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Struggling with my budget

August 23rd, 2014 at 08:20 pm

Overall I know what I spend monthly and we stay within our "monthly limits." I get $5k/month to spend on everything like mortgage, groceries, gas, eating out, utilities, preschool, activities. That's not the problem.

I've been using Mint since about March and trying hard to reconcile all spending. I've actually been pretty good. So where I fail? Well trying to figure out my actual budget categories.

I find easy to keep a running tally of my monthly spending by looking at my CC charges throughout the month. A lot of our spending is predictable and the same. What isn't is gas for cars, travel, and groceries/eating out. The travel I can sort of guess since we do 2 big trips a year. That I can't change more than looking for the best deals.

But groceries and eating out? I was pretty sure I knew what I spent monthly but I think I'm wrong. I'm obviously under budget monthly big picture. But I can't break down my category to $400 groceries and $400 eating out because I buy clothes and home supplies(paper plates, dish soap, etc), shoes, books, etc. Stuff that isn't groceries basically gets stuck in grocery budget so I haven't been able to get under my $400 I think I spend. Instead I've been blowing the budget category.

But at the same time what I thought I spent eating out was less, but when I started tracking every penny I thought it was because I spent so much more on groceries that we ate out less. Now I'm not so sure.

Overall we're not in terrible shape anyway you cut it. And until recently I've never been a true "budget" follower. I am naturally frugal and so is my DH. We've always had the meet A, B, C saving goals and we can spend D-Z. And since we've met we've done more big picture annual budgets where we say we have to save X amount and we have Y to live on (hence the $5k).

But now I want to see our spending to project our true future budget. I want to know where it goes really. I mean I have a firm handle on a couple of categories like insurance, mortgage, cable, cell, etc. But what are we spending on prescriptions? What are we spending on dr co-pays? I need to figure this out for our flex spend this coming year. We've always maxed it out since having kids because we just have had stuff come up (this year my eye surgery and dental). But we should be done with "major" work, what's our baseline? I have no idea.

How do people track every penny? When you have clothes, food, home supplies on the same receipt? What about being reimbursed by friends?

8 Responses to “Struggling with my budget”

  1. scottish girl Says:

    I've just put my grocery and household budget together. I used to have separate categories for them but I found it too confusing when I bought them all at the same time. I'm still learning so it's a work in progress.
    We've been reimbursed by friends a few times. When I was off sick and we were struggling, I just added it to our cashflow. Other than that, I would want to use it to pay extra to debt or put towards savings.
    Can you check your receipts from this year from when you had to get prescriptions to give you a rough idea?
    When I first started tracking every penny I used to carry a little notebook with me in my handbag. I found it stopped me from spending extra too.

  2. nhgirl1970 Says:

    My eating out, groceries, groceries, household goods and weekly entertainment are the same category. I use a separate checking account and transfer the weekly allotment to that account and when it's gone, it's gone. If I am taking a trip, I will transfer what I have saved up and send that to the weekly spending account the week I travel.

    It took some tweaking, but within a couple of months I knew almost to the penny what I needed weekly, rather than what I wanted to have in the account. In my case, I thought $115 would be plenty, but found I need $132 to reasonably expect to pay for groceries, gas, goods, and entertainment.

  3. creditcardfree Says:

    I also don't break down our budget that tight either. I think you need to evaluate each receipt. Annoying yes, but the information you need is there. You might start just pulling the prescription information, as it will be quicker to find than separating clothes, groceries and household goods.

  4. MonkeyMama Says:

    If you are using Mint, can't you break out the receipt on Mint? Breaking it out into different categories? Do you need to add some categories?

    I personally never break out grocery receipts because I just don't care and we really do buy very little on the household front. Our groceries are a "grocery + household" category, for sure. But we are also minimalists on the "household" part. I do regularly break out our Target receipts (more mixed purchases), but it just depends on the cost/benefit factor. My spouse bought some socks and groceries at Target the other day, but since we are so under-budget on the groceries this month I just didn't even bother to break it out. I just put the whole (mostly grocery run) to groceries. On a spendier month or a bigger clothing run I would be more careful with breaking it out because the data would mean more.

  5. snafu Says:

    I recall reading non edibles are the biggest profit aisles in most food stores. The cashier can easily sub total your non edibles at the start or end of your purchases. I found it cost effective to buy non edibles like cleaning supplies and household goods at discount stores, Dollar Stores, WalMart or Costco. The pharmacy can likely provide you with your total cost thus far this year. Do you track medical co pays and pharmacy costs as a tax deduction or possibly the initial part of insurance submissions?

    'How do you anticipate using the figures gained by tracking your 'every penny spending?' I had the impression that you chose to fund various savings/investment categories first and tightly control household spending. There is a travel category to fulfill your desire to visit family. Do you like the zero based budget system where each month or each quarter as preferred is funded? Do you prefer the 'envelop' system where each category is given a sum and when used up, spending stops in that category? Habit has me using last year's sum + 4% as a 'target' figure.

    I'd used the 1% of value for home expenses and projects but there has been an unexpected 9% increase in value this year and I hesitate to admit sums are often swept to a non retirement portfolio since I'll likely see Murphy's Law [lol]. I've set a special fund aside as it's been my plan for some time to replace flooring in several rooms.

    I carefully tracked spending more carefully when we moved from house to condo as it was a huge change for us to take contract work and pay for services we had always done ourselves. I look forward to learning how you decide to track, I've learned so much from how others SA participants work through problems and appreciate their willingness to offer ideas.

  6. CB in the City Says:

    I do track my food, household supplies, and pet supplies separately, even though I usually get them all at the same store. It is a little bit extra effort, but I'm so used to it now I don't even think about it. I like to know exactly how much I spend in each category, not a mishmash. Also, if I buy gifts, clothing, or equipment at the grocery store, they get tracked separately, too. My usual routine when tracking is to figure up the non-food categories, multiply each group by 1.09 (to get the tax added in) and then just count the remainder as food. This is because food is taxed differently. However, if you count taxes in a separate category, you don't have to worry about that.

  7. LivingAlmostLarge Says:

    I will admit to not fully understanding how to use mint. I have to spend more time trying to track it. I don't break down every receipt. I just group the receipt into what it is mostly and then push it into that.

    I've gotten lazier over the years and right now I deposit $5k into our checking account and pay all bills from there. I keep a running CC total and don't go over. That covers our spending.

    I don't think I do the envelope spending because some months it's repairing the car. Other months it's something else but then we adjust spending accordingly.

    I'm trying to figure out how to project our expenses when and if we aren't working. How to cut and trim now. We've been cutting and trimming other stuff.

  8. Looking Forward Says:

    I use Quicken and love it. I do split my purchases up by food or household supplies. It only takes a few minutes of looking at the reciept(s).
    I think you can do that with Mint too??

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