My 2012 Budget Revisited. Budgets are Your Value Compass, But Which Way is North?

For years I’ve taught people that your budget is simply a tool to make your money do what you care about. A budget is your Value Compass. In the end, a budget aligns your money with your values. You find contentment there.

Last Sunday night (and each morning since), I’ve been thinking a lot about the values part of this idea. The thoughts were spurred because I was setting up our March Budget (sure, a few days into March, but consistency is key here, not rigidity ;))

I was staring at our line items and amazed at the amount of money that flows through our household. That prior sentence is completely relative of course. I was amazed five years ago, and I’m amazed today.

The Budget can start to be a Thing on its own. It can morph into something that isn’t truly what you value. It morphs because you’re in the habit of doing it one way, you’re comfortable with how things are going (no debt, living within your means, paying cash for larger expenses) and you don’t call the line items into question any longer.

I think Dave Ramsey coined the phrase a “conscious spending plan” maybe? That’s pretty insightful. Conscious being the operative word there.

I can set up my budget (we even let you Quickbudget with that lightning bolt option at the top of each month!) in about two minutes. I’ve even bragged about that in the past.

I wonder if that’s something worth bragging about? Is the conscious part of the budget even there? Or am I just on autopilot?

So, as an exercise in conscious budgeting, last night Julie and I did an export of all our spending in YNAB for 2012. I then stayed up until 11:30 PM (um, I say that to tell you how extraordinarily late it was. Bedtime for me and the wife is 9:30. We get up at 4:45, so stop rolling your eyes) staring at each of the line items.

We’ve made it a point to increase the percentage of our income that we give every year, and I was pleased to see that giving is still climbing (not just absolutely, but relatively as well).

Our savings rate, as it related to our take-home pay, was 17 percent. This bothered me. I think we could do double that.

For specific categories, here’s a stream of consciousness:

  • Restaurant spending was at $200 per month. We’re going to cut that in half. It really helps my workouts to not eat out anyway. The whole family’s better for it.
  • Exterior stuff to the house like lawn care and maintenance was $300 per month. That’s stopping immediately. I don’t like giving up Saturdays to yard work, and would rather spend the time with my kids, but that expense was insane. We tried it for a year. Not continuing. I’ll maybe leave work early on Fridays to get the stuff done.
  • Our home still isn’t completely furnished. Now that the mortgage is paid off (one of my goals before I was 30), we turned our attention toward furnishing. This attention cost us an average of $450 per month. Some of it was renovating, furniture, and paying an interior designer to narrow down the choice of lighting from infinite to “Which of these six do you like?” I wouldn’t change the employ of the designer. Probably strengthened our marriage as a result. How do I feel about that much money going toward renovating and decorating? Not great. We’ll bring it down 33% going forward and see what happens. My guess is that we won’t feel a thing.
  • Repairs, Tires and Car Washes were $84 per month last year. Now that we have a Brand Spankin’ New Van (paid for), repairs should drop for the 11-year old Civic to probably $40 per month. And I’ve committed to washing the cars in the driveway instead of going to the Mr. Carwash place.
  • Our utilities (gas, electric, sewage, garbage, and water) were $252 per month in 2012. Down from $336 the year before (could that really have been from the fact that I replaced about 100 bulbs with CFs?) I think with a little effort, we could knock this down to $180 per month. Just have to get my kids to shut the door when they come in.
  • I cancelled Lifelock. I know it’s good to have for your kids, but I’m punting on that one. It’ll save us $18 per month.
  • Our fifth baby was born last year, and since every YNAB employee provides their own health insurance, the deductible for us was I think $6,000. So monthly cost for the Doc in 2012 was $771. Ouch. Since no baby is on the way this year, we’ll probably settle at around $150 per month.
  • “Miscellaneous” was $260 per month. Wha? Moved down to $100 and I’m going to watch it like a hawk.
  • Our kids’ school tuition (the three oldest go to a private school), besides our giving, is our largest expense. We’re entertaining the idea of homeschooling…but only entertaining. (Thanks Facebook YNABers for the great recommended reading!)
  • Julie and I pay a babysitter every single weekend so we can go out for a few hours. That cost us $94 per month in 2012. I’m having a hard time ratcheting that one down. I love my date nights with Julie. We could maybe do a date night in once a month and try and make it stand apart in some way. Dunno yet.
  • Christmas was a Grand Experiment in Going Overboard. The year before, in 2011, we did our normal thing, which is to scrimp. Julie felt guilty. So for the entire year of 2012, we set aside $300 each month for Christmas. And, come Christmastime, we rocked the house. It was a Grand Affair. And something we won’t be repeating. Our plan is to use Amazon Points from the Business Visa to fund the bulk of Christmas this next year.
  • “Dates and Family Activities” were $82 per month. I’m pretty happy with that. Might want to bump it up actually.
  • Our gas for the cars was $245. I moved my home office to an office about six minutes away, so my commute went from 0 to 2.5 miles each way. That happened in November. My plan is to buy a bike a ride to work. 300 calories burned, gas saved, and Mother Earth smiles.
  • Groceries were $1,123 per month. Julie pays no attention to prices. We shop at Costco and Macey’s (avoiding Walmart like the bubonic plague, not because they don’t have everyday low prices, but because of the allday long lines, plus Macey’s is locally owned.) Now, am I upset that Julie doesn’t price shop? No. She’s expressed her gratitude to me on multiple occasions for how nice it is to be checking out with 3-5 kids in tow and not have to be watching the register for any unusual radar blips, doing mental math, while also recording her purchase in YNAB (which she’s a pro at now). I have a mind to knock our grocery bill down to $750 to feed our family of seven. I’m not sure how we’ll do that, but I think it will involve me maybe doing the shopping :) I just don’t want to burden her with it. She’s slammed.
  • Vacation was $400 per month. I’d have to go back through the actual transaction list to be reminded of where this all went. I know we had a Spring Break trip with the kids that ended up raining the entire time, so it was really watching Harry Potter in a home that we were paying for…Julie doesn’t like me to bring it up. And we call it “Vacation” when we pay for my MIL to fly out and see the grandkids. It is kind of a vacation when she comes, because she’s awesome. We’re going to simplify that line item a lot this year, do some camping, hiking, more Staycations and see if we can’t drop it significantly to about $100 per month.
  • I have some bills that are in a FIXED category. Property taxes (no longer escrowed because of the mortgage being gone), license and registration renewal, life insurance, HOA dues, homeowner’s insurance, and car insurance. Can’t move those too much. Oh, and our Crossfit gym membership. Julie’s told me numerous times that’s fixed, and I agree.
  • Clothing was at $174 and with some effort, we could get it to $100 per month.
  • Finally, our Car Replacement Fund. We bought the nicest car I’ve ever owned last December, financed it to get an extremely good deal, then paid it off two months later and paid some immaterial amount in interest. That was a good thing. But now the new car-ness is wearing off and I’m thinking we could probably settle for spending about $24k per car going forward. Our Civic still has eight years left (especially if I bike to work), so we’re thinking $400 per month as a Car Stash will get us there. I’ll definitely buy used for my car, but may still consider buying new for a family vehicle going forward. It would just depend on if we needed a van or not, since those are impossibly hard to find (in good condition, a few years old) in Utah.

The important thing here, and I’m no pro at it, is to call everything into question. The big one is the kids’ schooling because we love where they’re going, love what they’re learning, and have always felt really good about the situation. And homeschooling terrifies me (for my wife). Where’s a baroness governess (my English friend corrected me) when you need one?

I’m excited at the prospect of increasing our savings by adding some more to the autopilot portion of our monthly Betterment deposits.* If I make it an automatic thing, we’ll be forced to lower our expenses in these areas. Rule One will make that happen and I think we’ll need to be a little more conscious as we go along, instead of trying to do it all at once like I did last night.

At any rate, going through your budget and calling every category into question is a good thing. While I’m no frugality extremist, maybe I can take some inspiration from some of them to move the needle in my own life in a meaningful way.

* Our 401k is invested in Vanguard Target Date retirement funds, but our investing beyond the 401k limit heads to Betterment, which is, in my humble opinion the easiest way to invest smart. I need a way to invest that doesn’t take a ton of time–especially if I’m going to be mowing my own lawn again ;) You can see my mega-in-depth review of Betterment here.

114 Responses to “My 2012 Budget Revisited. Budgets are Your Value Compass, But Which Way is North?”

  1. Jessica Shrock

    Check out the Dating Divas at theDatingDivas.com –AWESOME date night in ideas!

    I think we need to sit down and do this. thanks for the transparency.

  2. Bruce

    I love that your situation is very similar to our own and we love YNAB. My question is; how are you setting these new goals? Are they random thoughts or do you already know you could squeeze a bit in different areas? For instance, $174 to $100 for clothing, groceries from $1100 to $750. Time can be money so you might save a few hundred on groceries but at the cost of several hours a week in time (coupons, looking for sales, shopping multiple stores, etc.) will bite into other opportunities/activities. (pun intended)

    • jesse

      At the moment Bruce, they’re just random thoughts. I think part of it is just at first at least asking ourselves the question: Can we do this?

      I see it almost as a game though. An experiment.

      You’re absolutely right about time spent vs. return. I struggle a lot with that in every regard. Honestly, based on how the business is going, I should outsource most everything in my personal life and just focus on the business…but I struggle with that. I didn’t grow up that way, and something doesn’t sit right with me about it. :)

      • Noelle

        Have you considered buying in bulk from local farmers?

        We have done this with beef, pork, fruit and veggies for canning.

        I complement you on having your mortgage paid off!! That is the big chunk of our budget. We plug away.

        Also an encouragement. We have 8 kids, two are teenagers whose appetites have grow a lot this past year. As I have increased our bulk buying I have seen only a minimum change in our food budget. Buying in bulk has its pay offs.

      • Susanna Boyd

        $150/person/month is very reasonable for groceries. I don’t have time to do the coupon thing but I meal plan and shop with a list and a budget and it always works out to about that. I wouldn’t try to cut that down too much. You won’t enjoy the Ramen Noodles every night.

      • Brian Halverson

        I know this was touched upon a bit, but I am wondering why you avoid Walmart so much? Not to plug for Walmart just because I work there, but we honestly do most of our grocery shopping there as well. I live within 30 minutes of Boise, Idaho’s biggest city, and while certain times the store here is busy, I’ve never had to wait in line more than 10 minutes. Plus there will be 2 new stores opening within 20 miles of us in the next few months, so lines will never be much of a problem. I do admit certain days are crazy, but it doesn’t take long to learn a stores pattern, from Walmart to Maceys to Albertsons to Costco. At my store, for example, the first 5 days of the month even I avoid buying things on my way home. Weekdays from 4 PM to about 7 PM it gets busy. (Pick this up on your way home from work dear) Holidays are the same as the 3rd through 5th of the month, depending on the holiday. Our store is one of the few that was chosen to test matching the coupon doublers that Albertsons and some others put out, so while the doublers are valid the store is busy, but that’s generally about 6-9 days out of the month. There are variances, but overall it’s been true for over 2 years. I’ve seen cashiers standing waiting for customers quite frequently from 7AM til about 11AM almost every month for at least 2 weeks of the month. For a family of 4 we get by with a $300-$320 a month grocery bill and seldom have to use coupons to meet that. I consistently wait in lines longer at the local Costco and only go to Albertsons if Walmart is out of what I’m buying. Food for thought.

      • jesse

        I probably could be more strategic with my timing when I go to Walmart. My experience has been that they never have enough cashiers. Granted, that’s our store here, and may not happen at every store :)

        We’ve used their price matching before and it DOES save money.

  3. claudia

    I’d say $1100 a month to feed a family of seven is pretty good! We are a family of 5 and spend $800+

    • Kay

      We are a family of 7 with a $500 monthly food budget. The keys to keeping it at $500 are somewhat time consuming but worth it to me. We have a daily menu (got to make a menu) and shop with a list from that menu. Very key. Once I make a menu I keep it and rotate it with other menus. We also eat a lot of whole foods and very few prepackaged items. Whole foods are a lot healthier but take more time to prepare than simply opening up a box. We grow a garden, (great work ethic opportunities for the kids comes with that one.) We also buy items that we know we can store when on sale (usually at Macey’s) or through local groups that sell in bulk. Plus we love fresh baked bread. It took a lot of effort to start doing these things but now it’s routine. Just as routine as it was before I started doing it all.

      • Sarah Woodward

        Could some of you with amazing ideas for local food and bulk food shopping start another thread somewhere? Pitt email me? especially lifesong. im adopting a teen boy and his appetite tally hurts my budget. we are a family off six. my three littlest dont eat much yet but our grocery spendingt really can get crazy.

    • Nicole

      We are a family of 5 and spend about $250-$300 a month. we eat healthy home cooked meals almost every night and kids take a lunch to school every day. it is possible.

      • jesse

        Yeah, our kids take their lunch to school and we eat home-cooked meals probably 90% of the time. I want to do a big grocery survey to see what we can learn from other YNABers (anonymously).

      • Jen

        Do a survey! We are a family of five and keep it under 400 always, 350 usually :)

    • Jamie Fristrom (@happionlabs)

      Yep. Family of 4 here, $700, and that’s with me mostly buying yellow tag items at Safeway and using coupons. This is Bellevue, Washington, and I don’t know where you are, so maybe food prices in general are higher here. (I’m paying twice what you pay on utilities.)

  4. katiebird

    One of your weekend dates per month could be a grocery shopping trip without the kids (go out for a nice lunch or matinee first if you want). Get the bulk of your shopping for the month done in one big swoop (preferably at Aldi if you have one nearby) Then your wife could take the kids with her when she just needs to supplement the perishable foods. I am the oldest of 8 kids and I remember some horrific grocery visits….

  5. Ben

    Thanks for sharing, Jesse. It’s interesting to see what categories you have set up as they are very similar to mine. How do you calculate your savings rate (what goes in the formula)? I’m always confused what to include or not include. I think this is a very important ratio to track.


    • jesse

      For my savings rate, I take (401k deductions + Betterment investing) / Take-Home Pay

      • ML Shin

        I calculated our savings rate and was surprised to find, net of taxes, it is 34%. It was a back of the napkin calculation. Not bad though. For us to retire early, we’ll still have to do better!

  6. Jay

    This is a great blog post, Jesse, and I really appreciated learning how you tinker with your budget (each year?).
    What report did you print out to get this overview of last year’s spending?
    As I enter my second month with YNAB I’m starting to find a rhythm and am feeling really good about things (you were right, by the way: my bank balance has never looked so good… although, having said that, I hardly ever look at my bank balance except to reconcile once a week). I think I’ll definitely adopt this process at the end of my first year so I can review my spending and put in some rough guidelines for the year ahead.

    • jesse

      Hi Jay,

      Honestly, I don’t have a set time for when I do an in-depth “question-everything” review like this, but annually sure seems like a good time :)

      I went to the reports -> income vs. expense report and then exported it to Excel. There’s honestly no need to export it, but I worked the numbers over pretty well in Excel, could take notes, things like that.

  7. Kate

    Last year was our first year using YNAB and I did this at the end of the year and even though our budget is considerably smaller than yours, I was surprised at all the places I thought we could cut back on. And so far, two months in, we already are! I love this because I never would have seen how we could spend less (I’m super frugal thanks to the influence of my INSANELY frugal grandparents) without YNAB.

    Re: homeschooling. I just saw your fb question and posted my recommendation (anything by John Holt) but I think we’re in the same county as you and if so, I’m surprised you’re paying for private schooling when there are SO many great, free options here. Have you looked into any of the charter schools? They are publicly funded but generally SO much better than traditional public schools because there is so much more parental involvement/expectation, and because each has it’s own unique purpose, something that sets them apart from traditional schools. You can check each one out and see which ones fit best with your goals for your children.

    That said, homeschooling can seem super daunting at first, especially with so many kids (we’re expecting our 5th this year and our oldest is 9) but it’s totally do-able and so enjoyable!

  8. Janice

    Just discovered YNAB TONIGHT! Haven’t purchased yet, haven’t even downloaded the free trial, but this absolutely looks like what I’ve been dreaming of while slaving away over various excel spread sheets, getting frustrated. And your goals are our goals. We’ve been living on last months pay for a year or two, it just felt right. I’m Excited.
    And then I chance upon your blog and the first entry I read is a review of your budget items and goals. Love it. Thanks!

  9. Karen

    “Restaurant spending is at $200 a month.” I have read that about a dozen times. We are doing something seriously wrong. Thank you for breaking down your budget… so helpful! One thing we recently learned… Categories can be connected more than we realize. For example, we recently cut out piano lessons for our boys. We saved that money, but also found that our transportation/gas costs went down (20 minute drive one way with a gas guzzler) and also our dining out category, as we tended to eat out on those nights. I love YNAB for showing us this!

    Now, onto checking out Betterment. Can’t wait!

  10. Christine

    Regarding grocery shopping-We are in South Carolina and one thing that really helped is ordering online and picking it up ready to go-it costs an extra $4.95 to have the store get all your groceries together and ready for pick up, but I figure the savings from preventing my 3 year old from throwing things in the cart are well worth it! Plus, you can really get a good look in your pantry and see whats on sale before buying. It prevents a lot of point of sale “extra” purchases. Hope this helps! By the way, my husband and I are 3 weeks into YNAB and we LOVE it! It has improved everything in our life having a budget that we can actually follow and understand!!!

    • Jay

      Here in Brisbane I order my groceries online and have them delivered for an extra $7. Not only does it save me considerable time, but like you I truly believe that I save money by not going to the grocery store and impulse buying.

    • natecorvus

      Thanks for the great idea of Shopping Online for Groceries, I just googled and apparently I can do this here in Louisville, KY!

      Also, for the past year or so our family of 4 has been using emealz.com for our meals. It was recommended by Dave Ramsey and it has saved us money and time and the hassell of trying to figure out what to make for dinner. Here’s a link, I will get referral bonus if you sign up but not much :-) http://emeals.com/account/go.php?r=39215&i=l0


  11. Katie- mom to 8 boys

    Thanks for the reminder to do this.. It’s so easy to get lazy about budgeting.
    One warning about homeschooling to save money. Yes, it does save money. We homeschooled for 10 years before moving to private school this year. Oh boy.. The fundraisers and uniforms and packed lunches and fieldtrips and birthday parties… It’s a lot! However, homeschooling was never as cheap as I expected either! I paid babysitters much more often.. I HAD to get out of the house, the kids never left!.. The curriculum (curriculum addiction doesn’t help!), the outside activities which almost always require volunteer time (which cost us money in busyness and quick eats!), out sourcing by utilizing online classes and tutors..

    Not to say I don’t think homeschooling is a great thing.. But it isn’t as clear a choice as I once thought!

  12. John Tracey

    I would love to know how you feed a family of seven for $110 … please, specifics! We’re not even close to that.

    • jesse

      Hey John, I think you meant $1,110 :) There’s not much of a trick from what I gather. My wife is a SAHM, so she’s kind of preparing dinner throughout the day. We eat out maybe once every two weeks and we try and eat whole foods for the most part. We don’t buy organic (though I’m open to starting to integrate that honestly), and we eat a pretty good bit of chicken, fish, etc.

      Costco is our main supplier, and then we fill in gaps at Wal-Mart (if we dare) or Macey’s (which we like).

      • Kenny

        I have a family of 7 and my wife is also a SAHM. After you posted your survey I went into YNAB and looked at my average over the last year and groceries was $1008. My restaurant spending was also $634 though (my wife and I are always shocked and this is a constant area of overspending). We typically budget $350-400. We are putting additional emphasis on it this month and so far we have only spent a little over $100, so we are making progress.

        If we only spent $200 on restaurants, we would probably be at around $1100 on groceries. You and I are very similar on food (ok, so after I cut down on the restaurant spending). In fact, looking over your numbers, we are similar in a lot of categories- except the mortgage. I would love to know about your house and how you paid off your mortgage.

  13. Roy

    YNAB is awesome, I recently went thru a divorce, and since I began using YNAB after separation from my ex, really helped my finances in many ways. First and foremost I was able to show the judge EVERY THING, exactly were the money was going, down to percentages etc. My lawyer was impressed when I printed off the reports section and presented it to him. He said he has never seen such detail and easy to understand. Well in short, I won my case and I owe part of it to YNAB helping me by using this program.

  14. Mysti Reutlinger (@MystiReutlinger)

    I have a family of four in Wyoming. In the winter months, we spend around $500 per month on groceries. In the summer, I cut that in half by growing fruits and vegetables. The greatest portion of our grocery expense comes from organics (and I’m raising two boys who love their fruits and vegetables). To cut your grocery expense, I’d highly encourage you to investigate small gardening as a means to kick-start savings.

    • jesse

      I took a two-year hiatus from gardening, but will be back at it this Spring! I’m going to install three more boxes (doubling our area) and try and grow a LOT.

  15. JayJay

    My grocery budget for our family of 7 is $900/month. Four of my kids are teenage boys. :) We are in Texas and may have lower grocery prices in general.

    And as for homeschooling: be careful. I did it when my boys were younger (6, 4, 3, and not quite 1) mostly because my husband wanted the kids homeschooled, and it was way too much for me. I tried hard and didn’t want to admit that it was too much for me because it was so important to him. But it ended up stressing me so much. To my husband’s credit, we put the kids in public school when I finally admitted to him that it was all just too much for me.

  16. Bob Cagle II

    Jesse – you are truly very blessed with that 2.5 mile commute. I have been driving 80 miles a day for the last decade, about 45 minutes average each direction, and my wife is now driving about 30 miles a day. Needless to say, gas is one of our largest expenses.

    • jesse

      Bob, I feel for you there! When I worked for the accounting firm right out of college, the commute was significant and a huge drag (on money and morale). Any tips you can share for other YNABers stuck with a rough commute?

    • Charlotte

      Right now there are great deals on the Nissan Leaf. My husband got one. He can charge it for free at work, and the cost of the car is LESS than the cost of gas. It is crazy! Maybe that would be a possibility for you.

  17. Kris

    My two cents…Make all of your other cuts, but consider spending MORE money on food! Buy higher quality, local and organic food, especially when you are buying meat and the most pesticide laden of the fruits, veggies and grains. Consider it your increased “giving”: giving to the small farmer and to the ethical treatment of animals, giving to the quality of our water and the security of our antibiotics, giving to the protection of our food supply. My family of four spends $1200 a month of food. We live on one middle class income, so to afford this we have no cable, no cell phones, used cars, many second hand clothes, etc. But, we eat REALLY well and love it! You don’t have to spend as much as we do, but spending on good food should not be considered a waste, it should be considered an investment.


    • jesse

      I like your perspective Kris! Thanks for sharing that. We did a stint with organic eggs (we buy about a dozen dozen at a time–yes 144) and go through them in about 10 days. Maybe I should look there first, since we consume so many of those things…

      • carolmom1

        Besides the benefits to Mother Earth and her stewards, there are huge benefits for your family when you improve diet with organic foods…especially lots of veggies and fruits. Health costs will decrease both soon and later. An example, my husband and I caregive my parents. Five years ago, when we moved into their larger home, both Dad & Mom had numerous health issues that seemed to be taking them from us at an accelerated pace. After eating mostly organic foods for a couple of years, much from our backyard garden and the local farmers, they have both seen improvements in their general health. Their doctors tell them to keep doing whatever it is! Fewer hospital stays alone have made a tremendous difference in savings. They have even been able to do some traveling that would have been impossible just a few years ago.

        In the case of younger families, my kids were rarely sick and absolutely loved the experiences gained from our “back yard farm”! Not everyone will raise dairy goats to give their kids great milk; but, today so much more is available locally that will effect your budget items in a positive and dynamic way.

        Eat Kale!

  18. Shoshi

    You wrote: “… we love where they’re going, love what they’re learning, and have always felt really good about the situation.” Any time you can say this STICK WITH IT. So many people (myself, included) have to deal with compromise situations for their kids’ schooling. If I could truly say what you wrote, I wouldn’t touch a thing and would cut spending anywhere and everything I had to in order to keep it going, as long as it didn’t cut into real quality of life issues, like adequate food and clothing and some minimal amount of recreation. Heck, in the past, I actually have sacrificed adequate food and clothing and all recreation in order to keep my kids in a very unsatisfactory school situation, because it was the best option available at the time! So, again, my vote is to LET THEM STAY IN THE GOOD SCHOOL SITUATION.

    • jesse

      You are awesome Shoshi. I’m emailing this comment to my wife (she doesn’t read the blog…).

  19. Hanneke

    Thanks heaps for sharing, being a student family (studying a MDIV) in the USA (ie we’re being fully funded from our home country for three years!) and we can’t work in the USA. YNAB is an AWESOME tool to give regular financial updates to our deacon back home.

  20. Tracy

    I love that you are so willing to share this kind of information to prove how well YNAB works. I’ve been using it for probably about 5 years now. I got divorced in early 2011 and went through a bit of budget rebellion afterward (spoiling myself a little to make myself feel better). I quickly learned that will not work for the long-haul, so for 2013 my resolution was to get back to YNAB. One of the things that I did that really helped me was to eliminate my Miscellaneous category. I took a close look at my budget from previous years, figured out what I was putting into that category and then decided if it was an important enough expense to warrant it’s own category. In the vast majority of cases it was…even if I just budget $1.00 per month to it. Otherwise, anything that would have normally gone into Miscellaneous must now be paid for with the monthly spending cash that I allot for myself. So far, it’s working really well to keep me on track and help me meet my goals.

    • Jameson King

      I have to agree with the part about the “Miscellaneous” category. We don’t have one so each time their is a miscellaneous sort of purchase it forces us to think about why we are about to purchase it. If it doesn’t fit in a category is it important enough to create a category or is it important enough to even buy.

  21. Rachelle

    We buy used vans (never paid more that $7,000 for any vehicle), and have found that the key is to buy the high-ends (for us the SEL or limited editions) in leather upholstery. It does take more time and effort, but it is totally worth it. We just bought a 2003 Ford Windstar SEL last year. It is very nice, with auto sliding doors, all the bells and whistles. It has a VCR instead of a DVD, but that is easily remedied with a cheap portable DVD player plugged into the jacks and tucked away neatly in a nook. And don’t give me that “reliable” excuse. We drive ours out of town every month 6 hours each way. I don’t think that you need to be ashamed or need to explain your vehicle purchase. You can obviously afford it, and you did what you wanted to, but I DO think that you do your readers a disservice to be constantly defending your purchase with these excuses, like “impossible” to find, we got a “great deal” because we financed it, etc,etc. Too many people already use these as crutches, and they are simply not true. You did what you did, and that’s fine, but it’s not the only option. I’ve been following you for a long time – way back when it was just you & Julie, so this is not a criticism or a personal attack, just an observation from a loyal follower.

    Also, I think it’s great to track your expenses and look at each category at the end of the year, but I don’t think you necessarily need to cut so much in each category. Bump up the date night and babysitting and vacations, if that is what you enjoy, and cut back on stuff you don’t want to spend on. You’ve worked hard, you can do that now. Enjoy it. If you are cutting for a purpose, to meet a goal, then fine, but if not, budget for it and enjoy.

    Kuddos to you for taking on the grocery shopping and not criticizing her grocery spending. Tip: If you do this ONE thing – shop without the kids – either but smiling and taking the kids and handing her a fou-fou coffee to shop with kid-free (heck even if you PAY a sitter on Friday afternoons for you to do yard work and her to do the grocery shopping), or by you doing it on the way home from work, you will cut it without really even trying. You could try E-mealz if you don’t already for easy meal plans figured out ahead of time. Or do a couple of meatless dinners a week. Eggs & Pancakes or loaded baked potatoes are some of our favorites that we don’t even recognize as a cut.

    • jesse

      Thanks for the on-point comment Rachelle! It’s interesting that I’ve felt so compelled to mention/defend our purchase. Honestly, it’s made me question where my heart is with it. We’d been saving for so long for it, we’d just never questioned it–again, going back to the budget being a habit and morphing into something not totally conscious…

      Anyway, you are exactly right. There are always other options when purchasing cars. I mean heck, I could have flown to a neighboring state and picked up a used van. (Did that when we were in Texax and I flew to Alabama to get our T&C Limited.)

    • Barbara Baker

      One of the best things my dad used to do for my mom was to take us four children with him whenever he ran an errand. Mom had all four of us in four years, so having a quiet house to herself for any length of time was a treat to her. This has nothing to do with money, but when SAHM’s are happy, everybody is happy.

  22. Kate

    I don’t think the goal should be cutting down on things that give your family joy, just for the sake of saving money. For instance, date nights, eating out occasionally, and vacations. Saving money is not the only goal there is. Just saying….

    • jesse

      You’re right. Saving money just to save money is…not really that interesting to me. What’s interesting is making sure I question our priorities (really question them) on a semi-regular basis.

  23. Jeanette

    re: groceries I tend to make impulse purchases when I shop, so our solution is for my husband, who is very disciplined, to do the grocery shopping. He enjoys doing it and it was his idea. It forces me to be more disciplined to check my supplies before making the grocery list, which is a plus.

  24. Laura

    Holy crimony, where do you live that you can live that cheaply with that many kids?!?!?!? $94 a month for a babysitter EVERY WEEK? And we spend $1100 on groceries a month with only two small kids. I’ve compared with friends and that’s about average around here for a middle-income family. Our utilities is about $300/month, which is similar to yours, but with 3 fewer kids (i.e. fewer baths, less laundry and I’m guessing a smaller house). We even share our garbage service with a neighbor!

    We live in a suburb of St. Paul, MN. Maybe that accounts for the difference in utilities since we have to budget a huge amount for heat 6 months out of the year.

    • jesse

      We live in Utah, where I think the economy kind of has to support a lot of kids ;) It’s definitely a mild climate, and from what I understand, food prices here are pretty reasonable.

      Looking back at our babysitting line-item more closely, we didn’t average a date night per week (things come up, obviously) but I didn’t count the actual babysitting instances :) Maybe it’s closer to every other week when you consider going on vacations, Christmas time, etc.

  25. Jacob Atchley


    Would you consider doing a post on how YNAB helps employees think through health insurance? Or could you share what options YNAB employees utilize? I have several employees and am looking at all options and your comment about each employee providing their own health insurance was intriguing. Is the compensation package adjusted for that or is that something that YNAB has chosen to leave totally up to the individual employee. Thanks for the thoughts and info.

    • jesse

      Hi Jacob,
      Every employee shops around for their own in their respective state (or country). It’s definitely factored into their salary (I’m certain they all include it in their calculations when coming on board).

  26. Craig

    One thing we’ve done for years is to have separate budget lines for Vacation and Travel for Family. This helps us pay more attention to our travel priorities. We do not live near the kids’ grandparents and we place a higher priority on the TFF category than the Vacation category. Any travel where we see family goes into TFF. We also have a Family Activities category; if we spend the night somewhere besides home it’s Vacation and if it’s a day trip it’s FA.

    We’ve been using YNAB since January and we really like it. Simple, clean, elegant, and most importantly it does what budget software should do.

  27. Courtney

    A few thoughts on groceries. I feed my family of 5 for $600/mo or less (2 pre-teen and 1 younger child). That includes some food storage accumulation, dog food, and household goods (hygiene, cleaners, etc.) I consider myself thrifty but not extreme. Not a couponer. We don’t live off of oatmeal, rolled oats, loads of cheap carbs like potatoes and pastas, and beans and cornbread. Don’t have a big garden and don’t do canning. Does that cover all the very time consuming or diet sacrificing things done by extremely thrifty shoppers?
    1. Our new grocery ads come out on Wed, so I plan on checking them ONLINE and going shopping sometime Wed – Fri each week and make a list. That way I don’t worry about having to check prices at the store, kid in tow.
    2. Make a list of the things you most commonly eat. I didn’t say the dreaded “meal plan.” That is ideal, but can be very time consuming. Baby steps. You will notice that a lot of the ingredients duplicate. For example – Mexican – whether you make tacos, taco salad, taco soup, burritos, chalupas, or enchiladas, you are using basically the same ingredients, just putting them together differently. Same for Asian, Italian, etc. Now if you can just save on those items that you use all the time, you don’t have to track every price in the store. Just pay attention to your most common purchases and you will save significantly.
    3. Have an extra freezer. It’s difficult (but not impossible) to stock up if you don’t.
    4. Notice pricing trends in the ads for the things you most commonly use and stock up, the best price and also how often that price comes around. For example, I buy 8oz shredded cheese for $1.24/bag. It was $0.99 for all of 2011 and 2012. This is now the best it gets, so that is my price to stock up. It only gets to that price every couple months, so I buy about 40 bags and throw them in my freezer. Same idea for everything else I track including canned goods, condiments, produce, and meats. When strawberries get to less than $1/lb, I buy a bunch, eat a few cartons fresh and throw the rest in the freezer for breakfast / summer smoothies or muffins. I stock up at the “best” price, buy a few at a “decent” price, and go without if it doesn’t hit my targets… at least until it is in season again. Start with a handful of your most common items and work up from there.
    5. Pick the store that has the most “bests” and shop there that week. No need to run all over town to get a couple “bests” at each store. Fortunately, my 2 favorite stores are right next to each other, so I go to one that always has the best meat prices, then right next door to the other for almost everything else. Sam’s trip once every 1-2 months.

    I have some other things I do, but that’s a place to start. Hope it helps without overwhelming!

  28. Heidi

    Regarding the Quickbudget option, I agree, it’s easy for that to start reflecting habits. I use it to populate a couple months in advance, so minor monthly changes don’t creep in. It would be great to be able to create and store a target budget to start my monthly budgeting with. There could be some neat reports that show how well the actual spending met the target also.

  29. Dana

    Have you considered getting an au pair? Might enable the home-schooling thing and help with nights out, too! You do need room in the house for one more but it can be really affordable!

    • jesse

      I actually asked Julie about that a while ago. Her main concern was it affecting the family dynamic (kind of like when you have a guest for a long(er) period of time). It’s something I’d be open to–maybe someone will convince Julie :)

      • Jessica

        Don’t do that, please. I had two au-pairs when I was a child and I really did not like it. My sister and I were two nice children and they had to do only little housework but still they were overstrained.They have to adapt to the culture, they might have problems with the language, they get homesick, they want to be shown around – like my mom always said, actually it’s just like having one more child. If you are willing to do that and have a free room, take in a student that wants to do a high school year in the US. But don’t make the mistake to think about getting an au-pair to have less work! I would recommend finding a good babysitter in your area and stick with it if you like the person. I had a college student once and I absolutely loved her.

  30. Ashley B

    Thanks for posting this! I wish there were more opportunities to peek at other families’ budgets :) In all seriousness though, I like being able to benchmark our spending/savings against other people’s budgets to see where we appear to be potentially way off track or in good shape.

    • Laura

      I wish I had that, too. I would love to find a couple of people who live near me with a similar income and family size and see how our budget compares. This is mostly because I feel like there are people we know that have a significantly lower income than us that seem to be able to afford more nice-to-haves, e.g. dates, new cars, new electronics, etc., but we can’t figure out how they manage it. Maybe they are living on credit, who knows, but it would be nice to get a sense of that. But it doesn’t seem to be very feasible since you run such a huge risk of pissing off your friends if they see what your income level is or vice versa.

      • jesse

        Laura, if statistics are any indicator, it’s the stealthy use of Credit that gives the appearance of affordability, where there truly is none.

    • Tricia

      I totally agree! I’m in the same town as Jesse, shop the same stores, have the same size family and I was rather surprised at how different our budgets are (especially groceries). It is fascinating!

      • jesse

        If you’re a lot lower, please share your strategies :)

      • Tricia

        We are sitting at right around $500 for food including eating out. I use a lot of the strategies others have mentioned. A few others:

        Eat simply. We eat a lot of fresh fruit and veggies in season with not many processed foods. This year the garden will play a much bigger role as last year I was very pregnant and it just didn’t happen.

        Buy low. I know where and when I can get my pantry staples for the best possible price then stock up. For example I know that once or twice a year I can get pasta for $.50 a pound. When that sale comes around I buy 20-30 lbs. to last me until the next time they are on sale.

        Learn to bake. I can crank out a couple of loaves of bread in one hour for about $.68. Versus $2 or more per store bought loaf. Plus they taste better and I know everything that goes into making them.

        Coupons. I don’t use a lot for food since I’ve figured most things can be made significantly cheaper from scratch. But I do use coupons on personal hygiene and cleaning products.

        I’d love to spend more in this category, but right now we are sending every available penny into our debt snowball. Debt free but the house the beginning of next year! It does take more time to live like this, but since I have more time than money right now it works for us.

  31. Bonnie

    Re: grocery shopping. I make out a meal plan for the week, check my stock supplies (things I always want in my pantry) and then do the shopping. For the most part I am able to feed a family of 6 on $550 per month. (That does not include the free venison that a friend gave us to stock our freezer.) Aldi is where I do the bulk of the shopping and then just purchase the things that they don’t carry at Wal-mart. Because I don’t get much at Wal-mart, I am able to go thru the self check and no longer have to wait in long lines. That said, I ABSOLUTELY LOVE YNAB!!!! it has been such a blessing to my family. We use if for ourselves, our business, and our two oldest daughters who are learning to budget. I share it with anyone who is willing to listen. Before we started with YNAB, we were going deeper into debt each month and saw no hope for how to get out of it. Since starting with YNAB six months ago, we have a plan, stick to the plan, watch our progress and now have almost saved enough to start living on last months income. God has truly blessed us and given us some unexpected money now that we can be trusted to handle it the right way and not just blow it. THANK YOU!

    • Annonymous

      Planning has really helped my family reduce our grocery budget and eliminate wasted food. I started using the app/website pepperplate.com to store recipies and plan menus for two weeks at a time. Then we go to the store every other week. We’ve always considered ourseves consciencous spenders, but wehave found that the less we step foot into the grocery store (or any store) the more money we save. This also got rid of the dreaded what’s for dinner question!

  32. Becky

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! Seeing your specific thoughts on specific categories has shown me a ‘new way’ of approaching the review of my own budget.

  33. Jennifer

    Thank you for sharing your budget thoughts with us. Gets me thinking too. I remember you asking for about homeschooling and I didn’t answer but I am a single homeschooling mom of 5 and have to say it’s a wonderful thing! Not that there won’t be frustrating days but is a great option. Be sure to check out homeschool groups or co-ops in your area where you can talk to other homeschooling parents too and help you get a better feel for what activites are in the area and develop friendships who will understand what you are going through.

    P.S. This family of 6 aims for a $600 grocery budget

  34. David

    Regarding the grocery budget, consider getting rid of Costco and going with Amazon instead (use your Costco membership fee toward Amazon Prime). I have found the prices at Amazon to be slightly better than Costco, it gets delivered to your door, and doesn’t take up any of your time! Do their Subscribe and Save, and won’t even have to remember to buy it anymore, it just shows up at your door each month (or two, depending). We go to the grocery store for milk, meat, veggies, and the grocery goods. Also, my car runs better since I’ve not been fueling up at Costco, but I’m not convinced that’s necessarily the reason why.

    For Christmas, if your goal is to increase the amount you give away, consider making a family activity to buy economical gifts for an adopted person. There are always giving trees, toys for tots, etc. that come up in the Christmas season, and buying for these kids in need is many times as fulfilling as getting gifts. For our children, we plan to take the amount we plan to spend each season, and allow them to buy gifts for those in need with half of it; the remaining half is used for them. I think most kids really do love this, especially since they get to choose the gifts. Make it a game to see how much you can get for the money, then it’s a multiple teaching opportunity.

  35. Paula

    I read this posting a day or so ago and found it very helpful in the practical ilustrations of your budget review process. Your sense of humor sweetens the all the more. The Betterment most was a God Send for me at this time. The break down of the types of fees, expenses for investment services was great, the shared thinking about different sources and formats for advise was right on time. I have been working ever so slowly w/ YNAB for over a year. Now, thanks in part to a major car repair expense, I am becoming a zealot in finding ways to maximize benefits from the tools and supports you all provide. Thanks Jesse.

  36. wpuymac

    Thanks for sharing. These are truly helpful things. In fact, I have felt the same way on occasion hitting the lightning bolt!

    1. Homeschooling is great and my wife never *thought* she could do it, and now that she does she is so glad (and so am I).
    2. I guess it depends on where you live, but 1100 per month on groceries is pretry good in my opinion for a family of 7. We feed 4 per day and shoot for $200 per month each. Of course we also have a garden in the spring and summer which helps and purchase produce from a farmer for another $50/month year round.

    I think the REAL way to check your grocery budget (or at least one way) is to watch the WASTE. I mean, you can save all you want on groceries, but if you’re throwing away food, it doesn’t matter. Every time you throw away food, that is some other food which you will end up eating…and ultimately buying. We started a system in our house where when we threw away any food scraps, we instead viewed it as “throwing away pennies, nickels, dimes, etc.”

    Once we took that mentality, we started saving on our grocery budget!

    • jesse

      That’s a really good thought. I need to watch my kids a little closer there. I’m not a fan of forcing them to eat (if they’ve tried a bite!), but we could probably still save it for later…

    • Elizabeth

      I completely agree with both of these points. Waste of groceries is where we could best save. As for homeschooling. I find that it can be expensive or inexpensive based on your choices. There are so many ways to do it on very little actual money. Actually vacations and travel saves huge because you can go when other children are in school.

      As for sanity. I am in the throes of little babies yet. My oldest just started actual Kindergarten. My mother however homeschooled myself and all my siblings (six while I was at home). She and I both love it. It was an adjustment but soon I would have it no other way. I don’t think it is any more or less sanity. I do agree that it requires my husband to step up a bit in the grocery shopping and “watch the kids while I get out for the evening”. That doesn’t even happen weekly. I don’t remember my mom having anything as routine as that either. I think every family is a little different. If you are willing to help her, she will succeed. Having older children home helps with the domestic chores (can’t wait until I get there). It evens out.

  37. Marily

    Thanks for the post. I am a budget nerd and love to read about other people’s ideas. I appreciate that you used your real numbers since practically NO ONE does that. It’s so much easier to relate to (and learn from) REAL numbers, even though our budget (and income) is different than yours.

  38. VeritasRex


    You have one of the most giving hearts I have seen on the net besides Dave Ramsey. Thanks a bunch. I have learned I must be in the company of givers.

    Couple things:
    1 — Do you and wifey have monthly budget meetings? I am sure you do…just may have left it out.
    2 –have you invited the oldest children to sit in on these meetings? It is an invaluable lesson for them in money at my house.

    Thanks for the software, and thanks for the sharing.

    • jesse

      We do have monthly budget meetings. They’re pretty quick, but it’s so good to hit the reset button each month. These Big Meetings (that spurred this post) don’t happen as often, but man has it been therapeutic.

      As for letting the kids in, we haven’t yet. They each have some categories in our budget and they’re very familiar with the phrase, “That’s not in the budget.”

      The other day they wanted to go out, I pulled out my phone and told them we had $5 left in the restaurant category. “Should we pull some money from the Christmas category to cover the $25 we’d need to still eat out?”

      Their answer was a resounding NO!

      My heart melted.

      • Kenny

        Hopefully that principle sticks with them. Kids need to learn that you shouldn’t just use a credit card for something you really don’t need when you don’t have the cash on hand. My wife still cringes when I say something isn’t in the budget and tells me that I need to free up more money. I remind her that she approved the budget and ask he what category she would like to decrease to offset. :)

  39. Em

    Jessie, in case nobody has suggested 8 years: if you know some parents who you trust and like then you might be able to do some sort of babysitting swap. If you can find the right people it might be a way to save money and help out somebody else as well.Thanks for sharing.

  40. Em

    Voice recognition + not being careful enough = wrong name spelling. Sorry Jesse.

  41. Emily

    While I greatly appreciate your transparency in sharing where most everything goes, I have to admit that it’s discouraging for me to see how large your income is to accommodate this. (Way to go on building your business!!)

    I would love to see a similar post of someone analyzing a much smaller income without having all debts paid off. We are a family of 4 living on $2500/month take home each month (with money taken out by his company for my husband’s 401k, health insurances and health savings). AND we pay close to $1100 just for our mortgage (with it not being feasible to sell and any realistic options for renting being in the $900+/month range anyway). We’re also part of an amazing non-profit in our area, Birch Community Services in Portland, Oregon, that is our saving grace and helps us make ends meet and do a little saving every month by providing most of our food, clothing and other items. I guess I’m saying that you guys seem to be in a fairly ideal financial situation (high income and no debts…again, hurray for you!!)…I’d love to see how someone is using YNAB right now to work toward that goal (rather than having already achieved it) after having made foolish financial decisions in the past.

    P.S. If you don’t have someone already willing to put their mouth where their money is, I’d totally be willing to do this if it might help others out!

    • jesse

      Emily, I’d love to have you post how you guys are doing it!

      You’ve inspired me to look back at our earlier years. I think I still have our 2006 budget somewhere. That was a rough year with a new child, a move across the country, and (finally) starting a “real” job (it paid $48,000 per year gross). We’ve been following the YNAB philosophy since 2003, when we married, and I have no doubt that it gave us a tremendous head start to our marriage. For the first six years of the business, we didn’t take a regular paycheck, so the success of the business has come slowly but surely, but built on that base from very first years of marriage and budgeting, it’s been a tremendous blessing.

      • Barbara

        I would be interested in your lower income budget, too. We live in the Portland, Oregon area like Emily, and our modest 3-bedroom house costs us over $1400/month. That’s after refinancing, saving $400/mo. My husband is a pastor who is also a techno geek for whom I budget $100 per month for his techno money. He also relaxes by watching TV, and four our TV, the Wi-fi connection, and our i-Phones, we pay over $350. I could live without the TV, but the rest is pretty much fixed, given our interests and needs. We are 58 and 61 and have very little in our savings and retirement funds, so we need all the help we can get!

  42. lilypilyTerri

    Private education is hugely expensive. I know because we took that route with our kids while they were growing up. Your ‘governess’ comment got me thinking. I wonder if you looked at how much you spent per year on the private schools and education and checked to see whether you could in fact employ a ‘teacher’ to homeschool your children. Perhaps not full time, but maybe enough to take the burden off yourselves. Just a thought.

  43. David


    We are a homeschooling family of five in East Tennessee. I too am constantly amazed at how much money flows through our house, and how little of it we seem to be able to save or put towards something so much better.

    As far as the homeschooling, my wife enjoys it and does a great job with it, which I am thankful for. She was a kindergarten teacher before we had kids, so teaching her own kids at home wasn’t a big stretch for her. I realize it is a very difficult decision for some families though.

    After getting lazy on the budgeting and expense tracking for a while we hit it hard again at the beginning of the year, and groceries is always an area where we can make a big difference (with a lot of effort). I think we were probably spending over $1,000 per month, and eating out too much as well. We recently stopped eating out except for a couple times per month and discovered some great sources of healthy foods that are helping us keep our costs around $700 per month.
    1) My wife is wanting to incorporate as much organic food into our diets as we can. So her discovery of Azure Standard was a big blessing. They are a food co-op that delivers once a month all around the country. They offer a huge assortment of organic foods in bulk, including produce, at very reasonable prices for a lot of things we buy regularly. We still visit the grocery store one in a while for certain items we cannot get from Azure.
    2) We eat a lot of chicken and began ordering it in bulk every 6 months through Zaycon Foods, which is also a co-op that sells meat only. It comes in bulk straight from the processor, so no middle man and the prices are very reasonable compared to grocery stores. We keep a freezer stocked with boneless skinless chicken breasts.
    3) We found a local man who raises cattle for beef for several families and had an extra cow this year. We just bought 1/4 of a cow for less than $3/lb (after processing). That is a pretty good price for beef that we know is good quality. If we can get a larger freezer, we will probably order 1/2 cow nest time. One day we hope to buy a home with some land so we can raise our own cows for milk and beef.
    4) This week we are getting six chicks, which we will raise and keep in our back yard for their eggs. We live in the city, so they won’t be free range, unfortunately. But they will be fed organic feed that we order from Azure. I disassembled my kids old wooden swing set they don’t use anymore and reassembled it (with some added materials) into a chicken coop for them to live in, so I didn’t have to invest much money into the coop. They should easily provide us with enough eggs to supply our family (couple dozen a week) and maybe an extra dozen per week we can sell to help offset the cost of the feed. Time will tell if this is actually cheaper than buying organice eggs at the grocery store, but at least we know these are quality eggs and I think our kids will really enjoy this experience (especially the chick stage).
    5) My wife and I have no green in our thumbs at all, but are going to try a couple of garden boxes this year and start learning this gardening thing to help reduce our grocery costs further. Wish us lots of luck, we need it!

    Those are just a few things we are doing. There is some up front costs involved in starting some of these things, but in the long run we hope we can lower our overall costs, eat more healthy, and teach the kids some valuable things.

    I love YNAB!


  44. longlifesong

    Great thread, and thanks for posting your budget numbers. I’m posting a loooong two-parter here–first post on site.
    We’ve been debt free, including house for 6 years.
    Discovered YNAB a year ago and after a painful withdrawal from Quicken, have absolutely fallen in LOVE with YNAB. Have extremely detailed complex budget (husband straight commission and my income is from rental property) with very irregular income (55-179k annual gross) and frequent large expenses. Took me several months to figure out how to really navigate those two challenges and create a system that helps me keep our money behaving properly.
    12 mo actual expenses on gross of 179k: giving 8%, taxes 22%, retirement savings 31%, home maintenance fund 4%, car replacement fund/maintenance 5%, housing 8%, insurances 5%, food 5%, fun 6% (high, includes two years–past/upcoming prepaid vacations and sporting club membership), misc (cell, pets, medical, clothing, personal care) 6%
    The ONE area this thrifty woman (lived in a storage building fixed up with bath and kitchen for 3 years to save to pay cash for house) has never and will never cut corners on food. Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food is and has always been the cornerstone to health and longevity. Much of America’s health issues stem from poor dietary/lifestyle choices, and I can’t afford poor health.
    I average $450/mo on groceries and $300 dining out for 3 adults. We eat exceedingly well and abundantly.

  45. longlifesong

    Part 1 of 2
    Great thread, and thanks for posting your budget numbers. I’m posting a loooong two-parter here–first post on site.
    We’ve been debt free, including house for 6 years.
    Discovered YNAB a year ago and after a painful withdrawal from Quicken, have absolutely fallen in LOVE with YNAB. Have extremely detailed complex budget (husband straight commission and my income is from rental property) with very irregular income (55-179k annual gross) and frequent large expenses. Took me several months to figure out how to really navigate those two challenges and create a system that helps me keep our money behaving properly.
    12 mo actual expenses on gross of 179k: giving 8%, taxes 22%, retirement savings 31%, home maintenance fund 4%, car replacement fund/maintenance 5%, housing 8%, insurances 5%, food 5%, fun 6% (high, includes two years–past/upcoming prepaid vacations and sporting club membership), misc (cell, pets, medical, clothing, personal care) 6%
    The ONE area this thrifty woman (lived in a storage building fixed up with bath and kitchen for 3 years to save to pay cash for house) has never and will never cut corners on food. Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food is and has always been the cornerstone to health and longevity. Much of America’s health issues stem from poor dietary/lifestyle choices, and I can’t afford poor health.
    I average $450/mo on groceries and $300 dining out for 3 adults. We eat exceedingly well and abundantly.

  46. longlifesong

    part two of my loooong post :>)
    $450/mo on groceries and $300 dining out for 3 adults…
    Produce organic/locally grown 9 months of year from my garden and CSA ($120/mo). Get blemished produce free–will never want for tomato sauce or veggie lasagna:>). Gather eggs from local farm for $2/dozen.
    At start of deer season call local processors within 20 miles (9 this year) and get name on wait list for unclaimed venison. Scored 120 delicious, lean, healthy pounds this year for $180. Fish regularly, freeze enough to enjoy fish weekly. Organic poultry from costco less than $6/lb. 1/2 beef from local, organic, grass-fed cattle ranch, $4/lb. Buy dry goods once or twice year when price is best. Gleaned 40+ pounds pecans, pick peaches, pears, grapes, berries from deserted farms and forest land in rural areas with owner permission, 20+ pounds blueberries from my yard an nearby neighborhood, 15+ pounds figs and loads of persimmons from tree of elderly neighbor in exchange for baking her dozen loaves of persimmon bread and dozen jars of fig preserves.
    I enjoy the search and the gathering (treasure hunting)–better than geo-caching or watching tv–fun with kids. Drive back roads to do errands and keep eyes open for gardens/fruit trees. Fearless in asking permission to buy/glean and high success rate. Search tax records for names of absentee farm owners for some of my better finds.
    Two full size freezers (one for prepped food and one for ingredients) and two frig/freezers. Make almost everything from scratch taking advantage of whatever is available and pkg for family-sized meals.
    Favorite budget food tips: keep dough bucket of no-knead pizza dough in frig at all times (will keep a couple of weeks, ages beautifully): a couple of ounces of leftover meat/seafood, a bit of frozen sauce or freshly pureed something, and random veggie/fruit trimmings make for a wicked good grilled pizza for under $2. (how about venison salsbury steak, mushroom and onion pizza or strain some leftover minestrone, spread on pizza for sauce and toppings in one, top w/ cheese—-mmmmmmm). There is NOTHING that isn’t good on good pizza crust cooked on a grill. People pay big bucks to eat mediocre pizza with strange toppings at California Pizza Kitchen–be creative!
    Eat oats every day for breakfast–cold in summer with yogurt/fruit and hot in winter with fruits and nuts. Eat a salad (green, veggie, pasta/grains, be creative) every day for one meal. Simplifies shopping and prep, budget and health friendly, feels like variety because of diversity of topping choices, and great way to use bits and pieces.
    As with budgeting, it is work to get in a rhythm with eating/cooking this way, but once you get in your groove, it’s pretty easy to maintain. Bonus points for getting exercise, enjoying nature, meeting interesting people and really appreciating your food.
    Just had our first heart scans at 55 and 58—scores ZERO–NO plaque at all. Both have great cholestrol, blood pressure and blood sugar in spite of bad family history. Credit good food with much of that.
    It has become a big thing these past couple of years in US to boast how cheaply you feed your family, and I simply don’t understand it. There are huge costs associated with poor health, and I factor that in on the medical side of our budget, which is nice and trim.
    My absolute best to all who are journeying toward fiscal responsibility and financial peace. If you’re starting, STAY THE COURSE, you can do this. We started with big debt small income, spent six years living lean while others lived large, and now have no debt nice income. Grateful that we can now live well with much or little.
    Encourage each other, share ideas large and small, be brave and adventurous, be generous. I’ll try not to post again for another year as I’ve used up my allotment of space already :>)

  47. Elise

    If either of you have a green thumb (or even a bit of one) turning part of that lawn into a vegetable garden can provide you with low cost food (one packet of 20 heirloom bean seeds: $3-$5, one bean plant = upto 1.2kg of beans). Less work on the lawn and something to do with and teach the kids too! (They find the “magic” of veggies growing amazing).

    As for schooling, home schooling is a great option for many people, but you have to be 100% dedicated and sure of yourself, especially with a family of seven, you have to attend to the developmental level of each child, decide and plan your curriculum and be both a teacher and a parent. Also it is pertinent to note that there is the potential pitfall of lack of socialisation with other children and adults outside the family circle. It takes a village to raise a child, and for some homeschooling can result in isolaion from the “village”, although effective homeschoolers avoid this.

    Generally I have found that the best homeschooling parents chose to homeschool because they were unhappy with the curriculum, ethos and environment of the existing schools in the area, and in many cases these family schools developed into a small group of parents schooling together. Something that strikes me that this may not be the case for you is your comment “We love where they’re going, what they’re learning and the whole situation” – it sounds like you and your children have the rare fortune of having access to a school that provides a high quality and comprehensive education, and is aligned with your family’s social values etc. Many families have to compromise on this balance, or choose to homeschool as they are seeking an alternative to this compromise.

    In summary, although schooling is your largest area of spending, it is also your biggest investment in your children’s future, not only for their academic development but their social development as well. Make whichever choice you think wil provide them with the best

    • Elizabeth

      I agree with this. If you love the education path your children are on and the main consideration for bringing them home is to cut your budget to be able to give more. I would say that you already give in a wonderful way to others if you are giving 17% (I think that is what I read above). The money you pay for this great education is you giving to your children. In my opinion it is a good priority to be life-giving to your wife and giving to your children to give them a good foundation. We homeschool because of a lack of good curriculum and christian environment offered in our local schools. It is quite a trade off in many ways (sanity, money, and time). I replied to an earlier comment saying I would have it no other way. That is true, however, it sounds like other than your budget you would have your children’s education no other way as well. You are giving to them, rather than strangers/church/charity. That is noble and good!

  48. Patricia

    Thanks for letting us get a peek. I did the same thing last year, made a budget that ACTUALLY reflected what I spent rather than what I wanted to spend. My one comment about your comments is that if you wash your car in the driveway, it’s a huge use of water. Car washes do much better at conserving water. It’s kind like the hand dish washing vs. dishwasher dish washing. So maybe still use the car wash, but not as much?

    • jesse

      Growing up in AZ with a dad that loved washing his cars (he grew up washing all the cars at his dad’s dealership), but also hated wasting water (we were in a desert), my prideful self is thinking I could manage to wash in the driveway with minimal water use. My dad taught me a few tactics that kept the hose off way more than on.

  49. David Harper

    Thank you for sharing your budget and your thoughts. interesting.

  50. Sarah Coplen

    I’m shocked that you can go out 4 times a month and your babysitting fees are only $94 a month! Don’t you have 5 kids? That is a bargain.

    • jesse

      Well, I figured out that between holidays, weeks where we have guests, and when we are traveling, and then just missing a week here and there, we probably only pay a babysitter about 26 times per year.

  51. Jen

    I find it interesting that you have chosen random amounts by which to decrease certain areas of your budget. How exactly do you plan to cut 30% out of your utilities? We would have to actually cut off our service for 10 days of the month, or freeze to death, or keep all our food in coolers outside and buy more ice. I am thinking you live somewhere that it doesn’t snow- our electric/gas is more each month than your total utilities, and we keep our house at 58 (poor kids, they sleep in layers. Last year the pipes IN their room froze, in the baseboard heater). And sure, you can cut that much out of your food budget, but then what quality food are you feeding your family? I’m looking forward to hearing how this goes for you ;)

    • jesse

      I’m looking forward to the experiment as well. :)

  52. Jason M

    I have a family of 5 and my monthly budget for groceries is $1,500. I’m trying to figure out what I’m doing wrong here. We buy fruits, vegetables, whole foods, and very little processed foods. I live in the Seattle area so we tend to shop at Albertsons and QFC nearby. From what I’ve read from other posts, most people buy in bulk at CostCo and other places. Can anyone suggest ways to reduce my monthly grocery expenses?

  53. Kevin Kane

    Whoah, you saved only 17% of your take-home pay? Time to check out mrmoneymustache.com for some ideas!

    • jesse

      I actually linked to him in the post :) He kind of started this for me.

  54. Danny McCurry

    We have seven kids of which all went to private school though not exclusively to private school. It’s worth the cost in elementary school. After that they will do well in any school. However, after leaving private school they tend to form bad study habits as they goof off for two years waiting for the rest of their new classmates to catch up to them. As for cost, my wife taught PE at the school 12 hours per week to cut the cost and to keep better track of the quality of education.

    A vacation for our kids was for them to be able to spend a night in a motel where they had use of a hot tub, pool, ice machines, cable TV, free breakfast of their choice, etc. We recently bought a night at a Fairfield Inn in SLC area ($50 per room KSL special) and plan to meet the kids and grandkids there Friday for a one night vacation. Easy on the budget and lots of fun.

    Be careful with Costco. They have great prices on name brand foods, but house brands bought elsewhere are often as good at much better prices.

    At the new Gorilla Wash (Highland area) I bought a $300 one year pass (my Christmas gift) which allows unlimited $12 washes for one car for one year. It’s a thrill for the grandkids to ride through it. Again, cheap entertainment. For as much as you must have paid for the new van $300 is a small fraction of the total cost of the van. As big as a van is when you try to wash it the cost of a yearly pass may pay for itself both in time saved and in lower total cost of the van.

    You are a short walk from work. Walk while you look for a bike to ride. Besides, bikes are seasonal but you can walk year round.

  55. Jeanne Hancock

    I have a family of 6 and we spend about 500-600 a month on groceries, We plan our meals and usually include one vegetarian meal into our meals once a week as we homeschool our children. I do price comparison, use coupons, stack if possible and my husband helps me do the shopping to allow us to have time together and to get the best possible price.

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