Beginners Guide to Budgeting

In this Beginners Guide to Budgeting I will walk you through how to set up a zero based budget.

Update: I have created a simple update to my budget doc that allows you to put in your gross income and it will calculate your net pay after taxes. 

Step 1

Determine your income- I take my net take home pay plus HSA contributions  and use that as my take home pay. You can do this in other ways but that is how I have chosen to do it.

Step 2

Determine your categories. I recommend that you try not to over complicate this especially as you begin. The more complicated, the more time it will take to manage.  I use more categories than I need and can probably go through and combine some to make things more simple.

Step 3

Determine your expenses. This can be a challenge and I recommend old fashioned pencil and paper. Don’t just guess (you will be wrong). Log in to your back account website and look at all purchases for the last month. Maybe even print the statement.  But wait, do you use a credit card? You will need to add all those purchases. Use your categories as column headers and then write each expense in a column.

To finish this step we need to consider expenses that may not be monthly. Things like car insurance, life insurance, property taxes, or anything else.

Step 4

Start to formulate your budget. Add up all your expenses from last month. Is it less than your income? If so, congrats! You are living on less than you make without too much focus. If it is more, that’s okay. When we started out we were in the negative nearly every month.

Make a copy of my Google Sheet and start to fill in the blanks with your numbers.  Feel free to change the categories to fit your priorities. You will notice that the formulas will add your expenses as you enter them.

Step 5

Once the sheet is filled out with income and expenses:  Does the sheet give you a remaining balance or show you in the negative? If you have a balance, go ahead and set some saving priorities. If you are in the negative this will be your chance to evaluate some of your spending. We will look at this in much greater detail in the future but we need to get you balanced. Some areas to look at immediately:  Eating Out, Groceries, Electric, and Entertainment.

Step 6

I know this is a lot of steps but just think, if you can get these concepts, you could be on your way to not having to worry about money. Is that worth a few steps? I think it is.

Pick your software and put your budget info into the software. YNAB is going be a little different than the others and we will talk tomorrow about how to set up YNAB.

Step 7

As you spend over the next month try to follow along with your budget. Spend 5 minutes everyday categorizing your spending. If you think you don’t have that much time each week that  is 0.3% of the month. Really??? You can’t spare that much time for something this important?

Step 8

At the end of each week review how you did. Make adjustments as needed. Your budget is like a map, so if you got off the trail, the budget will get you back on. You may just need to trim something elsewhere to do it.

Step 9

At the end of the month review how you did and go back to Step 4 to repeat the process for the next month. There are even tabs for the next few months so you can track what you did the previous month.



Get Started With a Budget

The best way to budget is the way that you will follow through.  We have used a variety of software over the years when it comes to budgeting. We have used Excel, Google Docs, Quicken, Mint, YNAB, and a number of other apps off and on.  There are benefits to many of them but my favorites are YNAB and Google Docs. We will talk about how I use each of them in the coming weeks. Today I just want to give you an overview of each so you can choose the option that fits your needs.

Excel and Google Docs

These are very similar options. Excel has slightly more powerful features but I love how Google Docs syncs seamlessly in the cloud.  I use Google Docs to plan and forecast future months.  It gives me a 10,000 foot view of what I have coming up.  YNAB does this some but this is a different picture of it. I linked to a sample copy of what I use above.


I used Quicken a number of years ago. The software has changed significantly since I last used it.  It is the most feature rich of the software I am going to discuss.  For most people, especially if you are on a Single Income, chances are you don’t need the features.  It also take a lot more work to do Zero Based Budgeting (which I’ll explain below).


This is a free tracking and budgeting program.  Before switching to YNAB this is primarily how I budgeted.  It worked okay for us. There are some good features (it’s free, it automatically categorizes transactions, it also links to almost any account you have, including your bills). What it doesn’t do is force you to look at your transactions or use a zero based budget strategy.

YNAB (You Need A Budget)

As even my daughter will tell you, I am a huge YNAB fan. They do many things really well. YNAB is set up to only allow you to budget for the money you actually have.  At first it took time to get used to this; I still use Google Docs for forecasting months in advance. When I look at YNAB, I can trust that if there is money in that category, I can spend it, which provides a peace of mind.

They have 4 rules which I think make perfect sense.  One rule I love is the idea of aging your money. How much peace of mind would you have if the money you got paid this week was going to pay for expenses at the end of March. That sounds great, doesn’t it?  It took us a little over 4 months to get there but now I am not stressed about what bills I can pay with this paycheck.

Whatever you choose, I would make sure that you are using a zero based budget. A zero based budget means that every dollar that comes in needs to be given a job or a task. A dollar that doesn’t have anything to do is likely to wander off without you even knowing what happened.




5 Reasons A Husband Might Need To Grocery Shop

In too many  families the idea of the husband or dad doing the grocery store is radical. Doing our weekly shopping on a regular basis, I know that is the case. There are not a lot of husbands or men grocery shopping when I am out.  In this post I will explain a few reasons I do our shopping and why maybe your husband should as wel.

To be honest at one time I was stingy with the grocery budget and my wife might say I still am at times.  Part of the reason I do the shopping is because if we end up going over budget by $20 this week, I bought it. This avoids money arguments (we might argue if I don’t buy enough lunches or snacks, however).

I am much more analytical. I look at the cost per oz. for everything. Many people think I am crazy but that is just how my brain is wired.  I am not an engineer but I probably think like one. My wife is not that way, so while I may spend slightly more one week because chicken is $1 a pound or that the 2 smaller bags of chips because they are on sale are actually a much better deal then the family size bag. Amanda gets distracted by ideas she saw on pinterest that randomly pop in her head, or any other number of creative ideas she gets while at the store.

I understand retail and I am very efficient. I can tell you where on the shelf nearly everything is that I buy regularly. My mind thinks in maps and pictures. I am not looking around and seeing the things the store wants me to buy. I do comparison shop per oz. when it makes sense. I am also not brand loyal at all. Sometimes a name brand is cheaper than generic (not usually), but I won’t be swayed by fancy packaging or marketing.

I know the system, I am a methodical shopper and grocery stores advertise some products below cost because they want you to come in and shop and buy other things.  Anytime there is a limit there is a good chance that it is a deal worth stocking up on.

It doesn’t stress me out.  I spend hours in a store every day and another hour or so shopping is not stressful. I don’t have strangers commenting on how many kids I have (it happens more then you would think with moms). Strangers are not saying to a guy with a beard and a few kids, “You know what causes that, don’t you?”

Grocery shopping stresses out my wife, especially if she has to take all the kids. Since we homeschool, if she has to take time out of the school day to get groceries, it ends up being a whole day of schooling lost. Instead, I usually go get groceries while she helps out at local ministry in town with our oldest child and our youngest child. Our two middle kids go to a Mom’s Morning Out that morning. It works out and gives me some one on one time with our second child, who tends to need more Father/Son time.

You remember how I said my wife likes to be creative? One thing we had to sit down and talk about was how I could make her less unsatisfied with me choosing groceries. What we figured out is that she just wants to have some creative allowance. So having things like chocolate chips and other baking supplies really makes a difference to her. Also, little add ins like some frozen peppers and onions, mushrooms, olives, rotel, etc.

Overall, there may not be a best person to do the shopping.  Maybe, the saver needs to do some shopping so they will understand how much it costs your family to eat. Shopping together is another option that will work for some couples. Overall, never go into the store before you have a plan. Deviate from the plan if you find great bargains that you know you can use in the coming weeks. Spend an extra $5 this week on a great deal so you can save $10 next week that is a 100% return on investment in just a week

Happy Shopping, whoever is going this week!


Aldi vs. Everywhere else

So we talked about whether we  spend too much on groceries and Pantry Staples so far.  Today I want to talk about where we shop and why I don’t worry about coupons.

We are huge fans of Aldi. It is a rare occasion that we find something anywhere else that is cheaper and of the same quality.  For those who have never been in an Aldi let me give you a quick overview.  Imagine a store the size of Walgreen’s or CVS.  Most of the products they sell are dye and MSG free (we have dye and MSG sensitivity here) so this is a huge selling point for us. Their organic brand Simply Nature is excellent and continues to expand.

We do still shop at Kroger for a few things and our Aldi is always busy so they are known to run out of their top sale items. They have a few produce picks of the week which feature super inexpensive fruit or vegetables each week.  These are nearly a weekly purchase. Aldi is always our first stop for nearly all our shopping on a weekly basis.

Other places we shop for great deals and quality items.

Jet– They’re a bulk store like Costco or Sam’s club without membership fees and you can shop from a smart phone (no more long checkout lines at Sam’s Club on a Saturday afternoon). They offer free shipping on orders over $35 and even offer Kirkland (Costco brand) items.  You also get a discount on every item the more you buy.

Frontier– Another one that specializes in bulk purchases but they are great for spices, teas, and a huge selection of healthy choices. Many items are organic which make them an even healthier choice.

Food can be both a place of huge waste or an area where you are really saving a ton of money. We have fallen into both categories at various times. Do not underestimate the value of good food especially at a good cost.


What We Keep In Our Pantry

As a follow up to yesterday’s post I want to talk about some of the things that we keep extra on hand to quickly throw together for a meal or to make a meal go further with kids.

  • Pasta- you can get this for 49¢ at Kroger. We try to have 6-8 boxes.
  • Pasta Sauce:  we buy sugar free from Aldi- we keep 4 red and 4 white sauces
  • Peanut Butter
  • Beans (Black, Pinto, Kidney)
  • Olives (Black and Green)
  • Canned Mushrooms
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Tomato sauce (can)
  • Salsa
  • Real Maple Syrup
  • Pancake Mix
  • Rotel
  • Onion Soup Mix
  • Green Chiles
  • Chicken and Beef Broth
  • Tortillas

These are some of the things we keep in stock at the house because they are things that we use on a regular basis.  We shop first out of our pantry and if we had more space I would expand this to many more items. When you have a deep pantry you can wait to buy things when they go on sale rather then just buying whatever you need the day or week you need it.

We have a deep freezer that needs to be cleaned out this spring. Once we get the freezer cleaned out we will be expanding to meats and start to make frozen meals.  It doesn’t necessarily  cost double to double a recipe.  This can reduce the overall cost of meals to less than $1 a meal.

Tomorrow we will talk about Aldi vs. Everywhere else.pantry

Do you spend too much on groceries?

Today was grocery shopping day for the week (yes, I said the week). We plan and shop on a weekly basis to help save money on groceries. There are numerous reasons I think this can be beneficial financially some of them that immediately comes to mind are:

  1. We have a plan for the week. We are not governed by a whim during the week
  2. We are less likely to go out because we have a plan and we know what we are going to eat every day.
  3. We can take advantage of buying ingredients for more than one meal (5 pounds of chicken, 3 pounds ground beef and vegetables can be purchased and not wasted.
  4. We can buy extra when things are on sale and plan meals to use them on.

There are many more things that can be said and many more strategies that I will get into eventually but here are some details from our first 2 months of 2017.

  • Total spent including eating out was $1230
  • Total number of days 55
  • Cost per day 22.36
  • Cost per meal/person- $1.06

We ate out 4 times in those 2 months with all 5 kids and we eat a TON. A few numbers from last week: 15+ pounds of fruit, 7 pounds of ground beef, 2 pounds of chicken and more. My 2 year old eats more than some adults and we still spent just over a $1 a meal for 2 months.

How much would that be for a family of 4? $90/week including all eating out.

Save just $10 a week and you could end up with $7,520 in a savings account in 10 years or nearly $21,000 in 20 if you invested it.

Are the 2 boxes of Keurig coffee worth that much? Make up your Continue reading

We Are Just Getting Started

We are just getting started around here, but I want to share some of the ideas I have planned for upcoming posts.

How old is your money? Live in the now..….On the past…….Paying for the future

Buying food when your 2 year old eats 3 pieces of pizza.

Do you know where your money is going? Really? The power of data in budgeting.

Be flexible! Budgets are guidelines not stone tablets especially when your a month ahead.

How to save 30% or more on your electric bill.

Have a plan. You won’t save with out one.


What ideas do you have? What topics do you want us to cover?


Where It All Started

We did not start out being money experts. My wife and I grew up in middle class homes where debt was just a part of life. I (John) never really heard much about money when I was young. We had plenty to meet our needs.  Amanda was raised for many years by a single mom who worked crazy hours to make ends meet for their little family. We still deal with money issues–not the same as we have in the past, but we are simply another family on this path trying to figure out what we are going to do with our money.

For 12 years (since we were married) we have been a middle income family. We have never made six figures and probably never will.  At one time we were a two income family (before kids). We were not very wise back then and spent more then we should have and did not save at all.  We were typical middle class Americans. My wife, Amanda, does make a little income doing a variety of things she enjoys from home. I am the primary income earner and work in retail management at a small store making a single income.


We both went to private colleges and have 2 private college size student loans still hanging around. We had credit card debt coming out of college but figured we should have fun as a young couple eating out a couple nights a week, drinking Starbucks, and generally wasting money. We have learned a few things since then and have twice paid off all our credit cards.

As we work on building the resources and articles on this site, remember we are still living this stuff.  This is our life and sometimes it doesn’t make sense to anyone but us and sometimes we get it all wrong.  I hope that you will find this site encouraging and helpful. Learn from our mistakes so you don’t have to live through them.

Be encouraged. Don’t listen to or try and keep up with “The Joneses.” They are broke too.  They don’t have a plan, they don’t know where their money is going, and they certainly don’t have a plan for the future. I hope through this site you will have all three.