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Budgeting: tips and April roundup.

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April was the first month I tried to create a budget and stick to it. After the last couple of months had slowly eaten away at my bank accounts, I decided it was time to buckle down and stop spending money willy-dilly. I’d never given money much thought until I opened my online banking website in early April and found my account sitting at -26 cents. I moved money over from my saving account but it was a shock to find I had overspent.

I don’t spend money regularly but if I do have occasion to spend money, like a special shopping trip to the antique mall or going out with friends, I don’t give much thought on how much I am spending. Meaning, that while I don’t constantly spend money, when I do, I spend a lot. An antique mall trip might only happen a couple times a year but each time could see a couple hundred dollars going out the door. (I have a vintage teacup obsession.) Then I don’t really think about how much I am spending at normal places, like the grocery store.

But I’ve had some big bills recently. I broke my arm in November 2014 and the ER trip, surgery, and then physical therapy bills are still coming in, even 6 months later. In February, I took my car in for a normal oil change and a message about the air bag on my radio dash and left with a new battery and brakes. Money has been flowing through my fingers like water lately and it needed to stop.

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So I set up a budget. As my first budget, I went easy on myself. I made a promise to shop for the majority of my groceries from the local discount store, only going to the regular grocery store for special things and those things I can’t get at the discount store. So, this meant most of my food shopping was done at ALDI with only sporadic trips to Schnucks or Dierbergs.

Budget Tip 1: Discount grocery stores are awesome.

In my area, ALDI is the best discount grocery store. Their food is fine. Milk is milk and eggs are eggs no matter was label you put on it. I actually prefer their Bremer Pepperoni Pizza Hot Stuffed Sandwiches to the Hot Pocket brand pepperoni pizza sandwiches it could get at other stores. Most of my essentials were bought from ALDI. They even have a nice selection of fresh vegetables and fruit, including mushrooms and bagged spinach. I only go to the specialty grocery stores for anything like Yukon gold potatoes and perhaps bigger cuts of meat, like roasts. What I’m saying here is, if you are hesitant to shop at discount stores because you think they are lesser quality or only truly poor families shop there, don’t. They are a resource everyone should be utilizing.

Budget Tip 2: Writing expenses down on paper.

The second thing I started to do was keep an expenditure log. I’m just like everyone else; I don’t carry cash anymore. I pay for everything with a debit card. A single swipe and I’m on my way. The problem with that is it can be hard to understand the amount of money you are spending when using a debit or credit card. Either I could have started to carry cash on me, which frankly didn’t sound like a good idea for several reasons, or I could start putting more effort into tracking my purchases.

Pinterest is full of budget printables. Simple do a search for ‘budget printables’ and a whole host of links will pop up. Here is the one I used from Queen of Free. I wanted something fairly simple looking but there are choices that are colorful and will allow you to add whatever information you want to the log. I used one side for fixed expenses; like the rent, utilities, and internet/cable, and I used the other side for variable expenses; like food, clothing, and entertainment. I made sure that for every purchase, I put it on the expenditure log so I could physically see where the money was going and how much I was spending.

I set a sliding budget for groceries up to $80 a week but with a goal of $50 a week. This gave me a bit of wiggle room while I get used to shopping at the discount store. Disregarding the first week of April, when I wasn’t keeping a budget, I did pretty well. I fell between $50 and $60 each week. That’s pretty darn good for my first try. I was spending about $40 at ALDI and about $20 at the regular grocery store.

I didn’t deprive myself either. I ate pork chops and chicken legs and mashed potatoes but I was more aware of what those things cost and that they were cheaper at ALDI. I knew if I suddenly went on a diet of cheap boxed mac & cheese, that the whole budget thing wouldn’t last a week. I was very mindful of what I was spending my money on. As a result, I bought less junk food. I didn’t cut it out altogether. I still had potato chips and nutty bars for my junk food cravings. But I spent the majority of my food budget on whole foods like veggies and meats and made big enough meals out of them that there was enough for 2 or 3 meals. That way I wasn’t cooking every single night and getting annoyed or tired of it. So, I ate well and didn’t mind being on a budget because it didn’t feel like I was. Be mindful of what you are buying and know the best places to spend your cash.

moneynotesEven with only keeping a budget for 3 weeks out of the 4 weeks in April, I still saved almost $400. I used my federal tax refund to pay a medical bill and then had to move some more money from my saving to my checking account to pay for my car insurance renewal. But taking out those two non-normal one time expenses, I saved $400. I hope to do just as well in May but I have another medical bill to pay and I need to throw money at my credit card bill. (My credit card has my vacation to Colorado, new glasses, and dental work from summer and autumn 2014 on it. I’ve been making the minimum payment on it for about 10 months now. I know, that’s bad. As soon as I pay this last medical bill [I hope to all the gods it’s the last medical bill.], I’ll start paying off the credit card.)

It will still be several months before I start saving money instead of just coming out even. I have a lot of work a head of me. Fingers crossed, everybody!

Thank you for reading!

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