Keeping a family budget can be challenging. You have so many expenses, and they don’t all come at the same time every month. Your mortgage or rent has set monthly payments, but you also have to buy food, utilities, gas for your car, clothing, childcare, and school supplies all on different schedules. To make things more complicated, each member of your family likely has individual spending preferences as well. One person might love going clothes shopping while another might prefer to spend that money on something else.
This is why keeping a family budget isn’t just about tracking how much money comes in each month and how much goes out. It requires a fair bit of planning and negotiation with other family members about what you can afford to do and where you want to spend your limited resources.
Set a Goal for Your Family Budget
The first step in setting up a family budget is to decide what your goals are. Are you trying to save up a certain amount? Pay off debt? Make sure that every member of your family has everything they need? Once you’ve decided what your goals are, you can make choices that support those goals.
If you want to save up for a vacation but you also need to pay off debt, you might need to make some sacrifices. However, if you’ve set your goals, then you’re already aware of that. Your goals may also change as your family grows. When you first start a family, it’s likely that you’ll need to put more money toward essentials such as food and housing. Later, your kids may attend college and you’ll need to put money toward that. There may also be times when family members need help with medical bills or other unexpected expenses.
Track Where You Spend Right Now
Before you start making sacrifices, you first need to know where your money is going. You may have a general idea, but if you don’t have a solid grasp on your finances, you can’t make responsible choices. Before you start making changes to your budget, you need to know where your money is going right now. You can use a budgeting app or spreadsheet to track where your money goes each month. That way, you can make adjustments to your budget rather than trying to track how much you spend in a way that isn’t accurate. By tracking your spending now, you can also see where there may be room for improvement. For example, you may find that you spend a lot of money at the grocery store but don’t eat many fresh vegetables. Or maybe you spend a lot on snacks and sodas because you’re really busy but don’t have time to make real meals.
Make a List of Must-Have Items
Once you know how much money you have to spend each month, you can start making a list of all the things you have to buy. You’ll have to factor in your fixed expenses as well, but once you know how much you can spend, it’s time to make a list of everything you need. You can break it down by category—groceries, utilities, clothing, etc. Keep in mind that a budget is about prioritizing what you want now versus what you want later. For example, you may decide that you want to save up for a vacation next summer. In that case, you’ll want to put some of your money toward that goal, rather than buying something that you need right now.
Reuse, Upcycle, and Be Creative
One easy way to cut back on your spending is to reuse things that you already have. If you have children, you’ve likely already experienced this. There’s nothing like having a young child to show you just how many tiny pieces of clothing are somehow attached to your child’s body every day. If you’ve got kids, you know all about finding creative ways to reuse the same shirt a few different times. This is true for the rest of your family as well. Every member of your family likely has tons of stuff lying around that they don’t really use anymore.
Kids may have outgrown toys or clothes while parents may have old books or magazines they never read. Get creative and see what you can repurpose or upcycle. Instead of splashing out on new tech for your family, why not see what you can do to make the old tech more functional? For instance, you might not be aware of how to clear disk space on a Mac, but really, the solution can help keep your old laptop working for years to come.
Plan in Advance for High-Cost Months
Some things are fairly regular expenses in most families—groceries, utilities, and car insurance are all fairly standard. However, there are also likely to be one-off expenses like car repairs, braces for your child, and the yearly flu shot. In addition, there are also monthly expenses that show up regularly but that you can’t plan for ahead of time. These are usually things like childcare, health insurance, and school supplies for your kids. One way to budget for these expenses is to plan for them as best you can. For example, if you know that the yearly flu shot costs you around $100, then you can plan for that expense each month. Or if you know your child will need $300 worth of school supplies, you can also budget that each month.
Compare Prices When You Can
One of the easiest ways to cut back on unnecessary spending is to compare prices. When you go to the grocery store, stop at a few different places to see which one has the lowest prices. Likewise, you can check out websites like Amazon.com or Google Shopping to see which online retailer has the lowest prices on the items you need. Likewise, you can also just ask your friends if they know of a better deal. If you’re shopping for a new car, there’s a good chance that someone in your life has recently bought a car and will be able to give you advice.
Check Out Events Near You
A great way to save money and enjoy yourself at the same time is to check out events near you. Many cities have free museums or parks nearby, and there are also tons of events and festivals that happen year-round. You can also check out your city’s website to find out what events are coming up in the next few months. Some cities even have calendars with all the events listed. This way, you’ll have no lack of things to do with your kids whilst still saving money in the process.
Try Rebuilding Your Food Supply
If you’re trying to save money on groceries and have a family to feed, you may want to try rebuilding your food supply. Instead of buying everything new, you can buy items in bulk with a long shelf life, such as rice, beans, oats, and lentils. You can also buy canned or frozen foods that don’t have an expiration date. These items are good for your budget because they last for a long time, so you don’t have to buy them very often. You can also save money on other areas of your budget such as utilities because you’re buying less food and using less electricity.
Maintaining a family budget can be challenging, but it’s also important. It can help you prioritize your spending so that you’re not spending money on whatever you want whenever you want it. It can also help you save money so that you have enough to deal with unexpected expenses, like medical bills or car repairs.