Ever since I got my first job in 2006, I have been financially self sufficient and capable of fulfilling my materialistic wants and needs. Then, I got married in 2009 and we agreed on a few terms on household expenditure. We both would get groceries and it didn’t matter if one spent more than the other. Then, we had a baby in 2013 and I decided that the time I spend with a computer, needs to be spent with her instead. Meaning, no job and no monthly income for me. It was a scary prospect, but, I had some money in my account that helped me get by when I was in India. It was when we shifted to Melbourne, that we really felt the heat of managing a family with single income. One word “difficult”. Especially for us, who just transitioned from being DINC (Double Income No Kids). I, however, had decided to brave whatever that might come, in order to be with my daughter for the first few years of her life.
For a couple who is used to spending their own money and not really maintaining a budget, it is particularly difficult to manage expenses, when everything has to share a single pool of income.
You realize that there are a lot of bills to be paid and the groceries just recently bought, have disappeared overnight.
Though we started budgeting because I stopped earning (especially when we started feeling the pinch), nothing is stopping you from budgeting even if you are earning. Single or married, with or without children, budgeting is for everyone. It teaches value of money and how your prioritize things. True, money can’t buy everything, but it can definitely fulfill at least a few of your dreams.
Tired of thinking and keeping track of your expenses? Wish you earned more so you could upgrade to a 4 wheel drive for your weekend outings? Failed budgeting attempts? Here are a few tips from my own experience which, I hope, will help you, to help yourself save better.
1. Write it down
Writing down the expense makes it official. When you can see the figure, you will know where the money went. Give yourself an experimental month where you spend like you normally do. Save the bills and note the expenses.
Some examples of regular expenses are:
Daily commute – public transport
Kids expenses like diapers, formula etc
Other infrequent expenses can be:
Meal/Drink with friends/colleagues
Come up with things that are particular to your family which might not be in this list, and write it down. Add it all up and there you have it, the official total figure.
Now you know how much is your expenditure is. Deduct it from the monthly income and what remains is what you can call a saving, for that month.
This also shows where you have been spending the most and if you could’ve avoided any expense at all.
2. Make a list of where you want to save and how
Now that you know where the money goes, think of ways you can reduce it. Go through that list one by one.
Save on bills
Having a limited screen time and getting the household chores done in daylight can be few options to save electricity bill. As can watching it when your tap is on, save water bill. These are small things but need to be consciously done. You might have the tap on all the time you brush your teeth and not even notice in your early morning haze. So it is always better to make a list of action items that can save you money.
Save on Fuel
If you are driving on a daily basis, check if taking public transport would be easier on your wallet. There might be some daily/month passes at reduced prices.
Make that grocery trip count. Make a list and avoid driving there again because you forgot something.
Plan ahead if you are going somewhere. Take a shorter route. If you have an errand to run in the neighborhood where you are going, plan, so that you can get that done too. Always group your tasks by their locality so most of them can be done in a single trip.
Walk. In your immediate neighborhood, walk to places where you can. Even when it is cold. Just layer your clothes, wear your outdoor jacket (hopefully you have invested in a good quality jacket), wrap that scarf, don that beanie and go.
Save on groceries
Learn to plan your grocery shopping really well, which can reduce a lot of expense. I know it, because I reduced my expense by around $100 in the first month that I consciously shopped for groceries.
Wait for my post on this one.
Do some research (on internet or talk to friends) about various brands of products that you use for kids. Things your are looking for besides price are quality, ingredients and reviews. Choose what you feel is the best for your kids. And lastly, check if a different store is selling the same product for a lesser price.
Save on eating out
If you regularly eat out at office, see if you can find other options that can save you a few. Even if it saves you $1 everyday it adds up to $20 a month, if you don’t eat out on weekends. Ask around casually and/or talk to your colleagues.
Limit eating out (besides the regular meal at office) to one or two meals a month. Pack a sandwich or a wrap from home if you plan to stay out too long. Carry water bottles from home. It is best if you can have one with you whenever you go out.
Remember, every penny saved is a penny earned.
Save on shopping
Again, make a list. I’m huge on lists, you can find them strewn around our house. Before going out, check online for price difference in various stores. However, it is easier to wander into that lane where you like something and hey it is on sale, so you think ‘awesome deal, lets buy it’. Don’t buy it. Stop and think. Do you really need it? Can you do without it?
Impulsive shopping makes us spend on things that we mostly don’t use or could do without.
3. Saving by habit
Yes, you can make saving a habit. It is very simple and very effective. As soon as you get your salary, just transfer a certain amount, that you think you can afford that month, into another account. Preferably one to which you don’t hold a card. Now, think of it as another expense and that the money is actually gone. It is important not to carry a card to the other account, as you can easily be tempted to use it. Right now my husband transfers money, every month, into my account and doesn’t look back at it. I used to do transfer money into a savings account of a different bank, when I used to work. This is how I could gather money enough to pay for my LIC premiums for two years, even after I stopped working.
4. Make a budget sheet
In our family, my husband does this. He promptly maintains an excel sheet where he enters the expenditure by categories and sums them up for each month.
You might have to draw it up on a sheet/notepad if you don’t really want to use a computer. Here is a sample of what it looks like.
Fill the sheet regularly and religiously every month. After a couple of months you will get an idea of what is going on. You will truly realize how much will actually be left over after all the expenses are met.
Now, you can plan ahead and save up for that trip you always wanted to take your family on, as you are now able to decide where and how much you need to save each month.
5. Follow through
This is the toughest part of the whole plan. It is extremely difficult to follow through steps 1-3 each month. Reasons – laziness, procrastination, carelessness, failure to manage time, absentmindedness, failure to prioritize etc.
Remind yourself why you need to do this. That all the saved money can be used wisely in future –
As part of your retirement plan
As part of education fund for your kids
Can be used for an exotic family trip
Can be invested to derive cool returns
Can be used to buy/build a house
Can be used to upgrade your car
Can be used to buy nice gift for your loved ones
Need more prodding?
- Save all the grocery bills, electricity/telephone/gas/water bills and put them in their own Ziploc bags. Keep them near the budget list. That way they will be easily accessible when you need it at the month end. OR use a card (credit or debit) to pay for the expenses and you can get the transactions online whenever you want.
- Set reminder on your mobile for, say, the 30th of each month, to fill the budget sheet. If you are not able to do it then, reset it to the next day or whenever you think you can make time immediately and not cancel it. Don’t delay it more than 2 days.
- If you are getting reminder for budget sheet on your mobile for more than 2 times, it is time to re-prioritize your tasks. See which one you can move for later and take that time up for the budget sheet. This is about your money, so this is an important task. Unless of course, it is an emergency and you have to skip a whole month, in which case, spend twice the time and do it together with next month budget.
I have my bad days too. I get lazy and lethargic and procrastinate a lot. However, I end up doubling my efforts to make up for the lost time. I too am learning to do this.
Though budgeting becomes essential for single income families, double income families can also definitely benefit from this. It all depends on your commitments and how much income you have. Every person can budget according to their situation. The difference would be what you want to cut back and save from. I would definitely continue to budget even if I start earning.
We are currently a single income family and this post is based on our own experiences and what we learnt from it.