I spent most of my post-college years with a checking account that was perpetually overdrawn by $300. I once went on a three-week trip to Scandinavia and spent the entirety of my food money on my first dinner outside of the U.S. In my defense, food in Reykjavik during the holiday season is unbelievably expensive. Due to what I can only describe as phenomenal good luck I didn’t happen into a credit card until after I got married, which probably spared me a lot of long-term debt-related problems.
Homebrew Husband’s actually worse with money details than I am. When we were engaged the lights were shut off in his home because he hadn’t paid the bill. This is not because he couldn’t afford the bill; he had a good job and was living within his means. No, he just sort of…forgot…to pay the bill for three months.
I say this to establish that neither of us are natural accountant types who imput their purchases into Quickbooks nightly before retiring to bed. We are both slightly scattered, creative, project-oriented people who have to work to keep our shit together.
And yet, I am pleased to say, our financial house is pretty much in order. It took many years of home systems development to get to this more-or-less happy place, and quite a bit of good fortune to boot. (And I am right now knocking on some nearby wood, in case you were wondering what that thumping noise was.)
So this is what we’ve learned, and this is the system we use to keep our urban homestead in the black. What works for us may or may not work for you. Take what seems like it might be useful; above all what we’ve learned is that the home system has to really fit the people in the home.
We keep track of our spending with a tool we designed that we call the “Fun Card.” We call it that because so little about budgeting seems fun when you start doing it that we wanted to emphasize that this little card was a tool that enabled us to have fun. Our fun cards look like this:
The Fun Card is check box system, custom designed for our monthly budget. You can pretty much see our monthly numbers above; revealing that info publicly is a point I debated heavily, so please no one be a jerk and make me get all defensive about what our budget numbers are and how we arrived at them.
You’ll notice it does not include the recurring costs like water, electricity, etc. that we have proportionally less control over. The point of this tool is to keep our day-to-day expenses in-line. It’s not fancy – it’s printed on make-your-own business card paperstock and anyone could easily make their own in MS Word or Pages.
Whenever we buy something, we check off an amount on our Fun Card equivalent to what we spent. On my card, boxes under “Groceries” are worth $10; other boxes are worth $5. I will split boxes if something is right in the middle, X-ing out a box-and-a-half for a $7.50 purchase.
If we fill up the tank, we check off $50 or $80 from the “Household/Auto” category. If I stock up on our salmon for the year, I might check off $400 from the “Grocery” category. If I go out for coffee with a friend, $5 comes off the “Discretionary” category. Garden stuff is still trying to find a happy home. Some garden stuff is, to my mind, obviously discretionary, but some, like seeds, gets booked against “Groceries” because that’s really what we’re buying.
That’s it. A simple tool designed to be kept in our wallet, used discreetly and give us at-a-glance monitoring of our monthly budgeting success. And for us it really works. When we started using the Fun Card we cut our non-essential spending in-half.
Next week I’ll tell you about our advanced Fun Card Techniques: the carryover, the touchbase and the reconciliation.
How do you keep track of your spending?