I polled my Instagram audience a few weeks ago and everyone wanted more information on what our family budget template looks like and how to be frugal with money! So, today, I am delivering!
I’m definitely no money expert, but my husband and I currently have no debt (except for our mortgage), we have more than 3 months of expenses in our savings, and we’ve met some big financial goals over the last few years that I’m pretty proud of. So, why not share our tricks to save money and how we budget every month!
The Best Way To Save Money
I’m familiar with several money saving strategies out there and I think they all teach great fundamentals. Things like:
- Build an emergency fund
- Pay off debt
- Have 3+ months of expenses saved
But one thing I don’t see mentioned often with these tips is in order to SAVE that money and pay off DEBT, you either need to STOP spending how you’re spending or MAKE MORE MONEY.
There’s really no way to build up your savings account if you’re not finding a way to cut costs or increase your income.
Our Financial Story
We’ve done things both ways.
For the first few years of our marriage, we didn’t have a lot of extra money. I was the only one working full time while my husband finished school and my salary less than $40k. We had lots of expensive car repairs in those first few years as well as hospital bills from when our son spent time in the NICU.
The first year we filed a joint tax return we had $22,000 in income. We had to give up a lot and go without a lot those years because we just didn’t have a lot of extra money to spend.
That was 7 years ago and things are different now.
In 2019, my husband and I collectively made 6 figures, we paid cash for a bigger car, and we put down 20% on a bigger house with the equity we had from our first house. These were big goals that I wanted to hit in 2019, and the only way we did it was because I started working.
For years we had scrimped and saved and honestly, I was tired of it. I’m a spender by nature (within reason) and I didn’t like thinking we couldn’t do fun things with our kids or buy clothes or go out to eat because we didn’t have the money.
Since my husband works full time already, I took things into my own hands and decided to start working from home. At one point I was working 3 different jobs to give us extra money every month.
All of my hard work paid off and I finally made a full-time income with my blog in 2019. It took several years to get here and definitely did not happen overnight.
But one motto we’ve followed throughout our marriage regardless of how much money we had is to live within our means. That is truly the BEST and most simple way to save money. If you’re only making $100 a week, you probably shouldn’t be spending $125 on groceries every week. The same is true if you’re making $1000 a week; it doesn’t make much sense that you’d get a mortgage that was half of your monthly income.
If you live within your means and adjust your spending to match your income, chances are you’ll have extra money to start putting toward your financial goals.
How can I be frugal with money?
All of this money saving talk is good in theory, but what are some actionable ways to really cut spending or make more money? Here are several tangible tips on how to be frugal with money that have worked for us throughout the years.
Pay With Cash
I don’t mean literally hand over $1000 in cash for your next purchase (or you can if that sounds fun to you!) but I mean only buy things that you can pay for right away, especially big-ticket items like cars, electronics, vacations, etc. If you don’t have the money to purchase the item sitting in your bank account right now, that’s probably a good sign you shouldn’t be buying it.
I realize that this isn’t always possible, but it should definitely be the goal. We had to take out a loan for the first car we purchased as a couple, and while we were able to pay it off in a year, I would have much rather saved ourselves from all of that interest.
Because we don’t walk around with wads of cash in our wallet, my husband and I do carry credit cards for the rewards, but we pay off the balance in full every week.
Pay Off Debt ASAP
If you do have to take out a loan or put a purchase on a credit card, you need to make paying off that debt your highest priority. Any extra income you get should be put toward your debt. It’s always a huge sacrifice to use your extra money to pay off debt instead of buying fun things, but it will save you money in the long run when you don’t have to pay interest on your debt anymore.
One of the most popular strategies to pay off debt is to follow the snowball method. This means you pay off your smallest debt first, then once that’s paid off, you take the money you were putting toward the smallest debt and apply it to the next biggest debt. You follow this pattern until all the debt is paid off.
One of the biggest debts people carry is a mortgage, and there are a few ways to pay off that debt sooner too. You can look at refinancing your loan to a better interest rate or a shorter term.
You can also make extra payments toward the principal amount every year. This is what my husband and I choose to do and we also plan to refinance in the future as well.
Don’t Forget To Pay Yourself
This is easier said than done, but saving some of your monthly income should be your first priority once you’ve paid off your debt. Even if you’re only able to save $10 a month, that’s better than nothing and will turn into $120 in a year!
Once your debt is paid off, work on getting a $1000 emergency fund set up. Then once you have that saved, you can work toward getting 3 months of expenses saved up. Those two different funds will give you the security you need in case of an emergency or unexpected event.
My husband and I don’t have a set amount that we save every month, we just have all of our income go into our checking account. Whenever we’ve had a large amount of money come in (from bonuses, extra work, gifts, etc.) we moved that money into savings. We now have 3 months of expenses in our savings account that we don’t ever touch and is there in case of an emergency.
When it comes to cars, there are several ways to save and the first is to pay for your cars with cash like I mentioned earlier. We just bought a van this summer and we paid for it in cash. Did we get the money for that car right away? No way! It took a few years of saving to get there.
You should also consider getting the most use out of the cars you purchase by driving them until they die. My husband drove a 2004 Ford Taurus until a few months ago. It had 160k miles on it and looked like crap! Was it embarrassing having him drive that car to work every day? For me, yes! He could have cared less. But the car was paid off and we weren’t ready to buy a new car, so he drove that until we were.
We also save money on our cars by doing yearly preventative maintenance checks. We stay on top of our oil changes and tire rotations and before we go on a big vacation I always have our car checked. Most auto shops will do a maintenance check for you for a small fee and it’s totally worth it to catch any repairs that need to be made before they turn into bigger problems.
When you are ready to buy a car, make sure you take it to a mechanic you trust to have it checked out. We’ve done this with every car we’ve purchased (only 2 so far) except for the Taurus my husband was driving. And guess what?? That car had A TON of problems! Our other two cars have really only needed basic maintenance because we had them checked for serious problems before we bought them. Dealerships are usually good about letting you take the car to get checked out and if they aren’t, it’s time to walk!
Grocery Shopping Savings
Groceries are usually the second biggest expense for families (behind a mortgage/rent) so people are always looking for ways to save here! Obviously, your grocery bill will vary depending on where you live and how big your household is, but I follow the rule of $100 per person per month. So my current grocery budget is $400 a month.
I really try to keep my grocery bill around a $100 every week. If I come in less than that, great! If I go over, I try to make up for it the next week.
One easy way to keep your grocery bill in check is to meal plan. Make sure you’re using up the food you already have on hand and not buying more perishable food until you’ve used up what you have. If you need help getting started meal planning, you can check out my favorite method here.
If your grocery store offers it, I also highly suggest doing grocery pick-up. I save the most money every week doing pick-up. It cuts down on impulse buys and I’m able to see my grocery bill before I check out. That way, if I’m over my $100 budget I can do a quick inventory to see if there’s anything I don’t need that week.
Everyone LOVES their subscriptions right?? They are the one expense people don’t like paying for but can’t seem to give up every month. If you’re doing an audit on your expenses, you should look at your subscriptions first.
Honestly, my husband and I have two subscriptions: Amazon Prime and a quarterly beauty box for me.
We’ve never paid for cable. We don’t pay for any box that comes monthly. We don’t pay for software that has a monthly subscription. And we’ve gotten by just fine without those things.
I totally get that there’s a time and place for subscriptions (I use a lot for my business, for example). If you have the extra money and find a subscription that’s a great value, then go for it! But for families looking to save more money every month, subscriptions should go.
Then when you’ve gotten your finances in order and do have some extra money every month, feel free to start up those subscriptions again!
If there is a subscription that you just can’t let yourself give up, see if you can split the cost with family or friends. We do this with our Netflix and Hulu accounts. This is a great way to cut the cost of the subscription in half or thirds every month and still get the benefits.
Cell Phone Savings
Ah, cell phones…another HUGE expense for families every month. We cannot live without our cell phones right?? But is it necessary to have the newest edition of the iPhone and a plan with every extra add-on possible? I say no!
My husband and I were with one of the “big 4” networks for a long time. We got brand new phones every two years and paid for them monthly. We felt like our bill was just getting too expensive every month so we looked into other options.
We decided to go with a network outside of the “big 4” and it was great for almost two years! We got new phones for free when we switched and had unlimited data. Our bill was $80 a month! Plus, there was no cancellation fee to switch networks.
But of course, this came with a few sacrifices. Our phones were not the best quality and they were definitely not top of the line. But we’ve saved so much money over the past two years that it was worth it!
We recently switched to Verizon because they had an amazing BOGO deal going on. We joined with my brother and sister-in-law and all of us got iPhone 11’s for the price of 2. We also each got a $200 gift card for switching. Our new bill will be around $110 every month. So obviously more than what we were paying but I was in serious need of an upgrade and we have more money than we did two years ago (living within our means, remember?) so we made the switch.
BUT, we only did because of the great deal and because we joined with 2 other people. This cut the monthly bill down significantly.
If you’re looking to save some money on your cell phone bill, take a look at what you’re paying for and start shopping around. You may have to give up your new iPhone to save some money, but I guarantee that it will be worth it in the long run.
See if you can buy an unlocked phone and then take that to your provider. Best Buy sells these and they are worth looking into. Or you could try getting a pre-paid phone for a few months to save some money.
Look For Financial Aid
When my husband and I were only a few years into our marriage, we were hit with some pretty big unexpected expenses with our car and with our baby’s medical bills (like I mentioned earlier). We were really in no place to pay for all of the medical bills, but thankfully our hospital had an amazing financial aid program that forgave almost all of the bills. It was a huge blessing in a difficult financial (and emotional) time.
We’ve used financial aid a few other times with my husband’s schooling, but only when we’ve needed it.
If you’re in a tight spot with some unexpected expenses, contact the debtor to see if they offer any financial aid or payment plan options. We’ve also used a payment plan for car expenses several times and are currently using one to pay our medical bills from 2019.
Sell Un-Used Items
If you’re looking for quick ways to earn money, selling the un-used items you have lying around the house is a great place to start! I’ve sold several items over the course of our marriage including:
- Home decor
- A couch
- Baby gear
- Robot vacuum
- Washer and dryer
- Our old car
My favorite way to sell items is on Facebook marketplace, but you can also use your local classifieds. Go through your house and grab your gently used items that are just taking up space and see how much money you can make. You may not think you have anything worth selling, but you never know until you list something!
Work From Home
This is my favorite way to make money, obviously, but it can be difficult to know where to look for work or how to get started.
I’ve listed several great work from home options in this post that are specifically catered to stay-at-home moms but could help anyone looking to earn money from home.
Some of the ideas are:
- Virtual assistant work (bloggers are always looking to hire!)
- Online surveys
- Turn your hobby into a business (if you craft, do photography, do handyman work, etc.)
- Become a nanny
You can also ask your friends and on social media if anyone is hiring work-from-home positions. You never know who has the right connection unless you ask!
This is something my husband did all throughout college for grocery money and is a good option for anyone who is looking for an extra $100 or so a week.
You do have to be 18 years old to donate and in good health, so be sure to research the qualifications with your local donation center.
In reality, most financial goals take a lot of patience. It’s really difficult to come up with large sums of money in a short amount of time unless you take out a loan or win the lottery.
Like I mentioned above, it took my husband and me seven years to reach a six-figure income. It took me seven years of blogging (3 years of doing it professionally) to make a full-time income. It didn’t happen overnight.
It took a lot of patience saving for our first house. It took a lot of patience living in a townhome while we saved for a single-family home. It took a lot of patience driving a run-down car while we saved for a new one. But the patience paid off as we’ve reached our financial goals and live almost debt-free.
How do you manage a monthly budget?
We’ve been using a formal budget since 2016. My husband works in a budget department, so he’s all about keeping track of our numbers!
We use Google Sheets to manage our budget and expenses. It’s nice because we can both access it from our computers or phones whenever we need to.
We try to sit down and track our expenses once a week, but we’re not always perfect. Speaking from experience, it’s a lot easier to remember what you bought if you only have to go back seven days. Anything beyond that and I just put it in the other category, haha!
On the first tab of our budget is our yearly income. To customize this for your family, you’ll need to enter your current hourly wage for your first income in cell E3. Then if you get a raise throughout the year, you can enter the percentage in H3.
If you have a second income, you’ll enter the hourly wage in cell L3 and the hours worked in P8. All of the formulas have already been set up, so you just need to plug in your numbers!
On the month tabs, you’ll see a “big picture” table in the top left corner with your income (pulled from the income tab), budget, expense, and variance line, and a beginning and ending amount for your checking account.
Most of the amounts will change as you enter your expenses in, but you will need to enter in the amounts for your checking account manually.
When you scroll through the tables on the left you’ll see lots of categories and line items. We’ve left almost all the exact amounts for our expenses so you have an idea of which categories to use.
I highly recommend you just track your expenses for one month before creating your actual budget numbers. This will give you a good idea of what you’re spending and where you can cut back. You obviously can’t change certain expenses like your mortgage or utilities, but you can definitely adjust items like eating out, clothing, and hair/beauty.
To enter an expense, you’ll use the table on the right. Enter the date, category 1, category 2, and the amount. We left an example so you can see how to enter each transaction.
The spreadsheet is set up to track your gross income. You’ll need to enter anything subtracted from your paycheck as an expense. Things like insurance, 401k, and HSA contributions.
If I’m being totally honest, I don’t always stick to our budget every month. I really try hard to only spend $400 on groceries ($100 per person), but that’s about it. I know what our fixed expenses are and I know how much we have in our checking account and I spend based on that, always following our rule to live within our means.
But we continue to track our expenses each month because it helps us to see our spending and keeps us accountable.
Free Family Budget Template
Enter the information below to download the family budget template we use every month!
Principles vs. Circumstances
With anyone who teaches tips on being frugal with money, be sure to pay attention to the principles vs. the circumstances.
For example, a couple who is making 6 figures and doesn’t have kids is going to have a lot more money to throw around than a family of 5 who is only making $60k a year.
It can be difficult to look at people who have saved a lot and have their house paid off and wonder why it’s not happening for you, but you may not know what’s going on behind the scenes.
Maybe they sold their first house for a huge profit and made a large downpayment on their current house. Maybe they got a huge inheritance from a relative. Maybe they work 3 jobs. You just never know.
In addition, maybe you’ve been doing all you can to save and cut spending and you get hit with an unexpected medical expense or your spouse loses their job and can’t find work for several months. Those are tough situations to find yourself in and can halt your financial goals for a time.
One of my best household money saving tips is to not compare your situation to anyone else. Pay attention to the principles of saving money that I shared in this post and do the best you can for your circumstances.
Let me know some of your frugal with money tips is the comments and if you liked this post, please Pin it below!