills were fewer, the expenses fairly limited, and we were perfectly happy living off our ramen budget.
Enter babies. And all the expensive gear and diapers babies bring along. And all of a sudden money became much more important. We suddenly had bigger financial goals to consider like saving for our kid’s future college expenses or taking a family vacation. Or moving into a bigger house (with a bigger mortgage payment). I had to find a system that worked for me and my family so I could track exactly what income we were bringing in and what we were spending our money on to meet those new goals.
I looked at all of the available apps out at the time (2011ish) and I wasn’t impressed. I ended up doing everything manually through excel. And though it wasn’t easy going in to each online account and tracking everything, it was effective. Eventually I found an app that I could at least see all of my transactions in one place and that made tracking our money infinitely easier. But when that app was discontinued I went on a hunt in the app store for yet another solution. And I finally found it. Mint.
Now, you are probably shaking your head saying DUH! MINT HAS BEEN AROUND FOR FOREVER! And you would be right. It was one of the apps I considered using years ago, but honestly it sucked back then. Sure it had a slick interface and it was easy to integrate your accounts in to, but the budgeting portion was lacking. There wasn’t enough levels of customization and it made it more work for me in the end. Thus my excel sheet was born.
But before I get in to how I use Mint to help track all of my families finances, let’s first dive in to some tips to get you started with budgeting for your family. First and foremost, if you are reading this then you are already ahead of most people because you are taking action on getting your money in order. The stats on how little most people have in their savings or their retirement plans is staggering to say the least. And getting your budget figured out is a huge first step to ease those issues.
My first tip to start your budget off right is to track your money. ALL OF THE MONEY. Every single cent coming and going. You would not believe how many people THINK they know how their money is being spent and when they finally sit down and track it they find a very different picture. Most are spending more than they think in the areas of food, coffee and entertainment. Those Starbucks runs really add up! But it’s hard to know because they are such small purchases. I’ll show you later how to track everything through Mint but you will basically be categorizing all of your transactions. Entertainment, utility bills, mortgage, car payment, kids, pets, personal care, etc. This will help make it easy to figure out where your money is heading.
Once you start tracking your money, it’s time to decipher the data. Bleh, data. I know…not fun. But you will start to see trends in your spending habits. Which will help you establish a realistic budget you can stick to. Let’s say you’ve been tracking your spending for three months and you are ready to set some budgets. You noticed that in the first month you spend $200 on entertainment, the second month you spent $300, and the third month you spent $100. I would suggest you set a budget for entertainment at $200 moving forward. This is a middle-of-the-row number that you can easily hit because you’ve done it before but it’s not so restrictive that you feel horrible about never having any fun ever again. After a few months at this budget number you can reevaluate to see if you can lower it any more to save more money. Challenge yourself but don’t restrict yourself. Otherwise you will never stick to it and will start to resent the whole exercise.
My next tip has to do with communicating all of this to other people in your home. It’s probably not just you who is contributing financially (or spending all that money!) so it’s important to be sure everyone is on the same page. I have regular conversations with my husband on where we are with the budget for the month. If I see we are getting out of hand in a particular category, I bring it up as a reminder. But NEVER as a way to point blame. It’s not about a particular purchase, it’s about the overall category number. I always recommend keeping these discussions category based and not item based because otherwise it can get touchy. People spend money differently and their priorities are different. If you can agree on a budget for a category then your conversation can be on that overall number and not about a particular purchase.
Hopefully this gives you a good start to getting your family’s budget rolling! I want to share with you my love for Mint but it’s easier to show you than to write about it. Check out the video below of a live chat I held in my private Facebook group. I go over the tips I mentioned above as well as do a quick walkthrough of the Mint app. It takes a little bit of setup work to get your categories lined up, but it is so worth it! I can go through my transactions while I’m waiting to pick up kids and I can check on my budgets in real-time. Very convenient!
Skip to 12:54 in the video to get straight to the Mint walkthrough.
I hope the video was helpful to get your budget up and ready to go! I’m always up for helping a mamma out so if you need anything then leave a comment or reach out and leave me a message!