Let’s be honest: there are about a hundred things you’d rather do with your family than create a household budget. Those things include housecleaning, math homework, and a whole lot of other things — but having a household budget and sticking to it are critical elements of keeping your family happy, healthy, and stress-free. Here are our tips to get started.
How to plan a household budget
It doesn’t seem like it should be that complicated but if you’re starting from scratch, it may feel daunting. So we’ll break it down. Step one: get clear on what you’re currently spending. Do you know exactly what your bills are each month? How much are you spending on your mortgage or rent, utilities, groceries, transportation, and so on? You may need to spend some time tracking your expenses if you don’t already have this information handy.
Then, download our favorite budget worksheet and start filling in the columns! This worksheet is simple and will do a lot of the work for you if you take the time to fill in all of the spendings you do. Alternately, you can sign up for an online service like Mint.com (free) or YouNeedABudget.com to create a more automated approach that tracks all of your spendings without requiring you to manually input each item. They will also give you a household budget example to get you started. The downside to automated budgeting? You’re not getting as up-close-and-personal with your spending. If a family budget feels like a challenging proposition because your spending habits need reining in, you may consider the budgeting spreadsheet first and graduate to automation later.
For your reference, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey suggests that your household’s primary expenses should break down something like this, based on what percent of your income should be spent on each thing to be realistic:
- Mortgage: 58 percent (Is this your first home? Here’s what you need to know about your first mortgage!
- Utilities: 21 percent
- Household furnishings and equipment: 9.2 percent
- Food: 12.9 percent is average
- Transportation/vehicle expenses: 15 percent is average
Then? Stick to it. Here are a few tricks
- Having a budget just for the sake of having a budget isn’t very good motivation. Have an intended purpose for the money you are saving, whether it’s paying down debt, buying a new house, or going on a vacation. Create a way of tracking your progress toward that goal.
- Track your discretionary funds too. Many people aren’t aware how much they spend on restaurants, movies, and other fun things – but those can add up over time. You might use a trick like paying only in cash for those items and keeping that cash in envelopes in the kitchen so that when it’s gone, it’s gone and you receive the signal to slow your spending.
- Give yourself a buffer. Unexpected expenses really are to be expected, so if you plan your budget to account for some additional costs you’ll be less likely to get caught unprepared. You might do that by building a buffer into your budget numbers, or you might create a savings account on the side specifically for that purpose.
- Change your billing cycles if they end up falling at the same time. Some bills can be bumped to the middle of the month or at least offset by a week, meaning you won’t have to worry about a massive hit to your bank account all at one time. Take advantage if that option exists.
Final tips on how to make a household budget plan and make it work
As with any significant shift in family life, you have to get everyone on board with the change in spending habits and expense tracking. The budget will truly only have an impact if there aren’t daily “exceptions” made, and if everyone understands why a budget is helping the family in the long run. When the whole family is focused on the goal, everyone will understand why ordering takeout five nights a week just isn’t going to work. Rather than feeling restrictive, it will serve to focus your spending on what matters most — like moving into that new house. In which case, your budget would benefit from comparing moving quotes online…
Need a little more insight into the world of a first-time homeowner after making the leap? Here’s our inside scoop on what first-time homeowners need to know.