Budget Notes

>> Monday, September 12, 2016

We start over again with our budget each September. Usually our bank account is somehow low after a summer of no teacher paychecks. We expect it and plan for it, but we use the "scare" as an opportunity to reassess the financial goings-on in our household. This year -- yeah -- the "scare" is worse than usual after three long months of my freelancer maternity leave. In other words, 12 unpaid weeks of summer.

I'm painting a rather dismal picture here. We're not that bad off. We have money for all our bills, to put healthy food on the table, for school clothes and more. But if you're in a family that has a variable income, I think you get me. And it's usually when the limbo stick is low that something like our furnace or central air dies. (Oh, wait. That already happened!)

I thought I'd share some budget goals today. We have quite a few, especially now that we're a family of four. My head had come up out of those newborn waters, and I'm finally ready to start with working and cooking all our meals and finding ways to save rather than spend again.

Top of our list:

Lower the grocery budget (again). 

This item is always on my list because I always feel there are ways to improve. Over the summer, we spent a lot of money on food. Cooking from scratch wasn't happening as often for obvious reasons and we also got into some packaged food habits. We were using the Hello Fresh service to help out, and I'm glad we did it. But the budget isn't roomy enough for that anymore.

My goal number is $100/week, which would average out to around $433 for the year. I think I could likely go lower, but this is a start. I'll also need to figure in the $20+ we have already spent on our CSA farm share. If you'll remember, we used to spend just $50 a week when it was just the two of us. So, $100 seems like more than enough.


  • Stop going to Wegmans already! Embrace Aldi because Aldi is awesome.
  • Menu plan for two weeks at a time. SHOP for two weeks at a time.
  • Eliminate random trips to the grocery store. Avoid buying food at other stores (and, OK, also  try to stop shopping at stores like Target that creep into funds).
  • Use cash to pay for groceries and don't take debit card on shopping trips.

Start the freekend tradition (again). 

We have also gotten into the habit of going out to eat and spending money left and right on entertainment. Now that our schedules are so hectic, I think we'll be spending more time at home doing simple things to pass the time. I'd like to do "freekends" for three out of the four (or so) weekends a month. On that one spend weekend? I'd like to keep whatever we do around $25.

Wow that sounds tight, doesn't it? The thing is -- you don't HAVE to spend anything to have fun. There are so many parks around here. That's free fun. We have so many toys and games at the house. That's free fun. We love and need to cook more -- that's essentially free fun (because we like cooking together). We can even spend some of the food budget on apple-picking.

It won't always be this way, but entertainment is such an easy place to cut back on if needed. So, why not lean it out for a while and use that money where's it's needed?

Pay off smaller debts. 

That's right. We do have places we need to be pitching more money. For example, we installed some carpeting in our basement when we moved in and took advantage of a 0% financing for 4 years thing. We're close to paying it off -- but I'd love for it to be off my budget. Likewise, when our central air died over the summer, we took on a couple thousand in debt for a new system (blame the fact that I had had a baby two days earlier and it was nearly 100 degrees). The interest rate is relatively low, but I'd love to pitch money toward it to pay it off early, ASAP.

The other ares where we still have debt include student loans (for each of us -- more than our mortgage) and car payments (for two used cars). Three of the four of these debts will be paid off in two years, and we will do a happy dance when they're done. Like, seriously. I loved my (private) college experience, but if I could do it all over again? I'd probably go to a state school instead.

Start purposeful savings. 

We have three months of expenses in our bank account right now. I'd like it to be six, as it usually is, and we're actually on target for that by the end of the school year. Go us! As we get closer to age 35, I really feel like we should have more than this, though.

Anyway, instead of just randomly using some of this money to pay for vacations or whatever else, I'd like to have a separate savings for a vacation (we do just one per year). I'd also like to be throwing a bit more money into a college fund, but I am always conflicted on that, which is probably a topic for another day.

Assess the work situation.

Right now, I am just dipping my toe back into freelancing waters. When I had Ada, I didn't work until she was six or seven months old. I need to see how much I can realistically work this first year without childcare (when I had Ada, my parents lived near us -- now we're on our own).

Stephen coaches two seasons of sports (cross country and track), which brings in some very nice additional income to take the edge off. Anyway, we need to figure out the best mix of work for me to meet our bills and savings goals while also being able to keep our household running and taking care of the kids.

Do you have any new budget goals? 

How do you plan to meet them?

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