Creating a Realistic Family Budget
Budgeting is one of those things that sounds simple enough until you have to sit down and do it. A quick Google search for “creating a family budget” will return thousands of results including tips, tricks, and worksheets to help you get started. If you’re like me, you always have the best intentions of sticking to a budget…and then the unexpected happens. I can budget my bills and other expenses, but inevitably, utility expenses fluctuate, there’s an upcoming birthday party, or we make visits to the doctor and have copays. I’m going to be honest; I am not the most organized person. So, the tips I’m sharing are perfect if you’re not into budgeting planners, spreadsheets, and tracking every little detail.
Tip 1: Optimize Your Direct Deposit
Contribute to Your 401K
Most employers let you divide up your direct deposit to multiple accounts. It’s so important to prioritize saving money. Contribute at least a little to your 401K, especially if your employer offers a match. You may add up what you could do with 3% of your salary each month, but if you earmark it for your 401K, you’ll never even miss it!
Automate Your Savings
I also have a certain amount go directly to savings, so I don’t have to think about it. The unexpected will happen, you just don’t know what or when it will be. By saving money each month, you’re better prepared when an appliance breaks or you have car trouble.
Set up a Health Savings Account
My absolute favorite budgeting trick is to open a health savings account (HSA). You choose an amount that automatically gets deposited into a separate account for medical expenses. The best part about an HSA is that you can choose to have the money taken out of your check before taxes – potentially lowering the amount of taxes that come out of your paycheck.
With my HSA, I don’t worry about unexpected doctor or dentist visits because I know my copays are already budgeted for. The money you don’t spend stays in your account until you need it, so you aren’t limited to using it in a single calendar year.
Tip 2: Outline Your Monthly Expenses
I personally use the “Notes” feature in my phone to outline a rough budget for the month. I include the nonnegotiable expenses I know I need to pay. Examples from my own budget include:
- Mortgage or rent
- Utilities for power, water, garbage, and gas
- Other bills like credit card, personal loan, or auto loan payments
- School tuition for my kids
- Kid’s activities like ballet, gymnastics, and swimming lessons
- Internet and phone bills
- Pet supplies (we have a cat)
- Gas for my car
For me, it’s important to know that each month will be different. Some of the costs fluctuate and others stay the same. Each month I start a new note and estimate these expenses. I always try to overestimate rather than underestimate. I know that our power bill is higher in the summer, so I budget for that the best I can.
If you’re married, you can divide up your budget and each deposit a certain amount of money into a bill account together. Or, you can divide up responsibilities and each pay certain bills. It’s important to work together with your spouse and talk about upcoming expenses so you’re on the same page with spending.
Tip 3: Plan Ahead for Miscellaneous Spending
I also keep a note in my phone of family birthdays. I know when my nieces and nephews have birthdays coming up and try to budget for gifts and outings. I also think ahead for things like:
- Date nights
- Local events
- Eating out
- New clothes/shoes as my kids grow
- Upcoming household needs
- Upcoming vet visits
- Supplies for school or activities (including holiday parties!)
I often think of something randomly that I need to spend money on soon. As soon as I think of it, I add it to my budget for the month and estimate the cost. When I get the nagging feeling that I’m forgetting something, I glance over my budget.
Remember, your budget is ever-changing. As I pay bills, I check them off the list in my phone and try to update the actual cost vs. what I budgeted for. I don’t stick to a super strict budget, but these small steps help me to stay on track and be more in control of my money.
Katy Hebebrand is a mom of three and freelance writer working in Pensacola, Florida. She earned her Public Relations BA from the University of West Florida and her Media Design MA from Full Sail University. She was born and raised in Pensacola and spent the first ten years of her career working in Pensacola before shifting to doing contract work full time in 2018.