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Budgeting when life is complicated and time is at a premium


maize
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I've sadly discovered that I am going to have to carry a balance on my credit card this month, something that has almost never happened to me. 

Unfortunately this is a symptom of a problem that has been getting worse over the years--I can't stay on top of finances. I used to be super frugal and great at saving money and paying off debt. These days, life is just too complicated and I am stretched too thin. It's not that funds are insufficient, thought they are tight. I think I've run out of RAM to manage all the details of my life and more stuff is slipping through the cracks. 

Anybody been here before and figured a way out?

Actual cash in envelopes is not an option, I lose cash.

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10 minutes ago, ThisIsTheDay said:

Well, I would have said cash in envelopes. (How do you lose cash but not a credit card?)

 

A credit card is one item, and I have trained myself to almost always return it to the exact same spot in my wallet.

Cash is lots of items. 

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3 minutes ago, Bambam said:

My oldest put a budgeting app on her phone. When she spends money, she records it right then. This allows her to keep on top of her spending so she can see where the money is going. 

Would that take too much time? 

Maybe if the app were super simple?

I had a free student subscription to YNAB but was never able to actually figure it out.

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15 minutes ago, happysmileylady said:

Genuinely.....

 

In the last few years, how much actual cash have you actually lost?

 

AND, as a second question, how have to tried to keep cash envelopes in the past?  Meaing..........................where are they?

 

13 minutes ago, happysmileylady said:

One other question....how do you handle financial decision making and such in your house?

 

 

 

I could post a whole bunch....but since everyone is different, answers that apply to your situation more are more helpful

I've always had a problem with losing cash. Actually, I lose most things. I'm currently missing a check for $36 that needs to be deposited but since it's been missing for a few weeks I'm not confident it is going to be found. I have Tile locators on my keys and in my wallet which is the only reason they are not perpetually lost. I have ADHD and executive function is not my strong point.

Finances, including decision making, are all on my shoulders. Dh has massive anxiety where anything money is concerned, I've given up trying to include him because it never goes well (seriously, even "hey look, grandma sent us a check for Christmas!" throws him into anxiety melt down mode).

I might look into doing cash just for groceries. If it is just one chunk of cash and I can keep it in the zipper pocket in my wallet it might be doable.

Edited by maize
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16 minutes ago, Arctic Mama said:

We’ve been carrying balances for months, having to dig out of extraordinary circumstances we just couldn’t prepare for.  It’s not the end of the world, but our budget involves paying all the bills FIRST and credit card interest FIRST, and then dividing up the remaining pile of money for the budget for the rest of the pay period.

 

It’s kind of called reverse budgeting but I find it easier to work with than budgeting every cent pre-emptively. My brain can’t stay on top of it either so I make sure all the money is allotted to bills and such right away and schedule their payment to trigger at various times, or set phone reminders.  

 

Search “reverse budgeting” for a way more cogent explanation than what I just gave 😆

 

12 minutes ago, Arctic Mama said:

Thank you, I don't think I am familiar with reverse budgeting, maybe it will work better for me than the YNAB way.

Years ago I had budgeting software on my computer and was able to stay on top of it. I think that went out the window when the third child came along.

Edited by maize
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Are you losing track of day-to-day expenses, big stuff, monthly bills, annual bills (like insurances), or bits and pieces of all of it?

We essentially use bank accounts as envelopes, but have broader categories than people who use envelopes do. Whether we pay with cash, check, debit, or credit, the money to pay for it comes from one of those funds--sometimes directly, but sometimes when I sit down to pay bills online. 

Day to day stuff, I would consider your bank's capabilities, and then use a debit card for gas, groceries, etc. My bank allows me to set alerts (text or e-mail) when my balance for an account goes below a threshold I select. I can set that threshold separately for each account. I set my debit card (which is attached to just ONE account) threshold high enough (given what I spend and how often it's refilled) that I get a notification every day. I basically always know what's in there that way.

We have at least five different bank accounts set up with direct deposit to each one. Besides my debit card account, one is just for paying the mortgage (happens automatically from the same bank), and then we pad it a little for things like plumbing bills, appliance goes out, etc. (and transfer to checking to pay that person online or by paper check). If we are stable for a long time, we'll use it to partly fund bigger home remodel or upgrade stuff. Another is for bigger yearly expenses--insurance and stuff. I transfer money to checking when it's time to pay those. One is a regular checking account for paying monthly bills and for when I have to pay something big that I have pre-planned a transfer for. The last fund is long-term savings. If we have all the other funds under control, this one mostly just accumulates savings, and it's our "true" savings. It should be what we have above and beyond daily expenses.

I do carry cash, but I mostly use my debit card for daily stuff. I use a credit card when it can't be helped, or when it's helpful (5% off at Lowe's, or big $$ points for rewards). I have an HSA, so that takes care of medical bills, generally. Sometimes I write checks (piano lessons, etc.), but mostly I record bills I pay online from the checking account.

We do not budget to the penny. We use these larger funds, and then keep an eyeball on them (and sales) for when it's a good time to buy clothes, etc. We are not shoppers by nature. (Saver married to a saver, surprisingly.) If we were not as frugal, I think we'd have to have an additional fund for things like clothes, and then maybe I would have that on its own debit card that I leave at home except when purposefully shopping for items in the applicable category (we have a lock box that would work for such a thing). 

Do you have some type of wall mounted cabinet or box (or a box inside a cabinet) that you could use for keeping things safe and not lost? I don't know if that helps or not.

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10 minutes ago, happysmileylady said:

In terms of decision making....so basically your DH doesn't want to have to think about it and would rather just do whatever he wants with money?

I think there is a medical issue involved, IIRC. I am being vague in case it's not as commonly known as I thought.

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1 hour ago, Scarlett said:

every dollar free version is very simple 

This is what we use.  It's extremely simple and I sit down about once every week (usually while waiting for ds in a lesson) and input everything.

HOWEVER,
There is a lot to be said for the idea that 'time is money'.  It takes time for us to budget each week, make a working menu, and set a routine for grocery shopping, getting gas, and paying bills.  If I don't have the time, we're spending more money.  There was a month of everyone getting sick here and ds in back to back activities that took him through meal times.  That was rough because the menu didn't work at home, ds couldn't eat the menu if I didn't prepare food 4 hours ahead of time (and eating out with him is a chore!), and I didn't have the time to keep up with all the needs of the house and found myself spending to cover the gaps.  About a quarter of the year dh is on the night shift and everything falls to my shoulders.  That month happened to coincide. 

So....I think I would first work on setting up a working routine.  I have attention issues but find I do a ton better if I am doing the same thing each week.  From the routine, work on the rest, building a menu, setting a reasonable budget..and giving yourself grace while you get it all back under control.  We always do January a no-spend month to reset our budget again. 🙂 It gives us a bit of grace through the holidays when routines are out of whack.

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If YNAB on your phone isn’t working, you could try doing a paper budget that you post somewhere prominent to you (refrigerator) and put a cover sheet flap over it so it doesn’t trigger anxiety. The budget includes a checklist of regular bills so if my internet bill hasn’t arrived for the month or if I haven’t paid it, I know when I look. I have a designated place for all bills when they arrive, and I pay it on a designated day, weekly.

I do 95% of the spending in the house and I pay all of the bills also. I understand the lack of mental bandwidth.

 

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1 hour ago, happysmileylady said:

 

In terms of decision making....so basically your DH doesn't want to have to think about it and would rather just do whatever he wants with money?

Nah, doesn't have anything to do with what he wants. Dh struggles with mental illness on top of multiple physical disabilities; everything he has goes into holding down the job that feeds our family. Money--anything to do with money--is a huge anxiety trigger for him so I just avoid bringing it up. He spends almost nothing. 

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So some of the things that put me over this month were a largish medical bill that I had put off too long and property taxes coming due (several hundred dollars higher than last year). Medical is hard to budget, other than "it's always a lot".

I'm spending way more on gas than I have in the past, mostly driving kids to and from school.

Groceries is the category with the most potential to cut back; menu planning would definitely help there.

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To make you feel better, my grandma lost $15000 (yes you read that correctly) in cash.  She hid it in her house and couldn't remember where. It was gone for YEARS.  She never told anyone because she was so upset over it.  She did eventually find it (I never heard how many years it was but it was a long time), she divided it among her grandchildren and called it an early inheritance because she was afraid she would lose it again (it was always intended for us but not quite the way we ended up getting it)

As far as paying bills.  I had to put as many thins on autopay as I could.  My DH is very against this because he doesn't trust the security on a lots of thins but I simply couldn't keep up and did it anyways.  I also pay my credit card at the end of the month.  So either the last day of the month I pay the full amount on it or if I know I will be busy (and likely to forget), I will schedule it in advance (but sometimes this means it doesn't get paid off it full).  Otherwise, as much as finances allow, I try to sit down when I open the mail and pay any bills that came in that day.  If I wait till later, I will likely forget to do it before its due.  

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My comment isn't really advice, more of a general "first thought review" on a pilot program I've run here for 3 months now:

I make a kid responsible for the budget. Now, each kid has a "job". One is the sous chef (helps with dinners), one is maintenance department (cleaning, helps put things together, etc), one is the accountant. 

I set the numbers at the beginning of the month. (eg $500 for groceries, $100 for household, $75 for entertainment, $100 for misc). I print out a sheet with the starting balance and lines for expenses for each category. The Accountant is responsible for helping me track how much we're spending in the store as we go and then adding the receipt to the tally. They let me know how much we have left in a category before going shopping. They help me plan my dinners with estimated costs (still developing this part) and are allowed to "weigh in" on purchases for the household;

This doesn't help with paying utilities or those unexpected medical bills, but does really keep the daily spending under control -- or at least at a known quantity. They are very serious about staying on budget. I still use a credit card for all purchases. 

eta: I used to use budgeting apps religiously, both excel sheets and then the app HomeBudget. Love them both, but I just don't have the bandwidth to do that right now. This gives the kids practice with budgeting, math, and generally involved in the family, and takes a big chunk off my plate and I'm no longer losing receipts everywhere 🙂 

Edited by Moonhawk
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If the problem is not spending too much money but having difficulty managing all of the details, I would streamline dealing with finances to as little as possible.  Is it possible to put almost all bills on one credit card that is then paid by automatic withdrawal from your checking account?  This gives you a record in one place of all of your spending for when you need to review it and it makes sure that nothing falls through the cracks.  

I would not recommend this if a credit card is a temptation to overspend, but I think it can be very useful to people who do not tend to overspend and just do not have the time (or find it an unpleasant task) to deal with finances all of the time.    
 

 

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6 hours ago, Scarlett said:

Listening along. I have the same problem 

I think forcing myself to look over our accts on a firm schedule might help

 

Dh and I have a meeting every Friday or Saturday morning. It only takes about 10-15 minutes. We are like kids - we do better with short time periods but more often. We used to dread the hour long budgeting and financial review sessions so they often did not happen. Now, it's painless.

We are doing this very simply - with an Excel spreadsheet and due dates. Every week, we know what is due, we pay it (mostly online nowadays) and we are done.

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For medical expenses, we max out my husband’s HSA contribution since we could rollover the HSA funds. That helps to buffer unexpected larger bills.

For property tax, we get the notice of estimated property value in June which makes it easy to estimate tax due before the property tax bill comes in September. Our property tax bill is paid in two installments due in November and February so we push money into our savings account since we spend from the checking account. 

For gasoline, we just top up the tank every time we are near a Safeway gasoline station. We don’t have Costco membership and Safeway gas is only a few cents more expensive. Shell and Chevron are much more expensive for us.

I just use sheets on my phone for accounting. I find spreadsheets easier than apps since I copy paste from online banking instead of linking my bank account to an app.

Edited by Arcadia
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Homeschooling is like working a job without the pay check.  You end up needing to take some of the shortcuts two income families do to survive without the extra income to support it.  It is a stretch especially when you have crappy executive function skills.  We’d be in trouble except dh has worked a tonne of overtime.

can you get your council rates set up on a recurring monthly payment?  Likewise for the medical bill - if you have another one can you split it over the number of months till the due date and set and automatic payment up to pay that amount each month?  Just some thoughts.  I know there’s a point where the best budgeting tips don’t work if there really just isn’t enough money.

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Basically, I have all my recurring bills on my phone calendar with alarms, and in my bullet journal calendar. Bullet journal works for my very forgetful/scattered brain because everything is in one notebook and it's not confined to perfect boxes like planners.

I tend to freeze and postpone/procrastinate if I'm unsure what to do. So I need clear, repeating routine. Every single payday, x amount (rounded figures) goes here, y amount there, z amount here, rest is for living budget (groceries, petrol, bits and pieces). X is straight onto the mortgage, y is into the bills account, z into the project funds (building our house). The rest is our debit card account for day to day use. I see all the accounts through my electronic banking. Compartmentalising helps my brain.

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I put all new bills into a bowl.  I open them when they arrive and make sure that they are not due  more or less immediately.

Then twice a month I pay them, not on a specific schedule, but in about the second and fourth weeks of the month.  I'm working on paying off our HELOC, so whenever I have extra beyond our 401K savings, that's where it goes.  I usually pay double on utilities and phone bills.  That way I usually just get a 'credit balance' report from them, and then I can pay a little more than the 'latest amount' each month.  That way if I need to skip a month because I don't have 3 hours to crawl through every little bill, I don't end up in arrears.  For credit card bills, I usually call and pay by phone directly from my checking account.  I don't set them on autopay because I never want to be that tempted not to look at the bills.  I consider it a big win when I can pay net month's mortgage in the second week of the month rather than the fourth, and that also saves me some interest.  This way I never spend too much time on bill paying, and if I miss one of the two pay times in a month I generally don't get in trouble.

For controlling credit card bills, I keep a rough running balance of what I'm putting on them.  Also, I have several, and I kind of loosely rotate them so that if I have a big payment I need to make I put it on a card that I just paid, so that I can delay final payment of it as long as possible, in a less than compulsive way.  For instance, homeowners and car insurance can be paid via a check but I usually pay them by credit card.  I have a rough schedule of when the big, non-monthly bills come in, and loosely plan for them.  I do sometimes have to take more out of the HELOC to cover all of them, but I figure that that is because I'm paying ahead on it and the entire interest amount that I pay is a lot less than it would be on other forms of credit AND I reduce that interest payout by paying ahead even if I sometimes have to borrow a little back.  

Annually I assess whether we are ahead on debt or not, because using the HELOC that way you can lose track of it.  I consider it a win that we owe less each year.

What we used to do that worked pretty well was we had two saving accounts and one checking account.  I added up the recurring non-monthly expenses we have--insurance, property taxes, car maintenance, and gifts (estimates if specifics were not available).  Then I divided by 12, and we had that amount automatically deposited into one of the savings accounts, and the rest went into the checking account.  Then I would pay bills out of the checking account and if I didn't have enough for the big bills, I would pay out of that bank account.  Every once in a while if a surplus built up in that savings account, I'd move funds over into the other one, and that would be our increase in savings beyond 401K savings.  We stopped doing this during a period of financial turmoil when it didn't work, and I have not gone back to it because I'm more on top of those non-monthly bills than I used to be.

Hope this helps...

 

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One simple thing you might try for this very busy time in your life is to transfer some money each month into a separate bank account and save that for a backup or to cover bigger expenses.  It wouldn’t take too much thinking, but it would get you out of tight spots.  It sounds like you have a system that mostly works for you, but you just need a little extra backup right now. I also like the idea of streamiining everything as much as possible.

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