How to Budget for Beginners:

pink piggy bank to help budget, save, and become financially free for beginners

Regardless of what the economy is doing, being in a financial mess is never an easy situation to endure. Having bills and expenses pile up can be daunting and makes maintaining a clear mind almost impossible. No one is 100% rational under huge amounts of stress. However, that situation can be easily fixed in one simple step. Budgeting.

Making a monthly budget was something my husband and I had never done before, and he loathed the idea of even attempting one. “I can keep track of everything in my head; there’s no need to waste time with a budget every month,” he would say. But as soon as we finished our first few budgets, both of us wished we had started sooner! Why? Because you’re able to see exactly how to fix your financial headaches and how to achieve your goals with your money. A budget gives your money a plan and purpose to follow, instead of wondering where it all went at the end of the month.

Budgeting can take a few months to get the hang of, but once you do, you will be unstoppable. We make a new budget on the 1st of every month and have been doing this consistently over the last eight years. Its been the catalyst for all of our financial success – paying off $120,000 in debt in three years, saving over $60,000 in cash, buying a house, investing, and giving.

So, how do you make a budget?

A budget can be written by hand, on an excel spreadsheet, or through an app like EveryDollar or Mint. A budget is simply your monthly income minus your monthly expenses. It doesn’t take long and you can make it fun with highlighters, colored pens, doodles, etc. I’m more artsy and enjoy this approach 😉

Below is an example of a budget widely used and one we use every month. It’s a zero based budget where every dollar from your monthly income is utilized, so if you make $3,520 per month, all $3,520 is given a purpose leaving nothing unaccounted for. The budget also lists expenses in order from most important to least important. For example, food and water are more important than a haircut or gym membership. Likewise, it’s more important to pay your bills after your basic needs are met before saving, investing, and giving.

ExpensesAmountRunning Total
Food500500
Mortgage/Rent12001700
Utilities1251825
Gasoline for Cars1501975
Car Repairs1002075
Health Insurance4002475
Auto Insurance1502625
Life Insurance102635
Phone(s) Bill502685
Internet802765
Hair cut302795
Gym252820
Miscellaneous
(small buffer for unforeseen expenses to help you when starting to budget)
1002920
Other Bills
(listed from smallest to largest in total debt owed)
*Savings3003220
*Investments2003420
*Giving1003520
Monthly Income of $3,520 – $3,520 of expenses = $0
*As mentioned before, start saving only after all of your basic needs are met first. After saving a small emergency fund (usually $1,500 will cover most unexpected emergencies) you can start paying off your debt (if you have any). Once you’re debt free besides your home, you can start investing, giving, and start paying down your mortgage faster.

Once your basic needs are taken care of financially you start to feel a sense of stability that is very powerful in helping you move ahead. Add to that a small emergency fund and you begin to have motivation to start paying off your debt. You start to see the light at the end of the tunnel and you’re on your way to financial independence and freedom.

Hope this helps spur some ideas for a budget that’s right for you to start your financial freedom journey. 🙂

How to save money quickly during uncertain times, and move to a more secure financial future:

money and coins on a white table to show how to save money fast during uncertain times

Nobody knows how long things will continue as they have been due to the coronavirus. It could be over in a few weeks or several months, and I think a large portion of the country is watching business after business close realizing they can’t afford to be next. People are afraid they won’t have enough money to get through these uncertain times.

Here is why – 69% of Americans don’t have $1,000 in savings, let alone enough to cover a couple months worth of expenses, and 45% say they have $0 in savings. This was my husband and I several years ago. We were $120,000 in debt and barely making ends meet. Combine that with what is happening now, and this would’ve caused us to panic.

If this is you (or even if it’s not) please continue reading. We will list some steps you can take to put yourself in a better place financially, what we did to get out of a stressful financial situation, and exactly what we’re doing with our money to hedge against what could happen over the weeks and months ahead.

I am not a financial expert. These are things we did that helped us. We know each individual is different and each financial situation unique. If you feel you need more help, we strongly suggest talking with an expert. Below you will find three areas in your life to secure financially and how.

Three areas to cover financially in your life:

#1 Your immediate financial situation:

You will be amazed at how much extra cash you will find by just writing out all of your monthly expenses compared to your monthly income. The first budget we ever did was a huge wake up call. We saw just how much money we were wasting on unnecessary things, and how much we could save if we cut these items from our budget or decreased the amount allocated to them.

When you cut unnecessary spending (cable, Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, etc.) you save money instantly. Entertainment may seem like a necessity but it isn’t, especially during uncertain times. We watch all the shows we enjoy on websites like YouTube, and never need to pay for cable or online streaming services.

Another was eating out. This was wiping out our monthly income. We saw just how much we could save when buying food only at the grocery store. We found ways to further stretch our dollar at the grocery store with and without coupons, you can learn more here. This allowed us to save even more money.

Finally, re-evaluate your bills. Are there ways to decrease the amount you pay monthly for car insurance, cell phone(s), life insurance, etc? Recently our car insurance rates were going up month after month for no reason (no tickets or accidents to justify the rate increase). We called our insurance company and got a quote for similar coverage for a lot less. We are in the process of doing this with our cell phone provider as well.

All of the above will help you build your emergency fund quickly. Typically emergency funds are three to six months of necessary living expenses. Ours is six months, and includes our mortgage, utilities, gas, transportation repairs, car insurance, health insurance, food, needed clothing only, and a small additional buffer for unexpected expenses.

#2 Your ability to make money:

Your emergency fund is going to protect you. Your income is going to keep you going and create the financial future you want. Working hard to show your company you are valuable and indispensable will help in the weeks ahead. Also, learning new skills or trades to increase your value in the workplace is an added bonus.

Increasing your income if you can will help you save even more. Can you pick up more hours at work? Is there another job you can do after work? Or a side business you want to create? It’s almost limitless the amount of opportunities out there for extra cash, even amidst all the panic right now.

If you are already working the maximum hours you physically can, look for things to sell around the house online. I was amazed by the amount of money I could get for my gently used clothes. Something more drastic we did was sell my car. We gained $6,000 in profit (after buying a $3,000 car). This got rid of the remaining debt on the car, gave us a lot of cash to build an emergency fund, and take what was left over to diminish our debt.

If you need extra money ASAP, temporarily stop your investments. This frees up extra cash for the short amount of time needed to save money. However, this is something to do only if you absolutely have to, to survive. Because right now is the best time to buy investments and keep investing if you can while stock prices are low.

#3 Your future financial well being:

Once your immediate situation is covered, your ability to make money secure, then it’s time to start working toward the future. Investing will be your ability to cover your expenses when you no longer want to work or physically can.

Our objective has been to create a passive source of income for both necessary and discretionary spending that will last year after year. This may include ETFs, dividend paying stocks, passive online sources of income, individual stocks, bonds, etc. We are actively researching more companies to invest in and will be buying more stocks. If you’re financially secure in the other two areas we talked about before, now is the time when riches are made in the stock market.

Finally, believe in yourself and take action steps to make it happen. You can do it! We started with a budget and went through each step one after the other and quickly saved $4,000 in two months. The rest of the money (around an additional $4,100) in the examples above went to paying off some of our debt. However, in times of crisis (currently going on with COVID-19) push pause on trying to pay off your debt. Only pay the minimum payments after all of your necessities are paid for first – this would be your food, water, shelter, clothing, transportation, and gas to get to work. This will ensure you are alright in the midst of fear and chaos. Once you start saving money and move to a more secure financial position your anxiety and stress will rapidly decrease. This will give you a clear mind to focus on what needs to be done today and into the future.

Sending you hope and a plan during these uncertain times that will pass.

How much does buying a house actually cost? Our exact cost breakdown on a $270k house:

wood cottage in snow with forest behind showing the cold expensive reality when buying a home

After years of renting, saving, researching, and calculating, my husband and I finally bought our first house. It took us a total of seven years to be financially ready to buy. Why? We had a ton of student loan debt that set us back four years, making us unprepared financially for all the costs involved in becoming homeowners. After becoming debt free and getting all of our finances in order, we were finally ready to buy a home.

Hidden or unforeseen costs are the number one reason homeowners regret their purchase. This is something we didn’t want! My hope is you will get a better idea of what to expect financially when buying a home. If you want to learn more about how to make your home a financial blessing, check out this post here, otherwise, below you will see our exact cost breakdown for our new home:

Apartment:(Cost to leave our apartment early)
Lease Termination $1,240.00
Utilities *$80.08
TOTAL$1,320.08
Moving Costs:(Cost for our move within state lines; plus extra items needed for the home)
Movers$940.00
Truck Rental $109.67
Gas for Rental Truck $14.97
Boxes$26.69
Trash Bags$3.70
Internet Installation$50.00
City Sewer, Water, and Garbage Fees$210.00
Power Setup$30.00
Washer and Dryer$1,393.12
Washer Pan$24.36
Air Filters$60.97
Blinds$534.18
Mail Forwarding$2.10
TOTAL$3,399.76
Closing:(Cost breakdown on closing day for new house)
Down Payment$28,000.00
Closing Costs$9,884.36
TOTAL$37,884.36
Misc.
Cleaning Supplies/Tools/Other House Items$216.71
Bathroom Hardware$51.09
TOTAL$267.80
GRAND TOTAL$42,872.00
*Utility billing cycle was one month behind. This is what we owed before terminating our lease.

There is $4,987.64 in additional costs, apart from our down payment and closing costs.

Something to also consider if you are moving from a smaller space to a larger space like we were, is the cost of furniture. Furniture gets expensive. For example, our new bed was $2,700 alone. We plan on buying more furniture in the future and this will further add to our costs and expenses.

I hope the spreadsheet above helps, and gives you an idea of how much it can cost to buy a home, including the additional costs you may encounter.

As always, thank you for reading and cheers to a financially prepared future.

When to use coupons on groceries – how to save even more on food costs:

It’s mind-boggling how some people have learned the right combination of coupons to get the price of Ketchup down to $0.07 per bottle. However, the amount of time that goes into that type of couponing is extraordinary as well. I looked into doing it myself because, who wouldn’t want to save 96% on groceries? But this wasn’t going to work with my 40+ hour work week. I just didn’t have enough time to research, plan, and stack coupons on top of my regular shift in a demanding field. Instead, I found ways I could still use coupons to my advantage but would fit within my lifestyle and work week. This way I could still save money on groceries but didn’t have to take up a second job doing market research for items I may not even need.

fruit in boxes in grocery store, how to save even more money on food costs with coupons

Below lists some simple ways you can get your grocery costs down with coupons:

Study when your local grocery store marks down items. Over time you’ll not only learn the rock bottom prices for your favorite foods but also when they go on sale. At my local store this usually happens on Wednesdays when new shipments arrive. Combine the sales price with the store’s printed coupons (routinely done at Kroger for frequent purchases), and you save even more. For example – my husband and I will wait until our favorite frozen dinners are marked down, then use a store printed coupon for an extra $2 off a quantity of eight. This helps us save a few extra dollars here and there which really adds up by the end of the month.

Learn how to save on your most expensive items. Oddly enough, the most expensive things we purchase at the grocery store aren’t food related. They’re miscellaneous items such as cleaning products, shampoo, lotion, razor blades, etc. Buying store brand over name brand may help save a little on these types of things, but what helps save even more is searching for coupons on the manufacturers’ websites. Combining a manufacturer’s coupon with a sale price really made a dent in our highest priced grocery items.

Know which coupons your local stores will except. A manufacturer’s coupon with a CVS logo on it may not be accepted at Kroger or other non-CVS stores (even though technically they can be used anywhere). Read your store’s coupon policy and take a copy with you when you shop. Not all employees know every detail of their store’s policies. If a coupon isn’t valid but you feel it should be, speak to a manager. I’ve never actually had to do this, but it’s always an option.

What helped us save time was using the Krazy Coupon Lady app. All the research is done for you through the app. You just search for deals at your selected stores and save them to your shopping list in the app. However, keep in mind not all coupon deals are cheaper when compared to the store brand products.

Look for deals such as 10 items for $10 in store. Then combine the sale item with a $1 off coupon for the same product, and you just got a can of beans for free. If the store’s policy allows it, this will be an added savings to your food budget.

We also waited for BOGO (buy one item and get one free) offers in store, and added any additional coupons we could to that.

Walmart will both match competitor coupons and give you cash back. For example – if your coupon is for $1.50 off Cheerios, which is already marked down to $1.29 in store, you will get $0.21 cash back, or if you are buying additional items the credit will be applied to those.

The trick that helped us the most was waiting for our items to go on sale, then adding our coupons at check out for additional savings. We gathered all of our coupons from multiple places – in store, our grocery store’s website, reputable online coupon sites like coupons.com, manufacturer websites, and through the mail. We’d then quickly sort any coupons we could use by expiration date and store. This allowed us to be prepared and organized during our grocery store trips.

Hope these tips and tricks help you start saving even more with coupons on your next grocery store visit.

Grocery Hacking: How to get your food costs down without coupons

One of the most consistent, largest monthly expenses my husband and I have is food. Whether that be food we purchase at the grocery store or food we consume eating out. Before we started budgeting, food accounted for nearly 30% of our monthly expenses. Which wouldn’t have necessarily been a bad thing if our monthly expenses were low. But they weren’t. When we decided to get out of debt, we took drastic steps to reduce our monthly expenses as much as possible. Our food budget, therefore, went from $800 to $400 per month. Needless to say it was VERY difficult at first.

fruits, vegetables, on white table, to show how to cut your grocery bill in half

Here are some things we learned which helped us cut our grocery bill in half:

First, we stopped using debit/credit cards for groceries. Instead we put $400 in an envelope labeled “food” for the month. Once that money was gone, it was gone. This was very hard to do at first, but we quickly learned we spend less with cash than when swiping a card. I am also more likely to be creative and look for deals when I can physically see the money going away, which helped keep us on track financially.

Second, we made grocery lists. This was unfortunately something we did not do well at first. Making a list of the items we needed prevented us from buying things we didn’t need, and in turn prevented us from spending money we didn’t need to spend. Somewhat related to grocery lists is communication between you and your spouse. Many times I would go to the store to get the things I needed, not knowing my husband had already bought them earlier in the day. This meant we had twice as much food as we intended. Some of it would last; some of it would go bad before we could eat it, thus wasting our money (and good food). When we made lists and began communicating when we were going to the store, we instantly saved money.

Third, we minimized the cost per plate of our meals. We became very strategic in calculating costs of certain dinner combinations per plate versus others, and eventually figured out which combinations were the cheapest. This further stretched the efficiency of our money and also kept our bellies full for the month.

Fourth, we learned which items in the grocery store were the cheapest. Grocery store brands are almost always cheaper than name brands. For example, compare Kroger brand cheese slices at $2.99 versus Sargento at $5.99. Same number of slices but a $3.00 price difference. That can add up quickly.

Comparing packaging methods of foods proved to be financially fruitful as well. For example, frozen veggies were cheaper than canned most of the time, and boxed foods would sometimes be cheaper per unit in a pack of five compared to a larger “value” pack of ten.

Fifth, I paid attention to expiration dates on the perishable goods we routinely purchased. Grocery stores will usually mark down prices on items expiring soon, so if you can consume them in a reasonable amount of time, this makes for a great way to save money. Take pre-made salad kits for example. I would make a note on my phone of the salad’s expiration date, and a few days before the item expired, I made a trip to the grocery store to purchase the kit for 50-75% off. This made for a really cheap meal when adding some canned tuna to the salad mix.

Sixth, I got creative if we ran out of grocery money before the end of the month. Usually we would have rice, veggies, and some kind of frozen meat left over. This would make a good amount of food to get through the rest of the month with, and if not, we could finish our peanut butter and jelly to make PB & J sandwiches. Whatever could be thrown together from the freezer or pantry is what we ate the last few days of the month. The main thing we learned was that there was always food somewhere that could be used if needed.

Also, keep in mind that many grocery stores have a clearance area separate from the normal sale items. It may be in the back of the store tucked away, but always look here first to see if there’s something on your list you can get deeply discounted. Stick to your list though; don’t just buy an item because it’s on sale. If you buy something you weren’t originally intending to buy, you’re not actually saving money; you’re spending more than originally intended. I’ve done this so many times, not only with groceries but also with clothes.

I hope these tips help you save money on your next grocery visit.

Next time I’ll talk about how and when we used coupons on groceries.