Ready, Set, Budget!

A couple weeks ago I saw a a post on twitter that loosely said, “Who else does not budget and simply looks at their checking account to see what charges are there and how much money is left?”

For the love of all that is beautiful, if you do this please stop doing this.


Because this is the easiest was to spend unnecessarily and cause yourself avoidable stress.

I know that some people view impulse buying as a source of joy. Your brain gets a jolt of hormones when you buy something. The question is: Are you willing to break up with that self-sabotaging behavior?

Wouldn’t you love to be able to predict how much your bills will be and how much money you’ll have left over to save and spend?

Of course you would! If you answered, “No, the way I’m doing things now works just fine,” every ounce of my mother and teacher instincts wants to talk sense into you.

I understand that haphazard spending may be the only way that you know. It may be the only way everyone around you operates. That doesn’t mean that’s what you deserve. Tradition is not a reason to harm yourself.

You deserve better.

I understand that maybe you’ve heard people talk about budgeting but no one has thoroughly explained how to budget.

That’s why I’m here.

I have previously written about doing a no-spend month. Many people who encourage no-spend periods encourage doing a budget before the no spend period starts. My thought is that asking you to do this is meant to scare you straight and/ or inspire you to do the no spend period.

I waited until we’ve already started the no-spend month because I’m more concerned with looking at your previous spending and creating a budget to be purely informational and a starting point for the person you will be after you successfully complete the no-spend month.

In order to create a budget, you need to know what your expenses are. This is easy because your spending is currently bare bones.

First, I want you to do a victory lap.

Take a piece of paper and fold it in half vertically. Write “Pre No-Spend” and “Now.” You can also buy my book Bill Tracking and Budgeting For Exhausted People. This book has these exercises as well as additional tips and exercises in it. 

On that piece of paper or in your workbook, list your monthly expenses before no-spend. If you need assistance with this, look at your banking statements for the past 3-4 months. Some bills like your phone, electric, gas and some others fluctuate slightly. By looking at a few months you can get a better number for your budgeting. Use the highest number. Write every “bill” down; utilities and recurring payments. Do not write down shopping. Add up the total and circle it.

Next, list your bills after starting no-spend. Add up the total. Highlight all of the bills that appear on the first list but not on the second. Calculate the difference and highlight it as well. These are just the bills and not your total spending but you should have eliminated a decent amount of expenditures.

Insert victory lap here-> ->

Now you are ready to create a budget.

On you budget worksheet or on a new piece of paper write down all of your sources of income. If your income fluctuates, do the same as you did for bills but I want you to be more conservative. Look at your banking statements for the past 3-4 months. Use the lowest number. 

Transfer all of your bills from your bill tracker to your budget. Why do I want you to use the highest number for bills and the lowest number for income? Because that way you will not be surprised by not having enough money to cover unexpectedly high bills.

After you have accounted for your income and your bills, you need to take a preliminary total. Hopefully your income generously exceeds your bills. The amount of money left over after bills is the money you need to budget for all of your other expenses. 

“Other expenses” are not childcare, transportation (consistent public transportation expenses or car notes/ insurance), and any other recurring bills that you paid during no-spend. These should already be accounted for. Other expenses would include bills you have chosen to add back after no-spend. These could be hair and nail care, pet care and grooming, memberships and subscriptions. You also want to include allocations for food and gas. The best starting off point for these numbers is to look at your bank statement to see how much you spent on these during no-spend because these amounts should equal your bare necessity.* You may decide to add a little more to your food and gas budget or you may decide that you want to stick with these low costs in order to add money to another categories. Your monthly expenses should also include savings and miscellaneous expenses.

When you have finished adding all of your “other expenses,” your income minus expenses should be zero. Why zero? Because you don’t want to leave projected money on the table. You want to pre-determine how much “fun money” you have each month and any additional money should go to savings. One caveat is: If you have a fluctuating income and you used my method of using a high number for projected expenses and a low number for projected income, you may have extra money in your bank account each month. I like to move that money to savings each month.

If you have a budget shortfall and you are unable to allocate even $20 to savings or your expenses exceed your income, you need to look into ways to supplement your income.

The budget itself should not change every month. When filling out a budget worksheet each month, the expected variations are added expenses from splurges or unexpected expenses and hopefully additional income. You should keep track of these variances each month and reflect on them at the end of each month.

In my book Bill Tracking and Budgeting For Exhausted People, I explain howyou can write a one week and two week budget.

*if you are starting this budget before the end of no-spend, you can leave these two areas blank until the end of the month or look at these numbers halfway through the month and double it.

No Spend Rules

We’ve agreed that in February, we’re going to teach your brain to be excited about saving rather than being excited about spending.

We’re going to do a spending cleanse as it were. We’re only spend on things we absolutely must.

In order to only spend on things we absolutely must, we need to come to an agreement on what is a must-spend.

Go grab your lists of what *you think* is a need and a want. If you did not do this already, take a few minutes to create those lists before reading on.

So what is a must-spend? It’s simple, a must-spend is anything you MUST spend money on during a no-spend month. And extreme example would be if you had a tire blow-out or your car engine failed. Obviously, you need transportation. It would be unreasonable to simply not go to work the rest of the month because your car is inoperable.

What wouldn’t be a must-spend is something like new car seat covers or paying for a car wash. One could rationalize these are needs but they aren’t. If you can’t wash your car yourself for a month because of some difficulty, your car needs to go unwashed for the month.

So in this car washing example, what happens if you have a subscription to a carwash like I do? You need to cancel that subscription immediately. After 30 days, you may find a free way to get your car washed that works for you or you may decide that crashing is a necessity for you.

Your must-spends may be slightly different than someone else’s but there are some serious parameters that need to be seriously pondered 

So what are examples of must-spends?

Household bills- mortgage/rent, car note, car insurance, electricity bill, water bill, etc

Basic groceries- food needed to prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner (and reasonable snacks) at home. Snacks are especially important if you have to maintain a certain nutrition level each day. Snacks are also important if they will prevent you from impulse buying snacks.

Basic toiletries and pet items- toiletries needed to for your day to day activities. By all means- buy toilet paper and deodorant! if you usually buy expensive toiletries or pet brands because of glamour and not out of honest necessity, replace those brands with generic equivalents.

Gas- to drive to and from work. If you do not have a car and normally take public transportation or some other form of transportation, that expense will replace gas. Gas is a little tricky because you need to decide if you want to allow yourself a reasonable amount of gas expense for your free recreation or not. You may also choose to use the no-spend month to eliminate commuting expenses altogether by walking or biking.

Medical expenses- by that we mean necessary medical expenses. Obviously this does not mean choosing whether to get a broken arm treated or choosing between taking an ambulance to the hospital or not.

other bills that sneak into the “must-spends” are bills that have a contract agreement that would cost you a large sum to cancel early such as a cable bill that is under contract. 

Not allowed-

Excess household bills– membership fees for gyms, recurring music and video subscriptions of any kind

Excess food– buying 2 gallons of ice cream, 7 bags of chips and various candies is not in the spirit of no-spend. Buying expensive cuts of meat or premium brands of foods that have generic equivalents is not in the spirit of no-spend. If you need bags of chips for your work lunch and snack, this is a great time to try generics. Remember- you are doing this for yourself; don’t cheat yourself.

Unnecessary toiletries and pet items- I have heard of people using store-bought personal items to replace salon treatments during no-spend. Let’s be honest; boxed hair color and store-bought acrylic nails are about vanity for the vast majority of us. I have worked jobs that require a standard of appearance. Can you do your natural nails for a month and google alternatives to hair color with household items that you already have for one month? After your no-spend month, you may find that you can use at-home alternatives to your salon treatments. 

Excess gas- this would include deciding to take a 30 minute plus roadtrip to a free place for entertainment. This is not in the spirit of no-spend. Try closer things to do.

Unnecessary Medical expenses- This does mean choosing not to participate in any free recreation that might cause you to break an arm or leg. This is not the month to start ice skating for the first time or to go rock climbing. Unnecessary risks can lead to unnecessary expenses. This is also not the month to get a breast augmentation or even a new pair of prescription glasses; it can wait.

Dining out of any kind- this if you simple MUST choose the least expensive item(s) available to meet your nutrition needs. Definitely no dining out if you are able to prepare your food. Remember- you are doing this for yourself; don’t cheat yourself.

Coffee or any other beverages out 

Entertainment expenses– this include even a dollar movie. In the spirit of no-spend, don’t ask people to pay for you.

Clothes shopping

All salon expenses for yourself, your defendants and your pets

Prepare for the unexpected expenses.

The whole point of no-spend is to teach you that you can live with less so that you have money for unexpected expenses; emergency car and home repairs and even a cute blouse you want.

If you have an unexpected expense such as a flat tire, do you have the savings now? What will you do if you car breaks down during no-spend? Will you abandon the goal or will you find a way to make it work? Decide now.

What will you do if you break the heel on your favorite shoe or you mess up the manicure you planned on maintaining for your no-spend month? Decide now how you will handle these unexpected problems in a way that does not include spending. Broken nails and shoes are not emergencies. Roots growing out is not an emergency.

 Tell yourself, “Nothing sexier than saving.” No spend takes discipline. Not spending money is free.

If you do this for a month…if you really commit to changing your paradigm about spending money… if you alter what you believe is a need and what is a want for 28 days, you will find saving money gratifying.

All month while we aren’t spending, I’ll write about ways to spend less when you go back to spending.

Tackle Those Boxes of Photos

Today, let’s talk pictures! I know many people don’t bother printing pictures anymore but if you are of a certain age, maybe you’re like ma and you’re dedicated to having tangible pictures. Or you may have old pictures just sitting in boxes.

I have at least 7 boxes of pictures in varying sizes. This weekend, I addressed all of my 4 by 6 and wallet sized prints. I grabbed some of these photo storage boxes on sale, of course, and got busy!

To the right is all of my photo storage boxes piled on the floor.

I love these because they are one large box that incapsulates a bunch of smaller boxes. I treat mine much like a file folder on a computer. I have one large box with that I have used to file all of our family pictures. For my family’s privacy, I didn’t photo my sorting process and I’m not showing the box with our pictures but I’ll walk you through the process.

One cardboard box at a time, I sorted through all of our pictures. I made piles of pictures that had each of my children alone. I made another pile for pictures with one or more of them together or with us. I was on the fence about pictures f one of use with one child. Where would you put those?

I made piles for pictures of my husband and myself alone and us together. Then piles of pictures of us with extended family and friends.

All mixed in with those pictures were various pictures I took of scenery while we were on family trips, pictures of different home improvement projects, pictures of various crafting projects and pictures from my elaborate theme parties. I made different piles for all of these.

You may not need as many piles as I did but the more pictures you have, the more piles you will need because the boxes can only hold so much. Along those lines, I have about 4 small boxes of pictures for each child. So for now, I separated their childhood pictures from their senior pictures; senior portraits, senior awards, graduation day and graduation party pictures. All the senior pictures went in one box so that I can find them easily and I promised myself that when I’m bored one day I’ll go back ad sort each child’s pictures by age. (I’ll do it! I love organizing)

I decided one large box would be all family pictures because we have so many. The second large box is miscellaneous pictures. I took all of my piles, put them in the small boxes, made labels on my Cricut, and put the labels on the boxes.

One last note: The reason I separated the family box and the miscellaneous box is because separating is not organization. You know you are organizing when you can find what you need without searching. I know if I need a picture of a child, I can grab the family box. To that end, I put the children little boxes in birth order and I put all of their boxes together. If I just put the boxes anywhere, The pictures would be hard to find.

Prepping For Frugal February

Spending releases endorphins. Whether you realize it or not, you may be dependent on frivolous spending to give you pleasure in life. Some of you are keenly aware that you are using spending to tickle your brain but you refuse to break up with one of the few things that bring you joy.

I get it! It’s been a hard couple years.

But do you know what feels better than spending money? And even better than any temporary fix?

The long-term gratification of having money for your needs AND wants coupled with less stress because you have money when a necessary expense comes up.

I know! I know! We’re all used to millionaires talking down to us telling us to stop being poor. that’s not what I’m doing at all.

You see, I *had* a job that paid well and I quit. Not because I’m independently wealthy. On the contrary; when I quit my job I had no savings. We had medical bills and credit card debt we couldn’t pay. But because I value my mental and physical heath more than money, I quit anyway.

I resolved years ago that I’d rather have humble means and live on cash rather than work to support unnecessary spending.

People want to believe that anyone who lives differently than they do must have access to means that they don’t have. Sadly, few people are open to the idea that a simple paradigm shift can change everything for them. The common belief is that SURELY there is some insurmountable barrier that prevents one from doing things differently.

Unpopular reality- most people in the US have debt and bills they can’t pay whether they make $15,000 per year or $200,000 per year. There are many people who make millions per year and they spend millions more than they make every year. so seeing people with things; no matter how expensive the things are; is no reflection on their financial health. And the opposite is true. While no one can nor should be expected to live on $15,000, many of us can do better with our finances for our own well-being.

I won’t lie to you and tell you some inspirational story about how we paid our debt down and now have $300,000 in the bank. We didn’t and we don’t. I have some suggestions about how to start fresh with debt but that’s a very deep discussion.

What I can do in short posts like this is meet you on this side of our financial situation: I can share some tips and tools that will help you have some extra money even if you still have debt to contend with.

In February, we’re going to develop some new habits. We’re going to teach your brain to be excited about saving rather than being excited about spending.

Tell yourself, “Nothing sexier than saving.”

So, I have your attention. What do you have to do?

Well, first, we’re going to stop in the spending. We’re going to do a spending cleanse as it were. Let’s only spend on things we absolutely must.

With that in mind, the first step is coming to an agreement on what is a must-spend. But step zero is preparing yourself to only spend on things that you must spend on.

So let’s do step zero together now.

Since it’s cold outside and COVID is still rampant, one thing you don’t have to do is cancel outings. Amirite? (But if you are reading this at some future time when people are roaming about freely and they’re out making plans for music festivals, amusement parks, picnics, and vacations…know that if you still plan to do those things, you aren’t able to do a no spend month in whatever months those fall.)

Be prepared to not date, turn down invitations to go out to dinner, the movies, and rent scooters to ride through the city, too.

Instead of inviting people out, invite people in! Into the no spend challenge. Tell people you know that you care going a month without spending and they can support you by being your no spend buddy. Be each other’s accountability coaches. Start a group chat with everyone who agrees to do it with you.

Make a list of things to do instead of spending. That to do list could include free recreational choices (if you go skating at a free rink but you have to rent skates, that isn’t free). The list can also include chores that you have been neglecting. Last month I wrote about organizing your home. If you’re bored, what a better time to do those things you’ve been avoiding. If you find that a large amount of your money goes to media (tv, movies, online magazines, etc) you will also want to use this prep time to seek out free media to replace that.

You can also check out my Pinterest. I have a board about free things to do. This board is not specific to your area but it may get you brainstorming about what you could do where you are.

Go grocery shopping. Get food to prepare all of your meals for at lest a week. I know this is more difficult for some people than for others so this is why I’m giving you a prep week. If your immediate response to being told you need to prepare your meals is to say this is impossible, this may not be for you. I say “may not” because it’s normal to have trouble adapting new ideas. If you say you can’t do this but you can rethink it and you circle back and want to give it a try, I’ll welcome you back! 

I won’t sugarcoat things. No spend takes discipline. It’s not a classist, or ableist, or any other “ist.” It’s harder for some than others but life is harder for some than others. Not spending money is free. If you are on the fence, check back on February 1st and check out how must-spend categories are solidified. 

And finally, make 2 lists; one of what *you think* is a need and one of what you think is a want.

We’ll meet back here at my blog on February the 1st to discuss the what are needs and what are wants.

If you missed the free no spend tracker for February, you can get it here.