Saturday, February 2, 2008

My Thoughts on Budgeting

I know Heather's question on budgeting wasn't directed towards me, but I have a few thoughts about it.

First of all I think that budgeting is like dieting . . . or exercise . . . or scripture study. If you decide to make huge drastic changes all at once, you are likely to get discouraged. Elder Bednar said, "Small, steady, incremental spiritual improvements are the steps the Lord would have us take. Preparing to walk guiltless before God . . . does not result from sporadic spurts of intense spiritual activity" (Oct. 2007 conference).

Likewise with budgeting, I think we need to start with where we are. In order to do that, we need to find out where we are. I am a believer in tracking what you spend your money on for at least a month or two. I think we are often surprised when we do this at how much we spend on certain items. It adds up. Then we are able to make some informed decisions about what can be eliminated or cut back on to reduce spending. I am also a big fan of both spouses at least being aware of money spent. I spend so much more when I don't know where we stand on our budget which has gotten me into some trouble.

So then, after determining what you usually spend, you can look for ways to cut back (only a few ways at a time so you don't get discouraged) and decrease the amount alloted to spend - decrease by a manageable amount. Also, although I don't always do this, it helps me if I can divide my monthly food allotment between the weeks in the month so that I am making sacrifices here and there throughout the month instead of having a week of starving at the end of the month. (We're still working on this one.)

A few ideas about how to cut back:
Shop from a list. Don't buy things that aren't on the list. I make my list as I make my monthly menu. In theory this would cut down on shopping trips which cuts the "smaller" purchases which really add up. We gotta still work on that part too.

Figure out ways to stretch your meals farther. Don't waste leftovers like we do. If you find you have extra of some things at some point, figure out what you can do with them. (I waste a lot of sour cream and things like that because I only need part of it for a recipe.

To make a meal bigger (have more servings) add more rice or some other ingredient that is relatively cheap, and eat that meal for longer. Make double of whatever you are making and put some in the freezer. This saves time too. I love pulling a meal out of the freezer to eat!

Comparison shop. Buy cheap brands. With perishable foods, don't buy the biggest package you can find just because the unit price is cheaper if that means you are going to just let some waste. But if the food is nonperishable buy in bulk (a little at a time. Don't buy everything in bulk all the time.)

Plan meals well. I am starting to realize that it helps to group meals together that utilize the same perishable foods. It's not smart to use half of my head of lettuce in my dinner on the first day and then the other half the last day of the month. It will go bad in between. Another thing I want to work on is figuring out which meals are cheaper to make. I know I need to cut down on buying as much meat because it is expensive. Anyone have any good tips on this aspect? I can't think of things to make very often that don't have chicken or beef (the preferred meats at our house).

Have something to motivate yourself on small and big levels. For instance, this month we get to buy things to make yummy desserts that Matt will particularly love IF we have enough money to buy the ingredients at the end of the month. Hopefully that will help our self-control. Our large level goal is to pay off our mortgage as fast as we can. We love the idea of getting out of debt. So we allot enough money to double our mortgage payment each month. Plus any unexpected or unused money we throw at our mortgage as well. We are both obsessed with this goal which makes it kind of fun. When we are out of debt, we will suddenly have a lot more discretionary money each month. At that point, Matt really wants to raise our food budget so that we don't have to be quite so stingy. This principle of sacrifice now so that you can enjoy financial freedom later is a big Dave Ramsey thing. I know some people don't believe in doing this, but we like the idea. And it's not that we will go crazy just because we get out of debt. We'll be a little less stingy and be able to invest more.

Now, if you all want to completely ignore me, that's fine. I don't do all these things myself. But we are trying. And we are trying new ideas each month to improve. We have abandoned some ideas along the way that didn't work so much for us. Again, I really think it is important to work on this in a line upon line way. Don't try drastic things at once. If a month doesn't go so well, evaluate what you need to change (whether it is making a more realistic goal or working on self-control or whatever), don't be discouraged, and try again. That's what I think. I hope this helps someone. I hope it was understandable, not too much rambling. Good luck to all.

4 comments:

Nancy said...

Truthfully we just don't eat meat a whole lot--and that does help with the budget. We probably had meat only 3 times last month, besides pepperoni which we have once a week unless we opt for meatless pizza.

I don't like cooking meat and neither Andrew or I care for it all that much so we often just cut it out.

So for the month of February we have 7 meals with meat planned, excluding pizza. We eat even less meat in the summer.

Basically, if meat is called for in the recipe, I leave it out. Chicken a la king with out the chicken, if you will. We eat a lot of beans and things to make up for that. :)

Anyway, budgeting is always a struggle :)

Crys said...

Bonnie,

This was a great post! I totally agree that if you are going to start a budget you need to find out where you are first to see what you can realistically cut. When we first did a budget I realized I was spending way, way too much money at Sam's. I forbid myself from going there more then once a month and suddenly are bills dropped drastically :) Amazing how that happens. As for the meat comment, beans are a good way to go if you are trying to cut meat. We try to do a couple of vegetarian meals a week. Truthfully though where I feel the biggest pinch is in fruit and veggies which is why I have a garden every year and can my own stuff. I love fresh fruit and veggies! In the winter that love can be quite expensive. I try to buy as seasonal as I can but still. Anyway here are my meat tips:
1)Use your freezer. In Illinois we have this great store Meijer. When they put chicken on for 79 cents a pound I buy up ten trays and freeze them all. I do the same with my ground beef although I've mainly moved over to ground turkey because it is cheaper then the very lean beef I prefer.
2) Like Nancy said, stretch the meat. I cook up a huge pot of beans every couple of weeks and freeze quart sized bags. Then I can add the beans to chilly or taco meat. I also like to chop up potatoes and add it to my chicken for chicken burritos. We do a lot of soups because you can use very little meat but still get great flavor. We also often do veggie spaghettis or pizzas. Garbanzo beans can also often be thrown in dishes. Personally though I love meat :) I'm just cut back because I worry about my budget and my gut!

Heather B. said...

Thanks for your comments everyone. It has given me hope that I can do this and it is nice to know that I am not the only one who struggles with trying to stick to a budget.

Rosie said...

Great budgeting post! My parents are taking the Dave Ramsey financial classes back home. Pn saving on meat, particularly beef... if you go to Albertsons late at night (like 8 or 9 pm) they clear out their butcher case. You just kind of hang around and listen for announcements and they get down to $2 or 99 cents a pound for the good stuff. Also, my mom's comment (they're in town today) is to buy up lean beef roast when its on sale (chuck, top round etc) and grind it yourself with a meat ginder. They you get super lean beef at a great price.