Like many military families, my family is on a budget. I’ll be the first to admit that we aren’t always the best at consistently setting our monthly budget, but we’ve learned through trial and error that the months when we actually sit down together to get all the dollars accounted for, we follow it really well. There are a few key points to this that help us stay on track. With the new year also comes new savings goals, and I’m ready to plan some upcoming vacation days!
Set monthly budget meetings. My husband and I set aside a day at the end of each month to discuss the following month’s budget. We look at our income and expenses, discuss any out of the ordinary or upcoming purchases and create a realistic budget that works for our family of three. The key takeaway here: together. We do this together so there are no surprises to either of us.
In your relationship, there is likely to be one of you who is more of a saver and one who is more a spender. Use these characteristics to your advantage to help balance each other. For example, in my marriage, I’m the spender. When my husband sets the budget, he often sets it too low for what it actually costs, whereas I always like to set it so we have a little “cushion” money in case of an unexpected expense. When this happens, we compromise and choose a number right in the middle. Or, in some cases, we’ll budget lower for one thing but a bit higher for another thing. As long as we’ve set time aside to sit down and do this together, we’re always able to come to some sort of an agreement to start the new month with a solid plan.
Categorize your budget. This totally seems like it belongs in a Budgeting 101 lesson, but sometimes we all need a little reminder. Categorize your upcoming expenses into separate sections to keep your budget organized. The same categories generally occur each month, so doing this makes it much easier to keep up with your budget.
Categorizing works a little differently for everyone. Some people set very broad categories and work well with that, such as housing, utilities, food, transportation, medical/health, recreation, personal, savings, etc. These are the categories my family uses. But because they are too broad for us, we break them down even further. Our housing category has sections for our mortgage, lawn care and home projects. Our food category has sections for groceries, lunch money, dog food and eating out. Our recreation category has sections for date nights, family events and spending money. And our personal category has sections for haircuts, birthday gifts and child care. We also keep a much needed “miscellaneous” category for those unexpected expenses that pop up during the month, like a copay at the doctor’s office or a trip to the drugstore. You can break your categories down as small as they need to be to work for your family.
Make it fun. Unless you’re a numbers guru, budgeting and finances can be pretty boring. I like to liven it up a bit by keeping all of our information in a colorful binder with a bold label on the side so it can’t be misplaced. If you use page dividers to break up your system by month, get some patterned ones or use different colored pens to write out each month on the tabs. It can be colorful, classy and a little more fun!
Do you follow a cash budget? If your wallet has become old and dingy, treat yourself to a new wallet for a great pick-me-up. You can even budget that expense in your personal category. If you budget in spreadsheets, add a colored header and switch up the fonts a bit for a fresher look.
Money talk isn’t acceptable in all social circles, but when it comes to budgeting, we can all benefit from sharing what works and what doesn’t. If you’re really stuck, consider attending a personal budgeting or finance class in your area to set you off on the right foot. Military OneSource also offers free financial counseling for service members and their families — something to take advantage of if you’re looking for help with budgeting, money management, debt consolidation and debt management.
Cheers to a brightly-budgeted year of successful savings, friends!