Here’s something that took me awhile to grow up and learn:
There’s a big difference between tracking your bills and adhering to a budget.
Tracking? I’m a pro. I’ve got spreadsheets, email alerts, and calendar reminders to make sure the bills get paid. Heck, I’ve got a whole color-coded system that I used to track my monthly bills.
A Budget? Have one of those too! But I couldn’t tell you how well we did at sticking to each line item...and not knowing was impacting our ability to SAVE.
We figured out the sneaky expenses that ate up our monthly budget (and how to fix it.)
Sure, it’s tough to call something “sneaky” if you handed over money and are now buying/eating/driving/wearing the item. But these sneaky habits created expenses that I hadn’t planned for or expected, and were repeatedly eating up the portion of my monthly budget marked “To Save.”
Waiting Too Long to Restock Kid’s Clothing
Boom! Suddenly, everything in their drawers was too short, too small, or ripped (yay for little boys!) Not just once. And not just clothes —shoes and coats too! To fix this, I created a mini fund within our savings budget for kid’s clothes. That way I’ve got an amount that has been set aside that will allow me to take advantage of sales when they pop up, and to supplement their closet with a few things in the next size in anticipation of the upcoming growth spurt.
Not Budgeting for Entertainment
When you are staring at spreadsheet with dreams of buying a car or taking your family on vacation, it’s easy to tell yourself things like, “We have TONS of DVD’s! We’ll just watch those at home for date night.” This is sort of true. But what happens when Grandma pops up and says that nothing would make her happier than having the kids sleep over tonight? THAT’S RIGHT! YOU’RE GOING TO DINNER! Hopefully to a movie too. And heck yes, you’re gonna get the world’s most expensive Junior Mints at theater. Because I don’t know ANY parents that have a regular, legitamate date night. So use a budget calculator like this one from Bank Rate so you can realistically ponder things like entertainment expenses.
Also recognizing that spending 20 solo minutes at Target can, in fact, qualifiy as “entertainment”. Some people want to go to concerts. I want dig through the dollar bins by myself.
Too Many “Food” Budgets
We broke food expenses into too many categories. Groceries, take out, and lunch, were all listed separately. No longer. It’s one big pool of money designed to feed our family of four. Now when I plan our weekly menu, I’m more realistic about our schedule and shopping. No more take out on a whim because I don’t feel like cooking, or we got home from swim lessons too late. That money’s been spent. It’s in the fridge. The same goes for lunches —it’s easy to grab lunch when you’re on the go, but it when you look at a lunch savings calculator, it makes more sense to save dining out for lunch as a treat.
Not Budgeting for Pet Expenses
I’ve always had a dog. But last summer, our vet expenses chewed up A LOT of money! Some of it was planned, but much of it wasn’t...like when she had a run-in something that gave her a terrible bout of hives and a swollen face! She’s now on the monthly budget with a small amount saved for her, that accrues and is available for her Vet check ups, shots...or the occasional rental fee for a rug shampooer. I laughed when I saw that Bank Rate has a video from financial expert Jean Chatzky that asks “Are Pets Worth the Money?” Because I’ve been there.
Thinking of Camping as “Free”
Do you camp? We do! And in my mind, camping was basically a “free” vacation. Sure you have to pay for a camping spot, but other than that?! Yeah...not free. We take 4-5 extended (4+days) camping trips a year. Firewood, fuel (for the truck and for cooking), food (which always bumps up the weekly shopping budget a bit), random supplies (because we lost or broke something on the last trip) all add up. And the amount was WAY more than I realized. Now our camping habit is something we save for, like we do for our big annual family vacation. We also asked for new camp chairs for Christmas, so there’s one less thing to buy this year. :)
Well, now I’m working on saving for a down payment on a car and I was impressed at the wealth of information that Bank Rate offers about auto financing. Take a look at the page devoted to auto calculators. I was even able to see the auto loan rates that lenders are currently offering in my area all in one spot.
If you are looking for information and resources about your personal finances, whether your goal is to save more, to refinance your home, save for college, or invest for retirement, Bank Rate is a great place to start.
Do you have any savings tips you can share?