Budget & Money Tips From a Middle Income Duo

My Mother taught me a lot growing up: how to plant tomatoes, how to pluck my eyebrows (bless her), how to write a proper thank you note, and how to be frugal as heck. My Mother couponed and made lists and constantly said “no, put that back it’s not on sale”. My clothes didn’t come from the mall till I could buy them  for myself and I only bought my school lunch on pizza day – otherwise it was a lunchbox full of food that had been BOGO at Publix.

My family simply didn’t have money to burn so it was spent very thoughtfully. I was given $3 allowance each week (then eventually in middle school I think it was bumped up to $5, big spender big spender) and the rule was I had to save one dollar, give one away at church or to the relief aid organization my mom supported, and then I could spend the other as I wanted. I remember counting my “savings” which was kept in a purple crayola crayon shaped bank and feeling like a millionaire. I saved up for my own bike, roller skates, a CD player – all the essentials for a kid born in 1990. This super basic rule really taught me important lessons about managing money. That simple guideline along with watching my mom has turned me into an adult who loves budgeting.

And I mean lovvvvvvvves budgeting. I eat it up. I’m constantly checking our accounts and spreadsheets to make sure that the money that Timothy and I make is working for us. At any given time I can tell you precisely how much we have in our checking and savings accounts and which bills come out this week and how much they’ll be. I’m by no means an accountant or financial expert, but when it comes to the finances of our little family, forgetaboutit #girlboss. And this is why I wanted to write a few posts about budgeting: because it’s one of my favorite nerdy-ass hobbies.

A few months ago I wrote a post about some of the ways we saved money on our wedding (Click here to read how we had our special day for $6k) and I wanted to do a few more likeminded posts. This space won’t turn into a budgeting blog (though hey, I know a good one by a super cute friend of mine), but I do want to write about it here and there.

fullsizerenderTo start, I wanted to just share some of the basic ways that Timothy and I budget and save our money. Easy Peasy.

And obviously, these are just things that have worked for us. I would never tell someone else how to budget their money because frankly, I’m not qualified  – but I hope you find a tip or two helpful or encouraging! 

what we’re working with:

IMG_1052.jpgThis is us: Kathryn and Timothy. Two Star Wars loving, late twenty year olds (sobbing over now having to add that “late” part) with some super “middle income” paying jobs. If you were to look on Wikipedia at the average American household income, you would basically see our exact yearly income. I don’t know what its like to do a budget with a six figure income, but I do know that even having just half of that, we’re able to work our money in a way that covers every single thing we need, and quite a bit of what we want (I’m looking at you, Disney annual passes).  If we are able to spend money wisely and stretch those dollars out, absolutely anybody can. We learned a lot from folks like Dave Ramsey and I definitely recommend reading a book or two of his or taking his Financial Peace University class. His jokes are corny as heck, but his money management tips are golden. We for sure follow his “baby steps” and have a 3 month emergency fund saved up (and we’ll bump that up to 6 months once we’re rid of our debt), we are majorly snowballing our debt (we were debt free, but we had to buy and finance a car in June of last year, but because we have thrown 1/3 of our income towards that debt every month we will pay it off next month! A six year lease paid off in just 10 months is pretty sweet – and is saving us several thousands by not having long term interest), and we are serious about the envelope system. So if you’re new to the money management game, Dave is a good place to start.

how we budget (in a teeny tiny nut shell):

I don’t want to get into super specifics in this post, but I want to share a teensy bit about how we budget. Basically, part of our money hangs out in the bank and the other we keep as cash in our envelope system. Our bills – like rent, utilities, and our car payment – are all paid online so the amount that we need to cover those (I could go a lot more in depth about this but I’m trying to be brief… its a challenge) we leave in the bank but the rest I take out every other Friday. These amounts were figured out by of course adding up all our bills and expenses (including things like donating to our church each month, which isn’t technically a bill but something we do monthly) and then allotting what was left towards different items. Because we’re working on paying off our car pretty aggressively, after we added up the necessities for each month, we basically took 70% of what was left for the car payment. The remaining 30% went to things like spending money, date nights, money we spend on hanging out with the child we’re mentoring through BBBS, etc.

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We have set amounts for everything in our budget and we don’t move the money around. For example: we budget $180 for groceries each month, so every two weeks I take out $90 and that is all I spend on groceries. Also, Timothy and I have a set amount that we each get for spending money every two weeks that we can use however we want: most of Timothy’s money goes towards coffee and most of mine goes to Target. We do $60/each every two weeks and once it gets spent… thats it. If we want to buy something that costs more than that $60 we save our spending money till we have enough. My haircuts cost about $50 so for the last few weeks I’ve been putting $10 aside each time I got my spending money so that when I have my appointment next week, I’ll have it covered and it won’t take all my money for those two weeks.

how we save:

Obviously the most important way to save money is by taking ownership of your money and spending / saving wisely, knowing exactly where all your money is going and having a good budget that you stick to. Blind spending is no bueno. But I wanted to share some of the things that I believe have helped Timothy and I save some of our green:

  • The Ancient Art of Cash: People hate it, but I really believe the reason we don’t overspend is because we use cash. Physically seeing how much money you have in your wallet keeps you accountable, and when that wallet is empty… you know to just go home. I hear a lot that people don’t want to have to go to the bank so often to get cash out and I feel you, but for us the hassle of going is nothing compared to how it has helped us spend smartly. I know exactly what I’m taking out when I go to the bank (I’m even specific down to number of each size bill I need) and an unexpected plus is that since I go every other Friday I have the same teller every time and we kind of have a friend thing going on. That doesn’t suck. She’s a cutie and doesn’t think I’m weird for needing such oddly specific withdrawal amounts. Or if she does she’s good at not showing it. That’s all I need in a friend.
  • Aldi: This is going to make some people laugh because folks know I’m obsessed with Aldi, but seriously shopping there has made a gigantic difference in our grocery budget. Like I mentioned above, we spend just $180 a month on groceries and that really isn’t very much. Obviously we don’t have children and that makes a big difference, but before I started shopping at Aldi I spent $150 a month on groceries for just myself. And the thing is, everything we get at Aldi is delicious. They have a more limited selection (and its true that they don’t carry all items – especially speciality items) (and its also true that some things I still prefer from Publix, like fresh deli meat and cheese) but we still get 90% of our groceries there and are 100% satisfied with the quality of what we get. They have LOTS of organic products too, so you don’t have to sacrifice quality. Yes, you need to bring your own bags and a quarter for the cart (which you get back) but I’m thrilled at the ways that Aldi saves money because it saves ME money. And I’m always looking out for #1.
  • Grocery Shop Smart: You’ve heard it before thumbnail_img_1530
    but I’ll say it again – the best way to grocery shop is with a list. And honestly I hate making lists. Its boring. I groan the whole time. But if you make a plan you will be able to stick to your budget. I personally only do one big shopping trip every two weeks so I really have to plan ahead so that I can get everything I need for a two week span in one trip. And, moreover, while I’m shopping I keep track of how much I’m spending. My grocery list turns into a mile long addition problem and I add every single thing I put into my cart. Does it take a little more time? Yep. Do I ever go over my budget? Nope, because once I start reaching that limit I know I’m done, or I know that I need to put some of those non necessity treats back (Oreos, how I love you).
  • Do a Cartwheel: Like many women my age, I have quite the love affair with Target going on. Because I’m there literally always, I use their Cartwheel app which is full of mobile coupons. Since getting the app back in February of 2015, I’ve saved $91. Not a ton of money considering its been two years, but every little bit counts. If I did grocery shopping at Target it would certainly be more: I have a friend who does all her grocery shopping (plus toiletries, clothes, etc) at Target for her family of 5 and she’s saved over $700 since May of 2014. So, it can add. Of course the thing about coupons is that if you buy something you wouldn’t normally buy just because you have a coupon… you aren’t saving money at all. So what I do is after I’m done shopping I pull out the app and search for what I have in my basket to see if the app has any coupons for the things I am already buying. Usually it does, even if its just a small 5% off coupon. Sometimes you’ll see a sign in the store for a Cartwheel coupon but not always so definitely take half a second to search in the app before checking out!
  • Car Insurance in Bulk: Not all car insurance companies do this, but we have our cars insured through Progressive and if we pay our premium 6 months at a time, we pay $297 less in total than if we paid monthly – which means saving nearly $50 a month (and $600 a year). This is actually easier to do than it sounds because we still budget for the insurance every month. We simply divided our total premium by 6 and each month I take out that amount and set it aside. Then, when it comes time to pay that premium again I simply deposit that money. It doesn’t feel like a big chunk is being taken from our account, because it’s not.
  • No Credit, No Problem: We do have a credit card but we only use it in very specific instances. We got a SouthWest card because they fly directly between Tampa and Memphis and that’s a flight we do often. So, we wanted to get some miles here and there for airline travel. First thing, of course, is we never use the credit card for something we don’t already have the money for in our bank account. We don’t use it as a loan by any means because paying interest is our nemesis. Our motto is, if we can’t afford it we don’t need it. For a while we were using the card for all of our gas purchases, but when we decided to switch things up and only use it for big things. It keeps us from getting used to using it a lot, and it gets us more miles. We only used the credit card once in January, but it was for a $500 table. We only used it once, but we still got 500 miles in that one transaction. And, we had saved for that table and had the money already so we paid the card off the very next day. fullsizerender
  • Count Every Dollar: Dave Ramsey has a money tracking website called Every Dollar that we also use (I’m mentioning Dave Ramsey a lot but I swear I’m not getting paid to) (but man that’d be cool). Its very similar to Mint, which I know a lot of people use – I just personally like the set up of Every Dollar better. It shows you different graphs and the percentages of how much of your monthly income goes towards different areas. There is a free option which is what we use (OBVIOUSLY, I mean have you not been reading my 2000+ word post on saving money?!) but you can also pay to have it track your bank transactions (Mint does this too but its free). Because we use cash, we don’t need our bank transactions tracked. We use it is because I’m a super visual person and I like feeling like a Queen in control of my kingdom, watching our money  go where we demand it to.

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Whew, I’m exhausted. I hope that something in this 2,400+ word post was helpful and encouraging for you! I’d love to hear from you if so, as well as from any other Kings and Queens out there ruling over their budgets!

I’m not sure what other budget themed posts I will do in the future, but if you have a suggestion feel free to let me know!