8 Difficult Budget Tips

Budget tips are all over the internet. A quick search and you’ll find all the information you need. From being able to Create Your First Budget in Five Easy Steps to Easy Budgeting Tips it seems like it is easy.

I would agree, it is easy.

It is easy to write a bunch of tips. I could write a pretty little blog post giving all the kinds of free advice. I could tell you what other people already do.

Easier said than done.

Budget and accounting

AlexanderStein / Pixabay


I was talking with a friend a few weeks ago and she said something that summarizes living in contentment.

It isn’t about making more money, it is about living with what you have.

She said she was learning this. I smiled, agreed, and secretly thought, “She gets it!”. I’m sure she has heard it before, many times, but that doesn’t matter. Until you live it and accept it, nothing will change.

It is a long hard road once change comes and can be quite overwhelming. Occasionally, friends will ask me for budgeting advice. I’m not an expert and don’t have all the answers. However, I do maintain a strict budget and have for several years. We are not rich by any standard and living this way has eased the financial stress and allowed us to move toward contentment.

I have created some difficult steps that I used to create my budget.

Step 1: Figure out your income

The easy part: The first step to creating a budget is to figure out how much money you make. This is standard and might be the easiest part in the process.

The hard part: If your income changes from month to month, figure out your baseline and write your budget according to that.

The Husband gets paid on a weekly basis. That means that he gets 4 paychecks per month. However, 4 times a year he gets 5 paychecks. Instead of creating my budget on his annual income divided by 12, I wrote our budget for his 4 week income. More later on what I plan to do with the ‘bonus checks’. If you get paid bi-weekly, you get 2 ‘bonus checks’ a year.

Also, we plan a month ahead. The income he is making now (in June) is going toward July’s budget. It took us a long time to get to this point, but it is well worth it once you do.

Step 2: Budget all your regular bills

The easy part: Gather all your regular monthly bills. The things that you have to pay to keep a roof over your head, would get in trouble if you skipped, and are paid monthly.

Write down your mortgage/rent, insurance, phone, internet, electricity, gas, water, sewer, trash, local monthly taxes, credit card, loan and debt payments, etc.

The hard part: For things that can change on a monthly basis, figure out a 12 month average and then add $5.  This is how much money you are going to set aside each month to pay for these things, and then don’t spend it on anything else.

We set aside a certain amount for our electrical bill. It is often significantly less during the spring & fall, and slightly less in the summer. Instead of using that money for something else, I save it. Then, when the winter arrives and our electrical bill doubles I don’t have to scramble to keep the lights on. The money is already there, and without having to sacrifice something else.

This is where the big shift comes from normal budget tips.

It is not about thinking month to month or even year to year, it is about thinking several years ahead and planning for it now. No, I’m not talking retirement funds. We don’t have one of those. I’m not even talking about savings accounts. I’m simply talking about day to day expenses, even if they come every few years. More on that in a bit.

Step 3: Budget other monthly expenses

The easy part: Figure out your grocery, gas/fuel, entertainment, eating out, sports, hobbies, and fun stuff budgets.

Write down the amounts you think you spend on them every month. Don’t look at your income, just write amounts for right now. Stay realistic as this isn’t a dream budget, but don’t focus on income to expenses yet.

The hard part: Figure out your clothing & shoes budget for the year. How much are you going to need to spend during the year to keep your family clothed. New shoes and clothes for the kids for virtually every season, updated work clothes, emergency clothes because something got a hole in it, etc. Take that amount and divide it by 12. It is the same idea as the electrical bill.

Step 4: Plan for occasional expenses

The easy part: Set aside some every month for doctor’s visits, home maintenance, birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving and any other holiday your family celebrates. You know they are coming so why be surprised when they arrive?

The hard part: Think about the really small things that only come once a year but they are guaranteed to come. Auto registration, 6 month insurance renewals, vacation, camps, seasonal activites, club memberships, etc.

You also have to take into account the hidden expenses. We like to go camping. We budget money for the campsite, but we also budget extra money for food (camping food is always more expensive than home cooked food), fuel to get there, and any extra activities we might do while there. It isn’t just about the campsite, it is about the entire event.

Take each one of those line items and divide them by 12. That is how much you need each month to pay for these occasional items.

Step 5: What did you forget?

The easy part: Go through all your expenses and look at what you may have forgotten to include. Look at your bank statements and see if there is a withdraw that belongs in a line item.

The hard part: You have to think beyond a year. Driver’s Licenses are renewed once every 4-8 years. That expense will come, and when you live on a super tight budget it can throw you over for the month. Figure out your state fees and divide by the years between renewals, then again by 12. That is how much it costs for you to hold that license each month. Budget that.

If you own your home there are some long term maintenance projects that are often forgotten. The roof has to be done every 20-30 years. It is usually a large expense, but spread over 25 years it isn’t too much on a monthly basis. Also think about your fences, siding, painting, driveway, water heater, bath tub, etc. A little bit each month can lessen the blow when something breaks.

Also think of any long term savings goals. Do you want to save for a car or your child’s education? Do you want to save for retirement? Put all those in.

Step 6: Add up all your expenses, subtract them from your income

The easy part: If you have left over income you are on easy street. Either allocate more to a specific line item or set it aside in a savings account. I would recommend saving it–especially the first few months. There is probably something you forgot to budget for.

The hard part: I’m here almost every year. I have more expenses than income. Now, you get to look back over your budget and figure out what to cut. What can realistically be reduced. It may not be that you want to, but it must be done. Entertainment and eating out budgets are the easiest to cut. Don’t forget that cutting the eating out budget will slightly increase the grocery budget.

Step 7: When there is not enough money

The hard part: There is nothing easy about this. We are currently living in this situation because of The Husband’s pay cut when he switched jobs. He does not make enough money to pay all of our bills, even on a turnip budget.

I could stop setting aside money for driver’s licenses and other irregular expenses but we would be scrambling when those expenses arose. This is a hard place to be and it doesn’t have a universal answer. I will share our plans.

Remember that extra pay check 4 times a year? When that comes, it is being set aside. Then as I go over budget every month, I have a small buffer.

We also get a large federal tax return each year because we qualify for the EIC (earned income credit) and this increases our tax return significantly. We saved it and are living off a little bit of it every month. This means we have to be extremely careful. That money could very easily run out and then we won’t be able to pay the bills.

Our future also includes SNAP benefits (food stamps). This is not easy for me to write, but this is our reality. I’m not ashamed to be going on them, but there is a social stigma by being on food stamps. I will be judged as being lazy and not working–instead choosing to live off the government. I don’t worry about what others think, but I know it will bother me if I get ‘those judgmental looks’.

For the next 4 years while The Husband is in school and going through his apprenticeship we are going to need extra assistance to put food on the table. Our plan is that this is a temporary thing. Assistance to get us to a place where we are are more financially sound again.

Finally, we also look at creative solutions. Those creative solutions are part of another blog post that I plan to share next Tuesday.

Step 8: Stick to it

The easy part: You wrote your budget.

The hard part: Stick to it. This is so hard.

You will occasionally go over in a line item–I do. It is okay. There are two different way I handle this depending on the situation. I either carry the negative to the following month and less gets put in that line item (a hypothetical debt within my budget) or I rob Peter to pay Paul. In other words, when we need to fill up the truck an extra time and it goes over for the month, I take a little money out of a different budget area so everything still balances. Keep an eye on it though, you don’t want to dip into anything too far or you won’t be prepared when that expense arises.

The hardest part of this budget is keeping track of all the little line items each month. How do you know how much money is in the birthday line item?

I use Quicken. I set up a budget and put my amounts in for the year. Then, I make sure I allocate everything to a line item as I track expenses. Nothing is unaccounted for–everything has a place. Some budgeted items will grow large over the course of the year. You may have an expense where you spend $60 in that line item one month with only $5 being put in it. That is okay because you have been planning on it for a year.

I track all our income & expenses through customized reports within Quicken. Rolling over to a new budget year is always interesting and takes time, but with a little practice, it can be done.

In the past I have also used microsoft excel. If you prefer to use the cash/envelope system then get some fat envelopes because some of them will become bloated over the year.

Living in this mindset takes time. You will mess up, but don’t give up. Instead, look at what you have and work with it.

I’d love to hear how you budget in the comments section!


And remember: I didn’t say it was going to be easy.





After I posted this I shared it with some friends on my personal Facebook page. One friend told me about You Need a Budget. I was amazed. All these years I have been doing this on my own, knowing others out there did it too. YNAB is this system. It is a budgeting program and rules.

They have free email lessons as well as online lessons for those learning about budgeting.

I haven’t read the emails or the program, but if you are looking at setting up a budget like this, I recommend looking at it. I have customized Quicken to work for me but that took a long time to learn how to do it right. No matter what you use, if you’re setting it up and have questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Heather
    Jun 10, 2014 @ 12:02:07

    Great tips! My husband always says “if we just made x more” and I always remind him that we are lucky that he has a job at all, and should be thankful for what we have. It is a hard road to deal with debt and bills. We are attempting to follow the Dave Ramsey plan…unfortunately it is taking us a while 🙂 We will be happy when we are done though!



    • Crystal
      Jun 10, 2014 @ 13:07:47

      I know a lot of people who have successfully gone through Dave Ramsey. It is wonderful to be debt free. We were for a while (with the exception of our mortgage). Last year we had to take on a car payment as both of our cars broke beyond reasonable repair within 3 months of each other. I am noticing the slight difference. It is budgeted, but it is still an obligation. Good luck! You can make it.



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