When we first combined finances, we created a complicated web of accounts. We had separate accounts for our personal allowances ($70/month each) and our joint allowance (which includes groceries, entertainment, dinner out, etc.). We set up automatic transfers, which meant that the exact amount of money automatically transferred each month, and we would use different cards for different things.
The system was complicated in the sense that we had to remember which card to use when. We also had to go online to check our account balances. So this month we've been paying for everything out of a centralized account, but we've been using an index card in my wallet to track our spending from the different account areas.
This system has been working really well for us. If I don't have my wallet with me when we spend something, I just wait until we get home to record it. I subtract the amount we paid from the total, so we're always left with an exact number of how much we have left to spend.
A few days ago, we thought we were doing pretty well, until I had to pick up 6-months worth of heart worm and flea medication for Hoss. One hundred fifty bucks! Then our neighbor offered to sell us her KitchenAid for a mere $50. We actually went $29 into "debt" in order to buy it.
Fortunately, Matt and I are both savers. We want to hold ourselves to our budget so we can achieve our long-range goals. At the same time, we said something like, "I guess we won't be grocery shopping at Whole Foods this week."
At that point, we had to start dipping into our personal allowances. Luckily, I hadn't spent any of mine. Also, a friend of ours from Austin stayed with us over the weekend, so he paid for one of our meals. Then we got invited to go out to eat with the parents of another friend, so they covered the meal. Score!
It looks like we're actually going to make it this month.
Here are some of the strategies we used to stick to our budget:
- We paid close attention to frivolous spending and tried to find a comparable alternative. For example, Matt is kind of addicted to Chai Tea Lattes from Starbucks (even though we are staunch supporters of our local coffee shops). Instead of dropping $3 a day, he now buys a chai tea mix from Whole Foods and adds his own milk. It saves a small chunk of change.
- We used retailmenot to locate coupon codes. I had to order Aveda Be Curly shampoo and conditioner. I used retailmenot to find a promo code that gave me free shipping. Woo-hoo!
- We spent an extra minute thinking of creative solutions. Matt called to say he was going to stop by Home Depot to buy a paint tray so he could touch up the side of our house. I reminded him that we had $0 left in our home improvement budget (since we spent it all on our fence at the beginning of the month). We thought for a second and then realized that he could use one of our big yogurt containers and a paint brush we already had. I did the same thing a few weeks later. I was going to buy some rope from Target for a lesson about the distance between planets. I realized, however, that I could simply use some ugly yarn I already had lying around the craft closet.
- Shop in your pantry before heading to the store. When we got down to the crumbs of our monthly allotment, we decided to dig through our pantry and build meals around things we already had. We had leftover tortillas, so instead of throwing them away, we made goat cheese and roasted corn quesadillas. We had a whole bag of black-eyed peas, so we're going to make this salad. We were able to cut our bill from our normal $125 to just $56 with this strategy (and by shopping at Fiesta rather than Whole Foods).
It's all about balance.