How I Do: My Monthly Budgets (Part II: Personal Spending)

So I've shared Steps 1–5 of how I write my monthly budgets, and gave you a basic run-down of my money philosophy. (I should have added a debt-management section to my budgeting post, but I didn't think of it because I no longer budget debt payments in. Want another post on that/how I paid off my CC debt? Let me know!) Today I want to talk about how I come up with my allocated amounts for monthly personal spending. That is, the money I spend after my bills are paid and my basic minimum savings goals are met. From gas to groceries to my extensive legging collection, here's how I budget, part two:
For the purposes of this post, we're going to look ahead to November. I haven't finalized my budget just yet — sometimes the previous month's events inform the next month's budget — but it will be set in stone come November 1. Rather than actual numbers I'll use percentages to illustrate what I'm planning to allot for each category next month, so keep in mind that the percentages used below are percentages of the total amount budgeted in Monthly Spending.

Step 1. Assess my remaining balance for monthly spending. This is the number I come up with after I go through Steps 1–5 explained here; after I budget for rent, utilities, car insurance, cell phone, and minimum savings. Simple pimple.

Step 2. Look at my calendar for the month. I start by filling in the definites like:
  • Trips/vacations/day trips that require substantial extra driving
  • Birthdays, events, parties, etc. that will require me to buy a gift, provide a host/ess gift, bring a dish or bottle of wine, buy a new dress, etc.
  • How many weekends are in the month, since I tend to spend more freely on weekend days
  • Doctor appointments that will require copays
  • A deadline to register for something or to receive a certain price on something (like the yoga retreat or a race)
In November, I have (so far) planned:
  • A baby birthday party. I've already bought the gift so there's no expense here, but it may impact my usual weekend spending.
  • A Pub Run. My local run shop hosts group runs weekly and pub runs monthly. I haven't been in a while, but since I'll be done with half marathon training, I may go to this one. It's minimally spendy, but it would be a night of eating out and a drink or two, so it's good to keep it in mind.
  • Two chiropractor appointments. I generally see Dr. Magic every other week, but I might start trying to push it back to every three weeks. I have a new bed on the horizon, so we'll see if that helps. Either way, I'll see him for sure on the 5th and then either the 19th or the 26th.
  • A football game. Not majorly spendy; it's my cousin's college game, but tickets and snacks have to be categorized.
  • A "Girls' Night." My mom's BFF and her two daughters (my age) and I like to get together for wine and some food but mostly wine every couple of months when we can all get on the same schedule. Looking forward to this one for sure! I'll probably bring a tray of spinach-artichoke dip (my go-to) and a bottle of wine, so I'll need to remember I'm buying ingredients and the hooch.
  • An upstate blate. Gas, tolls, and eating out/drinking expenses anticipated here.
  • Thanksgiving. Can go either way — it might be a no-spend day, or I might have to run out for emergency hooch if the bar runs dry or something like that. I'll also have to count on some driving and tolls.
  • Black Friday. My mom and I like to go to a few stores at midnight, but only as long as they aren't out-of-control crazy. If someone throws a punch, we're outta there. Luckily the last few years that we've gone and hit Kohl's (moms of America's favorite store) and Target (my Disneyland) there's been no violence and not even any insane waiting. I've made a few wardrobe scores in the past but I like to get as much Christmas shopping done here when I can.
  • Races. I may do one of these; I likely won't do both. It's a spendy month as it is, but I want to keep myself in check after the half. We'll see.
Step 3. Look at my shopping lists. I pretty much don't buy anything right away, unless its a simple purchase I can always justify like gum or food. But when it comes to clothes, shoes, accessories, running gear, or superfluous beauty-category things (like nail polish, or lipstick when I already have plenty of both), when I start to want something, I put it on a list I keep in Google Drive (so I can modify easily and see it wherever I am).

When it comes to things I use up and need to replenish, I also keep a running list of when they start feeling light. I don't have the space to "stock up" on things, but I like to buy things like toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, paper towels, tissues, vitamins, body wash, deodorant, and the makeup I wear daily like tinted moisturizer and concealer before I urgently need them. So in looking ahead to November, I'm in pretty good shape. October was a three-paycheck month for me and also happened to be the month I started to run out of things, so I did a big Target trip and picked up a bunch of what I needed.

I try to make trade-offs with non-essentials. I don't need new boots, but I really, really, really want them. But I also want to have some fun in the running apparel section. So when it comes to these categories where I can really end up adding to my budget, I trade off: One month I'll let myself shop for shoes and clothes, and the next I'll freeze my clothing spending and treat the runner in me to some new swag.
Step 4. Start plugging in numbers. There are a few that remain pretty consistent. My grocery budget generally works out to be fairly minimal, thanks to cooking at home, freezing meals, and planning ahead. And committing to not buying junk food helps too. My gas budget starts in the same place every month, and then grows depending on whether I have a road trip or something that month. Same for general expense; I'll increase it if I know I'll have to pay for parking or something like that.

This part is important: I track my spending. Every dollar I spend is recorded so I know where my money has gone. It may seem daunting to you (it actually takes about 15 seconds, tops), but I can assure you I'll never over-draw my checking or over-charge my credit card. And I'll never miss if a fraudulent charge is made on my accounts either.
Anyway, as I mentioned here, I've been tracking my spending with a super simple iPhone app called iSpending for a few years now. (You can also try Mint.com or YNAB!) This is important because it's pretty much impossible to create realistic numbers when you have no idea what you spend. I can tell you, my "dining out" budget is less than half of what I used to spend, and I still eat out plenty. The thing is, you WILL be surprised by how much you spend monthly on certain things (coffees out, gas, groceries, bar tabs, bank/ATM fees, cabs, clothes, makeup... whatever) when you first start tracking it. And that's when you start to make some changes in your budget.

So these categories are generally based on the knowledge I've gained about how much I spend in a typical month on what. Occasionally I'll even look back to the same month last year and see how things looked then.

Step 5. Debate with myself and commit to the numbers. It's not always easy to look at my budget and say "Okay, I cannot spend ANY money on XYZ this month." But in the grand scheme of things, it shouldn't be hard. I have my needs met. I don't ever NEED to buy clothes or nail polish or fruity hand soaps. Just look at how great Cait is doing on her year-long shopping ban. This is cake.

So now we're going to fill in those numbers on what's coming up this month.
Category Breakdown 
(Check here for a refresher on how I categorize purchases.)
  • Clothes/Shoes - I have one pair of Ugg boots... that I got when I was 17. They are in bad shape. I thought a lot about whether I really wanted Uggs, what with their price, and I decided that I really do. And that's the only wardrobe purchase (other than running gear) that I'll likely make until January. (Unless I find some Santa patterned leggings, maybe.)
  • Dining Out - I'm going to try and keep this to a bare minimum this month. I'll have some T-giving leftovers to help out and will meal plan to make sure I always have lunch. (This category is so simple to reduce drastically when I have a spendy month to keep things balanced.)
  • Entertainment - Not sure if this is an everywhere thing or an around here thing, but Thanksgiving Eve can be a dangerous night. I keep it light since I'm not a big drinker.
  • Gas - I'll have some longer-than-usual drives to make, and I've left wiggle room while I adjust to a (hopefully) new gas tank.
  • General Expense - I pay for Spotify (so I can listen when I'm running/driving without killing my data, mostly) and am hopefully getting a new car in the next few weeks. The registration fee may be in October; we'll see how the timeline shakes out.
  • Grocery - Pretty standard. Leftovers and the extra dishes I'll have to make should cancel out.
  • Beauty - Time to finally get a haircut! I haven't had one since March and my ends are looking shabby. Plus I need to pick up a new spot treatment soon (any recommendations?).
  • Health - Simple stuff that I'm running low on.
  • Homeware - Can't think of anything I need or will need. I'd love some new candles, but I do have more than enough and I know they'll be pouring in for Christmas, because when people ask what to get me I only tell them "candles and tea." 
  • Car Maintenance - New car should mean nothing here for a little while.
  • EZ-Pass - Usual replenishment in time to pay some tolls for holiday driving.
  • Gifts - Christmas shopping! 
  • Donations - Since I'm planning to have a new bed (FINALLY) by the end of October, I'm scheduling a pick-up of my old mattress and box spring so they can be donated to charity. I probably won't get around to this until November.
  • Medical - As noted, two adjustments and a pill refill
  • Blog - Trying to keep it low to balance out the expensive month, but I'm planning to sponsor one or two great blogs next month.
  • Running - I'll need some gloves as it's gonna get chilly next month, and I'm leaving room to register for a race, if I decide to.
  • Other/N.C. - I need a new winter coat, and I'm counting this as a one-off expense rather than a clothing one. Mostly because I'll probably cry if I see a number that high in my Clothing category, to be honest.
And there you have it: How I write my monthly budgets! I love talking about this stuff, so feel free to ask any questions about how I do XYZ or float ideas around about your method of budgeting. I'm an open book!

A few final thoughts on monthly budgeting:
  1. This probably looks like a lot of work, and like I have a major you know what up my you know where. Now that I have my system down, it doesn't take me long at all and it all makes perfect sense to me. I'd rather take a few minutes to do this (rather than comb through statements later trying to figure out where my money went) but you may be different. I'm not telling you to do it my way — I'm just sharing my way.
  2. I rewrite my budget every month because my spending changes every month by category. Some people put the bulk of these categories in one big "personal spending" pot and can keep their budget the same every month. Find what works best for you!
  3. My budget spreadsheets used to look a lot different. Personal finance is personal, so as you grow and change, so will your finances and needs. Be open to adapting and changing things up to best meet your needs.
  4. Yes, I go over budget sometimes. It happens. Of course, I try to minimize, but there's only so much you can plan — and only so much I want to plan. When I go over budget in one category I try to pull back in others, but the fact of the matter is that I'm human and humans err. Budgets are not fool-proof.
  5. That said, budgets are a great guide. I don't let mine control me, I still spend my time how I like to. Things come up that you can't control, but having a budget helps me know I'm making good choices and being responsible and setting my present and future self up for success and security.
  6. Question: I know this is not a personal finance blog, and I don't intend to turn it into one, but would anyone be interested if I started doing monthly budget posts? I would share my budget for the coming month as well as how well I stuck to the previous month's budget, sharing the breakdown similar to how I did here. Just a thought — any takers?
Do you have a budget? Would you start one using a method like this? Happy budgeting!

Comments

  1. You do a great job and are so organized! I don't plan our my month as well as I should sometimes so I end up using my miscellaneous envelope more than necessary. If I had planned a bit better, that wouldn't be necessary.
    And I'm like you, my budget changes each month. At first it seems like a hassle to do it each month, but it does not take that long. And once you get a routine down, it's pretty easy to stick with.
    Great job!

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  2. Simple pimple made me laugh. I would like to see a post about how you paid off your debt. Also, I would be interested in the monthly post. I think it is a great way to see what others do and to help learn. :)

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  3. So much great info as always! I think the items that need to be replenished are what get us-- I like to buy stuff in advance (even if we don't need it yet) if it's on sale, but sometimes I lose track and when you have to pay full price for things at the last minute it can really screw up your budget! Also, I can't believe the holidays are so close! It sounds like you have such a good plan/system for spending even with big shopping days (black Friday, etc).

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  4. Love it! I do my budget pretty much the exact same way only I make a spreadsheet for every day of the month and write down my best guess of how much I think I will spend that day and on what. I don't use a budget for strict budgeting purposes (like, if I go over it, which I do often, it's not a big deal) but more so I can have an idea of how much money I'll have to put away at the end of the month (I don't have an automatic amount I shovel into savings, bad I know!) I usually go ahead and account for frivolous spending in my estimates, that way I don't feel too bad when I actually spend the money ;) I do really like your category system though so I am thinking I just might need another sheet in my spreadsheet for categories...

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  5. I love my budget (and YNAB), I'd be lost without it! I think I having bigger categories than you (dining out, clothes shopping, homeware all go in entertainment) but I definitely agree - keep working it til you find what works best for you. It's worth it!

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  6. I have to say this is one of the best budget posts I've seen in a long time!! I really like that you put the spending that you know you'll have in a calendar - i need to start doing that!!

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  7. I am so impressed girl! I thought I was good with my budget but I'm seriously taking some notes!

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  8. I envy your dedication and self control! Laying everything out on a calendar is a key takeaway for me here. I also share your penchant for the extensive legging collection lol.

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  9. Man, you are hard core! I love it! We need to focus more on budgeting...ok....actually budgeting at all...very soon! It is so crucial!

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  10. I wouldn't mind if you posted every week about budgets and whatnot (and you know i wouldn't mind seeing more about CC debt lol).
    I definitely need to look over this again another time (ie not at work) and set something similar up, i love how you use and look at your calendar, so smart!
    I know you aren't in a relationship (that is not meant to be as rude as it sounds!) but do you have any recommendations or suggestions or anythings about budgeting as a couple like how to do this when you have a joint account and a husband who's middle name is 'I hate planning and I don't know what I'm doing tomorrow let alone next week oh by the way we have a wedding to go to tomorrow and why do you need to spend money for that?'

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  11. Wow! You're so organized! I do budget every month, but I think I need to take it up a notch after looking at this. Thanks for the great tips.

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