What do toenails and budgets have in common?

I feel snotty saying this, but I haven’t painted my own toenails in…well…a while.  I could say that I just don’t do as good of a job or that it’s “me time”, but really I’ve chalked it up to pure laziness.  In the hustle and bustle of what kids, work and house drained of me, I just didn’t feel like touching my own feet. So I paid someone else to do the dirty work. Total. Utter. Laziness.

But, with a shift from working mom to full-time time, the household budget will be tighter and I can’t just throw money at problems anymore.

(Yes, the state of my toes was something I saw as problematic.  And, my sweet friends who work at the nail salon sure thought so too–they never let the opportunity of the callous treatment upsell go. Just ask my husband. Yikes.)

Although I hate the term “Do It Yourself” and you won’t find me suddenly hanging out at The Home Depot on the regular, I am going to have to get a little more crafty and creative to get things done and keep the kids entertained.  Being married to someone who works in finance, LOVES spreadsheets and could squeeze a penny into its liquid state if he wanted, I’ve learned a thing or two about budgeting over the years. (If you’re reading this, honey, that’s a compliment and I love you.)

So, in the spirit of sharing and helping others through my experiences, I’ll share my five top tips on budgeting while maintaining a decent level of fun in your life. These can apply to anyone whether you’re married with children, a couple of DINKs or single.

1. You need a budget.

If you don’t have one, make one.  Not having a budget is just silly and reckless.  I’ve said this to my clients many times and now I’ll say it to my readers: Set yourself up for success.  If you don’t know what a budget looks like, google “budget spreadsheet”.  There are all sorts of free templates out there you can use to get started; then, all you have to do is tweak it for your scenario.  The process of creating a line item for every single thing you spend money on each month can be very eye-opening.  As part of the process, be sure to tag things (this can be a column in a spreadsheet) as required or not required.  For example, electric bill would we marked required and gym would be marked as non-required.  This is where you have to sort of play hardball with yourself.  It doesn’t mean that you are going to drop the unrequired items from your budget, but it does mean that you have to be able to recognize what TRULY is required and what is not.

2. Admit your vice. Then budget for it.

Determine if you want to hold on to this vice or not.  If you can’t give it up, well, put it in the budget and remove something else to make it fit.   We all have one–whether it’s the eating out, daily trip to the coffee shop (yep, that’s mine), the pedicures (OK, that was mine too, but that one has to go), or the titty bars (not mine), you need to determine how important this is to you and choose to either factor it in (admitting the vice) or let it go.

3. Give yourself a “fun money” allowance and make sure it has a monthly cap.

This is something we started doing a couple of years ago in my household and it just takes all of the arguments away. I give the hubs full credit for the idea, and it was a great one.  He gets a certain amount each month for whatever the hell he wants to spend it on, and so do I.  We chose the amounts based on our household budget and our needs.  So, his may be a little less than hers or vice versa.  What it’s done for us has been astronomical in terms of our stress levels with each other.  He doesn’t bother me about my said coffee vice anymore because if that’s how I want to spend my “Taylor” allowance, then that’s my choice.  And I don’t bother him about what he spends his allowance on.  Seriously, y’all, it just removes the opportunity for arguments over the credit card statement. Try it.

4. Look for memberships. Look for opportunity.

If there is a place where you enjoy going (or think you would enjoy) on a regular basis then look into membership programs.  This is particularly useful if you are looking for activities to do with your little ones and don’t want to spend an arm and a leg entertaining them but you also don’t want to just sit around your house.  Several years ago we started  to support, through a membership, our local children’s museum and the local zoo. With a yearly membership of about $100 a piece, you can visit each of these places a much as you want. If you will go even just a handful of times, this is a huge savings when you compare to the cost for a single day ticket (typically around $15 per person).  Sometimes we go to the zoo 2-3 days / week.  The kids love it and I love it for the fact that I get a great cardio workout in carting them around in the stroller for several hours.  The same goes for the museum.  And, going back to the budget, it’s something that we budget in. It’s a line item.

This tip also applies to things like gym memberships.  Look for opportunities to pay upfront for a large discount.  For example, when looking at the gym ask if they have any option to pay for 2-3 years upfront.  Oftentimes with these deals it takes the monthly fee from around $35+/mo down to about $20/mo.  While it is a larger upfront payment, when you break it down and compare how much it will cost you over the long term, it can be a much better option if you are able to make the upfront payment.

5.  Paint Your Own Toes.

This could be mow your own lawn, cook your own food, etc.  You get the point.  Look for problems which you are “throwing money at”, which you could easily do yourself.  Evaluate each of these problems.  Make a pros and cons list, including the pros for having someone else do it.  If there is something that just doesn’t have enough pros, then try to make a shift and do it on your own.  At least for a little bit. Try it.  For me, I can’t say the coffee habit is going anywhere.  I admitted my vice and I use my fun money for it. So I will try to let go of some of the laziness and cut out some other things, including the callous remover upsell.

I’ll close with this:  If you’re looking to get smarter with your money and looking to get a better grip on your family or personal budget, try out at least one or two of these tips.  Comment back with questions and share your experiences here.

Happy budgeting.  I’m off; I’ve got to go fix these feet.

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