Do you have a budget? As the boys get older, we’ve been trying to save for the future, and I want to be more conscious of what we’re spending and how we can cut back in different areas — like grocery expenses, which can really add up. So, with help from the widely beloved You Need a Budget, I made some changes, and it felt really good…
In my twenties, working at entry-level jobs and paying back school loans, I was on a tight budget, and it taught me a lot. Overall, a budget isn’t just about not spending money, I realized. Instead, it helps you think about your goals and what’s important to you, whether that’s getting out of debt or taking a special trip, and then helps you create a plan to make sure you have the money for those things.
If the thought of spreadsheets or number-crunching makes you cringe (same!), the You Need a Budget app makes it really easy to track your daily progress. Once I started using it, I was surprised to see what we actually spent on certain things. Since we have two growing boys, groceries were number one on the list. We decided to cut back in four areas: groceries, dining out, transportation and entertainment.
When we were in high school, and it was a fend-for-yourself dinner night, we would complain to my mom that there was nothing in the fridge. Her answer was always: “We have eggs.” Eggs! Eggs. So boring. But in my adult life, I kind of agree with her: peppery scrambled eggs are actually a delicious dinner — and affordable. Our boys already eat like teenagers, so to reduce our grocery bill, Alex and I stocked up on versatile items: eggs, bananas, apples, broccoli, peanut butter, rice, beans and pasta.
Meals out were another big expense. (If you add in drinks, the bill suddenly skyrockets.) But you still want to see friends, right? So, the other day, instead of meeting a friend for drinks, we took a neighborhood “wine walk,” inspired by a reader comment. Even better, we were able to stroll around and catch up without having to awkwardly listen to the chicken special.
TRANSPORTATION & ENTERTAINMENT
Another bigger-than-it-should-be expense was the cabs and Lyft rides I sometimes took. Now I’ve started walking or biking to meetings and appointments as much as possible. I also dusted off my library card for summer reading; I cancelled my Spotify subscription because I never used it; and for magazines I read for work and pleasure, I ordered annual subscriptions, which are much more affordable than buying issues one at a time.
Cup of Jo readers have raved about You Need a Budget in the comments, and now I see why. You simply enter all your regular expenses — such as rent or mortgage, utilities, transportation and groceries. They even have categories like “fun money” and “things I forgot to budget for.” The setup is quick and easy. Then you connect your bank information, and YNAB takes it from there, tracking your goals and spending and offering helpful alerts. It’s also useful for partners who are budgeting together, since it keeps both of your information in one place.
Do you have any budgeting tips? If you don’t have one, it’s always a great time to start. It can feel daunting at first, but once you get going, knowing the details of your finances is really liberating. Plus, having a clear picture of your goals makes it more likely for you to get there. Good luck!
Great news: You Need a Budget is offering all readers a free two-month trial using this link. Thank you so much!
(Photos by Christine Han for Cup of Jo. This post is sponsored by You Need a Budget, an app we really love. The app is available for web, iOS and Android. Thanks for supporting the brands that keep Cup of Jo running.)