Whether you need money for school fees, some extra to pay an unexpected bill, or you’re simply wondering where your money goes every week, it might be time to sit down and do a family budget. While “budget” is a word that’s thrown around a lot, it’s also one that scares a lot of us. We tend to think that the whole family will be on baked beans and butter sandwiches.
Family budgeting is about learning to live within your means. You don’t need fancy calculators, magic or science to create a family budget (though the online calculators can make it all a lot more fun). In truth, you need time and common sense – and while parents might be short on the first, we more than make up for it with the second. Follow our tips and you’ll be on top of your money plan before you know it.
STEP 1: Know what you spend
The first thing you need when creating a budget is a serious dose of honesty. For a budget to be effective, it has to be an accurate account of your expenses. Don’t estimate your bills. When it comes to those miscellaneous expenses that eat up so much of our incomes, you’ll need to make an investment. Buy a small notebook. Carry it with you at all times. Write down every kobo you spend for at least a week. From the N50 for your child’s snack, to the storybook you buy to keep them busy, write it down. It will help you create a true picture of your spending habits. If you have a partner, get him to do the same. You’ll both get to see where your money goes – not where you think it goes.
You can’t create a budget until you know where your money is going.
To find out the true numbers, keep track of every purchase you make for 30 days. Don’t forget small items like gum or paying for car pack. Carry your small notebook and jot down purchases as you make them, or save all your receipts and record every spend.
Once you’ve kept track for a month, divide all your expenses into specific categories, such as entertainment, feeding, transportation and child care. Add up totals for each category, and then add together each of those for your grand total. Then subtract that amount from your monthly take-home pay. If you spend more than you make, you definitely need a budget.
STEP 2: Set goals
While some people get all the motivation they need from watching their bank accounts grow, most of us need a more concrete reason to stick to a budget. So set some goals for your money. Think about what would make you feel great, financially: It could be saving 100k a year toward your son’s secondary education.
To remind you of your goals, write them on a piece of paper, then tape it to your fridge, so you see them every day. From the get-go, involve the whole family in the decision-making process. Children as young as 7 can join in discussions about saving and may have some ideas of their own.
Bottom line: If all your family members buy into the goal, you’ll be more likely to achieve it. When only one person has a budget goal, that’s where you see one spouse out spending while the other is trying to save money.
STEP 3: Create the budget
Now comes the hardest part, especially if you’ve been spending more than you earn every month: figuring out which spending habits you need to change, so that you can save more money.
First, realize that budgeting is all about choices — what you can live with (and without!) to stay on target.
Looking through your spend record will help you identify the areas where you spend most, and help you see where there’s room to cut back and save.
STEP 4: Monitor your progress
Review your budget each month to find out how well it’s working.
Making adjustments is a normal part of the budgeting process. Stay motivated by celebrating small successes, like the fact that you were able to save something, even if it’s just N1,000 more than you did before.
Don’t be too hard on yourself
It takes some time to ease into a budget. Like new shoes, it might pinch and seem tight to start with. If you find that you forgot to allow for car maintenance or that you really can’t feed the family on N5,000 a week, start again. Get out your notebook and write down what you’re spending. Why? It makes you aware. Like going on a diet and keeping a food diary helps you to remember that you don’t really need Shawarma, an expenses notebook helps you to rethink your purchases.
Getting a handle on family budgeting is about understanding where you money goes. That way, you can stop it doing its disappearing act before it’s too late.