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family budgets

July 10, 2010

zora naki

I’ve been obsessing about all things financial lately, and I thought I’d pass on some of the tips I’ve read about or learned from friends and relatives. A lot of it (I’m told) is just common-sense. Sadly, this doesn’t seem to be a quality that comes naturally to me.

1. Cash is key. Unless you’re an advanced practitioner of financial management, or otherwise incredibly good with managing your money, paying for things with cash is critical. A number of people have suggested taking out $X for the week’s groceries and keeping it in an envelope. Take the envelope (and your grocery list) with you when you shop. When the envelope is empty, that’s it for the week.

I’ve been trying this and it’s true – for whatever psychological reason, it’s way harder to let go of dollar bills than it is to hand over your bank card.

What is reasonable to budget? Depends on your tastes – I’ve heard everything from $50/week per adult to $260/week for a family of 6 and on up from there. I’m still trying to figure this one out. What do you think?

2. Save your 10% first. If you’ve read The Wealthy Barber, or most other financial planning books, they suggest saving 10% (of gross or net, however you operate) off the top, before you ever see your money and directing it to savings. If you’re Canadian, this means funneling it towards your RSP; if you’re American, an IRA, 401K or equivalent. If you’re self-employed (like us), plan on saving even more, because the words pension plan are just a mirage on the horizon. This money is the starting point for your long-term financial health. If you actually want to be wealthy, you need to save more. Sad but true.

3. Pay your mortgage off fast. This means bi-weekly payments, which will save you a schwack of interest and significantly shorten your amortization period. Increase your payments to whatever you can comfortably afford – even a little can make a long-term difference.  For example, by using a mortgage calculator, I figured out that bumping up our bi-weekly payments by $19 shortens our amortization period by 1 year. Pay down the principal whenever you can – with your tax return, inheritance, etc. If you’re comfortable with fluctuating interest rates, a variable-rate mortgage is a good bet, according to the spreadsheet wizardry of Mr. Naki.

4. Watch your Latte factor. This is the catchphrase of David Bach, who looks like an elf, but has some good basic financial advice to offer. He uses the phrase to refer to all of those moments when money slips through your fingers – the Starbuck$ run in the morning, the mid-afternoon muffin, the lunch at a food court, the magazine you pick up at the grocery checkout (my personal weakness). All of these $2-$10 expenditures add up significantly.

5. Online savings are to be had. The Internet (what did people do before this?) is a great source of info. I’ve found flyers, coupons, and online deals for family activities here:

6. Show me the money. By this, I mean get rid of the crap you have cluttering up your home (that you never use, that you’ve always hated, that you don’t need, doesn’t fit or doesn’t look good) and sell it. In the last week, I’ve offloaded a fridge, a dishwasher, a boxspring, books, and a toddler bike seat on Craigslist. All of this hard-earned cash is going towards #7 (see below).

7. Get off your ass. Driving a car around is super-convenient, but costs a lot of dough. We used to be so environmentally friendly before we got one! Not only do you save a car payment and the environmental cost of burning fossil fuels, but you get fresh air and exercise if you get off your butt and walk or bike or use public transit to get where you need to go. If you have situations where you really need a car, there are some great alternatives (we use the car co-op) to actual ownership. Having said this, I’m not giving up our car. Three kids was my breaking point. But I am trying to cut back, so my Craigslist earnings are going towards a new bike and tagalong for the smallest person.

There are tons of other ideas out there – what do you use that works for you?

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11 Comments

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  1. July 11, 2010

    Great tips! The Latte factor is a hard one to control.

  2. July 11, 2010

    I try for $125 per week, realistically it’s probably more like $150; we’re a family of four. It’s a little less now that we have a CSA, but of course we’ve paid for that already!

    I may try the cash-for-groceries. Sounds like a smart idea.

  3. July 12, 2010

    That’s great – do you have any tips to pass on? Do you include just food in that or tp, cleaning supplies, etc.?

  4. July 13, 2010

    That number includes everything. So some weeks, when there are a lot of things to replenish, it might be a little more.

    No tips, really… we try not to buy too many pre-packaged things, keeping snacks to mostly popcorn (stovetop), pretzels, yogurt, fruit, vegetables. We never buy things that are marketed to kids (baby yogurt, single-serving snacks).

    http://asiabonacci.wordpress.com

  5. Sally C #
    November 15, 2010

    Just wanted to say I love your renovation. I’m in the process of renovating our 1930s bungalow in east vancouver and am always browsing blogs for ideas and tips when I came across yours on houseblogs.net. I love that you’ve turned your home into a more modern aesthetic.

    We’re still renovating our home now, but like you, I know in the future that one day I will have to move to accomodate our growing family. Since nothing with the space we need in this city fits our budget, I have been thinking about renovating an existing small home. I just don’t know if its in my budget to do so. If you don’t mind me asking what was the approximate cost of your renovation/addition per square foot. I was estimating $200000 as a ballpark figure for adding an addition and renovating the existing and remaining space??? Am I out to lunch?

    Thanks!

  6. January 3, 2011

    Hi Sally
    You could do it for $200k, less if you’re handy and able to do some of the work yourself and live on site instead of moving into a rental. Email me at zoranaki@gmail.com if you would like some specific numbers (FYI the city permit fees are a killer – $15k+ for us).

  7. Nat #
    November 29, 2011

    I didn’t expect financial advice but you make some great points. Thanks for sharing.

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