One Month of Budgeting


“Ok, so we went over the grocery budget, but only by $60. I think that’s pretty good. Are you ignoring me?” I’m sitting at my kitchen counter staring at our budget, doing a postmortem on the month, but Jack’s attention is split between me and the news.

“Hey, we didn’t pay our car insurance this month?”

“It comes out every three months,” is his response, but I know I’m not going to be able to compete with Wolf Blitzer long enough to convince him to switch over our joint checking account from his bank to my bank.

In the spirit of my “one goal per year” rule, I had picked working on our finances, but wanted to set goals for health and wellness. Sunnie had suggested a workaround — being healthy, but putting physically healthy, emotionally healthy, and financially healthy under that umbrella.

I’m not convinced that’s going to work, but I have made major strides with one of them. We’ve never been reckless with our money, but we’ve certainly been less fastidious than we’d like to be. I decided we’d come up with a monthly budget and track our spending and stick to it. I recognize lots of people do this, whether out of necessity or habit, so we’re not making big waves here, but it’s never something we’ve been able to run with long-term.

But I started the month off zealous and ended it like a new convert, so maybe things are looking up. I paid for a subscription to YNAB, inputted all of our bills and our best guesses at spending, hooked up all our accounts to it, downloaded the app for every financial institution we use, and moved all of those apps to my phone’s front screen.

(This is a stupid image and I really resent websites and blogs requiring that I need one in order to share on social. One day I’m going to give up and use a stock photo of geese for every post.)

Every day, before I start work, I take five minutes to log into YNAB and move each transaction into a category. If a bill comes out of our checking account or if I pay for something with a credit card, it’ll ask me how to divvy it up. Spent $30 at Target? $5 was on new school folders (Girls’ Expenses) and $25 was on cleaning supplies and decaf green tea (Groceries/Household).

It’s been fascinating and a little bit of a new obsession. This is our first winter in our new home, so there’s some learning curves involved as well. This house is bigger so our utilities are higher, and we’re still not exactly used to the bill we’re handed after a man and a trunk comes and fills up our tank of oil. There’s also the cost of working at home, because I’m using up our own heat and electricity instead of the heat and electricity at a would-be employer’s office. The YNAB experience isn’t without some irritations (we’ve used Mint, too, but ultimately I’m liking YNAB better), but overall it was very positive and I have high hopes for my retirement fund. It probably says something that it took us this long to meticulously stick to a budget for one month, but I’m going to call upon the power of the “better later than never” adage and call it a day.

As far as physical health, I’m on the very tail end of a virus with a three-month-long lifespan — it’s a very boring story, so I’ll spare you, but it’s no big deal and also … very boring — so I’ve made myself chill out about trips to the gym and eating kale regularly until February.

As far as emotional health, I’m deliberately not mentioning the political climate in this post outside of this sentence. I needed a thirty minute break from being mad on Twitter.

And as far as the other goal I mentioned about advising x amount of people a month and expecting nothing back, that starts this month, too. I’ve emailed the people for February, and here’s hoping they don’t block my phone number before the month is over.

Your turn — to tell me about goals or how much you spend on groceries (!!!!!!!AVOCADOS$$!!!) — if you want.

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  • Reply Amelinda February 1, 2017 at 12:06 pm

    Your goals seem so more profound. My new years resolution was to find 21 meals (that’s 3 weeks worth) that EVERYONE (7 people) actually enjoys to eat. That sounds like it might be easy, but it’s not. My husband and I have VERY different tastes, and the kids are all on their own. Usually I make something that they enjoy and I just eat enough for sustenance. So far I have 3 meals on my list, yay!

    As for groceries, I get the cheapest junk food and save my grocery dollars for fresh produce (winter produce gets pricey up here in MN when everything has to come from Mexico or South America!) But I’d say I average about $150/week.

    You’re doing great!

    • Reply Roo February 2, 2017 at 8:00 am

      Ha, I should probably consider dialing it back a little bit.

      I love your resolution, but now you have to tell me what those three meals are!

  • Reply Bill February 1, 2017 at 12:47 pm

    Hi Roo.

    Good… but hard(!) to budget! So important though. We use a different system (Excel)… a little more work, but I don’t like to trust all that information to sites/apps. But it requires being on top of entering every receipt soon after the transaction.

    We spend about $500/mo on groceries for two. In CA where cost of living is high, and that includes all food including some organic stuff (mostly for the grandkiddos), the occasional $5 wine, plus sundries, cleaning supplies, and my wife’s make-up, etc. She’s an amazing deal-finder, and we know the best places to get what, the timing, the sales, the coupons, the “just-for-yous,” etc., and we buy in bulk where it makes sense (flour and sugar so cheap at Costco! for example.) Also our grocery budget includes cheaper, at-home steak dinners-as-dates, which means our “eating out, etc.” budget is much lower. But for those with kids at home, that’s not as doable, I know.

    FWIW… One thing we do is pro-rate the non-monthly things. So the budget puts the monthly amount in a category and that balance is building up for when we need to spend it. Zoo membership? $20/mo instead of a surprise $150; all gifts and giving for Christmas, birthday, anniversaries, Mo/Fa Day, etc., we set a monthly amount aside so it doesn’t come out of a single month. That’s been a huge help.

    • Reply Roo February 12, 2017 at 7:03 pm

      Hi Bill! Nice to hear from you. Great tip on the pro-rating; we’ve been trying to do that as well — especially for birthday gifts and such!

      • Reply Bill February 13, 2017 at 1:50 pm

        Nice to be heard from :)

        Yeah, pro-rating rocks. Even for our annual zoo passes… $20/mo is easy to tuck away. But to have all $240 come out of one month (and November, which is Christmas spending frenzy season, no less), is harder. We pro-rate gifts, car registration, domain renewals and hosting, medical deductible savings, zoo membership, and a few other things.

        And I see you’re getting into the “kids’ stuff costs more” phase with your girls. They grow up fast!

  • Reply HeatherHR February 1, 2017 at 1:48 pm

    Yay budgeting! I use Mint to make that I’m not overspending but I segregate my money into four accounts, two for bills (one joint with my hubby for shared expenses like groceries and utilities and one solo for personal expenses- car loan and student loans), one savings account, and one daily expenses/fun account (work lunches, gas, manicures etc). It’s all done via direct deposit so I don’t even have to look at the money (which is key for me not overspending). As a couple with a 4 year old living with us half of the time, we spend about $75 on groceries a week. I shun fresh produce to buy frozen which is just as healthy, doesn’t rot in my fridge, and generally $1 a bag rather than $5 a pound that rots the second I turn my back! In the summer, I split a CSA with my mom for a variety of fresh local veggies and generally buy less meat to offset the cost. The veggies are so good that we don’t really need more than a little bacon or seasoning meat for the meals. I also will overshoot my budget if a basic that keeps goes on sale- the pasta with high fiber or veggies hidden inside it is 10 for $10- you better believe i’m buying 10-20 boxes and keeping them- same whit easy mac for the boy child i refuse to pay more than $0.50 a cup which doesn’t come around often. If you have one near you I recommend Aldi or the Kroger Clicklist- Aldi for great prices and organic produce and the Clicklist for online shopping that lets you avoid the just-because candy bars/ice cream that jump into my cart at the store

    • Reply Roo February 12, 2017 at 7:06 pm

      I love CSAs and I wish ours were year-round!

  • Reply Kala February 1, 2017 at 2:23 pm

    We’ve never been good at budgeting. Really need to work on that. I’ll have to look into a few different methods. This is our first year in our new house. We went with a budget plan for oil. It’s a lot less scary than those big delivery bills. The oil company estimated how much oil they think we would use and then gave us an amount. We pay that same amount every month for 10 months. At the end of the 10 months they will add up how much we actually used and they will either bill us for the overage or carry a credit over to next year.

    • Reply Roo February 12, 2017 at 7:05 pm

      We have to look into doing that! We just had a delivery today, so you know … 💸💸💸💸💸

  • Reply Leigh February 1, 2017 at 4:11 pm

    Please tell me how to lower our grocery budget. Seriously, it’s insane. With all the food allergies in my house, we mostly eat fresh and rarely ever eat out. The only time we eat out is our trips to Disney World. We have two adults and a 5 and 2 year old. I don’t think it should cost us $1000 a month, but that’s what we’re paying. That includes household items and diapers. I know those applesauce pouches are expensive but my kids love them and I don’t have time to be making those things by hand. Those pouches and the gluten free vegan granola bars my kids eat for breakfast are my splurges. I’m trying to coupon but there’s not a lot available for what we buy. I’m trying to do better. I even pay for our groceries in cash and the amount we spend hasn’t changed.

  • Reply Xat February 2, 2017 at 2:38 am

    I spend around $300 for groceries/food every month, which includes non-food household supermarket purchases like dishwasher detergent and shampoo, plus maybe a couple times eating out.

    My boyfriend and I live together and pay for groceries separately – often we’ll shop together and split items at checkout based on who eats what or who paid for toilet paper or laundry detergent last time. Our household of 2 people and a small dog spends maybe $600 together.

  • Reply Jessica Reisfelt February 2, 2017 at 6:39 am

    We spend around $600 a month on groceries for a family of 4. We do one big Costco run for around $250 – $300 at the beginning of the month and then try to limit our weekly trips to $50 – $60. Inevitably, we have a few items we always have to buy per week after going to the grocery store, so it ends up adding up! Some months I’m really good at meal planning and having everything on had, other months… not so much!

    • Reply Roo February 12, 2017 at 7:09 pm

      That’s really good, Jessica! Sometimes I have to remind myself that there are so many variables depending on where you live, too. (We’re forever taking trips to Costco.)

  • Reply Katie February 2, 2017 at 8:36 am

    I did a free trial YNAB and just couldn’t get into it. I’m not sure why I couldn’t wrap my monkey mind around splitting up the Target bill, but it just ended up giving me a headache so I quit. Being child-free for 10 years, I know my husband and I spend a pretty exorbitant amount on groceries. We never skip the fancy “cheese island” at the store, you know?

    But I’m pregnant now and I’ve noticed I’ve been putting more money in savings. Way more. Why? Because I’m totally procrastinating on buying baby stuff, but also because not as much cheese and no wine. NO WINE. I had no idea how much I was spending on wine! Now I know the *real* reason they tell you not to drink when you’re pregnant — it’s so you can afford diapers and that damn $25 teething giraffe. I’m sure as far as pregnancy revelations go, this is only the beginning.

    • Reply Roo February 12, 2017 at 7:11 pm

      Ahahahaha. Forget the diapers and the giraffe. Start saving up for summer camp. I’m in that stage now and I think I’d need a second job to pay for it for three.

  • Reply Delia February 2, 2017 at 12:41 pm

    I haven’t heard of YNAB before but will have to check it out. I’ve been using Mint for years but it gives me issues often.

    • Reply Roo February 6, 2017 at 6:48 pm

      Mint is really pretty, but I keep hearing about connectivity issues. I’m thinking about using both concurrently for a month to see how I like it.

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