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Budgeting for Beginners: FAQ

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I receive so many messages on a daily basis from people wanting to start managing their money and living frugally, but they don’t know how to take that first step.  I admire everyone who wants to improve on their life and financial situation, it can be scary trying to make such a big change into the unknown.  I decided it was time for a FAQ article for all you brave beginners.

I asked my followers on instagram for all their budget beginner questions and today I will be answering a few of those.

A great place to start for a beginner is with my Free 14 Day Frugal Living Challenge.  This is a challenge made specifically for those just starting to manage money and live frugally.  This will give you a good starting place and should help you develop frugal habits.

FAQ for budget beginners2

Where do I begin?

The best place to begin is your budget.  It is vital you have a working budget.

If you are new to budgeting, it might take you a while to figure out just how much money to budget for each category.  This is normal!  A budget is fluid, meaning it is always changing.  The budget below is one that I made as a free printable.  It has many of the categories I use in my personal budget and is also easy to customize and add your own.  This (along with the spending tracker below) is available for free in my 14 Day Frugal Living Challenge.

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You will also need to begin tracking all of your expenses.  This helps you keep your budget accurate, and gives you a great window into your spending habits.  By tracking your spending habits, you will be able to see what areas you are over spending in and areas you could cut back.

A great resource, and the book that completely changed my financial views, is Dave Ramseys book, The Total Money Makeover.  Check it out from your library, borrow it from a friend, or order it from Amazon.  No matter how you get it, I HIGHLY recommend everyone read it.  Dave Ramsey uses easy to understand terms as explains exactly how to fix your financial situation.

What is the best way to keep track of day to day spending?

There are a few different ways of doing this.  It doesn’t quite matter HOW, it just matters that you do it and that you stay consistent.

For years we used an excel spreadsheet that my husband made.  It took quite a bit of work for him to put it together, but it worked out really well.

About 7 years ago we discovered You Need a Budget.  It is so user friendly and very affordable.  You can download the app onto your phone and update it as you spend.  This is not sponsored in any way, we REALLY do love it!  A similar program is Every Dollar, I have never tried it, but have heard lots of good things.

There is also the good ol’ standard paper and pen method.  I’ve never tried this method, but I do know other people who enjoy it!

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When tracking spending it is important to stay consistent.  Pick a day of the week, schedule a time, and develop a routine for tracking your spending.  We do it every Monday evening.  We save all of our receipts and go through each item one by one and write it down.  It is not necessary to write EVERYTHING down, for example:  when buying groceries, just write groceries and the amount.  There is no need to write down bread and bananas, etc.

You could track your spending daily on your phone, or weekly like we do.  Try a few different things until you find a good fit for you.

How do you start the envelope system?

Using cash envelopes is a great way to limit your spending.  I have an article written all about how to get started and the benefits you’ll gain.  You can check it out at The Envelope Money System: A Beginners Guide.

How do you make a grocery budget?

My grocery budget has been all over the place.  When I first started budgeting, I set the grocery budget FAR to low.  I kept going way over the budgeted amount and couldn’t figure out how to cut the costs down.  I finally decided that I needed to budget more money for our weekly groceries.

I tell this story to give you encouragement that all budgets, but especially grocery budgets, are trial and error.  It might (and probably will) take you a few months before you have the best budget for you.

While you are tracking your spending you should be able to see how much you are normally spending on groceries.  This gives you a good ballpark figure to begin with.  If you feel it is unnecessary spending, you can try to slowly bring the budget down week by week until you get it to a place you feel comfortable with.

How do you minimize grocery costs?

Groceries are one of the biggest expenses for most budgets.  This is one of my personal struggles.

The number one way I have found to keep those costs low is to meal plan.  Plan out every meal you want to eat for the week.  As you meal plan, write out your grocery list, and stick to this list while you shop.  I’ve found using Walmart Grocery Pickup has helped me to stick to my list, AND my budget.

A few other ways to lower grocery costs are to cook from scratch (avoid convenience foods), shop sales, and use the cashback apps regularly.

What are the easiest apps for frugal beginners?

I love cashback apps!  Long gone are the days when you have to sift through ads and cut out coupons, now all you need is a receipt and an app on your phone!  I actually love these apps so much I already have an article written about all my favorites.  You can find it here:  My Favorite Cashback Apps.

What should my budget look like?  What is normal for our family?

No two budgets will look the same.  My normal will be different than your normal.  What I spend on groceries, will be different then what you will spend on groceries, etc.  This is one of my favorite parts of a budget.  You can customize it and find something that works for you personally!

I prefer a zero based budget.  Start with the amount of money you expect to make for the pay period.  Then, using your budget, find a spot for every single one of those dollars.  Keep budgeting until you have “spent” on paper every dollar of your paycheck.

This WILL take some adjustments and some TIME.  Focus more on giving every dollar a place in your budget, and less about how it compares to other budgets.  Again, I recommend Dave Ramseys, Total Money Makeover book.  He gives good advice about how much your percentage you should be spending in each category.

Coming Soon:  I am currently working on an article to share my personal percentages in each category.  Hopefully this can help you get an idea of where to start.

What can you do when you cut back, budget and still don’t have enough?

I loved this question; because it is such relatable and real situation for many of us.

My first piece of advice is to keep your head up!  You are NOT alone!  There are so many dealing with similar struggles.  I strongly believe that together, we CAN help each other reach our financial goals.  Reach out to facebook groups and instagram accounts that discuss this issue.  Surrounding yourself with others in this situation should give you the strength, support and ideas to help get you through it.

I love Dave Ramseys quote to be “gazelle intense.”  When you have done EVERYTHING you can think of and the money is just still NOT adding up, that means it’s time to take more extreme actions.  Here are a few ideas to take when you need to be “gazelle intense.”

  1.  Sell items in your home (see 10 Items In Your House You Can Sell Quickly To Make Money  and 5 Places Online To Sell Your Clutter and Earn Cash).
  2. Start a side hustle.  Is their a side job you could take on to earn some extra money?  Google side hustles ideas and you should be able to find a good variety of ideas.
  3. Look through that budget one more time, what else could you sacrifice?  Could you cancel your tv subscription, quit eating out, lower your phone data plan, cut out all entertainment, etc.  None of these things are FUN, but they might be necessary in this situation.  Here is an article where I share What we cut from our budget to save over $2500 a year.
  4. Could you ask for a raise?  Would it be beneficial to make a job change?
  5. What could you downgrade?  Perhaps trade in your car for a cheaper model or move into a more affordable home?

I understand it is NOT easy when the money just ISN’T there.  ESPECIALLY when you feel as if you have sacrificed again, and again and again.  I get it.  I have been there!  Keep your head up.  Keep trying.  Be “gazelle intense.”  I believe in you!

FAQ from Budget Beginners (2)

I hope these questions and answers helped you in some way as you begin the exciting, yet sometimes difficult world of budgeting.  It’s never easy to develop new habits and start fresh.  Most things in life that are hard, and the ones worth doing.  I can guarantee keeping track of your finances are one of those things.

 

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What I Learned From the July Pantry Challenge

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I just finished my month long pantry challenge!!  If you’re not aware of the term, a pantry challenge is meant to encourage you to use up items you already have in your home, (pantry, fridge, freezer, shelves, etc.), instead of spending money at the store on groceries.

My goal was to save a little extra money during the month by spending less on groceries.  To do this I decided to cut my regular grocery budget of $400 a month in half.  This would mean I could only spend $200 for our family of five.  This was no easy task and I was incredibly intimidated from the beginning, but I was determined to make it work.

The pantry challenge is now officially over (thank goodness) and I am proud of how the challenge went.  I would LOVE to say that I was able to only spend $200 on groceries….but I didn’t quite accomplish that.  I went over budget by $1.98.  I spent $201.98 on groceries for our family of five….and you know what I am so PROUD of MYSELF!!!

I wanted to share all about how I was able to make it work and what I learned during the process.

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Make a Plan

The ONLY way I could be successful with this pantry challenge was to plan ahead. I’ve always been a meal planner, but I learned quickly I needed to be much more detailed about planning every snack and meal.

At the beginning of each week I looked through my pantry, made an inventory of all our food.  I wrote down the meals and snacks we could make with what we ALREADY had in the house.

I was able to eat out of the pantry exclusively about 50% of the time.  The other 50% of the meals I tried to only plan really frugal meals with only a few cheap ingredients I would need to buy.  This meal planner that I use is available as a Free Printable in my Free Frugal Living Challenge.

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Successful Meal Plans

I listed out a few of the meals and snacks I found to be the most helpful in keeping the grocery costs low.  A few of these recipes (starred) are also available for free in my Frugal Living Challenge.

Breakfasts

*Fluffy Eggs

Pancakes

Eggs and Toast

Oatmeal

*Breakfast Potato Casserole

*Slow Cooker Oatmeal

Lunch

Muffin Tin Lunch

Sandwiches

Salad from Garden

Leftovers

Dinner

*Freezer Burritos

Layered Zuchinni

Spaghetti

*Taco Soup

*Balsamic Chicken

Pasta Bake

*Taco Tortilla Soup

Grilled Chicken

*Korean Beef

*Baked Island Chicken

Snacks

Pretzels

Homemade Cookies

Energy Bites

Popcorn

Canned Fruit

Bananas

Homemade Pudding

Homemade Bread

Grocery Shopping

I am a little obsessed with grocery shopping using Walmart Grocery Pickup (hello, shopping in my PJs and groceries loaded in the car FOR ME!  Sign me up!).

With my $200 monthly grocery budget, I was only allowed $50 a week.  One of my favorite things about Walmart Grocery Pickup is the ability to watch my cart total while I’m shopping.  (I know I COULD use a calculator at the store, but I’m just not great at it….) Being able to see how much I’m spending WHILE I’m shopping was crucial for me during this challenge.

If my cart ever went over the $50 amount I knew I needed to go back through the cart and delete a few items.  This was MUCH harder to do than I had anticipated!  My family all had to sacrifice a few items we were use to having regularly in order to make the month work.

Getting the Family Involved

I would LOVE to tell you that my family was totally on board and excited about my little July Pantry Challenge Experiment……but, they didn’t really love the idea.  When they saw the amount of food I was bringing home with each grocery trip they started complaining about the lack of food.

I tried to get my kids excited about the goal and had them help me make a lot of our homemade snacks.  They liked being able to help and were somewhat excited at the thought of having a challenge.

Unfortunately, this only lasted a couple of weeks.  As the month went on they began to get a really tired of the challenge.  The biggest problem was the snacks.  They are use to having snacks in the pantry, and we just couldn’t have those this month.  I decided to make a list of snacks we did have available and I hung it on the fridge.  This helped them a lot!  I think they had gotten so use to those convenience snacks (not awesome parenting, I know) that they had forgotten about all the other great options we had.

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Even though my family didn’t necessarily ENJOY the pantry challenge, I am really glad they were able to go through it with me.  It was such a good life lesson for my kids to learn about stretching dollars and how much food really costs.

What I learned

My biggest takeaway from the July Pantry Challenge is that I CAN live on less than I usually do. Yes, it took A LOT more effort, (preparing a lot more food from scratch and a lot of time planning), but I CAN do it!  We survived.

Moving forward I have a new sense of motivation to stay in budget, shop my pantry, and really spend with a purpose.  I’ve always told myself the lie that I HAVE to spend money on this food because we NEED it……but, we don’t!  We were just fine having less food around.  I am excited to take this new knowledge and adjust my grocery shopping from here on out.

What’s Next

My pantry challenge is over!  Does this mean I get to spend a lot of money next month restocking my shelves?????  Absolutely NOT!

I will be going back to my regular grocery budget of $400 a month.  I will slowly try to restock my pantry, but I will always stay within that $400 budget.

I honestly was terrified for this challenge!  I really didn’t know if I would be able to meet my goal, $400 a month is usually a little bit of a challenge.  But I did it, and I’m so glad I was willing to try!  If you are wanting to find a way to save a little extra cash, try having your own personal Pantry Challenge.  Be sure to come back and let me know if you did it and how it went!!