Remember the black-and-white daily budget table that’s been on my site since it launched? Never Ask Again: Where Does All the Money Go?, the post where it first appeared, continues to be my most-trafficked page, and the chart is still one of the most well-loved tools in our household.
However after doing several money makeovers for TLC and Buttoned Up, I realized that it could be improved. If you love the old one better, it will always be available to you on my Printables page, but here is why I changed it.
New Space — at the Top — for Savings
Perhaps the most glaring omission in the old form was a place to record savings.
The adage “pay yourself first” means put money towards your big goals, then make everything else fit around it. It’s so easy to live paycheck to paycheck and feel like nothing ever changes. That’s why I put “savings” in the number one position.
To help cheer you on in saving for hopes and dreams, I’ll be rolling out some new charts that you can color in as you save money towards your goal. (If you haven’t already, make sure you subscribe for free by e-mail so you don’t miss a thing!)
Clearly, a New Look
Isn’t the new form pretty? I worked with friend and graphic designer Vickie of Vickie Spindler Design to improve the look. I’m so happy she was able to transform my Soviet-era chart into something that someone would actually want to look at.
Little Summary Table
I asked Vickie to add a little table on the right so that we can figure out where we stand each month: what’s coming in – what’s going out = what’s left. I also added a line for carrying over last month’s balance, as well as a way to record where earnings are coming from.
No More “Health/Beauty” and a Category for Interest Charges
The trick with budgeting sheets is to provide enough categories to make it useful, yet not so many to make it overwhelming. I hope I’ve struck the right balance.
Utilities like gas, water, electricity are now lumped into one category. (You can, and we do, scribble in explanations under numbers.)
Health and Beauty — now Medical and Personal Care — are separate. Even though they both have to do with our bodies, some expenses — like hair and nails — are clearly not as essential as doctor’s visits.
After doing a bunch of research to make sure I wasn’t leaving anything out, I added a few other important categories, including:
Insurance: since I think life and long-term disability insurance are a must-have. (We still categorize car insurance under auto, health insurance under medical, and home and renter’s insurance under mortgage/rent, but you can do it however you want.)
Bank Fees: Even though our family has managed to stay out of credit-card debt and we use a fee-free online bank, interest charges and checking account fees are common.
For more information on all the categories, and how you can use them, see this explanation.
This is Not a Budgeting Worksheet
Budgeting is not for everyone, but I think tracking spending is. Enrico and I don’t “budget” in the sense that we designate a certain amount of money per category and try to stay within those boundaries. But we do religiously record all the money that goes in and out, and that helps keep us on track.
For example, if I keep writing big figures under groceries, then it makes me stop and think why. Are we entertaining more? (A good thing.) Are we buying more household and toiletries at the grocery store? (A time-saver, but not necessarily cost-effective.) Are we buying more expensive, gourmet foods? (Good or bad thing?)
So, tracking spending keeps us on our toes, always thinking, always aware, always mindful. Not to say that we don’t splurge sometimes (on vacations, shoes, theater tickets for the whole family, a candlelit dinner).
To me, being frugal is not about deprivation. It means being very careful about where our pennies go. It’s finding ways to cut spending, while trying to stay faithful to our values and enjoy life in the process. We save so that, when the need arises, we’ll have the funds to pay for what’s important.
You can buy software or subscribe to online budgeting programs, but here is why the pencil-and-paper method is good:
- Get started immediately, without having to wade through and learn new software
- No procrastinating — all you have to do is jot down a number or two
- Reduce clutter, since you don’t have to go through receipts or get distracted by windows popping up on your computer
- Remember to do it, because your chart is posted in a prominent place
- See the whole month at a glance without scrolling through confusing screens of spreadsheets
What about those programs where your credit card charges are automatically categorized for you? Why wouldn’t I use that and save even more time? Even personal finance experts, like Judy Lawrence of The Budget Kit, think that the manual approach is part of the learning experience:
“As you physically write down the numbers and visually note them and the surrounding information, there is a special sensory awareness and understanding that occurs.”
I totally agree. Since Enrico and I use credit cards to buy almost everything (because we earn airline miles, and because well, it’s cleaner and easier), taking a second to physically write down what we spend when we get home is like bringing back a bit of the tactile awareness that comes with cash. Sometimes automating can lull us into thinking everything is fine. Taking this extra, yet simple, step helps Enrico and me keep our spending under control and in the light of day.
New Form, New Venture
The impetus behind all this is the upcoming Frugal Mama Makeover series, sponsored by Bank of America, and very soon to appear on TLC.com. I’m excited for you to see the short videos and hear what you think.
It’s been a fun challenge, and I have to admit, so great to work with people face-to-face. I love writing, but I also love being with people. Working with the participants in this series — hearing their issues, helping them come up with solutions, and feeling like I was making a difference — has been really satisfying. I hope that I can continue to work with people in this way, whether it’s on camera or not, and that I can always be more present and helpful to my readers.
So what are you waiting for?
Download the new daily spending form and try it out!