MSOI: My New Favorite Budgeting Tool

Little confession here:  I enjoy money.  Not in a wealth-craving, materialistic way or anything.  I just really enjoy working with numbers and budgeting.  When I say I’m an on-again-off-again administrative assistant at Stone County Ironworks, what I really mean is that I enter endless invoices and bills into the accounting software…and thoroughly enjoy it.

Sometimes, though, life goes too fast and I don’t have the time to budget and track money and save like I want to.  Sometimes the checkbook goes unbalanced for an embarrassingly long amount of time.  And sometimes I overspend and then put off working on the budget or balancing the checkbook because not hitting my goals is just too dang depressing.

Enter my new favorite budgeting tool.  I have two crazy kids to keep up with and since this tool entered my life in December, I’ve still been able to keep up with the money amazingly well.

It’s actually a software called You Need a Budget.  Basically, it takes everything I’ve ever tried to make on my own with spreadsheets and online budgets, and boils it down into a simple, easy to use program that literally anyone could figure out.  It doesn’t hurt that they also have a 4-step plan to get your finances in order, plus a myriad of videos and webinars to help.

My favorite part about the program is that, instead of working off of your expected income for the month, it goes off of what you already have in the bank account.  You’ll never wonder if you have enough money to cover a bill again, because you’ll only budget the money that you have.

Unfortunately, this neat aspect can also be a caveat.  One of the steps in their 4-steps is to create a buffer so that you’re literally a month ahead on spending and bills.  For instance, if you budget $2000 for expenses in a month, you’d ideally already have $2000 in the bank at the beginning of the month for them.  Then, any income from the current month is set aside for next month.  If you’ve already got a buffer, then no problem, but if you don’t then you’ll find yourself only able to budget parts of the month at a time (usually budgeting more each time you get paid).  While this can be a pain, it can also be very beneficial, because you obviously won’t have $2000 available to you to spend on the 1st of the month if you get paid $500 each week.  So, if you only have $500 in the bank, you only budget $500 and wait until the next paycheck to budget in more.  For any Dave Ramsey fans out there, it literally gives “every dollar a name”…and only the dollars you already have.  However, unless you have that buffer already, you will have to have a basic budget figured out so you’ll know what to fill in.

Another feature I like about You Need a Budget is that it gives me to ability to have an array of things I’m saving for, from vacation to just setting aside a certain amount each month for our yearly Amazon Prime subscription.  I can keep all of the savings in one savings account, but easily see how much I have saved for each thing.  Goodbye annoying spreadsheets that I used to try to do this with, but never really succeeded.

Credit card debt is also handled excellently with this software.  Once you’ve paid any existing debt off (the software really helps you do this), anything you spend on the credit cards is automatically taken out of the cash you have available.  So, swiping that credit card is basically the same as paying for it with cash, and money is already set aside to pay it off at the end of the month.  Easy as pie!

Previously, I used mint.com because it was free and connected to all of my accounts automatically.  You Need a Budget doesn’t do that.  You can download transactions (a bit of a pain), or enter them manually.  Surprisingly, this hasn’t been a big deal for me.  I usually try to enter transactions on the nifty smartphone app as they happen.  But even if I get behind, it’s pretty easy to catch up.  PLUS, entering the transactions manually really keeps me accountable.

I could say a lot more, but I’ll leave you with that for now.  Go to the website, watch a few videos, and download the free month trial.  Unlike mint.com, the software costs some money ($60), but it is so, SO worth the money.  If you get a referral from someone who has the software (you can email me at thelifenotmyown@gmail.com and I’ll send you mine) you get $5 off, plus the person who refers you gets $5 too.

Disclaimer: I’m not getting paid or anything to write this.  I’m just really passionate about budgeting and saving, and this software has been so hugely beneficial to me that I just couldn’t keep it to myself.  Check it out…I promise you won’t be disappointed!

Blessings,

Caitlin

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Making Cents of It: 5 Ways to Simplify Budgeting

Several years ago I did a series on saving money entitled “Making Cents of It”.  Several years down the road, a mortgage, and a couple of kids later, I’ve learned and grown a lot in this area.  In an effort to share some of these lessons with everyone, “Making Cents of It” is making a comeback.  Look for a new post in the series every couple of weeks!



I’m going to be really honest…in our four years of marriage, Andy and I haven’t been the greatest at making and sticking to budgets.  If you knew my cheapskate nature, you’d probably find this surprising.  Before we were married, I had my measly income budgeted down to how many Starbucks drinks I could buy in a month.  Budgeting is a lot harder, however, when there are two people involved who don’t always see eye-to-eye.  Add in the myriad of unexpected expenses that spring up, fluctuating incomes, and little time to even balance the checkbook, and it can all become very overwhelming very quickly.  There have definitely been a few months that I’ve given up on balancing the checkbook and just find myself hoping that we don’t overdraw. 

The good news is, we’ve finally found a system that works for us.  Our checkbook is clean, neat, and balanced, and we are able to stick to our set budget the majority of the time.  What’s the secret?  Simplify, simplify, SIMPLIFY!  Here are some tricks I’ve learned to help us keep on top of things:

1.) Use cash.  For the majority of our marriage, I felt like debit cards were the way to go.  They made it easier to track where the money went, are accepted most anywhere, and get rid of the need for carrying around cash.  One day, however, while on vacation with my dad, I asked him why he insisted on carrying around and mostly spending cash.  His answer?  It made things easier. 
Easier?  I was a bit baffled.  If you know anything about my dad, you know that he is one of the most frugal and good-with-money people anywhere.  I would have thought he would have wanted to keep detailed track of where every cent of his money was going, but he didn’t.  He used cash for the majority of his spending, and he had no problem keeping up with checkbooks and budgeting.

In an ideal world, debit cards would be the way to go.  The problem they create in my world, however, is that every time I swipe that little card I have to enter the transaction into my checkbook (which I forget to do a lot).  Then I have to go back and go through all of the receipts and split them up into the different categories we budget for.  It takes a ton of time and it’s a pain in the neck.

We’ve since switched to a cash envelope system for most of our spending.  Twice a month I withdraw the cash I need and fill up all of our little envelopes.  I only have two transactions to log in the checkbook.  I don’t have to keep track of where I spend what, and when the money’s gone, spending simply stops.  It’s simple and easy and SO much more manageable.

2.) Have More Than One Bank Account. This one may seem counterproductive to simplifying things, but it’s honestly been one of the things that has helped us the most.  One day not too long ago, a friend of mine shared that she and her husband had two checking accounts.  One was exclusively for bills, the other for spending.  Every time they got paid, they deposited the money they needed for bills into the first account, and the leftovers went into the second account.  One quick check on her banking app and she knew exactly how much money she had left to spend without trying to figure out how much was needed for bills.

My husband and I have more than two bank accounts now, but they each have a specific purpose and they’re very easy to keep up with.  If nothing else, I recommend keeping two checking accounts and a savings account.  Save first, tithe and pay bills second, and then know that whatever is left is for spending.  It will revolutionize your budget.

3.) Have a personal spending allowance.  In a marriage where one spouse is a saver and one is a spender (which I’d venture to guess is where most marriages fall), this can be a marriage saver.  We both set a high priority on saving and getting out of debt, but in our marriage my husband is definitely the spender and I’m the saver.  For a long time, I tried to keep up with our different spending habits and budget it all.  Our clothes were all lumped together in one category…but then I found myself feeling bitter when my husband used the majority of the budget for the month on a new shirt.  I found myself getting angry every time I checked the bank account and saw my husband had made a fast food run.  Keeping up with the checkbook was frustrating because I was almost always missing receipts.  

Then one day I implemented a trick I learned from another friend.  She and her husband each got a set amount each month to spend however they chose.  At the beginning of the month, I withdrew cash for myself and cash for my husband.  We could use the money however we saw fit, whether that be for clothes, a snack, or haircuts.  The money was ours to spend, no questions asked. 

Now, I get frustrated far less.  I don’t have a clue where my husband spends his spending money, and I don’t really care.  I don’t have to ask him about a charge on our bank account, and I feel free to spend money as well.  It’s a win-win situation.  Give yourselves a personal spending allowance…it dispels SO much marital discord.

4.) Use Broad Budgeting Groups.  If you have time to split every purchase down into a small little subcategory, more power to you.  I don’t.  If you feel overwhelmed by keeping track of where the budget goes, my suggestion would be to group as many things together as you can.  Include stamps in your grocery budget instead of giving it its own group.  Same goes for toiletries or household goods.  Make one budget for entertainment or dates, and include everything that would be applicable (aka, movie tickets, snacks, food, bowling shoes).  If you really, really find yourself overwhelmed, just have one big budget for spending (using two bank accounts makes this work great).  Some day when you’re retired and have the time to figure out how much you spent on produce and how much on meat, go for it.  Until then, don’t make things more complicated than they need to be.

5.) Use Mint.com (or something similar).  While I try to use cash for most of our spending now, there are still many purchases that show up on our bank statement.  For a couple of years, Andy and I have been using mint.com to keep track of our money.  It’s completely free and safe, and you can link all of your bank accounts, credit cards, and bills into it.  You can set budgets and goals, and track where your money goes.  I keep the Mint app on my phone so that I can quickly update things every day or so.  You can even choose to have them notify you by text or email when a bank account balance is low, a bill is due soon, or you go over budget in a certain area. 

In the technology age we live in, there are tons of free tools at our disposal like Mint.com.  USE THEM!  They will make your life SO much easier.

What are some of your favorite ways to simplify budgeting and stay on top of things?