How to start a budget + 12 tips for staying on budget

Budgeting and staying on budget isn’t something that I am naturally good at and it’s not something my parents taught me either.

In fact, I had to figure out how to budget all by myself (with lots of trial and error).

When I became a SAHM I was forced to learn how to budget or we wouldn’t have been able to survive. Dropping to one income meant we wouldn’t have that extra money each month to not have a budget.

There was one month we only had $125 for groceries. We only went over our food budget by $10-ish (which I got to say isn’t too bad). So if we can do it you can too!

How to start your budget

Starting your budget can feel overwhelming but I am here to help.

When I start doing the budget for the month I start off by listing all of my bills that need to be paid and how much they are going to be. Make sure you round up. For example, when I add our car payment to the list, it’s $277, I’ll write down $280. That way I can give myself a little cushion.

Now if you have to super stretch your money don’t have to give yourself that cushion. Just write down the exact amount.

Once you get all of your bills written out and added up. You will list what your income for the month will be. My husband doesn’t get paid salary, he gets paid hourly so we kind of guess what he will make that month.

And how we do that is we calculate how many hours he works by his hourly wage and then subtract 25% for taxes. Then subtract what else comes out of your paycheck, like if your insurance or 401K comes out of your paycheck.

If you feel stuck just remember its better to low ball this part.

Once I pay a bill I will check it off so that I know what still needs to be paid and what has already been paid.

Now onto the budget tips:

Make a menu

You need to make a menu so you know what you need to buy at the store. When you have a menu you know what you need to put on your list. There is nothing worse than going to the store just to come home and find out you didn’t get everything you needed and you have to go back.

If you don’t go to the store you don’t overspend. We try to only go once a week.

When you do your menu make sure it fits in your budget. Don’t make an extravagant menu when you don’t have an extravagant budget.

Have a list

You’ve heard the saying don’t go to the store hungry. Well, the same can be said about a  list. When you have a list you know exactly what you need to get. That way you don’t forget things and have to go back to the store and it helps cut down on buy unnecessary things. 

Have your list tailored to your menu. When you are doing your menu add things to your list that you need to make that recipe. So you know you will have all of the ingredients to get you through the week (or however long you go trips).

You can make a list for anything too, not just grocery shopping. Like when you need to go school shopping or when you need to pack for a trip. You can add things to your shopping list that you need to buy or don’t want to forget. 

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Buy what’s on sale

When you make your menu took at the weekly ad for the grocery store first. Try to tailor your menu that week to the sale that’s on the week.

For an example when the ground beef is on sale you skip buying chicken that week.

When we only had $30 a week for groceries we didn’t buy much meat. Meat was something that was too expensive to buy all the time. So we ate mostly vegetarian because it was cheaper. We didn’t really miss it.

You don’t have to eat vegetarian to stick to your budget, you just need to add things to your menu that won’t make you go over your budget.

The same logic can be applied to other things, not just grocery shopping. Like when it’s time to buy new shoes try to buy them when they are on sale or use a coupon. That way you save money on things other than groceries. 

Opt for generic

Buying the generic version is just as great as buying the name brand stuff. Well, most of the time. 

There are some things that generic just can’t beat. For us, we can’t stand the generic mac and cheese so we don’t buy it. So if there is something out there that you can’t stand to buy the generic then try to buy the rest generic. Including your medication. 

We don’t take a lot of medication so I don’t have a lot of experience with having to buy the name brand prescriptions but buying the generic version of Advil and Tylenol is the same as buying the name brand. So if you can go generic on your medication you definitely should! 

Use a calculator

The biggest thing I have an issue with when sticking to my budget is overspending at the grocery store. I’ll buy junk that we don’t need. So when I go to the store I will use the calculator to count how much my groceries are going to be and it keeps me on track so I don’t put things in my cart that I don’t need and I’ll stay on track.

And just like when you start to add up your bills you add more than it actually it. So if you are buying bread and it’s 2.49, obviously you round up to 2.50. But if something is 3.75 round up to 4.00 so that.

Since you are adding everything you need to weigh your fruits and veggies so you know exactly how much they will be too. You’d be surprised how much you are buying that you don’t need when you start to weigh your produce.


Image result for Ibotta

I love this app! It gives you free money. This won’t replace your day job or anything but $20 here and there is nice.

It’s really simple, once you get all signed up and pick a store, you look at the offers and add the ones you want to your list. Then you go to the store and get what you need. When you are finished you scan your receipt and the barcode of your items that are in your offers and you get cash back!

The nice thing about Ibotta is it’s not just for grocery stores, you can use it for Amazon purchases and when you are traveling too!

I downloaded it at the beginning of November and a month later I already had $15 in cash back. I didn’t even do any extra shopping, just my usual weekly grocery shopping. Let Ibotta give you money for the shopping you already are doing, check it out here.

Save a little

We have heard that you should be putting money away in saving every month but it can be hard when you are already pinching your pennies.

When you are doing your monthly budget try to set aside some money in for savings, even if it’s only $25.

This will help you stay on budget in the long run. If something unexpected comes up, like if your kid gets invited to a birthday party or you need to bring your neighbor a meal, you will have that little extra help give your budget a boost.

But that doesn’t mean you can just spend your savings on whatever you want (technically you can because it is your money but I’d advise against it) you use that for things that come up unexpectedly, not to go have a shopping spree.

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Start going homemade

I know you’ve always heard you can make things cheaper at home. And it’s true. It’s cheaper to buy ingredients for a recipe instead of buying it already in a package. For example, it’s cheaper to make your own lasagne than it is to buy a frozen one.

I sometimes would make a loaf a bread for my family when it was gone instead of running back to the store to buy a new loaf. Because the whole trip would cost me about $5, that includes the gas to get there and back, instead of the $2-ish I could make it at home.

So when making your list it can be helpful to include the basics of things, like flour, sugar, eggs, etc.

Use Cash

There are studies that have proven if you use cash when you go shopping you will spend less. And this is because you physically see how much you have and how much you don’t have.

Think about it. When I was in college there was this running joke on the internet that us college kids’ debit cards were like gift cards. We were never sure how much was on our card.

At the time I thought it was funny and relatable. Now that I don’t have my parents pantry to go raid when I am low on food I found that if I bring cash with me to the store it forces me to stay on budget and I am never sitting at the check wondering if my card will get declined.

Because you can’t spend what you don’t have.

Learn how to have fun at home

I love to go spend the night in the city! I love getting away and someone else has to clean up after me. But since we are on a tight budget that doesn’t happen anymore.

I have had to learn how to get that at home and you can too.

It takes a little bit more effort than just going to the city. I will make sure our room is clean, like making sure our sheets are washed and we had our fluffiest towel in the bathroom. I’ll go out and get a special treat that we don’t usually get.

I get my simple night at home when I usually get when we go into the city.

If you don’t want to give up your weekend plans just make sure you add it in your budget and you aren’t overspending when you are away from home.

Make your house energy efficient

Buying energy efficient appliance can help but that is also so spendy that I know it’s not going to happen all at once (or anytime soon for that matter). So I have found different cheaper ways to make our house energy efficient.

In the winter we will cover our windows in plastic to keep the heat in and the cold out. We also make sure we weather strip our doors so there is no draft (this helps in the summer too). These help keep our heating bill down and it’s a cheaper way then turning up our thermostat.

And in the summer will keep our windows open at night to let the cooler air in. That way we can turn our thermostat up at night and that helps to keep our energy bill down in the summer.

Since we are talking about thermostats it’s recommended to keep your thermostat at 75 in the summer and at 70 in the winter. This will help keep your energy bill down and help keep you on budget.

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Learn something new

Learning a new skill can help to keep you on your budget. Youtube is wonderful for learning how to DIY things. There are probably a lot of people that you know that can teach how to DIY things if you can’t find it on Youtube.

My husband always changes the oil in our cars and my mom gave me her old sewing machine so I learned how to use it. Learning how to change the oil in your car or learning how to repair your clothes are great ways to save some money so you can stay on your budget. 

How to start a budget and 12 tips to stick to it

Let me know if these tips help you or if you do anything to help stay on budget!


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