Thursday, March 11, 2010

More About Budgeting

Reader and fellow blogger Cathy had some questions about our budget, specifically our current $40 per week grocery budget:

I was wondering how you bought toilet paper, soap, etc on that budget. Thanks for clarifying that. I am not anywhere close to your budget but I don't feel as bad now. I would be interested to know how much you spend in other categories. Also, do you buy a lot of fresh produce? Do most people that post their grocery budget not include the other things like healthy/beauty, eating out, etc.? I am trying to learn. Thanks.

I'm always willing to answer questions about our budget and household spending but before I jump into this group of questions, I want to borrow a snippet from Cathy's own blog for a moment:
Believe nothing
no matter where you read it
or who has said it,
not even if I have said it,
unless it agrees with your own
reason and and your own common sense.
This is a good quote to keep in mind about everything posted here, from the way I budget to the way I parent to the way I cook. I do what works for us right now -- and often change things up along the way to make them work better for us.  Not all (or maybe not any) of my ways will work for your family, your current situation or the lifestyle you prefer to live. 

Now for those questions:

I was wondering how you bought toilet paper, soap, etc on that budget.  When I think of groceries, I think only of edible items to be prepared at home.  So, I don't include restaurant meals, cleaning supplies, hygiene products or pet supplies in my grocery budget. 

Do most people that post their grocery budget not include the other things like healthy/beauty, eating out, etc.?  I don't really know if it's more common to include those items or not.  I've seen folks post both ways.  In my mind it makes sense to keep them separate, but I admit that I tend to micro-manage our budget. If the budget is suffering, I want to know weather it's because I'm buying too many potatoes or too much shampoo. 

Also, do you buy a lot of fresh produce?   I buy fresh, frozen and canned produce.  I occasionally also buy dried fruit like prunes or dried apricots.  Last year we grew quite a bit of fresh produce in our back yard and plan to do the same this year.
I would be interested to know how much you spend in other categories.  I'm happy to share some of our other budget categories.  Because Shane was laid off for several weeks, we scaled back everywhere we could, but these numbers represent our "normal" budget amounts:

Housing - $1375/mo
(Mortgage, cell phones, water, natural gas, electricity, trash, cable and internet)

Transportation - $1250/mo
(Van payment, insurance for 2 vehicles and pop-up camper, gasoline, repairs and maintenance, personal property tax on vehicles)

Our gasoline expenses vary a lot, depending on how far from home Shane is working. 

Kat-Related - $70/mo
(School lunches when she wants to buy lunch, activities, part-time daycare in summer)

Groceries/Alcohol - $240/$75
(All food to be prepared at home and all beer or liquor.)

To keep costs down, I cook mostly from scratch and tend to avoid most processed foods.  I try to limit dry breakfast cereals to one box a month.  Soda is a treat for us instead of the norm, but chips of all kinds are our biggest weakness. 

Home and Pets - $200
(Cleaning supplies, laundry supplies, pet needs, electronics and batteries, postage and shipping supplies, office supplies, paper products such as paper towels and bath tissue, lawn and garden, home decor, kitchen gadgets, craft supplies)

This may sound high, but pet needs, lawn and garden, and craft supplies are $135 of this category.  We allot just $65 alotted for everything else. 

I buy generic paper towels and bath tissue in bulk packages at Sam's Club. I try not to buy/use a lot of paper towels; using old cloth diapers for cleaning and cloth napkins at meals instead.  I don't buy things like Swiffers or specialty cleaning products.  The only cleaning supplies I buy are bleach, baking soda, vinegar, ammonia and Dawn.  I either make my own laundry powder or use the generic kind from Sam's Club, and I never use as much as the directions say to use.  I don't use fabric softener, although Shane will use a dryer sheet occasionally to combat static cling.  I will buy Oust (for the litter box area) and scented candles, but I don't use any other spray or plug-in air fresheners.  I use on-line bill paying to save on postage and recycle boxes and padded envelopes for my eBay mailings.  I try to buy any home decor items second-hand.  I recycle Kat's school handouts for everyday printing needs and only print on clean paper when absolutely necessary. 

Health and Beauty/Prescriptions/Medical CoPays - $150
(Prescriptions, Dental Needs, Grooming/Cosmetics, OTC Remedies, Hair Care and Haircuts, Medical Deductibles)

This category often comes in less than $150, largely because of instant rebate programs for some of our prescriptions. 

To keep costs down on the rest of this category, we just keep things simple.  Shane uses a cartridge razor and ordinary bar soap for shaving; I use shampoo for shaving and the cheapest disposable razors I can find.  I just make sure to dry them off each time I use them; they last a very long time that way.  I use shampoo for washing both my hair and my body, and am perfectly content with whatever is cheapest. I only use conditioner about every third time I wash my hair. We all use the same kind of shampoo and soap. I don't buy "girly" deodorant; that way whatever deodorant is in the stockpile is suitable for either of us.  We use only a little toothpaste when we brush our teeth.  We use generic over-the-counter meds whenever they are available.

I cut Shane's and Kat's hair and use a coupon for a walk-in place to get my own hair cut.  I wear a shoulder-length basic style that only needs trimmed every 3 months or so. I don't use hair color or makeup.  I wash my face with plain water most days, using a cleanser only about once a week.  I rarely use any kind of lotion, especially on my face, but all of us do use sunscreen lotion when we're outside.  This may be "too much information", but I use a reusable silicone menstrual cup instead of tampons or pads.  It saves money and natural resources, but my real reason is that it works much better than anything else I've used.  We have yearly medical and dental deductibles for each person and a single family deductible for chiropractic that I spread out over 12 months.

Clothing, Shoes, Gifts, Christmas - $125
(Clothing and shoes for all of us, miscellaneous gifts throughout the year, Christmas gifts and decorations.  These are lumped together because I didn't want yet another category in my budget.)

This is another category where expenses can vary widely. We buy a lot of our clothing used, especially for Kat and me.  We keep birthdays and Christmas simple and budget accordingly.

Entertainment and Dining - $115
(Dining out, Netflix fees, camping fees, anything else we decide to do for fun)

Incidental and Unplanned Expenses - $40
(This is in addition to our emergency fund and is for those things you just can't plan on, like having to go to the car wash on a rainy day in February because you hit a skunk on the way to work.  True story. )

Savings - ???

At the present time, we aren't contributing a set amount to savings.  Instead, we are rebuilding our emergency fund, which was all but depleted while Shane was laid off.  Once that is back in place, any extra money we can scrape together is being thrown at the van loan.  After it's paid off, we'll be debt-free except for our mortgage and will reevaluate our savings goals at that time.

If you're wondering about retirement, that is part of the benefits package negotiated by the union and come off Shane's paycheck before he ever gets it.

One other thing I would like to explain is that Shane gets paid weekly, so that means he gets an "extra" check four months each year.  I do not include those extra checks in our budgeted income.  That way, a little extra money is available for savings, emergencies, or those times when we just can't control ourselves and overspend.  (It happens.)

I hope that helps explain how our budget works here.  Feel free to ask more questions.


Sheila said...

I like how you have your budget broke down. K always says my grocery budget is way too much but he includes everything in that--including clothes, shoes, pets etc. I tried to explain its not all groceries but some people don't always listen!!! I think I'm going to make a spreadsheet with your categories on it and see how that goes. Thanks for another great idea!!

Annie Jones said...

Those are the main categories. It's actually broken down further (all those subcategories I have listed in italics). I use a computer program called Budget for Windows that makes it easy to break things down as much or as little as I like. Like I said, I like to micromanage our money. :)

SonyaAnn said...

Holy Hell woman, you didn't miss a trick! It really does take a while to get everything down but it does help to see where you might be able to trim off a few dollars. Well, not in your case just mine. It is an on going process for me!
Have a great weekend if I don't make it back!

Frances said...

You DO like to micromanage! Good for you for having such control over your budget.

I don't have mine broken down so much, but I always have more coming in that going out. Yeah! (My retirement fund is building with the 20% of my check that comes off the top. That is the best way to do it!)

I count HBA, housecleaning and pet stuff in my grocery budget. If I take all that stuff out, I would have a REALLY low budget. I may try that. :-)

McVal said...

Wow! I need to break mine down a wee bit more. You know what I mean... JUST DO IT!
Well - it ain't going to happen in the next couple weeks, so I'll feel to terrible to go on vacation!

Annie Jones said...

SonyaAnn: There's always room for improvement and plenty of places we could cut back. That crafts category would be a good place for us to start.

Frances: I kind of have to micromanage in order to feel comfortable.

I've always been frugal, but when I was younger I didn't have a clue about budgeting, trying to guess it all in my head from the checkbook balance. It got me in big trouble more than once.

I started doing it this way about 6 years ago and have never looked back. It's a little more work, but has brought so much peace of mind that it's been worth every minute to me.

McVal: I can't believe I'm saying this, but don't you dare look at your budget until after your vacation. ;)

bidetsprayerman said...

I know a way to save more on toilet paper than any coupon or special. This covers all the bases = saves you money, helps the environment, helps your health, makes you feel better, it's so easy to do and it costs less than $50.00; Save money and the Earth and be clean at the same time! Add Bathroom Bidet Sprayers to all your bathrooms. I think Dr. Oz on Oprah said it best: "if you had pee or poop on your hand, you wouldn't wipe it off with paper, would you? You'd wash it off” Available at with these you won't even need toilet paper any more, just a towel to dry off! Don’t worry, you can still leave some out for guests and can even make it the soft stuff without feeling guilty. It's cheap and can be installed without a plumber; and runs off the same water line to your toilet. You'll probably pay for it in a few months of toilet paper savings. As for water use a drought is always a concern and must be dealt with prudently but remember the water use of industrial users far exceeds the water use of household users and in the case of toilet paper manufacture it is huge. The pollution and significant power use from that manufacturing process also contributes to global warming so switching to a hand bidet sprayer and lowering your toilet paper use is very green in multiple ways.

Annie Jones said...

Thanks for the offer, but I already spend enough time in the bathroom as it is. ;)