And now I’m going to take a break from my regularly scheduled blogging to talk to you about money – hey-o! Let’s talk budget! But first…

Where the REAL money's at. Daddy-daughter playtime. Love.

A few people have asked me to share a little bit about my budget system/meal plan so I thought I’d oblige now that we’ve used our system it for a few months and I kind of know, and like, how it’s working. I’m not going to reveal the numbers that we have to work with (mind your own business! ha) but I will share the basics. As background, we sort of developed our budget through some of Dave Ramsey’s principles. It’s a modified version for sure and we do not use an envelope system because I would die. Not to be dramatic or anything. Anyway, here goes:

Number 1: Mint.com
Please use this. It’s amazing and SUPER de DUPER easy. And FREEEEEE. We’ve been on Mint.com for a few years now but they just added this new feature last year. Now with that said, we have faith in the internet so we have our logins connected to the site to keep track of our budgets. This is what we used to figure out how to set it up. We have about 10 main categories – they include Food/Dining, Shopping, Insurance, Mortgage, etc. You get the idea. Each category has a certain amount of money assigned per month ever so carefully by my financially savvy husband. I go cross-eyed if I have to try to figure the numbers out so I’m grateful for my darling dearest and Mint.com. As the month progresses, so the money is tracked and subtracted accordingly and then everything automatically returns to square one the next month (well, some categories carry over but that’s getting a little technical). I have an app on my iPod and it’s super handy for a visual reference and a quick answer to: “can I buy this purse today?” or “I wonder how much I should actually buy at the grocery store this week…” I love this site. Saves me the trouble of tracking everything manually and is very user-friendly and well-designed, too.

Number 2: Meal plan
So far this has worked out great. What I do is make an extensive list of basic meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) for each season and then week by week decide what the menu will be so I can get the appropriate ingredients for that week. And I rotate this among two or three weeks for a couple months. I also keep my eye out for sale items that I use regularly – aka: keeping a well-stocked pantry. Sometimes I like to deviate from the plan and make something else if the mood strikes, but usually I have all the stuff to make the meal already so I don’t end up buying more than what I need. It’s important for me to be a conscious shopper – using coupons and scouting out the deals on ONLY the items I need – because we don’t have a large weekly grocery budget and I almost always go over even with my detailed list.

Number 3: Stick to the budget
Weeeeelllll this one’s not so good for me. While I do check into Mint.com every day to see where I’m at in each category, I have an extremely hard time staying within the budget. Usually what happens is at the end of each month I am scrounging the pantry for food having to get very creative with the menu and wishing I could buy those clothes that Sonora so desperately needs (which she does not, actually) but *sigh* I’ve run out of money. I’ll be pacing and pacing in the final week just waiting for the next month’s PILE OF MONEY to come rolling in. Then once it hits…BOOM…I’m off and running gleefully tossing it into the air, figuratively speaking, spending money wildly left and right. Typically it’s in the “shopping” category. And within three days tops, I will have already reached my limit in that particular category. So then I have 27 more days before I can go on a crazy binge again. It’s a little dramatic, I know. But I just can’t. help. it.

Number 4: Return things
If you know me well enough, you know I’m a big fan of RETURNING things. Whether it’s because I don’t feel like trying it on, I’ve changed my mind or I realize it’s something I just don’t need…I love returning things. I probably return something every single week, no joke. I’m pretty sure for a while right after Sonora was born the store, Ross, hated me because I kept buying and returning tiny baby things. Once we started our budget in January, I got used to keeping all my grocery receipts, too, in the event that I bought something totally worthless. It surprisingly happens quite often (“why do I have 4 cans of French Fried onions?”). So I highly encourage returning unnecessary things, especially if you are short on money for the month like I always am. And if you use Mint.com, you will discover the joy of checking your accounts and waiting with eager anticipation to see your budget turn from a red negative number to a green positive number right before your very eyes. Yessir, the site tracks EVERYTHING. All your returns reverse the charges it tracked and it essentially puts money back into the appropriate categories ALL ON ITS OWN. It’s some sort of wizard, I swear.

(sidenote: I do not work for, nor am I getting paid for my endorsement of Mint.com. It’s really just THAT GOOD)

Number 5: Don’t buy what you don’t need
As a follow up to returning things, the main thing I need to put into practice is this little gem. I’m a little obsessed with spending money and will never have nothing to buy. You followed me on that double negative, right? Good. But Ryan – bless his heart – is very good at asking, “do you need that?” (a sincere question) or “if you get that then you have to return this” (when he thinks i’m being frivolous) or “well then Sonora won’t have any food to eat…” (his sass when i already have too many). It really helps put things in perspective. But if it is candy, the answer is always yes.

And that, folks, is our budget life in summary. Thank you.

A penny for your thoughts,
Laura