Lunch date and finances

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I had lunch today – with my husband – and with no kids. We did this last week too, but the entire lunchtime discussion revolved solely around Harry Potter, as my attempts at otherwise engaging Ron in conversation miserably failed. Today was very nice though – we ate at a ‘real’ restaurant (i.e., one with no waiting in line to give your order and carrying your food to the table yourself) and actually had an enjoyable time that did not involve crayons, whining, food on the floor or anyone ducking under the table. What a concept!

We talked about several things – one of which was ways that we can improve our budgeting skills and keep from overspending. We came up with a couple of very simple things that we’re going to try.

Back when I originally used to keep the checkbook, I tracked everything in the checkbook register, like you’re ‘supposed’ to do. For a while I also used Quicken, but everything was written down in the register as well. A few years ago when Ron took over the checkbook, he set up an Excel spreadsheet to track everything in and only entered transactions into that. This frustrated me to no end since I couldn’t just pick up the checkbook and see where things were at. Having to turn on the computer, wait for it to boot up, open up Excel, find the checkbook file – you get the idea. I thought about buying a PDA and entering in debits as I made them right after leaving the store. As much as the technical equipment-loving, geeky side of me liked that idea, I couldn’t justify the cost. Then last year, it got so neither of us wanted to keep up the checkbook – it was just way too depressing.

When I came back to work last fall, I took the checkbook back over. I still use Ron’s Excel file since it’s handy to categorize things and be able to quickly sum up lists of expenses. Every few days, I download our transactions from our handy credit union website and update the Excel file. But, it’s still been annoying that we can’t see our status at a glance. We also tend to use the debit card way too just because it’s – well, it’s just there and much too easy to pull out and use.

So, here are our ideas from today to help get things under control:

  1. First of all, that I will print out the last day or two of our checkbook transactions every Friday after I update the Excel file with Ron’s paycheck information and bring the sheet home for us to refer to over the weekend (which is the biggest danger zone for overspending for us).
  2. Daycare is due every Monday for that week. I’ve been paying it on Tuesday or even Wednesday a few times because we’ve ‘dipped’ into that money the previous weekend and I have to hope that the check doesn’t clear until Friday when Ron gets paid again. Hmmm, see the problem here? Especially when I forget to record the darn daycare check and then pay other bills with that money… So, since Ron is paid every Friday, I’m going to start paying daycare on Fridays for the next week instead of waiting until Monday or Tuesday. That way the money for that comes out immediately (or at least is recorded immediately) so we know exactly how much we have left for the weekend and next week.
  3. Ron eats out almost every day for lunch. Yes, this is a bad idea when you’re struggling financially. Yes, it’s not healthy since he eats fast food almost every day. However, I’ve pretty much given up the fight on this one because a) there is literally nothing he will eat that he can take with him since he is out on the road every day with nowhere to re-heat food and even with a cooler, he’s found it impossible to keep cold food cold in his truck. And b) even with eating fast food every day for lunch, the guy has lost over 30 pounds since he started this job because he’s so active every day. But, it’s still hitting us financially. Not to mention that I’ll often take the girls out for lunch or dinner on the weekends just for a change or for somewhere to go since Ron’s often working. Which is more money being wasted. So… Every Friday when I leave work, I will stop on my way to get the girls from daycare and pick up $57 in cash. Of that, $25 will go to Ron for lunches and $25 for me for miscellaneous stuff (taking the girls out to lunch or to go do something fun, or snacks/lunches for myself during the week). When our weekly money is gone, nothing more gets spent that week. The other $7 will go to the girls for an allowance – something we’ve been meaning to do anyway. I’m thinking $4/week for Abby and $3/week for Hannah (and then having them each give $1 at church every week out of ‘their’ money). Hopefully this will curb the impulse spending that we do.

There’s more to work on, like coming up with a regular schedule for grocery shopping – something we’ve really been struggling with since Ron started this job and his hours are so unpredictable. And setting a budget for expenses in general. But hey – baby steps… And I think that these ideas will help out a lot.

What budgeting/financial tips do you have that work well for your family? I’d love to know!