Balanced Budget: How Do You Do It?

Hi all,

I am writing an unusual blog…for me, today.  First of all, I’m posting on a Tuesday.  Second of all, this will be more of a  query than my usual style.  But I think this topic is relevant for all my readers, whether they are parents or penny pinching poets.  Today, I want to talk about the budget.

With so much current discussion surrounding balancing the federal budget and as we are, at least those of us in my SES, tightening our own belts, my husband and I were moved to take a closer look at our personal finances.   After all, how can we  expect the government to achieve balance and savings with billions if we do not get our own house in the tightest possible order?

My husband, M, and I have similar philosophies about money.  We like to be debt-free, have a cushion for emergencies and for the future, but also have some freedom for fun built into the budget.  We try to balance planning for the future (with it’s potential good and bad prospects) with living in the moment, and for the most part we are managing.  But, as every perfectionist knows, you can always do better, right?  So, right now, we are reviewing our monthly expenses (already tight without cable, Internet, and other frivolities) to try to find additional ways to save for our future and that of our daughter, V.

In thinking about possible ways to manage what few ducats we have after the bills are paid, we are considering a small contribution to a retirement fund, a college fund for V, and possibly saving for a down payment for a house.  We have read different philosophies about how to go about doing this, and plan to meet with a financial advisor at our bank for additional perspective.  What I’m curious to hear from my readers is what strategies you use to keep your house in order?  After all, the more ideas on the table, the more dishes there are to choose from…

So if you are interested in sharing your success (or learning through failure) stories, please do!  We’d love to know everything!  From how much you budget for groceries, entertainment/eating out per month to what your priorities are for saving.  If you have a helpful tip or reference, please share in the comment section and thanks in advance for your thoughts!

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6 responses to “Balanced Budget: How Do You Do It?

  • Juliana

    Not eating out very often, person working outside the home bringing packed lunch, using coupons whenever possible, we use vonage for phone service. We used to get our cellphones free through J’s work, now we don’t so we switched to pay as you go on iphones! Bought a used car without bells and whistles so it was more than half off the new ones. Our other car is old (2003), but paid off. Julien does almost all car repairs himself to save. We refinanced our house and now spend $300 less a month on our mortgage. Buy kids clothes second-hand whenever possible. Buy almost nothing for ourselves. If we do, we do it as our gift for birthday, etc. Use netflix instead of going to the theatre.

    As for saving. J has a percentage of his pay automatically deducted each pay period and put in his retirement fund. We never see it so don’t miss it. For the girls college funds, we have certain times that we always put $ in: birthdays, Christmas, and tax refund time. We also have a rule that any time the girls receive a monetary gift from anyone, we always put that money in their college fund. It adds up!

    Those are the ones I can think of right now.

  • pmlevitt

    I like the idea of putting in money for V at certain times during the year; any money she receives from grandparents goes in (or will go in her fund; we have it earmarked but need to set it up). We also ask family to consider donating to it rather than excessive gifts during those times.

    We buy secondhand for myself and for V, as we are the ones cycling through clothes most often.

    The thing we are most trying to figure out how to curtail is grocery/eating out expenses. We eat out when we are out running around places, and that happens more often than we’d like. Not anywhere great, but you know, a quick chicken sandwich or a pick up pizza. It adds up!

    Thanks for sharing your ideas; made me feel good that we were doing many of them ourselves. Us SAHM’s gotta make the sacrifice somewhere and it’s worth it, I think.

  • Juliana

    Food is the hardest one for us too! We spend so much between groceries and eating out.

    You can really save a lot with coupons if you work hard at it. I took a couponing class last summer and was amazed at what you can save, but it takes a lot of time and work. The other thing I found was if you try to eat healthy, you can’t do as well with coupons because most of them are for the processed food. No coupons for produce 😦 But even if you just do health & beauty products, cleaning products, paper products, and the food that you do eat that is available with coupons, you can really save when you match it up with store sales. There are some great websites out there that can get you started on making deals.

  • pmlevitt

    We started green cleaning, which has greatly reduced our cleaning and paper product purchasing. We use white vinegar and baking soda for a ton of things and reusable rags that I can throw in the wash instead of paper towels for most things. We rarely use paper plates, only for like, V’s b-day parties. This has saved a TON of money. We also buy glycerin soap in bulk and make hand soaps, which saves on buying the expensive hand pumps and does not carry carcinogens. We do occasionally buy green cleaning products, but really limit spending on cleansers because it adds up! I am interested in hearing more about the websites. That sounds great! I remember one shopping trip to Target where I had a coupon or sale for almost every item, and I was in heaven. I’d love to do that more! Great ideas and suggestions! Just think if we could compile these from all parents into a book; we could really save!

  • Indu

    Planning the week’s menu ahead of time always helps. I usually plan mine and shop for groceries on saturdays. I also try to pack my husband’s lunch as often as I can so he doesn’t have to eat out. The times that you know you are prone to eating out definitely fix your meals ahead of time, so you won’t have a reason to not eat at home. On Fridays especially I fix dinner early and make a little extra so even if we do go out, we end up coming home for dinner and there’s leftover food for Saturday lunch too. Spending cash only also helps. We did that for a while. We had a strict policy of using the debit card only for gas, for everything else we used cash that we withdrew at the beginning of each month. We even borrowed from each other if one of us ran out of cash but mostly refrained from running to the ATM. Shopping at places like Costco for some items makes a lot of sense too.
    🙂 good post! You have just motivated me to start thinking about budget and planning finances again.

    • pmlevitt

      Menu planning is something I’m really bad at. I just don’t make the time to do it prior to grocery runs. I like the idea of cooking meals early in the day. I’ve done that a few times and it has worked out well. We have tossed around the idea of spending cash only and are weighing that against using our rewards points for our credit card bill. We pay it off monthly, but might be more cautious if we were spending cash only. I really like your ideas; thanks for sharing! Now to get motivated to make some changes! Cookbooks here I come!

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