Author Archives: Meredith Rines

Meredith Rines, a budget and financial strategist helping fans pay off debt and live the life they've always wanted.

February’s Focus on Finances {2018}

focus on finances, money tips, money saving ideas, how to pay off debt, how to save more money, productivity tips, meredith rines, merelynne

Around this time each year, I like to declare February our Focus on Finances month.  Basically, I like to bring back a simple focus to our family’s finances.  It can be hard with the holidays and all of the overages to get back on track.

Motivation is hard when it comes to budgeting money and paying down debt.  It’s really hard.  But no one said this type of freedom was going to be easy.  So now that Christmas has come and gone, and our bank accounts have had time to recover it’s time to focus on building our savings while paying down debt.

I love to call February our Focus on Finances month.  I started this tradition (can I call it that?) back in 2016 with a simple desire to be more prepared for when the baby came.  It really helped J and I think ahead and create a budget a few months before Dent arrived. We were so grateful we had financially prepared for our son’s arrival because he ended up coming three months early! 

The next year our goal this time around was building our emergency fund.  With the high costs of insurance deductibles and medical bills our emergency fund was drained. My goal was to have enough in our emergency fund to cover each of our insurance deductibles for those just-in-case moments.  Boy were we glad we did that! We ended up fighting with our insurance companies (mine and J’s) until October 2017 over our son’s NICU stay back in April 2016. It was a mess and brought a lot of stress, but knowing we had some cushion made it a lot less painful (just very annoying!). 

You might be wondering what our goal is this year? Well after given it a lot of thought…

We are going to work on rebuilding our emergency fund. 

J went back to school last Fall and it’s a full time program.  He’s unable to work because of the time commitment and commute time he has to put into his program, which is fine!  I love the fact he was able to follow a passion of his, but that means our income is down to one.  We’ve been able to keep our emergency fund at a decent level, but it would be nice to have a bit more in the bank for those rainy days (or the days he needs new brakes).  

Here’s the breakdown of what we plan to do for this month:

We would like to put back an extra $500 into our savings during February.  It’s going to be tough.  February is a shorter month and since we’re down to one income it’s going to be hard to do.  We plan on sticking to our grocery budget of $100 per person and stick to our eating out budget of $60 for the month.  We’re also going to take a look around our home to see if there are any items we could potentially sell on Facebook Swap Shops or Craigslist to make a little extra money.  

What are you going to do this month to focus on finances?

If you want to focus on building your emergency fund this time around, take a look at this savings challenge we started back in January. You might be getting a late start, but it’s totally doable and could make a huge impact by the end of this year.

If you want to set your sights on preparing for your first child (or second or fourth) then take a look at an updated version of our financially preparing for a baby. We learned a lot over the first year of our son’s life and would do things a bit differently this time around.

If you’re hoping to start paying down more debt then check out 4 secrets to help jump start your family. 

You could also spend this time saving for a fun vacation and putting money aside for some summer trips you want to plan.  You could create a sinking fund to help you get enough money saved for your next vacation.

Favorite Budget Books

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favorite money books, favorite budget books, best budget books, best money books, meredith rines, merelynne

Growing up we weren’t rewarded for grades or sports achievements. Instead, we were rewarded for reading money books. Strange, I know. But that’s how our Dad worked. He thought that by encouraging us at a young age to get interested in money, savings and thinking bigger picture than we would be better off. I like to think it worked and believe that’s where I got a love of numbers from such an early age. I was recently asked what money books did I read as a little girl and would I encourage our son to read them as well.

While I can’t name every book I read (and some were more business related), I wanted to go through my top four for you.  If you haven’t read these then I suggest taking a look or adding them to your wish list.  They are monumental in helping shift your brain into breaking that paycheck-to-paycheck so many of us are stuck in.  Plus, the reading is usually pretty light, which is perfect after a long day of chasing toddlers around.  

Here we go, my favorite budget books:

Rich Dad Poor Dad

Richest Man In Babylon

The Total Money Makeover

The Simple Dollar

My favorite by far is probably Richest Man In Babylon.  I read that and it changed the way I think of savings.  I realized why my parents had me put back 10% of my weekly allowance into a savings envelope and then once a quarter we drove to the bank to deposit into our own savings account.  

I do plan on carrying on the tradition by having Dent read some money and budgeting books as well.  They offer Financial Peace Junior for little ones and I think that might be a good place to start once he’s a bit older.  He already has a savings account and any time he gets a little money for birthdays or Christmas, we deposit the money into his account. 

What are some of your favorite money or budget books?


How We Schedule Our Money Dates, What We Talk About, and How We Make Sure Our Budget Is On AutoPilot | January Budget Q&A

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I’m popping in real quick today to answer your budgeting questions. Each month I sit down to answer any questions YOU have when it comes to money, home management, organization, being a crazed Mom, and so on.  Over the past few weeks I heard from a few of you about getting the new year off on the right foot.  So I’m digging deeper into how we schedule our money dates, and how we make sure our bills on auto-pay get taken care of without any hiccups.

If you’re new around here (hi!) then you should know each month I try to sit down to answer any questions you have. It’s probably my favorite post of the month, if I’m being honest. I love being able to help you make your life a little bit easier.  So if you have any questions, be sure to leave a comment below or you can message me on Facebook or send me an email from my contact page.  

This month I received a few questions about money dates. Specifically how to schedule a money date and what you should talking about with your spouse.  I also am answering how we set our budget on autopilot, which means our money dates can be a lot shorter!

You can watch this month’s Q&A online or down below:

To cut straight to what interests you, check out the time stamps.

  1. How We Schedule Our Money Dates – 1:08
  2. What We Talk About On Our Money Dates – 3:08
  3. How We Make Sure Bills Get Paid – 7:07

Also, if you need more advice or have any questions then check out the previous month’s Q&A’s. 





For more posts on budgeting, check out these favorites:

How We Plan Our Time In Advance

How To Have A Money Date

Get Your Bill Tracker

Need More Help?

If you’re looking for a great tool to help keep your family on budget, then check out out my budget spreadsheet.  Each month is laid out right in front of you where you can keep track of what you budget and what you actually spend. Now you’ll know in real time how you’re doing each month.

Our Evening Routine For A 21 Month Old

Our Evening Routine For A 21 Month Old, bedtime routine, make bedtime easy, sleep training your baby, sleep training your toddler, meredith rines, merelynne

What does your typical evening routine for a 21 month old (or around that age) look like? 

I’m lucky because both me and my husband are home most nights so we handle our son’s bedtime routine together.  We usually trade off jobs for our little guy – one gives the bath while the other one gets his room picked up and pajamas laid out.  Then the next night we switch.  I’ll admit though… Dent prefers J to give him his bath because he plays a lot harder and splashes a lot more water.

We found by sticking to a similar routine each night, it makes things a lot easier on our little guy (and us). The nights we have to switch things up or are running behind are the nights we tend to pay for it… plus it may take Dent a night or two to get back on track, too.  Here’s are average evening routine for a 21 month old:


Pick up the little one from the sitter and come home to help with dinner.  We usually have dinner by 5:30 or so and typically J will have it started by the time we get home.  So it’s just a few finishing touches then we sit down together at the kitchen table.  After we eat it’s clean up time.  We usually clean the kitchen together – one of us putting away dirty dishes while the other one wipes down the table and entertains Dent.

6:00 – 7:00

Playtime.  We don’t work on any other chores around the house and focus on playing with Dent.  If the weather is nice, which it’s the middle of winter in Southeast Missouri so the weather is never nice, we will go outside to play on the swing set.  If we’re inside then we play, work on colors and shapes together and just spend time as a family.

7:00 – 7:30

We start our bedtime routine.  Dent gets a bath, we read for a few minutes and then it’s off to bed.  He’s usually sound asleep by 7:30 on most nights – some nights are better than others, but he’s pretty good about falling asleep quickly.

7:30 – 8:00

We work on any laundry that needs to get done and then we focus on chores around the house. We try to tackle a different house chore each night so by the weekend we aren’t spending all day cleaning or catching up on laundry.

Monday – dishes and clean kitchen
Tuesday – laundry and sweep
Wednesday – dust, clean kitchen and clean bathrooms
Thursday – laundry, sweep and mop

On the weekends we try to keep the house picked up and the kitchen straightened so it’s not hard to get back on track the next week.

8:00 – 9:30

After the house and chores all are done, then it’s time to relax.  J and I usually pile on the couch with our dogs, blankets and I grab the laptop.  We watch a show on Netflix and I work on editing a video or finishing up a blog post. 

Here’s a few tips to make nighttime a bit easier:

Divide and conquer – if able too.  If not, then just try to plan as much as possible.  On the nights I’m home alone or J is we make sure to get any pajamas laid out before bath time so we aren’t scrambling around. 

Get ready for the next morning – I like to make his milk with any medicine (that he gets with breakfast) and his sippy cup for the sitter’s house the night before.  I get all the cups, snacks, and diaper bag ready to walk out the door before we go to bed.  That way if we’re running behind or he sleeps in then I don’t have to worry about it. 

Buy easy to prepare breakfast foods – this goes along with getting things ready (and not much on the evening routine, but it helps!).  I like to have breakfast foods that are easy to heat up and serve.  So if that means scrambling some eggs before going to bed so I just have to heat them up the next morning then so be it.

Teach your little one to pick up toys – I love that Dent helps pick up toys before going to bed.  Now I’ll admit he isn’t perfect, but he does help! 

Use a white noise machine (here’s the one we use) to help them sleep through the night. We love our machine, it helps drown out any outside noises, the dogs, and us in the morning while we’re getting ready.

Be consistent – it’s important to be consistent with your evening routine.  I know it’s hard to be perfect 100% of the time, but sticking to a schedule really does help your little one to go to bed easier without fighting.

When he was a lot younger we followed a simple routine to help sleep train him.  It saved our sanity so much! So, what do you incorporate in your evening routine for a 21 month old? Leave a comment below!

How To Block Your Time To Get More Done

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One of my biggest productivity secrets is all about how I schedule my time. As Moms our brains are working overdrive constantly. We may try to be focused on laundry, but our mind is thinking about an upcoming client meeting. Then as we’re sitting in the floor playing with our little one we’re thinking about the dishes in the sink and they’re driving us crazy.

That’s just what being a mom is all about – constantly thinking ahead and multitasking.  Nothing wrong with it, but it’s hard to be present with our spouse and with our children when we’re always thinking about what else needs to get done.

Besides my Mom notebook that contains every little thing I have running through my brain, I’ve discovered a great way to get more done and be more present with my family. 

Want in on the secret…?

You have to block your time.

Recently I started blocking time in my calendar and breaking my day into hour increments.  It is amazing and works wonders for me! 

You can watch the video online or down below:

Here’s how you block your time to get more done:

Instead of scheduling every single detail down to the minute, you dedicate a specific period of time to an area of your life.  Like house work, career, family time, me time, and so on.  Keep all of your to-do’s in a handy notebook so when you’re getting ready to focus on a specific time block you know what you need to do.  You may need to spend the first 5 minutes of each separate block prioritizing what’s most important, but once you have a game plan then you can get started.  Now you don’t have to jump from one area of your life to another, which means you can actually focus on the task at hand.  

When the period of time is over, I close down and move onto the next area.  It really helps my sanity.

Here’s how I block my time:

5:00 – 7:00 am is for getting ready, getting breakfast made and working on my blog.  I like to make sure I’m showered, dressed and ready for the day then I’ll spend any other free time (usually an hour) on making breakfast, checking emails and making sure any blog post is ready to go live.

7:00 – 8:00 am is for getting Dent up and dressed, feeding him breakfast then heading out the door to drop him off at the sitter.  Typically I get to work about 7:30 each morning, which gives me time to check my personal emails and make my to-do list for the day.

8:00 – 12:00 pm is for working. I focus my attention on my clients, appointments, preparing illustrations, and so on.  I try not to think about blog work or anything like that.  

12:00 – 1:00 pm is for filming any new content and then eating lunch.  I run home on my lunch hour to film a new video (or two) and then I reheat leftovers from the night before to eat before coming back to work.  Each morning (when I arrive to work at 7:30) I make my to-do list for the day.  In that list is what video I want to record and make sure my talking points are ready to go.  So when I get home I just have to sit down and hit record.

1:00 – 5:00 pm is for working again.  I finish up the day with any meetings, networking events, and so on.

5:00 – 7:30 pm is for family time, playing with Dent and following our evening routine.  As I’ve mentioned before we tend to eat dinner by 5:30 most nights and then we clean up the kitchen afterwards.  Once dishes are done then we sit down to play as a family.  Then it’s bedtime for Dent around 7:30.

7:30 – 9:30 pm is for straightening the house, doing laundry then relaxing with J on the couch, editing any videos, finishing blog posts and working on

Tips for Buying in Bulk

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Do you buy in bulk from any membership stores? We love Sam’s Club at our house (not that we have anything against Costco, but they aren’t as close to us). I’ve been a member since college thanks to my Dad’s office extending me a card. These days my purchases are much different than at 22 (which usually consisted of wine, chips, and sorority necessities for any events).  Nowadays we like to buy meat when they have it on sale, bread for lunches and any other frozen meals that are a good deal.  We also stock up on dog bones a few time each year.  

Watch the video online or down below for some of my best tips for buying in bulk:

We’ve learned with this whole budgeting thing that it’s best to buy certain items at wholesale clubs, but you have to be careful. Some items are more costly per unit and the expiration dates make it hard to use in time. Here are a few of my favorite tips for buying in bulk:

Buy Non-Perishable Items

We love buying toilet paper, paper towels, detergent and so on in bulk. If there isn’t an expiration date then sign us up. Most food items we tend to not buy in bulk. Since our little guy doesn’t eat a lot, it’s just the two of us consuming majority of the food.  Now while I love a good bag of pretzel crisps, it doesn’t mean I need 2 giant bags that size of my head in my cabinet.

In contrast, if you have a larger family and you go through 5 gallons of milk in a week then by all means buy in bulk.  You need to know your family and what is best for you. If they have a really good deal on fruit, but you know your family won’t eat it before it goes bad then don’t buy it (but you can freeze it and make smoothies out of it).  You just need to know what works and what won’t work. 

Compare Unit Prices

Most prices on store labels will have a unit price or a price per pound on it. Make sure you compare those to the ones at your local grocery store. Just because it’s in a bigger package at Costco or Sam’s Club doesn’t mean it’s always a good deal. 

Don’t Buy On Impulse

This is one of the worst mistakes you can make at a wholesale club. Just because it looks like a good deal and you get excited about it, doesn’t mean you need to buy it. Make sure you think your purchases through.

Have A Plan

This tip goes with the previous one. Before you step foot into any store have a list of what you need. If you don’t have a list it’s like you’re going in blind and with no direction. You end up putting things in your cart that you don’t need nor really want, which means you spend more money. That money could go to other parts of your budget, so make sure to stick to your list.

Shop Around and Know The Prices

Do your research. Before we go to the store I will search for the bigger, most expensive items we want to buy online. I will compare the unit prices from Sam’s Club to Amazon to Walmart. That way I know without a doubt I am getting the most inexpensive item possible.

Split With Someone

If you find an amazing deal on a case of toilet paper, but couldn’t imagine going through that much then split it. Find a family member or a friend to go in with you. I used to do this in college.  I would go in with a friend on some toilet paper and paper towels every few months.  We would split the cost and the items. That way we had enough to last us and didn’t have to hid extra toilet paper under our bed when it wouldn’t fit in the cabinet.

Chores For Toddlers {How To Know What Jobs To Give and Ways To Introduce Them}

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Does your little one help around the house? We have a few ‘chores’ around the house that our little guy helps with. Recently I sat down to answer your questions about what chores specifically he does. 

You can watch the video of Chores For Toddlers online or down below:

Here’s the chores our little guy does to help out:


He helps with taking the wet clothes from the washer and puts them in the dryer. Sometimes he misses and we end up picking we clothes up off the floor or from hanging half-way out. There are even times where he’ll take wet socks into the family room to show Daddy what he’s doing. But he tries and that’s all that matters.

Feeding the Dogs

We also have him help with feeding our dogs.  J usually helps fill the measuring cup and then Dent puts the food in each dog’s bowl.  Some nights it’s a struggle to get him to stop.  He loves filling the bowls up and wants to keep doing it after the dogs already have the right amounts.

Putting the Dogs Away

With three dogs we have found it’s best to put the bigger one (he’s also the youngest one) in a kennel before we leave.  The other two get a treat as we’re walking out the door.  Dent’s job is to take a treat and put Bud in his kennel. Then as I latch the door he gives a treat to the other two dogs.  They’re patient with him because sometimes he wants to give it to them in the kitchen other times he wants them to be in the family room.

Putting Away Toys Before Bed

With a little guidance our son can help put away his toys. He’s not perfect at it and sometimes he just gets them near the container, but he’s trying.

Sweeping and Swiffering the Floors

The broom and swiffer are his favorite toys in the whole house. So it’s no surprise that he loves to push the broom around. We prefer if he pushes the Swiffer because at least he can get some dog hair picked up.

How to introduce new chores

This part is always a little tricky for me.  It really has two parts and they both have to deal with you as the parent, not the child.  

First – be patient

Second – don’t expect perfection

Our little boy surprises me daily with the things he helps with, picks up and brings to us.  He really does love helping others, it’s so apparent.  So for us, it’s all about being patient to teach him what we want and the outcome.  Then it’s about being okay with mistakes.  

Do I like having dog food spilled on our kitchen floor?  Of course not.  But he’s learning.  Some days are better than others, but with each spill we teach him patience to make sure the job gets done right.  

When we think he’s ready for a new “chore” we contemplate how to break it down.  For instance, with feeding the dogs.  The first step we did was fill the measuring cup and take it over to the right bowl.  As we were over the bowl then we handed the cup to our son to fill, but our hands stayed on it.  As he got more stubborn and able to figure it out, we handed the cup to him to fill the bowl once we brought it over.  Now, he’s able to take the bowl from the container and fill the bowls (or mostly fill) them all on his own.  

It’s all about progression, not perfection.

So if you have something you want your toddler to help with or learn then figure out how to break it down into steps.  Start with the easiest step first then work your way backwards.  If they make mistakes, then take a deep breath and know it will be okay.  Like I said in the video – if the mess is big enough then we’ll sweep or mop afterwards.  But for the most part we just let it happen.

What chores does your little one do? Leave a comment letting me know! I would love to add a few more to his list.

Our Debt Story – How We Got Here and How Far We’ve Come

our debt story, paying off debt, debt free journey, meredith rines, merelynne

Today’s post is a little different than most you’ll see on the blog.  Instead of sharing tips and money help, I’m going to tell you a little story.  A story about how our family got into over $70,000 worth of debt without realizing it.  You see, it’s so easy to spend money.  To open a new credit card.  To qualify for that new car loan.  Before long you have a car that has more debt than it’s worth and a credit card that’s charging you monthly interest more than your minimum payment.  

You don’t see a way out.  It’s a vicious cycle that keeps repeating itself.  

Well one day, we weren’t able to get everything we needed at the grocery store because we didn’t have enough in our bank account and our credit card would work.  It was heartbreaking and a huge light bulb moment for us.  

We needed more money.

But how?

We had decent jobs, were making good money and we thought we were living below our means.  But we were so WRONG.

You can watch our debt story online or down below.  Keep reading for more.

We sat down and created a budget.  I remember I grabbed an old clipboard and a piece of copy paper, we sat down on my great grandmother’s flowered couch we were given and got to work.  

We listed out our income – I vividly remember having to log in to our bank statement to see how much we were making.  We had no clue.  Our checks were directly deposited each week, so we never bothered to actually look at the stubs.  We knew a good guess, but it wasn’t exact and we guessed higher than it actually was.

We jotted down our expenses – again having to look at our online banking to know.  We added up our grocery trips, which we made a lot back in those days.  Need bread for dinner? Stop after work.  Ran out of soda?  That’s okay, we can grab some while we’re out.

When we started adding up our eating out totals, that’s when reality set in.  That’s where our money was going.  We were wasting it and on what? 

It was shameful. 

After we created our first list of income and expenses, we just stared at it.  There we were – 20 something year olds and we were in shock.  We had no clue what we made, what we spent and where our money went.  But here it was in black and white.

We then sat down the next night, because the first night was a doozy to create a new budget.  We talked out every expense – how much should we be spending on groceries each month, what about eating out, why is our cell phone bill so high?  All of these questions we had to answer and we had to do it ourselves.  

That next week I spent the better part of a day calling companies to see about lowering bills, turning features off and researching lower cost options.  We switched car insurance providers, removed some fancy features from our cable lineup and set hard budgets for eating out and groceries.  We also decided to start using cash instead of our debit card and credit card.  It was a hard transition at first and we used our debit card a few times as a safety net.  

But after a few months we started to see progress.  We were actually able to get everything we needed at the store.  We cherished our date nights out or dinner with friends because we didn’t do it all the time anymore.  

The first time we were able to send MORE than the minimum payment to the credit card company was a great feeling.  We knew we found something that worked.  

Each week we would sit down together, on that old couch, and update our budget.  We made sure we weren’t going over and we checked to see what else still needed to be paid.  We stopped paying bills late because we created a bill tracker to help us.  We kept it on the clipboard we used that first night. It became the budget clipboard.  Our budget was printed out each month and placed on the clipboard that sat next to our fridge.  We also kept our tracker, our debt payoff letters, and debt thermometer on there, too.

The first time we received a letter stating a debt was paid in full, was amazing.  We were so excited.  I wanted to frame it and actually looked around our house for a frame, but couldn’t find one – I knew going to the store to buy one would be defeating the purpose.  So I put it on the fridge.  Then another one came and another one.  Finally we started keeping them with our budget spreadsheets so we could see them every time we sat down to update it.

It’s been over four years since we started tackling our debt.  We aren’t done yet, but we are close.  We have two school loans left and my car.  Our plan is to have my car paid off when J gets out of school next spring. Then we will be focusing on our school loans and saving for our dream home. 

Each month I share a recap of our budget from the previous month.  You can check out last month’s here and see our current debt payoff totals.


Having a budget has helped us more than just paying off debt.  It’s given us financial confidence.  J has been able to go back to school full-time, which means we’re down to just my income.  And it’s okay.  We’re doing great.  We’re still able to live the lifestyle we were living before he quit.  Sure we aren’t able to put as much into savings or put towards our school loans, but we’re still making progress.  Before he left his job and started school, we did a few things:

We built our emergency fund

We saved enough for our insurance deductibles

We paid off all other debts except for my car and our school loan

We sold J’s truck and bought a small car to save on gas (he drives close to 3 hours a day, 5 days a week to get to class)

Need More Help?

If you’re looking for a great tool to help keep your family on budget, then check out out my budget spreadsheet.  Each month is laid out right in front of you where you can keep track of what you budget and what you actually spend. Now you’ll know in real time how you’re doing each month.

Top Budget Busters and How To Beat Them

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You’ve tried, Lord knows how hard you’ve tried to keep your budget under control. But out of nowhere an unexpected purchase just throws you off. Now you’re annoyed and want to give up. 

Sound familiar? Well it should because that’s most of us (maybe even all of us).  As Moms, we work hard all day to keep our home organized, our lives and family members in order, we have to manage our time, kids’ time while getting to work every day to provide for our families.  It’s hard.  The last thing we need is something to through our perfect plan into a tailspin. 

Maybe you forgot to stock up on something you typically buy in bulk, you’ve run out and didn’t save room in the budget this month.  It happens.  

Perhaps you have an unexpected work event or something comes up and you need to hire a babysitter last minute.  

For my family, it’s always something with the cars. One needs new brakes, the other needs new tires and they both need an oil change. With my husband driving a lot more lately, we go through a lot more gas, oil changes and tires than we used to. I try to budget for them using a simple method we use for any big expense, but it gets tiring.  This year I vowed to do a better job scheduling these “unexpected” expenses.  

The bottom line is we know their coming, at some point.  We don’t know when, but we know it’s going to happen.  So what we’ve started doing (and I talked more about it in my December budget check-in) is budgeting a flat amount each month to put aside.  That way then something comes up, we can transfer money from a savings account to help cover it.  It might look a little strange in that particular month’s budget spreadsheet, but at least we know we have the money set aside and we won’t be pulling from our emergency fund or taking away from another category.

Here are the top budget busters and how you can beat them.  You can watch online or down below:

Groceries – You’ve planned your meals, looked through your pantry and freezer before going to the store.  You took inventory of everything else that you might need for the next few weeks, too.  You do your grocery shopping, you make sure to stick right to your budget.  You get home and a few days later you realized you forgot something – something more than a few dollars.  You have to have it, so you head back to the store.  I recommend having bigger items that you need on a regular basis on auto-ship.  We use amazon and we may make a quarterly trip to Sam’s Club for anything else.  But we typically get the same items each trip and we get enough to last us until our next visit.  Amazon Subscribe and Save is a great feature – I know other stores have this ability too.  We have our baby wipes, toothpaste, toilet paper, paper towels, etc. on this.  

Not planning easy dinners – You finish your meal plan and are super proud.  You have a week’s worth – or two – of delicious and healthy meals.  Flash forward three or four days and you’ve had a heck of a day.  You’re tired, your spouse is tired, your kid is tired and you do not want to even think about cooking dinner.  That’s why you need easy dinners.  Something you can throw in your crock pot that morning (we use ours a few times a week during busy times – like holidays and tax season).  Something you can bulk up to have leftovers one night during the week.  If you have a lazy Sunday then make a few freezer meals to have ready on those nights.

Traveling and Eating Out – Traveling can be a real budget drain. You may book your tickets at a good price, get a good deal on your hotel or be staying with family and friends, but when it comes to eating – that’s where you loose most of your money.  Try to be prepared.  If you’re driving then pack a bag and cooler full of snacks, easy lunches and drinks.  That way you don’t have to stop at a fast food place to get lunch on your way.  You can pack your kiddos’ snacks so you don’t have to buy something when you get there or stop at a thousand different places when you’re kid gets hungry – and they’re always hungry.  Look around for local deals like groupon, coupons or sign up for their reward programs a few days before you leave to get any coupons or special deals.

Car maintenance – Take a look at how much you spent last year on car maintenance.  Then get a monthly average.  You should be setting aside that amount each month into a savings account.  That way when an expense comes up, you have the money set aside.  Also, take a good look at your vehicles and see if they will need to be any repairs this year.  Will you need new tires?  How are your brakes? When was the last time you replaced the battery? I know not everything you can be prepared for, sometimes a car just breaks down but having some money put aside will make the sting a little less painful.  We took our annual spending for anything car related, divided by 12 to get a monthly average.  Then we added 10 dollars to it just to be on the safe side.  If you can’t afford your monthly average, then do what you can.  Put back whatever amount you can or set aside any bonuses you have for maintenance.

For more information and budgeting help, check out these posts:

How To Afford Anything You Want

How To Tracking Your Spending

Our Favorite Budget Template

Need More Help?

If you’re looking for a great tool to help keep your family on budget, then check out out my budget spreadsheet.  Each month is laid out right in front of you where you can keep track of what you budget and what you actually spend. Now you’ll know in real time how you’re doing each month.

How Much We Spent In December With Christmas and Traveling | December Budget Check-In

december budget check in, budget check in, how much do we spend, how much to spend, meredith rines, merelynne

It’s time for another budget recap.

Oh my goodness! December is over and I have no idea where the last week of the month went. I had so many plans to get so much done before the New Year and I am still working on that list.  It took me a little longer than usual to get caught up on last month’s final budget recap. Christmas and then New Year really did a number on my routines and totally threw me into a whirl. 

I always do really good when I get to work a few minutes early each day to update our budget and go through our online bank statement to make sure everything has cleared.  When I’m out of the office for a few days then my habit of getting there by 7:30 usually goes right out the window, which means the time I have to update our budget is usually gone.  Now that we’re into the second week of 2018, I’m finally working my habits back into what works best for us.

Alright, enough with the excuses. Let’s get down to business.  Here is this month’s budget recap and check in to our envelope tracking system.  As you probably remember we use the budget spreadsheet I created years ago.  It’s easy to follow and really helps us keep up with how much we’ve spent and how much we have left each month. 

If you’re new to budgeting, then I recommend finding a system that works for you.  It’s okay to have a few trial and errors along the way, and to test our multiple systems to make sure it’s easy for you.  Finding something that’s simple and easy to update will encourage you to stick with it.  At the end of the day we’re striving for progress not perfection when it comes to budgeting.  You have to be willing to forgive yourself (and your partner) of any mistakes that are made and keeping finding new ways to improve your spending habits.  

Recently I shared why we like to review our budget at the beginning of a new year to make sure we’re on track to hit our financial goals.  You can read about how we do that on last month’s Budget Q&A post.

Watch this month’s recap online or down below:

As you can see we had a few bumps in December. We budgeted for Christmas and that worked out great, but with travel and sickness it hurt us a little bit.  That’s okay though, we realized we needed to be a little more prepared for doctor visits and medicines in the upcoming year so we made an adjustment to our 2018 budget.  All we did was average how much we spent on doctor visits, medicines and other medical related bills in 2017 and averaged them out.  We assumed that 2018 would be similar to last year so we’re using that number as a monthly budget goal – we took our average of 2017 and divided by 12 to get a monthly amount.  Now we’re simply setting aside that amount each month to make sure we have a cushion for when the flu bug hits our house again.

We also traveled more than we realized and usually that means eating out.  So our eating out budget shows a little more than average in December.  Again, that’s okay.  We know why and we can then be better prepared when it happens again.  

It’s all about progress not perfection.

Need More Help?

If you’re looking for a great tool to help keep your family on budget, then check out out my budget spreadsheet.  Each month is laid out right in front of you where you can keep track of what you budget and what you actually spend. Now you’ll know in real time how you’re doing each month.