Clay and I have always been frugal and made every effort to stay within our monthly budget, but it hasn’t always been easy, mainly because there was no organization to it. I did my best to write-down every purchase and bill in our check register, but even that didn’t give me enough information. For example, our monthly food budget has been $200. (we just upped it to $250 since things are more expensive here) I grocery shop about once a week, so if we were three weeks into the month, I could look at our checking register and see that we have $150 left for the month until we get paid again, but I had no idea how much of that belonged to the grocery budget and how much of that would be taken-up by the cable bill we were about to be charged. (unless I did the long process of tallying-up every purchase) We did a pretty ok job of maintaining the budget since neither one of us are big spenders, but it just wasn’t organized and it was difficult to really get a good picture of what we were spending each month.
And now… everything has changed! We signed-up with http://www.mint.com, a FREE online service that streamlines all of your accounts and helps you organize your budget. First, we established our budget and assigned a certain dollar amount for each category (rent, car insurance, phone, etc…). Mint is linked with our online credit cards and bank accounts, so each time we make a purchase or bill payment, it’s updated within the proper category. I don’t even keep my check register anymore, all I do is periodically check the front page of my Mint account where it shows me a running bar graph for every category within our budget. I can easily look and see that out of our $250 grocery budget, I’ve spent $126 this month, so I have $124 left. If we spend over our budget, they email us to let us know that we’ve gone over. They also can show you your spending trends over time, how one month’s spending compares to previous months, a pie graph of where all your money is going, and other cool organizing things.
It also makes it incredibly easy to see where we’ve come in under budget at the end of the month. Since gas prices are going down (FINALLY! Glory Hallelujah!), I imagine that we’ll start going under our gas budget a bit each month. Since I can very easily see that, say, we’ve saved $15 this month on gas, it makes it super-easy to actually DO something with that $15 instead of letting it get lost in our checking account somewhere. Our goal is to start “snowflaking,” transfer all the small dollar amounts that we’ve saved in each month over to our savings account. Since before we never were able to know exactly how much we’ve saved in each budget category, we never did anything with that extra money, it just got spent somewhere along the way. Now we can see where every single dollar is going in a very visual way, not just a random list of numbers. OR, if we wanted to buy something that wasn’t in the budget, it’s very easy to see exactly how much extra money we have at the end of the month so we can just use that.
I’m sure most of y’all are way ahead of us on this, and I know there are other great money organizing programs out there like Quicken, but Mint.com is FREE and EASY to use, and it’s totally working for us. For once I don’t feel in the least bit stressed-out as it’s approaching the end of the month because I know where every single dollar has gone and exactly how many we have left in each budget category for the rest of the week. Obviously, I’m no financial genius, but if you aren’t already using a financial organization system like this, I highly recommend checking-out http://www.Mint.com.
Any other tips to share about how you keep your monthly budget organized???