Saturday, February 1, 2014

Financial Stewardship: Budgeting in the New Year

I'm sure we're in the same boat as a lot of people, especially with families like us who have limited income and young kidlets in the house.

A new year means a better look at finances and ongoing attempts to figure out where to save in the family budget, how to add to the emergency fund/savings account, and goals for the upcoming months ahead.

I'm the budgeter in my house, but that's my decision. Jack works so hard - long hours, several different jobs on top of his teaching/coaching jobs - that it's my way of giving back to my family. I'm also the type-A and super (almost to a fault) organizer of the two of us, so it's a natural fit for me to crunch out the numbers (and it gives me great delight each month - another nerd alert!).

In recent months, though, I realized that my husband in fact wants to be a part of the budget process. I always thought he just wanted me to take care of it and often times it left me feeling burdened - like I had to figure it out all on my own. That was just silly, prideful sin rearing its ugly head. As a result...we had a date night to talk about our financial situation, what goals we wanted to have this year, and where we stood with paying off various debts in the coming months.

Of course that was over Christmas break. Fast forward five weeks and we now have a car payment that we didn't have thanks to a car accident and the need for a new family vehicle. We also paid off the rest of our Christmas expenses, meaning our savings has taken a bit more of a hit than we would like.

We've been adjusting, trying to see where to save (the grocery/toiletries bill is our number one culprit - I'll post on that and how we're doing in my next segment!) and what we can do to boost back our dwindling savings account/emergency fund.

So what are we doing different this year? 

1. Credit Card Use - A Different Approach: We are a family who uses credit cards for various expenses - but we pay them off every single month  to avoid the crazy-high fees. We had a credit card from a beloved brand/clothing store that I tried to justify as it gave me bonus cash/gift certificates to spend on clothing from a brand I loved (for myself and my kids). That was again, stupid selfish. We weren't getting any added benefit, and I ended up spending more because I justified using the bonus cash and certificates to overspend on clothing. That being said, we closed out that card and received Capital One credit cards with 1.5% cash back on purchases. Already we're feeling much better about using it and it's paying us back in just four weeks' time. We have agreed that we put "big" expenses on it (hotel rooms, travel expenses, various gifts) and all groceries and gas on the card and pay it off each month to get the cash back bonus for later use.

2. Debit/Check Card Use: I'm not one that likes to carry cash around. I know that a lot of successful budgeters take out the cash that they have budgeted for the week and only use that to make purchases. It just doesn't work for me personally. With groceries/gas going to our credit card (again, paying it off every single month to avoid crazy high fees), we have a Target debit card to use there for the purchase of toiletries, baby/toddler items, etc. I like it because you get 5% off and with the Cartwheel app and generous stacking coupon policy they have, I can really get some good deals at Target (and don't have to shop at Walmart, a place that I avoid like the plague!). We also have to use our debit/check card at Aldi, a new place that I've started using for a few natural items and baking items that I can get cheaper than other places (but more on that in the grocery/meal planning posts later!).

3. Monthly Budget that Feeds into Annual Budget: I finally found an Excel family budget spreadsheet that isn't daunting for me to use (this wordy girl likes her numbers...but in a basic sort of way!). I found the template under Microsoft Office/Excel and made some tweaks for my own family. This year, I'm really making it a point to update the budget at least every two weeks, sometimes once a week to make sure we're on track for every line item. Of course things happen and we adjust, but I have to tell myself the overall goal is to look at the big picture - being in the green at year's end and putting that away in savings.

4. Bill Paying: I enjoy bill paying. Really, I do! It's a twice a month reminder of God's great provision for our family. I'm not doing much different with the bill paying this year - the biggest thing I can say is to pay your tithe first! - but we are looking into some options on some of our "extras": a gym membership that we don't use as much because of my work's gym access and exercising outdoors/in our basement more often and possibly streamlining our gas/electric bill to make it one consistent payment each month.

5. Extra Jobs & Tax Returns: As I said above, Jack works a million jobs (or so it seems!) to provide for our family. I'm blessed to have a wonderful and supportive boss and organization that allows me to work 32 hours a week, part from home and part from the office, so I can see my children as much as possible and not have to spend a small fortune on child care each month (and I have to say we're beyond blessed to have the most amazing part-time child care provider, too!).

Aside from our careers, Jack picks up work where he can and as his schedule allows: Christmas lights, officiating, yard/lawn care work, etc. I pick up work by freelance writing for a variety of local and state-wide publications (which I love, because it allows me to continue my love of writing!).

Our main goals with the extra job money is to put it directly into savings or in a separate account that we keep for Christmas and special celebrations (anniversary, birthdays). Same goes with our tax return - we typically only spend 1/4th to a 1/3rd of it on something "fun" (last year it was vacation) or home updating, and the rest we put in savings. Obviously things come up throughout the year and we at times have to shift our focus for that money, but the goal and priority is there.

So there you have it. Just a few tweaks we're doing as a family this year to make sure we're the best stewards of God's money as possible. Stay tuned for another post on a new approach I'm taking to the grocery budget and meal planning!

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