When I was married, my husband and I did a budget meeting as a couple regularly. It was crucial to our finances, and we benefited a lot from the habit. Now that I’m divorced and a single mom however, I still do a monthly budget meeting – by myself. Here’s what my routine looks like.
First of all, what’s budget meeting?
This is a routine I picked up from Dave Ramsey. While I’m glad I did Financial Peace University, I’m not a big fan of Ramsey’s shame-based approach to personal finance. I’ve grown and moved past that type of mentality. Learning about financial trauma helped!
Regardless, I still think budget meetings are a great idea. Since I’m divorced, I do them by myself. Eventually, I’ll probably include my two oldest kids still at home so they can learn.
How I do budget meeting (as a single mom)
On the first day of each month, I sit down with pencil, my Bullet Journal, and my laptop. I open Mint (that’s Mint, the budget tracker and planner by Intuit, not Mint my frugal mobile provider, but I love that Mint too!).
First, I total my income for the previous month.
This is the figure I’m going to work with for the new budget. If today is September 1, I total August’s income and that figure is what I’m budgeting.
How I budget is by spending last month’s money, not my projected income for the current month.
This requires having a cushion in your account. There are different ways to budget, and I recommend trying various methods to figure out what works for you. This is what works best for me, but as we say in the South, there’s more than one way to skin a cat!
Then, I look at the previous month’s spending.
I make sure all the transactions are categorized properly in Mint. Sometimes, Walmart is groceries, and other times it’s household supplies. I want my spending to go in the right category, so I make adjustments if needed. And there different categories in one transaction, I can split it easily using the “split transaction” feature.
I check Mint weekly so this task isn’t overwhelming. It takes just a few minutes.
I’m also checking to ensure I stay inside the budget I created for that month. What was my actual spending compared with my projected spending? Tracking my spending has been one of the most empowering money habits I’ve adopted. I’ve done it by hand in the past, but now use Mint to automate it a bit.
Then, I look for any high or unusual spending.
For example, in July I had some back to school expenses that I won’t have next month. One kid had a medical procedure that won’t need to be repeated for a long time, so that’s another anomaly.
If I saw overspending that didn’t feel good to me, I make note of that as a reminder. I also analyze why I spent too much on those categories. Was it emotional spending? A lack of planning? Or some other dumb reason I was spending too much?
What expenses will be unique to that month?
This is why I redo my budget, from scratch, monthly. Many of our expenses change from month to month.
A new month might bring an annual website hosting fee, or quarterly lawn maintenance, or several kids’ biannual dental exam, or a bit of frugal travel, or what have you.
I create a new budget for the current month.
I write this on a new page in my Bullet Journal, generally next to my monthly calendar page.
Then, typically halfway through the month, I do a quick check of the Trends in my Mint account. This is to make sure I’m on track. If I’m spending a bit too much, I’ll pull back.
I might do a freezer challenge to spend less at the grocery store. Or I’ll plan free weekend fun for the next couple of weeks.
If I spend less than last month’s income, I move some money to savings or investments. Yay!
This whole routine is pleasurable for me.
I think that’s important. One reason people avoid looking at their money is because they associate it with painful feelings. It’s good to be mindful of those and bring them into our conscious awareness.
But money can’t be avoided without adding additional pain to our lives.
If we avoid looking at bills or debt or planning for the future, it’s because we’re trying to avoid unpleasant emotions.
But we can create pleasant routines around caring for our money. Brew a fancy coffee or pour a glass of wine and sit in a lovely spot. Use a favorite pen or journal. Put on music you enjoy. Whatever suits your fancy!
Budget meetings make me feel more in control of my money. They ease financial anxiety. And they don’t take long. In fact, most of my money is on auto-pilot. My retirement accounts are set up on autodraft. My bills are on autopay. Etc.
Do you do budget meeting, whether as a single mom or with your partner? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
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