Check out my shiny new budget. Is it too tight?

envelope with money

I walked away from the sale of my businesses last December with a little money in the bank. Enough to be excited about the transaction; not enough for you to construe this as bragging. It was a fun month – then it was time to look for a job.

By March I’d landed with YNAB, and I’ve loved it. I’m really grateful to be here.

The only sticky point has been the 50% income reduction. Don’t get me wrong – I’m compensated well. It just happens my self-employed income was higher.

Rather than deal strictly with the truth, I’ve lived off a combination of the proceeds of the business sale and my YNAB income, with the idea that I’d eventually supplement the YNAB income with freelancing. I’ve started to line up freelance writing clients, but it occurs to me that the smart move would be to live strictly on my YNAB income and use freelancing to pay off the last of my debts and get serious about saving.

So, I made a new budget. It requires a lifestyle change, for sure, but we’re not talking about Greek-level austerity here. I thought I’d share it with the YNAB community and get everybody’s take.

Category Budgeted Notes
Monthly Bills
Mortgage $1711 $438 of this is the 2nd mortgage, aka My Deep Shame.
Utilities $125 Water, electric, trash.
Betterment $100 Needs to be 15x more. After paying off debts, freelancing income could go here.
Internet $72 This is the current amount, with Comcast. Likely switching to Digis at a savings of ~$20/mo.
Natural Gas $57
Cell Phones $155 Two iPhones with Sprint. Considering a switch to Republic Wireless at a savings of ~$100/mo, but some comments on their community forum temporarily scared me off.
Netflix/Amazon Prime $15.20
Giving $710 Feel a little odd publishing this, but hey – it’s in the budget.
Everyday Expenses
Groceries $450 Represents a 25% decrease off our current spending. Will require focus, creativity, and potatoes.
Household Misc $200 Having recently broken ‘misc’ into six new categories, not sure whether this number is high or low.
Fuel $100 The SUV will need to spend more time in the garage, with my wife using the compact as the family “get-around” car. Luckily, my wife is awesome and said she didn’t mind a bit.
Dental $75 Hopefully this is high – better safe than sorry. Planning to talk to the dentist about possible trade of services (copywriting in exchange for cleanings).
Medical $50 To cover co-pays and prescriptions, etc.
Restaurants $50 Will require a little more planning. We’ve already been trending in this direction, so it shouldn’t be too bad.
Clothing $40 Recently broke this out of ‘misc.’ Time will tell if it’s a workable number.
Kids’ Activities $40 Also recently broken out of ‘misc’ to cover things like art classes, swim lessons, etc. Feels a little high to me. We’ll see.
Her Fun Money $20
His Fun Money $20
Unpredictables $30 To offset overspending elsewhere.
Rainy Day Expenses
Health Insurance $650 Recently moved kids to high deductible plans. Insurance co. recommended re-evaluating in October in light of Affordable Care Act (when our infertility will not prevent us from having the entire family on one plan).
Life Insurance $155 Hate this expense, but wouldn’t be without it.
Car Insurance $60
Car Repairs $50
Home Exterior $25
Home Interior $25
Christmas $25 This will allow for very few gifts, which I find appealing for non-financial reasons.
Birthdays & Other Gifts $10
Residential Lot $160 Hoping to sell this debt within a few months. Utah’s new housing bubble may help.
Student Loan $97.02
Debt Snowball ? All freelancing profits will go into the snowball.

Early Reactions to the Budget

Kate (my wife): I don’t care about driving the Civic, but I don’t know how that grocery budget is going to work.

Peter (my younger brother): This budget is tight.

(Initially I thought he meant “tight” as in “cool.” Then I thought maybe nobody says that anymore. Then I remembered I’m old, and not cool.)

Jesse: This is a good budget.

(Said with no small amount of nostalgia, maybe even a hint of envy. Don’t worry – I think he recovered quickly.)

What do you think? How does this stack up to your spending?

144 Responses to “Check out my shiny new budget. Is it too tight?”

  1. Gecko10x (@Gecko10x)

    Giving- insane.
    Groceries- should be no problem with a little planning.
    Household misc.- I think you should nix this one completely; it’s a black box.
    Fun money- probably too tight
    Christmas- probably too tight
    other gifts- probably too tight

    • mark

      The fun money won’t be an adjustment – we’ve been using that amount the last four months with no issues.

  2. David

    Your grocery bill seems very low and your life insurance seems very high. Do you have whole life insurance?

    Internet is high.

    Where do things like food for birthdays go into? I don’t see how $120/yr works for at least two kids parties and a birthday party for you wife.

    Does the $200 for household include things like toiletries, household cleaning items, laundry detergent?

    Also, why continue the investing when you have other debts?

    And if the SUV is not needed for carry the kids around, why not sell it and replace it with a cheaper to operate vehicle?

    Your car insurance bill is really only $720/year?

    • mark

      It’s a term life policy. I get rated badly because I have asthma.

      As I said, I’ll be seeking cheaper internet.

      Yes, the items you listed are what will be come from “Household Misc.”

      Continue the investing to maintain the habit.

      Selling the SUV for the sake of a cheaper-to-drive car is on the table. I drive so little that, for the time being, the SUV will mostly just sit in the garage, so the potential cash flow improvement from selling it would be marginal.

      Yes, car insurance is very low thanks to a company called Bear River Mutual here in Utah with really tight underwriting (you have to be married, over the age of 25, non-smoker, non-drinker – with a clean driving record).

      • Sarah in TX

        When you have debt, the investing may not be a wise idea. What percentage rate are you earning on the investment vs paying on the debt? Could you decrease your month to month bills by using some of the money you sold your businesses for to completely pay off something?

      • Minda

        I’d go for it on selling the second car if your wife is in. I am still in the process of convincing my husband-to-be that we will only need one car. He asks “what about when we have kids?” and I show him all the carlite/carfree blogs like ‘Carefree with kids’, ‘Hum of the City’ and ‘Totcycle’. He is starting to see the light.

  3. Jon

    Surely the giving amount is a typo. $700+ makes no sense in the context of a $450 grocery budget for a family of 3? 4? and still having a student loan…

    • mark

      Not a typo. It’s what we do. That line item won’t be changing.

      • David

        Good for you. We are in quite a bit of debt, and our giving is on the 700 – 1200 / month order too. It’s a tempting category to rob, but giving happens first thing to minimize that temptation. Crazy, nuts, unthinkable, yes, but my wife and I feel strongly about giving to the church, and we make it a priority. Thank you for posting in complete transparency, I appreciate seeing it there.

      • mark

        Thanks David! Yep, I’m just putting it all out there. Like Jesse says: your budget should reflect your values.

      • Jena

        This comment feels incredibly judgmental. I read it days ago and was sort of shocked, and decided today I wanted to say something. Just because someone doesn’t have “Giving” as a category in their budget doesn’t mean they don’t have (good) values. In fact, I would argue that giving your time is much more valuable just giving money. I would encourage you to remember that’s it’s the people on these forums that help make YNAB a success. You might want to be a little bit more careful about your attitude. It might not have been your attention to come across judgmental, but to a paying customer, it did.

      • mark

        Hi Jena –

        My comment wasn’t meant as a judgment at all. “Your budget should reflect your values” means just that. If you value giving money, your budget will reflect it.

        If you value giving time, your budget will reflect that, too.

        And if you feel giving time is the way to go, then that’s what you should do.

      • Carolyn

        I admire it, too. We tithe, and that won’t change.

      • Jon

        I didn’t grok it was a tithe until reading the other comments. That makes more sense now.

      • Gina

        I don’t mess with nobody’s tithe.. Leviticus 27:30..

    • Preston

      A tithe & maybe a little extra in giving makes sense in every context. My giving is always my largest budget line after the mortgage. Debt should never factor into that decision.
      “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Matthew 6:21

      • Christine Griese

        Amen! Our giving is actually more than our mortgage. Not bragging, but feeling blessed with a very low mortgage payment!! Way to go on the giving side!!

    • Rolo

      Some of us believe that 10% of our income isn’t actually ours so it isn’t ours to spend but only to steward.

  4. Rachel Ruhlen

    I’m really glad to see you have “giving” in your budget. That’s something that’s important to me too but it feels at the same time a noble and a frivolous expense.

    But I think you must have an interesting story to have such a large amount for giving and so little for Christmas & birthdays. I’m curious about things that influence different people’s values. (If you didn’t have kids, I wouldn’t wonder as much.)

    I agree you can save a LOT by getting rid of a car or two!

    Good luck getting rid of Your Deep Shame. Be prepared for that grocery budget to climb, especially as those kids grow!

    • mark

      Thanks for your comment, Rachel.

      The core of the giving category is tithing, which for us means 10% of income.

      The low Christmas and birthday numbers don’t come from any particular dogma. We just like the idea of setting a certain precedent while our kids are young. We’d rather establish very few gifts as the norm, leaving ourselves room to grow the number over time. That seems easier than starting big and backing off later (if we wanted to). Know what I mean?

      Yes, can’t wait to retire the Deep Shame. That balance is the driver for everything else we’re doing.

      • LeiraHoward

        With the low amount for gifts, I’d assume you either don’t give to extended family or don’t have much for extended family. Personally, we have Christmas gifts for my parents and my 5 siblings (2 married, no kids so far), husband’s parents and his 3 siblings (one will marry next month), and have three children of our own. And of course gifts for each other. So that means there are 20 people to buy or make gifts for Christmas, not counting any company parties or other gift exchanges that we might be invited to. (We had three additional exchanges last year, another six gifts needed.)

        While we try to be reasonable with the amount given to each person, but even if we only spent $10 on each, that adds up quickly.

        And of course, this amount does not include birthdays, graduations, weddings, births of new children, or any of those other things that usually entail sending cash or a gift.

        I generally look for things during the year and buy them on sale. I pick up some things for stockings during back-to-school sales. Extra boxes of crayons and coloring books are dirt cheap at this time.

        It is fun finding the perfect gift for a family member. Last year, my husband had a business trip to Japan, so was able to pick up items when he was over there that were special (and also not very expensive!) like wooden bowls and chopsticks and silk handkerchiefs. (Many family members have told us during the first few months of this year how special the gifts were and how they are using them, which is nice.) We spent about $15-20 on each extended family member, and about $35 on each kid (one big gift, ~$25, a smaller item, ~$5, and items for the stockings, about another ~$5).

        Other things we get, like a live Christmas tree, are another expense, but going out to cut our own tree is building tradition and memories, so definitely worth the price. And I love the smell of pine needles, which brings back memories of my own childhood Christmases.

        Our food expenses also go up around Christmas, due to the large numbers of Christmas cookies I bake (and give to the neighbors).

        So, there are lots of things to be sure to add to the planning to get it all covered. :)

      • mark

        I’m just not a big gift person. Like I said before, I don’t feel some deep philosophical opposition to it, I just don’t get it. Receiving purchased gifts has never meant much to me, and I don’t see that material gifts given make any sort of meaningful impact on the recipient’s life, so I find myself wondering what the point is. The point, that is, of having a long list of names for which material gifts have to be shopped for, bargain hunted, wrapped, shipped, then usually returned.

        This annual ritual of “I ordered something on Amazon and shipped it to your house” just seems odd to me. I don’t know why we do it.

      • LeiraHoward

        For some people, giving or receiving gifts are a big deal, and how they show affection (“The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman gives a good description of this, and I would highly recommend you read it to understand others’ viewpoint). If getting gifts is how someone in your life feels love, then it is important. If you have a child or spouse who needs this type of love, not providing it can hurt the relationship, and brushing it off can be extremely hurtful to them.

        You may be lucky enough to not have anyone that you know who has that “love language,” but with any large family, the chances are pretty good of having some people who feel loved when you take the effort to think of them and find that perfect gift.

        Buying something just to buy something isn’t going to cut it. Buying something out of thoughtfulness and love in order to bring joy to another person is what this should be all about.

        (By the way, my family never EVER returned a gift that I can remember in all the years growing up. If you’re giving things that get returned, I would assume that you don’t really know the person you’re giving to, and don’t understand what they like or need. The only legitimate reason I’d have to return something if it was the wrong size or if I already had one.)

      • Elizabeth


        Actually, it’s clear to me by looking at your budget that you’re very much a “gift” person — it’s right there in your budget under “giving.”

        [From the comments, obviously your giving nature has been noticed by many.]

        @LeiraHoward — undeniably, some people use gifts (ie the expenditure of money) as a language of love. Mark clearly demonstrates his love through his giving. On whom or what he chooses to shower his love might not resonate with everyone or reflect the same values as all of his readers, but still he’s been honest (and I would say, brave) to put it all out there for everyone to see (and comment on).

      • mark

        Thanks Elizabeth. My wife and I do love giving that money. Maybe I should be more clear and say that the practice of scheduled holiday gift-giving doesn’t mean much to me. But it doesn’t it bother me a bit if that kind of gift-giving is important to other people.

      • LeiraHoward

        @ Elizabeth:

        I understand what you’re trying to say, but tithing (charitable giving) is not really the same thing that I was talking about.

        [For reference, the five love languages, as given by Chapman, are “gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, and physical touch.”]

        My point was that you need to be aware of what people need. For instance, if Mark’s wife happened to be one of the people who felt loved when she got a dozen roses, and he said “well, buying anything is silly, it doesn’t mean anything to ME, so I won’t do it,” then he would not be giving her love in the way she needed it.

        In the same way, if Mark’s wife happened to be one of the people who feels loved when he hugged her and cuddled with her, but he were to say “well, that’s silly, hugging doesn’t mean anything to ME, so I won’t bother.”

        Or to reverse the situation, obviously Mark’s love language is NOT gifts. If his wife gave him gifts all the time because that is how she showed love, he would (obviously) not “get it.” Not only would the gifts not make him feel loved, they’d probably annoy him because they were worthless (and not in the budget!) It’s the same if he were to try to show her love in the wrong language.

        Also, gifts don’t have to mean lots of money. It can be as simple as picking a flower from the garden or making a card from your kids’ school supplies; it truly is the thought that counts.

        It is more a concern with the kids, I think, to be sure they feel loved.

        One of my children is always making me cards and drawings and bringing them to me as a gift. If I make him a note, or give him a matchbox car from the store, he lights up, you can tell he really cares about it and the fact that I thought to give him a gift. The other boy couldn’t care less about notes and things, but wants me to cuddle with him all the time.

        My point through all this, I guess, is that just because something is not important to YOU doesn’t mean that it might not be important to one of your near and dear family members. If something is important to my family, even if it doesn’t make sense to me, I will make it important to me.

      • Cate

        I’ve come to believe over my 48 years that often people “gift” because they are the one’s that actually want gifts – and it may be because they are feeling a void in some area of their lives. This isn’t meant as a judgement to the original poster, but I’ve thought a lot about gifts over the years, and especially after 9 years of marriage and extended families. I worked with a woman years ago that forced a gift giving ritual on the office because she felt that was the only way she could know that she was cared about.

        During the first part of our marriage, I would ask my husband what gift he wanted for whatever occasion, and he’d say “nothing”, so I’d run right out and buy him what I thought he might want… and consequently, those items got left in a drawer, never used. I finally learned to accept that, and only buy him a gift if he really wants something. I still buy him cards to commemorate the occasion, and write love notes in them. Those items he treasures, and keeps forever.

        My in-laws have also taught me over the years that gifts aren’t important to them, so I send a card. Often, I never receive a card back. So it goes.

        I’ve also been in the process of simplifying my own life (decluttering, etc), so gifts have become less important to me as well. Yes, I love to get flowers, and tokens of love, but to just get “stuff” for the sake of giving stuff has become meaningless. When holidays/birthdays come around, I’d much prefer a gift card for my Nook so I can buy a book I’ve been wanting to read, or for a service that I can pamper myself with.

        With my 9 year old son, it’s an entirely different matter, but at the same time, we are really trying to teach him to be grateful for the gifts he does receive. Just recently, we started reading the first Harry Potter book, and we talked about the scene where Dudly counts the number of gifts he receives, and proceeds to throw a tantrum. My son’s birthday is tomorrow. I want his birthday to be about the memories of being surrounded by people who care and love him, not by the number of toys that he gets that will be forgotten in a month.

        So, long ramble here, but there are my $.02 worth, and you can wrap it if you need to.

  5. Claire M.

    A few thoughts:

    – I have my iPhone on a T-Mobile month-to-month contract with unlimited data (500 MB high-speed; beyond that, it’s slow), voice and texting for $50/month. I love it. I pay an extra $10/month for unlimited calls to foreign land lines, which I use quite a bit.

    – Why do you have both Netflix and Amazon Prime? You can stream a lot of movies and TV shows, not to mention kids’ shows, for free through Prime. We use a Roku box to stream to our TV. My husband and I only have Prime and if there’s a movie on DVD we really want to see, we use RedBox.

    – I find $450 for groceries very (too?) low. How many kids do you have? I guess if you’re willing to really make an effort, with beans, eggs, potatoes, pasta, and Costco-sized bags of frozen veggies, low on processed foods, meat, and fish… Maybe it could work, but even with that, dairy is still pretty pricey and growing kids need it. You might want to factor in fresh produce, too; as always, seasonal is cheapest. We’re big fans of fat-free Greek yogurt, which is an excellent source of protein, and essential to our son, who is naturally vegetarian (he’s three; he just hates meat). The cheapest we’ve found is the Kirkland brand at Costco. Costco membership will run you $55 a year.

    – You probably have a good handle on how much you drive, but $100 for gas seems a little low to me. My family doesn’t drive much at all (hubby bikes to work and I ride the metro; we just drive the kids to and from school during the week) and our gas budget is $200.

    – Your $50 for medical makes me nervous, especially if you have kids in a high-deductible plan. I had unexpected major surgery earlier this year and I still have a pretty big chunk to pay off despite great health insurance coverage. All it takes is a kid’s broken limb and you’ll have hundreds of dollars to pay.

    – $40 for clothing is reasonable. Grown-ups typically don’t need a whole lot (I’m not talking about wants here) ;-). A good thrift store is great for growing kids. Shoes can be tougher, although I watch for sales on Zulily (don’t mean to advertise; that’s what I do) and I’ve gotten Carter’s, OshKosh, and Crocs at great prices, less than what you pay for shoes at Target or Payless.

    – If your kids get invited to birthday parties at the same rate mine do, $10 a month isn’t enough. Again, Zulily comes in handy: I place big orders when they have good sales, keep the toys/gifts in my basement, and don’t have to run to the store when a birthday comes up.

    So where does that leave you? I might take a look at the “household miscellany” and the “home interior” and “exterior.” I would switch cell phones companies stat and cancel Netflix. I might hold off on the betterment category and reassign the $100 until the freelancing money comes in. I assume your giving amount is not terribly moveable, so I won’t suggest touching that. Hope this helps; good luck!

    • mark

      Wow, Claire, thanks for taking the time to work through all that.

      – Thanks for the tip about T-Mobile. I’ll check into it.

      – We have Netflix and Amazon Prime because I’m addicted to the idea of Amazon Prime (free 2-day shipping). We don’t use it often, but I’m still telling myself it pays for itself. I need to make a more honest evaluation.

      – The grocery budget is the category most likely to fail. Thanks for the tips for how to do get by on the cheap. I recently read a blog post by a woman with eight kids who feeds the whole family on $300/mo.

      – The $50 for medical is low, agreed. I do have an emergency fund that would handle any non-huge medical expenses.

      – Kids getting invited to birthday parties? Ugh.

      • Claire M.

        My husband and I got Amazon Prime for the free 2-day shipping too, but if you go on their site, click the “Shop by Department” button right under the Amazon logo in the upper left corner of your screen, hover over “Unlimited Instant Videos,” and select “Prime Instant Video,” you’ll see all the video content you can access for free with your Prime membership. It may well convince you to cancel Netflix.

        Yeah, kids get invited to birthday parties. Resistance is futile. ;-)

      • LeiraHoward

        We got OUR Amazon Prime to get the further “Amazon Mom” discounts on diapers and other staples. I did the math and figured that I saved more than enough to pay for Amazon Prime. The movies were a nice bonus. :)

      • Christine Griese

        I have an iphone through Straight Talk (Walmart) for about 45 per month. I’m very happy with the service, reception and it includes “unlimited” data – meaning, if you don’t abuse it you are ok.

        Our grocery number for a family of four is $550. This includes food, toiletries, & cleaning supplies.

        We are completely happy with only Netflix as we just wait until we have $25 to spend at Amazon to buy anything to get Super Saver Shipping. Might be a matter of being willing to “wait” for something you want if necessary….giving you more time to determine if it is really needed or not.

        Just my thoughts!! Way to go on your budget!

      • mark

        I could use your help in figuring out how to get my grocery budget where it needs to be. Nice work on keeping it so low with a family of four.

      • Christine Griese

        My basic system is this: During a given month, shop for meat at rock bottom prices. This requires keeping track for a while how the prices fluctuate (and a big freezer) so you know when you spot a good deal. Usually it happens when stores mark down their meat for quick sale. At the end of that month, I plan the next month’s menu based on the meat inventory I have – I package it in meal size portions and keep track of the inventory on a white board next to the freezer.

        We don’t have exotic or even sophisticated tastes, so I have a list of meals that my family likes that I pick from. Once the menu is made, I make a list of the other food and supplies I need for the month and do a large shopping trip. This is possible since we have our buffer already in place.

        During the month I will stop for other things we may need like milk, bread, produce, etc. and of course, the meat for the next month. Don’t go to a grocery store without checking that meat aisle! :)

        I also make most of my cleaners now. The place I save the most here is by making my own laundry detergent. It costs mere pennies per load.

        I also try to shop at Aldi when possible (this is a discount, no frills, grocery store with good quality food and paper products – in case you aren’t familiar with it) and sometimes I also shop at Sam’s Club with my mother-in-law who has a membership. It has taken quite a bit of research comparing prices for a while to know what to buy where, but I believe it is now paying off. I do use coupons, but only occasionally because I buy so many store brands.

        Feel free to ask questions if you have them.

      • Tim

        Great tips. My wife and I recently put $550 in our grocery budget but i count groceries as food only and put toiletries, paper products, and cleaning products under Household. I have no idea whether or not we’ll be able to stick to this but the rest of the budget is super tight. We are a family of 5 but our children are 6,5, and 2 so between the three of them they barely eat 1 adult worth of food at any given meal.

        I’ve never heard of making ones own laundry detergent. Would this work for front loaders as well as top? The front load washers need HE detergent that doesn’t make too many suds but that could just be hype.

      • Christine

        It is true that HE washers need low suds detergents. they use very little water. This DEFINITELY IS for HE washers. I have an LG HE. It is very low suds. I believe I got my original recipe from the Dugger family and tweaked it….you can google it or let me know and I can post how I do it. There are several recipes out there. I make five gallons at a time and only make it every few months. It does separate and needs to be shaken before using but it is pennies per load and works great for our family……even my two teenaged kids. :). If the separating bothers you, there are also dry versions out there you can google as well. Super simple to make and saves a ton of mula!

  6. saveourskills

    Just a thought.. if you have a garden, grow apple trees, buy beef and pork by the side/half, do canning, dehydrate, pickle, ferment, do pick your own, buy surplus crops from farmers etc then $450 is a pretty generous food budget. In the summer I go through some months spending less than $100 and just eating stored food. If i wanted to I could spend $0 next month. I have plenty of food stored up.

    Back to basics people. Lets all beat grocery store addiction!

    • Becky

      I’d be interested in hearing the time investment in storing food. I’m not opposed, but I do have a full time job at work and at home (3 kids and a husband), plus I’m going to school full time. This appeals to be but I’m hesitant to spend that much more time not enjoying my kids and the outdoors.

      • saveourskills

        My comment is these things create MORE time with the family not less.

        The fact is I spend a LOT of time doing these activities, however I spend no more time than anybody else does during the day since I have the same 24 hours to work with. I sleep 8 hours a night (generally)

        Kids love to pick fruit, kids love to grow food, kids love to help can, kids love to help cook, kids love to collect eggs….

        My 2 year olds favorite thing in the world is picking blueberries and my friends son is fanatical about taking care of their egg laying hens.

        Kids love to be valued as contributing members of the family.

        You can find out more about these types at saveourskills.com (shameless plug)

      • Becky

        Computer programmer too. I like the idea of it. It would be a major change, but I’m going to look into it.

      • saveourskills

        Pick something easy to start. Buy a chest freezer and buy a side of beef. That won’t take any longer than a few hours of research and you will save a lot of money. I get grass fed beef for $3.50 a pound… depending on where you live it might even be cheaper. Pork for $2 a pound. Check the site for more info

    • mark

      I do have a garden, although I’m lazy about it (just tomatoes and spaghetti squash this year). Oh, and my beloved raspberries.

      In our yard we have two pear trees, two peach trees, and a nectarine tree. They’re still just two years old, but I’m hoping we’ll have fruit in another year or two.

      We also have some food storage, but we’d like to have more.

      I know getting the grocery bill down will involve a lot more bulk, stored, and frozen foods.

      I really appreciate your thoughts.

  7. Leeabe51

    Well it’s easy to determine your religion by the giving amount. (Not a knock, just my first thought. )

    • mark

      It’s not a knock – it’s just math. :-)

    • clouwho

      In defense of giving (and it’s place in the BETTERMENT plan):
      We are religious mutts and give 10-15% of our income faithfully every year. Being able to give generously, to church/parachurch/NPOs and more importantly, to individuals, is one of my key definitions of RICH! I’m GLAD to see so many generous givers on YNAB. It’s kingdom of heaven investing as opposed to investing solely in my own little kingdom.
      When we were working our debt program hard core, our mortgage was $550 and our giving was around $1000/mo. I felt RICH because we had housing, were eliminating debt at an amazing pace AND bettering others lives. That’s a lot of good stuff every month.
      We’ve been debt free almost a decade and have since paid cash for dream home and both cars so we have our material blessings as well.
      We’ve paid for residential high school & college in full for one of our WorldVision children and assisted with college for single moms here in states. We’ve helped people with business start ups and paid for residential rehab for addicts. I consider each and every one of those dollars to be a well-spent investment with far better returns than I’ve ever had in stock market. It’s exciting what you can do once debt is gone!
      We also keep about $10k socked away in kiva.org (one of the greatest ideas EVER!). That money is loaned and repayed over and over again by borrowers all over the world. If we need the money, we can withdraw it. It is part of my very long-term investment money. Best return on investment of anything I’ve ever done. It’s a great vehicle for givers who can’t afford to actually give away all their money. Read International Bank of Bob for better idea of how it works in practice.
      GIVE ON YNABers!

    • Gina

      Not necessarily… There are multiple denominations that emphasize the importance of tithe and offering…. :-)

  8. JR

    I think this is a GREAT budget, very similar to my own. Just what you need until you get out of debt and further down the right path on planning/saving for the future. With some of that leftover cash from your business sale, I assume you’ll be padding some of the rainy day funds and making sure you have at least a 6 month emergency fund. Not to mention jump-starting the debt payoff. Your future self will be thank you for this, I’m sure of it.

    • JR

      I’d watch the misc item though, took me awhile, but I’ve pretty much knocked out using that for anything. Sometimes I have to think hard about how to categorize things though.

      • mark

        Thanks for the enthusiasm, JR. My wife and I are both excited about the challenge and the opportunity this budget presents.

        Jesse said the same thing about the misc category. I’ll need to focus there to knock it down.

  9. Jennifer

    How many kids do you have? Have you not tracked clothing spending before? For us with two kids still at home, their growth spurts run us at least $75 per month. At one point my younger daughter had 17 pairs of jeans because my older daughter grew out of them so quickly. I think you can do $450 per month for food if you’re willing to coupon, shop sales, and eat leftovers. It’s a trade off of spending more time t save money. I don’t personally agree with that much in the giving category when you could be paying off your Deep Shame, but that’s a conscious decision you’re making. I also am not sure about $50 per month for total home maintenance being enough, but maybe your house is in fantastic shape. I do appreciate you sharing your budget. It’s always interesting to me to have examples to consider. Have a good day!

    • mark

      Wow – $75 per month on clothes for the kids? Wow. That’s food for thought.

      • Jennifer

        Clothing including shoes. One daughter is a long distance runner who was born with bunions, which means two to three pairs of $120 running shoes per year. So, that’s $30 per month right there. The other daughter is a dancer. The boys who are now in their 20s were cheaper. The younger boy only wants to wear white tshirts and basketball shorts. You could consider the running shoes as part of kids’ activities, but that would just make that line item go up. Assuming your tithe is 10% of gross,I do have household income that is 50% higher than yours. So, as with everything, it’s all relative. :)

      • mark

        Ah – yeah, shoes for her would add up quickly.

  10. MrMcLargeHuge

    Unless you eat out once/month, or you only eat off the fast food dollar menu when you do, $50 seems like a ridiculously low amount in ‘Restaurants’ for a family.

    • mark

      Yep – we very rarely take the kids out to eat any more. Very rarely. Any restaurant eating will be date time for mom and dad, and yes – most likely at a burger joint.

  11. Rasta

    So fascinating, and a truly rare opportunity to have insight into anyone else’s spending, since it’s all so “secret.” I am travelling right now and don’t have access to my actual budget, but when I get home I’ll check and see how we compare. I also have a “residential lot I’d like to sell” but my payment is $435/month and there is no chance of selling it for what i owe. Quick question – why do you lump just water, electricity and trash into one Utilities category, but keep Natural Gas, Internet, and Phone separate? More later, but thanks for sharing!

    • mark

      Hi Rasta –

      The odd grouping of utilities is due to how my city has them set up. I pay water, electric, and trash to the city. Natural Gas is a separate provider/bill. And same with internet and phone.

      Glad you found it entertaining?

      • Jason M. Acker (@pbjacker)

        Mark I had the same question, and to your answer I ask – since when does a payee constitute a budget category?

        I have water, electric, natural gas, and trash service each from separate providers in a category named Utilities. Winter the gas cost goes up, electric goes down, and budget doesn’t have to change.

        Cable/Internet/Phone = Communications; if I want more mobile data maybe I need a slower home connection. Faster internet? Fewer TV channels…

        But focusing on the amounts, you’ve mapped it out strikingly similar to my budget. Just one category struck me as unbelievable and that was Car Repairs. Maybe it’s the age of the vehicles, but I have to sock away $200/mo and there have been a few times we still had to cover overspending.

        I came to this number by taking the previous 3 years of maintenance and repair bills and computing the monthly average. The first time I didn’t have to scramble for a repair provided vindication of my efforts in YNAB!

        For anyone wondering we have a ’99 Altima and ’01 Venture.

      • mark

        I drive a 2000 Honda Civic and ’07 Honda Pilot, and (knocking on wood) neither has ever required a mechanical repair (I’ve replaced windshields, brakes, and tires).

        As to your categorization question, I think it’s more art than science. As I said in a recent post, you want to be granular enough to create opportunities for increased awareness and improvement.

      • LeiraHoward

        Your vehicles (at least the Civic) are getting older, and you should be sure to budget for a major expense, as (depending on care and mileage), they are likely to start needing larger items before too many years go by. If this isn’t budgeted in the auto section, you should be sure to have a big enough emergency fund that it would cover things if you had both a medical emergency AND had to pay for major vehicle repairs.

      • mark

        This is the truth that I don’t really want to hear, and I appreciate it.

      • Sara

        That ’01 Venture will do it……..we had one and it needed constant repairs, $200 a month was probably low!! Never another Venture…….or we had quite a lemon:) Get a Honda Odyssey, all we’ve done for the last 6 years is change the oil and other small maintenance recommendations.

  12. Marily

    I love the transparency. Thanks so much for sharing. I think people talk about budgets too often without using real numbers. It’s helpful to see real people and their real budgets. I would love to see more posts like this with other people’s budgets. Actually, I’ll offer ours–I would love to see what people think and where we can trim costs!

    • mark

      Thanks Marily! I’ll send you an email. I agree, seeing other people’s hard numbers is enlightening.

      • Marcus

        I’m on board as well, even though I can only provide a non-US perspective.

    • Rasta

      I agree – I would be happy to share my budget and income with total strangers (just not my friends and family:). I wonder how we would go about that? something other than this here comments section.

    • MrMcLargeHuge

      I’d happily be on board with this too. I like having others scrutinize my budget. Different viewpoints are always valuable.

  13. Adam Karch

    Thanks for sharing.

    1 question. What type of life insurance do you carry? Is it whole life? Term life is much cheaper (Typically < $60 for ~1M on most people). Take a look at daveramsey.com for his explanation on why term is a much better bargain. By the looks of things this could easily save you ~$100 per month.

    • mark

      I carry a term life policy. I just happen to be rated poorly because of my asthma.

  14. Becky

    Mark, I just wanted to say thank you for sharing. My budget is so very close to yours and it makes me feel like I’m not horribly off. Here is to slowly (or better yet not so slowly) moving in the right direction! Goal is to be at $1500 a month investing in two more years, and after 1 year, I’m still on track to get there.

  15. Kenneth

    My wife and I were paying $150 total to Verizon for our two iphone 5s. I paid the early termination fee, and set them up on Airvoice for $10/mo apiece (250 minutes at 4 cents a minute, OR 500 texts at 2 cents a text, or some combination). NO DATA. So my pictures wait to automatically upload until I get home (or near some other known wifi). Works for us, saves us $130 a month.

    • mark

      I was looking for an Airvoice equivalent for my Sprint iPhone 4s, and couldn’t find one. Anybody?

  16. LH

    My thoughts:
    Not knowing exactly where you live, I can’t comment for sure on whether things are too high or too low. For me, $450 would pay for a LOT of groceries (higher than our current budget) for our family-of-five. However, if I was living in the area where my in-laws reside, that amount wouldn’t even come close to covering what was needed.

    Our auto insurance is about $870/yr, but that is for two vehicles (one a 2008 Mustang) with collision and comprehensive coverage (no state minimums for us… if we need it, we want to be COVERED!)

    Clothing, on the other hand… your budget does seem to be rather low, unless your kids aren’t planning on growing much. Even shopping the thrift stores around here, I think we’d spend more than that. We can probably get most things for a cheaper amount, but finding a nice set of clothes for church is always a bit more pricey.

    Cell phones- my husband and I pay a total of $200 a YEAR for cell phone service, plus whatever our phones cost (he bought a new smart phone this year for $85). We use AT&T’s GoPhone service, which is a prepay plan. Calls cost us $0.10/min, but we rarely use our phones and have carried a balance from year to year. Curbing cell usage (making fewer and shorter phone calls) is an easy way to cut a HUGE chunk out of most people’s spending.

    • Steve

      I just switched to AT&T GoPhone myself – if you have a smartphone, their new plan is hard to beat. Unlimited talk/text and 2GB of data for $60/month.

      Best thing is you can buy refills online; I got mine through CallingMart (http://bit.ly/151kaf7) and – if you wait for their sales that pop up every month or two – that took another 10% off. So the net price for the plan is only $54/month!

      I’ve had Verizon for years (over a decade) but it was just impossible to justify the cost anymore. I bought a Nexus 4 (unlocked, contract-free) from Google so I’m free to choose my own provider. T-Mobile has some even cheaper plans but their coverage is much more spotty – and I travel a bit, so I elected to go with AT&T.

  17. Marcus

    For me as a German it’s very interesting to see how different our expenses seem to be. Is your budget somewhat typical for US citizens?

    From my perspective:
    – the amount for health insurance is INSANELY high!!!!
    – groceries seems to be just right, I have an equal number in my budget although I don’t believe that 50 USD for restaurant will get you very far (in Germany that would mean having one dinner out per month with a family of 4)
    – I guess the 100 USD for Betterment are meant to be saved for your retirement? From a German perspective definitely not enough :)
    – kid’s activities and gifts seem to be very low too. Won’t you have to pay for kindergarten? Child care during school breaks? Babysitter? School trips? An instrument or instrumental classes?

    Overall: If I summed up everything correctly your budget is around 5200 USD after tax! Wow, that’s a whole lot of money to spend. How much gross income is that? Is that a normal income in the US?

    Thank you very much for sharing anyways!


    • LeiraHoward

      I also think the amount for health insurance is insanely high…. My husband receives insurance through his employer, and our portion of the insurance is $20/month, automatically deducted from payroll.

      I don’t think that is exactly a “normal” income, I think it is definitely higher than average, anyway. According to information from the U.S. Census Dept, the median household income for the United States is around $50,000 USD. (They have a nice pdf document where income is broken out by state, if you’re interested: http://www.census.gov/prod/2012pubs/acsbr11-02.pdf)

      If my family had the income Mark has and kept our current budget, with all extras going to debt repayment, all of our debt (including the mortgage) would be paid off in seven years. :)

    • MrMcLargeHuge

      To preface, I’m American:

      I also think the health insurance is very high. He has mentioned asthma and infertility, which can definitely drive up the price, but even with that it seems high. I suspect this number might include some HSA deposits. No matter how you look at it, there’s a reason the Affordable Care Act was necessary, though it looks to be DOA.

      As far as Betterment, he has mentioned that $100 is far from optimal, but that he’s depositing that amount just to keep the habit, until he can do more. It’s definitely not enough for retirement. General advice in the US is 12 to 20% of gross income, including employer contributions.

      Kindergarten is part of the public school system here (at least in my state it is), so there’s little cost involved. School trips generally are included too, but that can vary.

      His income is above average. I haven’t been reading enough to know if his wife works, but this could be both of their salaries combined. For reference, a person making $50K/year will bring home a net of about $3000-$3500 per month, depending on the state in which he/she lives.

  18. Tom Shelton

    I had not heard of Republic Wireless and have been looking for a cheaper alternative to our current Verizon family plan (5 lines). Has anyone used RW before? Was it a positive experience or did you eventually switch back to traditional cell company?

  19. Rhonda

    I admire your giving budget, that is also a high priority for me. I am very concerned with the gift budget being so small the year. I am single with no children and my gift budget is $100/month and I always end up taking more from other categories. There will be many occasions throughout the year that come up – what about birthday parties for other kids, graduations, weddings, baby showers and funerals? Just in the work environment alone, there is always collections for Admin day, funerals, weddings or babies. I need to add my social environments like church or friends. If you figure out how to cut back on all of that, please let me know.

  20. Bobbie Jackowski

    I am envious of your utilities budget. Mine is $380. Maybe I should move! Also, we spend $400 a month on gas for the vehicles. I don’t see a way to reduce either by much.

    You really have your stuff together considering you just cut your income in half. That’s a huge adjustment.

  21. MrMcLargeHuge

    Regarding your health insurance: is that just for premiums? Or are you putting money into an HSA too? That seems like a very high amount even when taking asthma and infertility into account.

    • mark

      Because of my wife’s infertility, she’s “uninsurable” with a private insurance policy. Her only option is the Utah high risk insurance pool, which amounts to terrible insurance for $320 per month. I found out this morning that most insurance companies also won’t cover me due to our infertility because the insurance co. would have to guarantee coverage for any children born as the result of infertility treatments. I don’t know how I managed to get the policy I have, frankly.

      The Affordable Care Act will remove her “uninsurable” status, which will allow the whole family to get on one policy. At what cost? I have no idea. I’d imagine our total premium will be as high or higher. Time will tell.

      • Elizabeth

        I’d love to have a monthly health insurance bill that low. We pay $946.56 per month; that covers me ($501.84) and my two children ($231.54 DD; $213.18 DS). Luckily my husband is covered by Medicare. When he retired, he shut down his business and I lost my job — which left the kids and me uninsured. I knew I’d be classified as “uninsurable” due to my health history and a few chronic conditions but it was a terrible blow to be told that both my 15yo son and 17yo daughter were “uninsurable” too. My daughter, now 21, has hypothyroidism. My son, now 18, has a completely benign genetic condition. Both are otherwise perfectly healthy. The only reason any of us have any insurance — even at those outrageous rates — is because CO has a high-risk pool insurance plan. If you’re lucky enough, as we are, to be able to afford the payments, the insurance coverage is actually quite good. We’re self-insured for dental and vision insurance however.

        As you mentioned, the Affordable Care Act is going to shake things up soon. We’ve received notice that our health insurance plans will no longer be available as of Jan 1, 2014. Plans and rates are not yet available but I’m sure not holding my breath hoping for better plans or cheaper rates.

        Those of you who get health insurance as an employment benefit, I hope you realize the real value of that benefit — and not just in $$ terms. The stress caused by such large insurance costs should not be underestimated.

        In the past few years I’ve gained a clearer and much more personal understanding of the difference between the “haves” and the “have nots” (or the “insured” and the “not insured”) and of how many people in this country are a single health emergency away from financial disaster. Our household finances are quite healthy but one brush with a serious illness, major injury, or even a brief hospitalization, if not insured, could change all of that in the blink of an eye.

      • mark

        Elizabeth, I feel your pain – those are crazy premium amounts. My wife is on Utah’s high-risk pool at a cost of $320 per month. I think I mentioned in the post that the ACA will remove our “uninsurable” status, but I don’t imagine it will lower our premium. Time will tell.

  22. xxxsaintdevilxxx

    Comcast internet price can get insanely high. You don’t have to sacrifice speed for the price. Go to your account, click on shop/upgrade and see if you have any special offers. You can choose to ‘upgrade’ your internet to a lower price. Sometimes you can also get a lower offer price through their customer service, they will say something like you have been our valuable customer and we would like to offer you a year at xx.x price. I was able to keep my blast internet at $39.99/month.

    As for groceries savings and household misc (if it includes household supplies and etc), try saving with coupons. Also if you have Grocery Outlet in your area, they have some great natural and organic foods for very cheap.

  23. GInjury

    I agree as well. It would be nice to see how everyone else budgets their money.

  24. Tyrel Haveman

    You should talk to your employer about providing better benefits! My life insurance covered entirely by my employer, and health insurance is 95% covered.

    See if you can try conserving more energy at home to reduce your electric and natural gas bills.

    For the cell phones, I highly recommend Ting. I believe you should be able to port your Sprint iPhones over to them, since they are on Sprint’s network and do support phone porting now. My wife and I spend a total of $29 per month on our cell phone service with them; we each have Android phones.

    As hard as it may be emotionally, I think you need to reduce your “Giving”. That’s a lot of money. Give your time instead of your money — it’s more valuable anyway.

    Groceries should not be a problem. Make sure you’re buying fresh fruits and veggies in season, as they’ll be cheaper that way. Check your garbage can and see how much food you are throwing out. This should be almost zero — just banana peels, etc. — parts of food that aren’t generally considered edible. Also, make sure you ONLY include food in your “grocery” budget, not other things you happen to buy at the grocery store (more on that later…).

    On that same line, if it’s an option where you live, reduce the frequency of your garbage pick-up to reduce your garbage bill. We recycle almost everything and usually only have one or two bags of garbage every two weeks, when the truck comes by.

    Get rid of “Household Misc” — I just have a “Houshold Items” for things like toilet paper, Kleenex, toothpaste, soap, etc. Nothing should be in a “Misc” category.

    Your “Fun” money categories are just fine. Mine are even smaller!

    Your car repairs budget seems high to me. But I only have new cars that are covered by warranties and insurance, so I’m not expecting to have to pay for any “repairs” to them for several years.

    $25 per month for Christmas = $300 per year. That sounds perfect to me. I don’t know how many kids you have, but personally I don’t think you should spend more than $100 per Christmas on kids. :-)

    If you have any cash laying around, pay extra on your debts, starting with the one that has the highest interest rate.

    • mark

      My employer provides the benefits that mean most to me: flexibility of schedule and autonomy in my work. :-)

      Thanks for pointing me to Ting! It seems to be exactly what I was hoping Republic Wireless would be.

      • tvalley

        Mark, I tried Republic Wireless for about 6 months & had my phone (which cost me close to $300) shut off about 3 months ago. I could not get good reception on Wi-Fi even in my own house, and I could not get good cellular service (from whoever it is they use – Sprint, I think? – but I’m not sure) anywhere in my town. I would stay away from them. If you really want to try them let me know – I’ll give you a great deal on one of their phones that is hardly used! :) I have stuck with Page Plus Cellular – a Verizon re-seller, that has GREAT service and several fantastic prepaid plans – check out their website.

        As to your giving budget, I can only say it is an honor to know someone who prioritizes their life as we all should, and I apologize for the person who left the comment about how “he knows what your religion is” – THAT was uncalled for! Giving means just as much to me – giving to my church (non-denominational Christian, so no one has to guess and/or make nasty comments) my family, charitable organizations that I care about, and even my friends who have less than I do. You GO on your giving – I’m proud to know you, Sir! Be blessed! :)

      • mark

        Thanks for the kind words, and right back at you.

        And thanks for the tip on Republic Wireless. Based on other comments, I’m taking a hard look at Ting.com.

        Best to you and yours.

  25. Wendy

    Definitely interesting to see your budget, would be keen to see others budgets, but suggest it might need to be by country/state/family situation, I really cant compare my Australian budget to an American one, so many things are much more expensive here, and to budget shop – at larger retailers/grocery stores requires a minimum 3 hr drive to get there, so the money saved on groceries is completely wiped out by the cost of fuel to get there and back.

    • Nicole Dicker

      I’m with you Wendy. Our costs here in Australia are very different and so a comparison is difficult.
      Thank goodness for Medicare and compulsory employer Superannuation contributions!

  26. jimstolz76 (@jimstolz76)

    I don’t think the health insurance is out of line at all… same amount I’m paying and my company pays $200/month towards my bill (so $850/month)… and this is still about $300/month cheaper than my wife’s company’s health insurance would be, and that was with a ridiculous $9,000 deductible (not a typo).

    Thanks for sharing, Mark.

  27. Rich

    Wow… it wants to make me move to the States. The cost of living in Melbourne Australia smashes just about every category! $110 per month for internet and home phone…$300 per month electricity and gas… and don’t start me on gifts and presents… I need to earn more money – or get a cheaper wife!

  28. Megan K

    Another cell phone possibility worth checking into… Ting. They use the sprint network, so (unless you have iphones) you could likely use your same phones with them. We switched form verizon (with basic no-frills phones), to Ting (with smart-phones) and cut our bill in half.

    Ting charges based on actual usage, rather than having a “plan”. They also have a calculator where you can enter your current usage, and see what that would cost if you were with Ting.

    Yes this is a referral link: https://zhq83h1ac42.ting.com/
    If you decide to switch to ting, and use this link, you and I would each get a credit to be used toward a phone or monthly service.

  29. Erin

    Our total mortgage payments are $1787 but the shame amount is only $330 – I am not sure whether to feel better or worse that our payments work out that way. (I would never COMPARE myself to others :) Oh and we are still underwater since hubby was transferred in 2007. On a plus side we don’t have any other debts.

  30. Danny McCurry

    Phone service looks normal, which means way too high. We moved to Tracfone. Two phones for $30 each, 4500 minutes and one year to use them for $200 each. Choose a phone with the triple minute option to get the 4500 min / $200 price.

  31. Rolo

    - There are a lot of categories; does that really facilitate effective budgeting? (I had many categories when I used Quicken and it really did not help; I simplified when I switched to YNAB and things make a lot more sense and are less time-consuming.)

    – I see “misc” and “Unpredictables” as fudged numbers and contrary to “Give every dollar a job” and not really a good way to “Roll with the punches”

    – I can’t see why the three categories for household; how much does household upkeep cost and have one category for it

    – Phones: To add to the alternatives, Virgin Mobile also uses Sprint network and is $35/mo

    – I really want to know how you manage to keep grocery costs that low (I’m not implying you can’t do it, just that I’m looking for ideas)

  32. Rasta

    Mark, Just out of curiosity, what is your job at YNAB?

  33. Nia

    Thanks so much for sharing!!

    The Giving category is the first one on my budget, even above the Housing category…includes tithe, building fund, missions support and a more misc category when friends ask for support on their missions trips, etc. It’s a priority.

    I’m assuming your grocery budget includes HB stuff and cleaning supplies?

    I also admire your restaurant budget! We have tried to stick to about that amount as well.

    I’m curious why you have Netflix and Amazon Prime in the same category. We have prime, but not netflix…are you combining this expense somehow? Or is it just that you see them as the same category?

    So helpful to see what others plan for! Thanks, again!

    • mark

      I use the “household” category for cleaning supplies, toiletries, etc.

      I grouped Netflix and Amazon Prime because they’re my ‘TV’ category – they both stream movies and TV shows.

  34. Simon

    Hi Mark, thanks for sharing, it really does help to see people’s categories and numbers. I am a Scotsman liviing in Australia, single with no kids so my budget is completely different to yours.
    I was shocked by your level of giving especially considering your in debt. That’s all I am going to say on that after reading your comments.
    Do you go on holidays, I never saw a category for that? What about buying a snack on the road, would that go under “his or her spending” and what buying a book, magazine, boy’s toy like a camera or fishing rod for a hobby of some sort?
    $20 dollars doesn’t seem much if you want to save for a new whatever and still have the freedom to buy a CD or even catch up with a friend over a beer?
    I do enjoy the blog so thanks again.

    • mark

      Hi Simon –

      Until the debt is paid off, money for holidays, hobbies, snacks, books, and the like will have to come from reduced spending in other categories. Thanks for the compliments on the blog. Always nice to be appreciated. :)

  35. LeiraHoward

    On your insurance: have you looked into medical sharing plans (the one that comes to mind is “Christian Care MediShare” – my folks have this)? Basically, each family pays a certain amount per month and they cover each other. Generally, there are requirements for lifestyle (such as no alcohol, smoking, or drugs), but the premiums are usually much less than actual insurance. Think of it as a credit union for medical care.

    The only reason I don’t also use this is that my husband’s workplace has REALLY REALLY good medical coverage that is much cheaper for us. (We only pay $20 a month for our family of 5.)

    But this sort of thing is definitely worth looking into.

    • LeiraHoward

      Depending on whether or not you are planning on having kids, the infertility thing may or may not be an issue. Christian Care Medi-Share does not cover infertility treatments, so (as a plus), that should not affect your rate, but (as a minus) if you wanted to have any, you’d be paying for them out of pocket.

      Also, just FWIW, there is an excellent book out there called “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” (By Toni Weschler) that has a lot of good information for couples with low fertility that might be useful (can’t tell without knowing your exact situation). Some people I know who had certain types of diagnosed infertility were able to conceive after following the information in the book to maximize chances of conception. Your mileage may vary, of course.

    • mark

      Thanks for the recommendation, Leira! I actually spent a few hours checking out Christian Care a few weeks ago. I like the concept, but the reviews were split about 50/50 when it came to whether the organization would actually pay out on a medical event. Made me uneasy.

      • LeiraHoward

        I was covered under them before I left home, and my parents have used them for years. They DO pay out, but they pay according to their terms of service. So, if you don’t read the fine print, you may just assume that something is covered when it is not. I think that is where the “whether they will pay” uncertainty comes from. You get that with traditional insurance companies as well, when they deny your claim due to not being covered for whatever reason. With Christian Care MediShare, as long as you have an event that is covered, they WILL pay. I’d suggest maybe calling and talking to a rep with your situation and seeing what sort of information they can give you.

  36. 786mcqueen

    I lost it when I saw that your mortgage bill is almost equal to the income I bring home from my full-time job.

    • LeiraHoward

      And THAT is why sharing budgets can lead to trouble. :)

  37. Lisa

    Yes, so helpful/interesting to see how others budget. We have used YNAB for years for expense tracking to collect data. Now, however, we are in the midst of our very first month of using the tool to budget as well. We are fortunate to have no debt and two sufficient incomes, but we also work in high tech and know that it could all change tomorrow.

    I have found, only 18 days into this budgeting thing after 4.5 years of just expense tracking, that my behavior has already changed. I am constantly checking the budget to see how much I have left for groceries, gas, eating out, etc. I have based the budget for this month on data from the last 4.5 years, but hope to trim the budget in some areas over the next few months to allow for more savings.

    We started with an “acceptable” amount of savings – that is, we have 8 months of expenses saved, a few small house projects funded, and savings for a replacement vehicle in place. (We just paid cash for the first replacement vehicle, so I figure I have at least 7-8 years before I need to replenish that.) We also have a large trip planned in a few years that needs to be saved for. My older daughter will be starting college in just four years, so we have a very aggressive savings plan for that.

    So, we’re coming at this from a different angle than we would have been a few years ago – we’re in savings/wealth accumulation mode rather than debt elimination mode. But we now can see where all the “fluff” is in our spending, and even small adjustments in groceries, eating out, clothing, expenses can help us to accumulate much more quickly.

  38. Kelsey Williams

    Your numbers are VERY similar to ours (we’ve got one kid), although our debt (minus the mortgage) is gone. My husband and I have talked about publishing our budget on our blog, but not sure if we’re ready to put it all out there.

    Thanks for the honesty and for handling the comments section so well.

  39. Amber

    Thanks for sharing. I can’t believe your gas budget is $100 a month! We spend $400-$500 a month. (of course my husband commutes a long distance to work and we live in LA which means lots of traffic.) It always kills me that we spend more on gas than we do on our groceries.

    You should look at T-Mobile for cell phone. We pay $94 a month for 2 lines: unlimited texting, 1000 shared minutes and data. We opt for a cheaper plan and buy our own phones (we both have used, unlocked iPhones) so that the cost of the the “free” phone is not figured into our monthly bill.

    I also feel extremely grateful for our awesome health coverage after seeing your budget for insurance. We pay $10 a month for excellent healthcare! That really is a huge benefit we have from my husband’s employer.

    Thanks again for sharing- That was gutsy! :)

  40. lesliefairman

    This makes me feel a little better. Our budget is pretty tight because our school loans are $1400 a month and our car payment is $400 a month. The extras and groceries are really the only wiggle room we have (aka no extras and sometimes we get a lot of grilled cheese in a week). We have a credit card with a very small balance for some fun stuff and date nights, and some minor unexpected expensive just to keep us from going absolutely insane. 2 of the smaller school payments should end around the time of our car payment and free up $710 to start snowballing/saving. Counting down the days. Our rainy-day-fund is lucky if it ever gets more than $100 a month.

    It feels good to know we’re not the only ones with a tight budget. I have done some stuff like making my own laundry that has saved us quite a bit long-term ($30 and it’s been over a year and less than half the batch used). Those small things added up for sure.

  41. falwyn

    My comment is that $40 per month might be very low for kids’ activities, depending on their ages and how many of them there are. You mention swim lessons and art classes… I know I’m struggling with this category at the moment. Piano lessons around here are $40 a month for just one student, for example (which I think is fairly low, as this is a rural area, but I don’t know), and then there’s other options: dance, karate, soccer or baseball…

  42. Tom

    Great blog post. Fascinating to see such transparency. Did you feel the pressure to “adjust” the budget before posting? I know I certainly would have.

    I found looking through the budget especially interesting as I live London. Many of the categories and budgets are very similar to mine. The most notable difference is the cost of health insurance…I don’t have any!

    Thank you for posting

    • mark

      Thanks Tom. No, I didn’t feel any hesitation or pressure to adjust. I guess I’m just not afraid of criticism. I knew going in that people would call me out on the charitable number in light of my debts, but it’s not like those people hate me or think I’m stupid – the math just doesn’t make sense to them. And that’s fine.

      If you check out my next post, you’ll find people’s emotions and self-image are deeply tied to how they feel they are perceived. For whatever reason, I just don’t seem to care what people think of how I manage my money. And if there’s any part of me that does care, it’s outweighed by the opportunity to improve my position thanks to the perspective of others.

  43. Mike


    Thanks for posting your very personal budget details! Honestly it really gives us all a sense how to YNAB it and ask great questions.

    I’ve read your responses from the other 100 posts, so my questions are already answered. Just wanted to drop a quick THANKS for doing this!!

    I’m sure going to show this to my wife to give us more thought how we’d like (should?) make adjustments to our budget at our monthly ‘budget meeting’ ;)

    • mark

      Happy to help, Mike. Thanks for investing the time to read the post and all the comments. Good luck to you and your wife in making your budget more clear and intentional.

  44. Annalise

    Hi Mark, we are practically neighbors (we just live one city over), so have some very similar expenses:

    We switched from Comcast to Digis over a year ago, and it has been great. It has worked well, even with the plethora of electronic devices we have at our home. I did just get a notice that they’re raising rates $5/mo starting in August.

    Our grocery budget (food only) for a family of 8 is currently $600, adjusted up from $550 at the beginning of the summer as I saw my kids were emptying my pantry being home from school all day. This category decreased significantly last year after starting YNAB. I shop what’s on sale, and plan menus according to what’s in the house. I always use the Shopping Wizard at savvyshopperdeals.com, which has all the current ads for our local stores in a searchable format. I often pull it up on my phone in a store to double-check an item I may not have put on my list ahead of time. It’s my favorite way to make sure I’m getting the best prices, and then I often price-match at Walmart so I don’t have to go to tons of different stores. Many people don’t realize Walmart will price match other store brands with their own.

    Our eating out budget is $100/mo. This is almost entirely for my husband and me to go out on weekly date nights to retain our sanity. Our oldest kids are 14 & 12, so we have built-in babysitters (hurray for that!!). It is also enough that if my husband needs to buy lunch at work for whatever reason he can do that a few times. The kids eat out only on rare occasions!

    We are also looking into different phone plans. I will plug the numbers into Ting right now. Thanks for the post!

  45. Jennifer K

    Wow, I’m uber impressed if you can keep clothing to $40/month. We have $100/month for just our two kids (9 and 13) and even then we have to bump it up in the summer to buy clothes for back to school, and again in the fall for winter clothes etc. My DH and I each buy our own clothes out of our “blow money” (a Dave Ramsey term). We allow $300/month each for clothes, hobbies, eating out, concerts, make-up (mine, not his ;) ) etc.

    And gifts seems rather low. For us, there always seems to be a niece or nephew or friend having a birthday. Or a graduation gift. Or a “thank you teacher” gift. Or Father’s Day. Or a funeral. Or a coworker gets married. As much as I tried to keep this budget number minimal when I took a look at reality I found I needed to double my budget just to quit being mad at constantly going over.

    • Michelle

      Oh my gosh, thrift shopping saved me sooo much in the kids clothing dept. granted, my kids are 4 so its a lot easier than shopping for tweens, but after my kids kept destroying pants, I had it XD…..got 35 pieces of practically brand new with tags and name brands clothes for $34.65

  46. Janet

    Kudos on the giving. We also tithe 10% of our gross income. To me it looks like with work, you could make those catagories work. The ones that look dicy to me are the home repair catagories. We had the “perfect storm” of home repair… The AC emitted a big puff of smoke and only worked at half efficiency ($2500) and then the hurricane damaged the roof ($1200 to fix a 20 year old roof or $3000 for a new one), and the heater is on it’s last leg also (estimate of $3500). FYI, we have a townhome in PA. Depending on how old your home and appliances are, this might not be enough. If you have new appliances and a roof and everything, this could be fine for awhile till you get some debts paid off.

  47. matthewjay

    First thought: I wish I made that kind of money. ;)

    Second thought: $450 per month should be ample for groceries unless you either don’t have a no-name store around or have a lot of kids. Our family of three got by on $200 per month, until my wife got pregnant again and started needing an additional $50 worth of milk and meat per month. ;) We ate pretty well on that, too. It helps to have an Aldi nearby, which is where we buy at least 90% of our groceries.

    Third thought: Look how much extra you’ll have once you eliminate some of that debt! :)

    Fourth thought: Great to see you’re set on tithing! :)

    • mark

      Hey Matthew – I wish you made that kind of money too! :-)

      Funny thing about high earners vs low spenders: the groups need to come together and learn from each other. I’ve always managed to make okay money, but I’ve handled it poorly. With my new budgeting skills I feel like my financial future is bright. Yes, it’s easier to budget and cut expenses than it is to increase income, but if you put some focus on increasing income, you might be shocked at what you can figure out!

  48. Michelle

    Your life insurance seems high..I am assuming its whole life..check into term life, MUCH MUCH MUCH cheaper (like $500,000 for 20 year term for my 28 year old husband is $17 a month cheap)

  49. Right track?

    So, a few others have been brave enough to post their budget and accept feedback. I would like to do the same. Please provide any an all feedback you deem appropriate. be as gentle or as harsh as you want to be:

    First let me say that we are a family of 8 (I, my wife and our 6 kids). We decided that my wife would be a stay-at-home-mom to our 6 kids, and made adjustments to enable her to do this. Secondly, much of our success is attributed to her. She is a hawk when it comes to scouting deals for ANYTHING. Finally, we are fully bufferred (all of July’s income is spent in August.

    Any category that is left out has no budget to it, or is part of another category -like home owners insurance or escrow, which are wrapped into the mortgage payment).
    August’s budget

    Top Section:

    0.00 Not Budgeted in Jul
    0.00 Overspent in Jul
    5,532.04 Income for Aug
    5,532.04 Budgeted in Aug

    0.00 Available to Budget

    Charitable gifts: $640.00
    Tithe: $640 (Butdgeted amount is off base pay. Tithe off any OT is paid in the month it is earned. So the budget reflects not having received any August income, yet.

    Savings: $916.66
    Emergency fund 0.00 (no monthly contribution as it is fully funded 3-months)
    Retirement: $916.66 (My employer matches 4%, which is taken from my check before the money is received into my budget as income. To reach our goal of 15%, we contribute to a Roth IRA in each of our names.
    College Fund: 0.00 (sadly, because of poor choices earlier in our lives, we are not currently saving for our kids’ college. We have told them they cannot count on mom and dad sending them to school. They need to bust it, work hard, and accel (to hopefully get scholarships). Or they can get on the WORK program and go through school that way.

    Housing: $1705.17
    First Mortgage: 1503.08 (just refi’ed about a year ago to a 15yr fixed at 2.875 APR.
    Maintenance / Repairs: 105.00 (landscape company. 2 visits a month)
    HoA: 76.25
    TimeShare maintenance: 20.84 (yes…we pay stupid tax)

    Utilities: $591.56
    Electricity: 217.48
    Water/Trash/Recycle: 72.55
    Gas: 15.37
    Home phone/Cell phone: 100.85 (we have verizon home connect for our home phone, and it is added to my wife’s cell phone bill)
    Cable/Internet: 149.31
    Phone: 36.00 (this money along with other categories go into an account for irregular bills. I used to have vonage and had agreed to pay them yearly (for a discount). After I got rid of them, I never altered the amount, as it seemed good to me to give the irregular bills account some padding. Probably should reallocate that to “car repairs or something”…call it laziness.

    Food: $450
    Groceries: $300
    Dining out: $150

    Clothing: $50

    Transportation: $918.71
    Gas & Oil: $300
    Repairs/Maintenance: $41.67
    Car Insurance: $125.73 (Van, Motorcycle and Camper)
    License and Taxes $24.17
    Car Replacement: $427.14 (all excess is going to this current goal. If we went over in a category, we would reduce this by that amount. Likewise, if we underspent a category, we would increase this one by that amount).

    Medical/Health: 0.00

    I have incredible insurance and we only end up paying co-pays (prescriptions, dr visits, etc). I don’t have any money just sitting here. If need arose, we would adjust amount being dedicated to the current goal (which now is “Car Replacement”).

    Personal: 259.94
    Life Insurance: 71.45 (both of us)
    toiletries: 5.57 (most cleaning supplies, toiletries etc are covered under groceries -because she buys all that stuff at the same stores. This account for replacement brush heads for a power toothbrush).
    Subscription: 12.92 (My wife buys 3 sunday papers from DollarTree on monday (for $0.99/each) for the coupons she uses to shop with.
    Gifts: $50
    Blow money: $120 ($60/each)

    • Sara

      Interesting…….if you have 6 children, I’m curious why you need to spend $105 on the landscape company twice a month. Have your kids look after it and pay the oldest ones $105 for their college fund. And is your grocery budget 450 total, or 450 +300+150? Because $450 total doesn’t seem like enough for 8 people unless your wife grows a large garden?

      • Right track?

        Hi Sara,

        We do have 6 kids and I probably should have them take care of the yard. To clarify, my budget is for the month (meaning I pay 105/month for landscaping, and they visit 2 times). It is an interesting idea (to have the kids do it. To get to the place where the kids could take care of the yard, I would have to replenish my landscape maintenance tools (lawn mower, weed whacker, etc).

        Food budget is 450 total: $150 for dine-out (quick meals, etc) and $300 for groceries/cleaning products. My wife is a coupon and deals machine. She would like to grow a garden (or so she has told me), and we even went as far as to have yard space set aside for it, but alas, one has not developed.

    • Annalise

      Wow, as another parent of 6 children, I am super impressed with your grocery budget. And here I was feeling good about my $600/mo for 8 people! I shop sales and price match, but haven’t really gotten into couponing, which must be the key.

      Our older 2 boys (ages 14 and 12) do the majority of the yard work now, and it is a great way to give them something to do, teach them work, and let them earn a little money (I pay out $20/mo total).

      One bill we’ve done away with is cable. We got an antenna and have Netflix, and those give us plenty of options for TV.

      Thanks for sharing!

      • Right track?

        Hi Annalise,

        I would love to be able to get rid of cable, but I am afraid I cannot get my wife to support it. I would even be content to get rid of the dvr and cable box and just use CableCARD and PC’s with TV Tuners for the DVR piece. That, alone, would save us $30 (i believe).


      • Annalise

        Well, since she’s doing such a great job keeping costs down in other areas, I certainly wouldn’t begrudge your wife cable if she really likes it!

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