This could easily turn into a political post (rich getting richer, big businesses tax evading exploits, benefit cuts…etc) but that isn’t my intention- honest! I’ll try and stay on topic. I thought I’d try a budgeting post, although this is something that admittedly I’m much better at in theory than in practice.
But it seems that a lot of families I know, us included, struggle with finances. I reckon this is because a lot of us (either by choice or circumstance) are in one wage families in a society that seems to demand both parents work in order to stay afloat. In our case, we’ve chosen to sacrifice the second wage in order to home educate (although with one school age and two under 5 it’s unlikely I’d find a job that would fit in with school hours and cover childcare and still give us a significant additional income anyway). It’s a sacrifice that we’re happy to make but it doesn’t make budgeting any easier. When payday rolls around, I still get a sinking feeling as we try to squeeze in all the needs for the month and then hopefully a want or two as well.
I know you’re all a savvy lot but I thought I’d share my tips in case they are of use to anyone and hopefully some of you might have some for me.
The most useful thing that we’ve found is to formulate our budget on payday for the whole month. We look at our diaries to see what expenses the month might bring (trips that require more fuel than usual, home ed ventures that we have to pay for, birthdays..etc) and then estimate and tot up all the usual expenses (groceries, fuel, bills..etc) in addition to the extra bits. We always aim to have a £200 buffer zone for unexpected expenses (another parking ticket anyone?! Curses to Topsham and it’s parking wardens!) with the goal that if we don’t touch it it can go into our savings. Unfortunately more often than not it gets spent but at least it’s there for when it’s needed. The key obviously then is to stick to the budget for the whole month and not be tempted to spend money that you haven’t accounted for. This is probably where we fall down when a sunny day means that a BBQ on the beach is beckoning invitingly…. Still, we’re getting better!
When doing the monthly budget, I try to keep the child benefit separate in order to pay for Forest School, any home ed trips out, swimming and clothes, books…etc We tend to try and always buy second hand clothes – not least because my two seem to be the clumsiest kids I know and are constantly getting holes in their knees and all manner of stains on their t shirts. They grow so quickly as well, it just seems to be a waste to buy brand new. So charity shops and ebay are our friends! My one exception to this rule is shoes. I’m not sure why but I guess because if they’re decent shoes I know they’ll last a long time so for the last few years we’ve hit up Clarks for a pair of sturdy sandals in April or May and then again for boots or trainers in the Autumn.
We budget £80 a week for groceries for the five of us (that includes nappies and toiletries). I struggle to stick to this but in order to mostly do so, I make a meal plan before doing a weekly shop and then I make sure we stick to it even if someone fancies something different on the day. It’s amazing how much money we save by doing this. I also try to include any snacks we might want in the weekly shop so we don’t give in to the temptation of nipping to the co op once the kids are in bed (approximately 90 seconds from our front door) where a trip for one item seems to invariably result in a carrier bag full and a much bigger receipt than planned! We don’t eat masses of meat either, I tend to buy a chicken and one other meat item each week and then we eat meatless meals on the other days which helps.
The final tip I have is if possible, avoid buying things on credit. I believe that we live in a culture where we want everything instantly and credit card companies have capitalised on this (no pun intended!) massively. Dan and I always swore that we’d never start buying things on credit but instead would save up until we have the money up front even if that takes months. Our exception to this has been our bed. We bought a bed in December on a 10 month interest free scheme. But the springs were coming through on our old mattress and we were struggling to fit everyone in our old, slightly broken, bed so we felt that as a one off it was a good move. We knew we could definitely afford the monthly repayments and the difference to our quality of sleep was instantaneous. We have a credit card for emergencies and to put Dan’s work expenses on but other than that, we have remained debt free.
Juggling finances is tough though, especially if you have kids. My parents recently trained as facilitators for CAP (Christians Against Poverty), a debt counselling charity. They’ve got a really good model that you can follow to manage your money and if you are really struggling, they can offer your advice and practical help, confidentially and free of charge. If things are getting on top of you, get some help before it gets worse. There’s no shame in seeking support to turn things around.
Do you have any tips you could add for frugal living or effective budgeting? I’d love to hear them!