It has recently come to my attention that I... perhaps suck at budgeting.
Simple concept really, spend less than what you make. How easy is that? Not very apparently.
We have had some very tight times in our marriage. Yet somehow I was able to navigate those without much trouble. Some freak outs, fits and tantrums but I still made it work. We have even survived unemployment with and without benefits.
Now however, I seem to be creating a mess.
Because of my desperate need to get back on track and save we have begun working with a financial planner.
(Free through my husband's work.)
I'm not sure what I think of this process. Actually, I do know... I find it completely annoying. I wanted him to be able to look at our finances and come up with some ideas. Instead he kind of shrugged and didn't seem to have much for answers other than saying we need to beef up life insurance and estate plan. Thank you Captain Obvious, that however takes money.
So like I have many times in the past I began scouring blogs, the finance sections of papers and magazines and trying hard to use common sense.
Our fixed expenses are just that... pretty fixed. There is not much room for change. Well... there are going to be changes but they take a little time (refi's, changes in insurance, and discontinuing a few services that are not 100% necessary and whatever else I may find).
But something I can try and control is our grocery and personal care expenses.
So I began tracking what I was spending in these two areas with my nifty Quicken software.
Wow. That was a little bit of a shock.
I mean I know we eat well and all but I didn't realize that we were spending that much.
We had completely eliminated eating out when my husband lost his job at the beginning of the year. With taking that expense out I didn't pay much attention to the grocery spending because with eliminating that expense I was obviously saving. And I was... but I was also having to spend a bit more on the grocery budget to make up for all of those take out nights.
So in my efforts to become more fiscally responsible I began to try to shop with lists. Okay, that was a total flop and didn't work. I can not look through my house and come up with a list. I don't know why, I just can't. It apparently takes too much effort.
So I decided to make backwards lists... if that makes any sense. I sat down and thought of the stores that I shop and how the stores are laid out, what departments are where and what products are in each area.
From there... I got this...
A checklist of things I use... further broken down by store.
This is a copy of our personal care/household supplies that we use. These are items I purchase at the Dollar General.
This list also helped me learn to use coupons. I had tried in the past to use coupons but always gave up because when you are only buying store brand... well why would you need coupons. But! This list helped me figure it out and make it work for me and showed me I am a little bit of a brand snob on some things.
Each Monday morning at work I get dropped off the inserts of the weekend papers. I sit down at lunch and clip all of the coupons in there. From there I sort the coupons into two categories... food and personal care items. Next I sort the coupons further down into more piles. The personal care coupons for example are sorted into three piles.
First, the brands that we do use. These are the items that I am a brand snob on such as toothpaste, the dogs food or my shampoo and conditioner. These coupons go in one envelope and are set aside.
The next pile is the items that I am not a brand snob on. My husband's shave cream or body wash. These are items that price will be the determining factor on what brand I purchase. They go into their marked envelope.
The final pile is first aide and medicine cabinet items. These are items that I am not going to buy unless someone is coming down with something... so it's best to hold onto these just in case. I used to keep a stocked medicine cabinets but found after cleaning it out one day that the majority of the items were going into the trash rather than used so it really is only necessary for me to keep minimal supplies on hand.
Okay, so... now... how the two work together. Finally... I know.
I print out a copy of my list and look through the house. I check off what we are low on or out of and sit down with the envelopes of coupons. I first look through the envelope that contains the brands we use. If we need toothpaste, I pull out the coupon for Colgate... and so on. Once I have completed this envelope I attach all of the corresponding coupons to the list. I then move on to the next envelope of the items that brand is not as important. If we need toilet paper, I pull all of the coupons I have for toilet paper and put them into another envelope. When I'm done I may have 5 coupons for toilet paper, what one I use, if any, will be determined once I get to the store. No one is sick so no need to look at the first-aide coupons. Perfect.
Finally, off to the store with my coupons clipped to the list and my envelope full of coupons!
This method has kept me from over and under purchasing items that lead to stockpiles or shortages that cause additional trips to pick up one thing... that leads to 10 items by the time I check out.