I'm a stay-at-home mom which, rewarding as it is, does not actually pay well. I know, I was shocked as well. So we live off of my husband's modest income, and I like to think of my role as the thrifty caretaker of our finances. I may not be able to cut back on our monthly mortgage, but I'm all about saving us on other necessities like food and clothes. I'm an avid thrift and consignment shopper, actually preferring those to department stores most days, and I've zoned in on the cheap grocery stores like Aldi where you bring your own bags and can't even use a cart without a quarter. If I have to use a more costly grocery store I make a bee-line to the day old bakery rack, those poor groceries that have been discounted because of packaging dents, and the reduced produce section. All in all, I've been feeling pretty good about myself when it comes to budgeting- so long as I'm comparing myself to what I think OTHERS must spend.
But truth be told- although my husband and I had made a rough budget- we never kept track of what we spent. Our "budget" was basically a sham- if we followed it we would stay just within what we make in a month- but because we had a little cushion in our bank account we never noticed just how over budget we were each month. Eventually if we keep going the way we are, we will not have the money we need for our basic needs, let alone giving or saving.
Maybe you are like me- you want to spend less- you THINK you are doing well with your money. And maybe you'd also like to have more money to give away- you'd like to be able to sponsor a child, or give to your church, buy fair trade coffee- whatever it is. But you don't think you can because when you go to balance the checkbook, you are spending more than you thought on things you didn't even realize.
My point is this. I'm not here to tell you where to give your money, although I do believe that giving is very important to following the heart of God. But I am saying that before we can really plan to give- before we start making excuses for ourselves and the amount of free money we have- before we pat ourselves on the back and say we are giving a lot and saving more than most- we need to know EXACTLY where our money is going.
One of the biggest obstacles to my budget tracking was my disorganization. I do not know how to operate spread sheets and would lose receipts before I could file them. Then our friends told us about mint.com . It's description of itself is a tool that "brings all your financial accounts together online or on your mobile device, automatically categorizes your transactions, lets you set budgets and helps you achieve your savings goals." It is completely free and I have to say that in less than a week it has opened my eyes to just how far off we've come from our ideal budget. (For instance, we found we had spent $70 last month at coffee shops alone! Yikes!) The great thing is, it has pie charts, e-mail alerts for overspending, and easy ways to make goals for yourself- and I don't have to be organized or a computer whiz to figure it out!
Whatever method you choose- know your budget- and know where your money is actually going. Then figure out what to cut and what to keep so you can waste less- and do more good with your money.