Family finances can be kind of scary. Why is that? I guess sometimes it means facing reality. It means taking responsibility. For years we’ve managed okay without actually sitting down and working out a family budget but recently we’ve felt the need to gain more control over our finances.
My good friend MoneyGal, who does our taxes and knows more about family finances that I ever will, suggested a while ago that we come up with a family budget. Why it’s taken me this long to actually do it, and why I’ve never budgeted ever before in my life is another story, but let’s just say that I’m a fool and leave it at that. Anyway, I’ve been entering all our grocery receipt totals in an excel spreadsheet, keeping all my gas receipts in an envelope in the van and tracking every expense that I can think of with the Google Docs Family Budget Planner. (If this link doesn’t work for you try doing a Google search for “Google Docs Family Budget Planner”.)
Some things were easy; I just copied the amounts from our household bills into the budget. Other things took more thought; how much do we spend per month on clothing? No idea. Some months we spend nothing, some months we spend a lot. Entertainment is another tough one. I just had to guess at some numbers and will play around with them as we go.
It’s actually very interesting to sit down and look at how much money you spend on things per month, and per year. We spend how much on cell phones per year?! Aak! How much on cable? Ouch! That much on our home phone? Egad! Some of these numbers are very surprising, and it really makes you think. Regardless of whether or not I can afford it, do I want to be spending that much per year on cable? Maybe not; the point is that I’ve never actually thought about it before.
So, now that I’m actually thinking about it, I’m trying to be more conscious about how much I spend. Take grocery shopping for example: when we’re careful we’ll spend $900 to $1000 a month on groceries. It’s almost turned into a game; how little can I spend, what store has what on sale? I find myself really reading carefully the price tags on the shelf; you know the small printed numbers underneath the price that tell you the price per 100g (or whatever measurements that item uses)? I find myself comparing prices and brands obsessively. I’m turning into my parents, for crying out loud! It’s not like we were extravagant grocery shoppers before; we’ve always kept our eye on prices and sales, but I just try to be more mindful now.
So I sit here wondering, do most families budget? Or, do most of them do what we were doing: flying by the seat of our pants. Is it just me, or is this kind of a taboo subject? People don’t really talk openly about finances. In admitting that I now have a family budget am I somehow revealing something negative about our financial situation? I don’t think so. I think budgeting is a smart thing to do, no matter what your financial situation. I just wish I’d realized that years ago.
Image from flickr by SMN