I’ve talked about budgeting before, but this time I want to focus more on making it a family affair. It’s important to have a budget, but it’s more important to make sure everyone is on board. It’s also a way to get your kids involved and help them learn about money.
Creating a family budget can be difficult, painful and annoying. It takes up time that you would rather spend doing other things. The fact of the matter is that your budget is the foundation of your financial plan. Your ability to reach any goals, whether it’s retirement, funding your children’s education, or the next family vacation; it all depends on your budget. Here are five tips that can help you to establish a family budget.
1. Involve Your Spouse and Kids. It is imperative that both spouses work together on this. Having only one spouse in control of your finances can cause deception and contention. When both spouses work together, it allows for communication and accountability, which are essential for a successful plan. You don’t need to involve your kids in the same way, but help them learn how it works. Children, especially teenagers, are bombarded daily with society’s financial ideas and habits. Teaching your children about money and involving them in some family financial decisions can go a long way in helping them understand the value of money and the importance of the decision-making process they will go through when they are adults. When your child wants something, rather than just saying, “That’s too expensive,” or, “We can’t afford it,” help her understand the other expenses that come with raising a family.
2. Decide What Works For You. There are many programs you could use to establish your budget. Try a few out and decide what works best for you. You could pay for software such as Quicken, You Need a Budget (YNAB), or Moneydance. There are also free alternatives, such as Mint, Buddi, or Budget On Web. I prefer to use an Excel spreadsheet to budget and track my expenses because it keeps me aware of what is going on and somehow it’s easier for me to do it that way than using budgeting software. It all depends on what works best for you.
3. Set Your Priorities. When you are in the moment, it is easy to spend money on something you really want. However, your financial plan is worth much more than that. Decide what is most important for your family. Is it retirement? Having enough insurance? Saving for your children’s education? Whatever it is, set aside money for those things. Also make sure to provide an allowance for yourselves, whether it’s for dates or personal money. Dates in our family are a fixed expense because it’s important to us to invest in our marriage. Ask your kids about what’s important to them. If they want an iPod, give them extra chores they can do to earn money to buy it. If you’re talking about family vacations, ask where they want to go and encourage them to help save for it.
4. Track Your expenses.This is huge. This is what takes up the most time in budgeting, but tracking your expenses not only keeps you accountable, it helps you see where your money is really going. In the beginning months, that will be crucial to helping you see where you can improve. If you go to a supermarket and purchase things from different categories, split up your receipt. Be precise. At the end of the month you will know exactly where your money has gone.
5. Don’t Quit. It’s hard to start a budget, but it’s even harder to be consistent with it. It takes a few months to learn your spending habits and where your priorities should be. Keep at it. There will also be expenses that come up that you had forgotten about when you put your budget together at the beginning of the month. Don’t stress about it. Just remember to try to be thorough next time. Definitely don’t let it fool you into thinking that you’re already way over budget, so you might as well binge. That sort of behavior will kill your financial plan.
The few hours a month you spend budgeting could save you thousands over the years. It can be hard work, but you definitely aren’t working for free. Budgeting is more about behavior than it is about income. As you establish good spending behaviors, you will be able to better reach your goals and find a lot more joy and harmony in your family life.