How To Build & Evaluate Your Spending Plan

A budget is a tool.  Pick one!  You may not particularly get excited about screwdrivers, but you need one to tighten the cabinet hinge and keep the cabinet door from falling off and causing damage, not to mention eliminating the constant annoyance of a door that isn’t working properly.  Budgets are pretty much just like that!

Tools You Can Use To Build Your Budget

There are various ways to maintain awareness of your budget:  Software, pen and paper, whatever works for you, but get it where others can read it as well as you can.  “Keeping it in your head” is not a means of controlling money.  A budget is a tool to prevent stress and damage to financial security.  Call it a plan instead of a budget, if that makes you feel better.  Nothing in life gets done without a plan.  Plan in advance where any “found” money (bonus, tax refunds, inheritance, over-time pay, etc.) will go.

Why You Need A Budget

A budget or spending plan sets limits or boundaries.  It keeps us accountable to our goals as we review it on a regular basis.  It is too easy to forget the long-term goals we want when we are mired in the details of day-to-day living.  So, as our use of a part of the spending plan approaches the limit we have set, new decisions, new choices, need to be made in order to maintain control of money instead of letting money control us.

Building Your Budget

Have a short (10-15 minutes) meeting every payday to see where the money is coming from and where it is going and put your focus back on your goals. Review your short and long-term goals every time.

Break the budget down into details, not just broad categories.  When you have more detail, you have more control, but don’t get crazy.  If you give someone in the household an allowance, specify what you expect that to cover and then keep out of those details.  When, for example, the shelter budget creeps toward the limit, it is time to re-examine the details. Here are a list of questions you might ask yourself as you evaluate your shelter expenses:

  • What has increased in that section?
    • Is it time to get a fixed-rate mortgage
    • Is it time to change insurance providers?
    • Do we need to dispute our new tax rate?
    • Are we doing all we can to save utility use?  Has something changed in our usage?  How can we compensate for that?
    • Is it time to mow our own lawn?
      • Is one of the children old enough and responsible enough to do it now?
      • If you are in living in the desert, is it time to let go of coastal ideas about how a lawn should look?

If all opportunities for reduction of expenses have been exhausted in the shelter section, can the overage in that category be compensated for in another part of the budget?

  • Is it time to go vegetarian?  Grow your own vegetables and herbs?  Raise a few chickens?
  • Learn to cook more varieties of foods and go out less?
  • Is it time to let go of our pride in feeding the whole neighborhood barbecue twice a year and institute a monthly potluck?
  • Does every one of your children have to be involved in some activity or sport every single season, or would taking turns reduce the constant hurry?

Trading-off doesn’t have to be negative.  Find something even better than what you have been doing and get more value for money spent.

What types of trade offs do you make to fit certain expenses into your budget?  Have you considered making any BIG trade offs  Share your thoughts below!


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