Making a Budget Work – Attempt #1

Warning: word vomit. But maybe it’ll help someone else who’s trying to make/stick to a budget.

Photo by 401(k) 2012
Photo by 401(k) 2012

I really can’t remember if I said anything here on the blog or not, but this year, we’re trying something… new.

My goal is to keep us on a budget for the entire year. And then, hopefully, it’ll be a habit, y’know?

We started January 1, and I stayed with it the entire month. The other day, I sat down and tallied everything up, just to see what actually happened, despite all my intentions.

Some of it was really, really encouraging. Some of it was really discouraging.

To preface the actual numbers, here’s our living situation:

I don’t have a job, besides writing, which doesn’t exactly pay anything right now. Also, the last two jobs I’ve had, I was laid off, all within the span of a year. So I just decided not to invest my time there, for the time being.

My sister lives with us, because of some frustrating sets of circumstances outside of her control. She is not able to work currently, and we provide most of her food, though Mom helps with some of that, and with all of her other expenses. Except for my sister’s cat. But a total of two cats in the household really don’t eat that much.

Mr. Loper works full-time, in a very good job that he was able to get three years ago, in the field that he wanted to be in, and we are so grateful for that.

We are blessed that he also gets a $0.25 raise every 3 months (for a total of a $1 raise each year), so his wages are slowly increasing until he caps out for his position, which won’t happen for several years. He gets paid every 2 weeks, so there’s also 2 months out of the year with an ‘extra’ paycheck. I’m hoping to save most of the money from those checks, with the exception of the increased grocery budget those weeks.


After taxes, insurance premiums, and the FSA are taken out, assuming 2 paydays per month, we have about $2000/month for everything else. What’s really nice is in those months when there’s an ‘extra’ paycheck, ONLY taxes come out of it. Someone along the way just decided that everything else would only come out twice a month, and so when we have that ‘extra’ check, there’s EXTRA on it. It’s wonderful.

We have two debts right now – the mortgage (because buying a house really was cheaper than renting, and at least I have a yard now, so I can garden!), and Winnie’s radiation therapy. We were able to pay about half of the radiation up front, and get the other half interest-free for 18 months with a balance transfer offer from one of our credit cards (This will be paid off by June of 2016, if not earlier).

We paid the car off before I quit the last full-time job (I am very introverted, and was spending 40+ hours a week interacting with the general public, I was very major burnt-out) I had back in… 2010? 2011? Somewhere back there. It’s been a while.

I am hoping to get more chickens this spring, and start selling surplus eggs late summer/early fall. But we’ll see.

Onto the Numbers!

Our estimated monthly budget was:

Mortgage – $550
Groceries – $300
Offerings – $150 (church, missions)
Gas (car) – $120
Animals/Garden – $100
Cell phone – $90
Emergency Fund (working toward $1000 by the end of 2015) – $84
Electric – $80
Utilities (water, sewer, trash) – $80
Car Insurance – $75
Natural gas (heating) – $60
Internet – $50
Winnie’s treatment – $50
*Mr. Loper Allowance – $50
*Rebekah Allowance – $50
Car Maintenance Fund (working toward $500) – $42
Car Registration/Tag – $8
PO Box – $5

Total Estimated Expenses – $1944

*Allowances are optional. If the budget won’t be met with them, then we go without. These allowances include things like haircuts, clothing, etc.

So what actually happened in January?

A lot.

There were a total of six categories where the estimated matched the actual: mortgage, offerings, emergency fund, Mr. Loper’s allowance, Winnie’s treatment, and the PO box.

There were five categories that came in under budget:

Gas (car) – $56.98 ($120)
Electric – $71 ($80)
Natural gas – $51 ($60)
Internet – $46.99 ($50)
Car Maintenance Fund – $5 ($42)

How, exactly, did the car maintenance fund come in under budget, you ask?

Well, I followed a hunch, and I checked our lockbox.

Turned out I had a hefty amount of cash in there from the stocks we sold to pay for the car repairs we needed last year. So my car maintenance fund already has $500. So I just chucked in $5 to get in the habit of putting money in there, and marked it off.

Gas for the car… well, gas prices dropped, in case you’re not in the US. They dropped A LOT. When I compiled the budget back at the end of December, gas was still close to $3/gallon. By the time I needed to fill up again in January? It was UNDER $2/gallon. It’s still under $2/gallon, which is mind-boggling to me. Last time gas prices were this low, I was still driving my very first car. Although I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 21, so it hasn’t really been that long since my first car died. About seven years.

The electric and natural gas are on average monthly payments (average of the current month’s bill + previous 11 months), so I have a ballpark range of what costs should be each month, but there is some variance, so that’s why I have those budgets set slightly higher than what they will be most of the time. In a year, I’ll look at those again and see if it consistently stayed under the budgeted amount, and readjust accordingly.

Internet – it’s always $46.99/month. But our internet provider likes to hike rates with hardly any notice at all. In the four years we’ve had internet (because we went without the first couple years we were married because it wasn’t in the budget), it’s gone up $15. Yeah, when first started off, it was $32.99/month. It makes me sad. The last rate hike was $4 at once. That was early last year. I was ticked.

So, that’s why the internet budget is not $46.99. I’m anticipating another rate hike sometime in the next year, honestly. Or that they’ll finally start charging us whenever we (rarely) go over our monthly data allotment.

Now… for the painful part.

Categories where we exceeded the budget:

Groceries – $306.15 ($300)
Animals/Garden – $247.25 ($100)
Cell phone – $208.83 ($90)
Utilities – $82.48 ($80)
Car Insurance – $90 ($75)
Car Registration/Tag – $30 ($8)
Rebekah allowance – $59.07 ($50)

With the car insurance and tag… about the second week of January, I realized I’d made a grave error.

I had budgeted for those things as if I had six months (insurance) and twelve months (tag) to save.

In actuality, I have until the end of March for the car tag, and mid-May for the car insurance. So I had to increase how much I’m putting in those ‘funds’ to have enough to pay for those when they are due. After that, those categories will no longer exceed budget.

I’m actually pretty happy about the grocery budget. Only $6 over means I tried. I tried really, really hard, and for some reason, I just couldn’t make it work. Keep in mind: my grocery budget also includes household goods, like toilet paper and dish soap. Not just food. If I can find a way to fit $20-50 more a month into the grocery budget, I think we’ll be fine. I’m thinking about taking $20 from the gas budget and slapping it on here.

Cell phone – the ONLY reason this exceeded budget, instead of coming in under, was because we are preparing to switch phone providers. Mr. Loper worked 16 hours of overtime right before Christmas, and it showed up on his first check in January, so we had some extra money to take care of a few things we knew we were going to need to do. Like buy new phones (we’re switching to Straight Talk) and minutes. Those are currently sitting until we’re actually ready to switch, which will hopefully be closer to the end of February. But it means we won’t have to pay the cell phone budget AT ALL one month, because it’s already paid.

My allowance was just me being selfish and impatient. That $9 over will be deducted from my NEXT allowance.

Aaaaaand saving the second-worst for last… the animal/garden budget.

I had a feeling when I set it at $100 that it wasn’t going to be enough. I was right, but a lot of January’s expenses that pushed it over were irregular ones.

Like getting Bear neutered. Two ‘cones of shame’ for Bear. He destroyed the second one in less than 12 hours, and I gave up after that. Ned’s necropsy (which probably technically could have come out of the emergency fund, but since I had the money otherwise, I didn’t want to touch it).

In theory, I want all seeds, garden equipment, animal food, chicken feed, litter, and vet expenses, etc. to come out of this fund. But I think it’s going to need to be more like $150-200/month for that to be feasible, so we’ll see. Because I don’t know how to make $50-100 appear right now.

Now for the REALLY FUN (sarcasm, lots of sarcasm here) part.

Our un-budgeted expenses, in addition to the over-budget categories above, was $492.79.


That was ordering pizza twice, because I was too exhausted to make dinner. That was my hard drive dying, and purchasing a replacement hard drive (that may need to be returned because it isn’t working), and purchasing an external hard drive because I’m never going to have the threat of losing all my writing again. Just no. That was… um… well… tickets for Phantom of the Opera in April. And $25 worth of library fines, because I hadn’t payed them for, um… a few years.

Phantom tickets were probably (definitely) something we could have done without. But Mr. Loper and I have both really been wanting to go since we heard they were definitely coming back to our area. And if it was going to fit in the budget, it was going to be now. So oh well.

The library fines are completely avoidable if I can just remember to return my books on time. I’ve been getting things from the library for as long as I can remember. You’d think I had this down by now. But nope.


January was full of learning curves. Hopefully February’s budget will be better, especially since there’s only 28 days. Whoo!

Have you tried to budget before, with success or failure? Are you new to budgeting? Or are you a veteran? Any tips are welcome!

Recent Comments

  • Lissa Clouser
    February 4, 2015 - 4:49 pm · Reply

    Honestly, even despite all the GAH parts of it, it sounds like you’re doing pretty well. Half the difficulty of having a budget is remaining conscious of the budget. If you are just thinking longer term than ‘oo money now’, you’re already working toward a great goal and will start making better choices.

    Two debts? You’re so cute. (And lucky.) *pats*

    • Rebekah Loper
      February 4, 2015 - 8:41 pm · Reply

      Yeah, I’ve definitely developed more of an awareness of just what I’m spending money on, and really, if I can eliminate the OMG SO TIRED ORDER PIZZA things (even just by having some homemade pizzas in the freezer instead), then I can find the extra money for the grocery budget, at least. Hopefully.

      Hah, I don’t know that ONLY two debts is cute and lucky. Some of it is – neither of us have had a major illness. But most of it has been hardwork, and making sacrifices. It was the choice early on in our marriage that we wanted the freedom of less debt vs. luxuries. We wanted a simpler lifestyle, which is definitely personal preference, but sometimes we both get so high-strung so easily that we NEED the simpler lifestyle to force us to calm down. So, yeah, it’s all about choices and what your own life needs to look like.

  • jeanmariebauhaus
    February 4, 2015 - 5:00 pm · Reply

    Our “budget” basically consists of tallying up all of our bills and expected expenses at the beginning of each month to see how much we need to be sure to earn that month, after we subtract my husband’s fixed income. Usually, we just manage to bring in what we need, although we’re trying our darnedest to bring in enough extra to build a badly-needed emergency fund.

    • Rebekah Loper
      February 4, 2015 - 8:44 pm · Reply

      *hugs* Oh, I know that feeling, Jean. About a year before we got married, we had to seriously evaluate what we wanted in life, and how we would be able to afford a home together, and it resulted in both of us going “Yeah, we’ve gotta get better jobs.” I think at that point he was making $7ish/hr, and I was making $6.50, and I was only part time. It was crazy!

      • jeanmariebauhaus
        February 5, 2015 - 2:09 pm · Reply

        Yeah, I actually had a pretty good job back when we bought our house (after discovering that yes, it is indeed cheaper here to buy than to rent). Then five months after we moved here–specifically so I could be closer to work and not have to commute 90 miles round trip every day–I got laid off. That’s when I became a freelancer, which went great for a while, but then last year my web design business basically went belly-up and I tried to find a full-time job, I learned that several years of being out of the traditional work force and being my own boss rendered me “unhire-able.” So pretty much the only hope I have of getting a good, steady job is going back to school and getting my Master’s, which will somehow magically make me hire-able again, according to the job experts.

        Thankfully, business picked back up after I switched my focus to writing and editing, so it’s keeping us afloat. At any rate, freelancing makes budgeting tricky, since my income is so unpredictable.

  • Leigh Caroline
    February 4, 2015 - 8:25 pm · Reply

    I’m trying hard to get savings built up again. The move a few years ago combined with being out of work for that year ate all mine, and I’m finally making more than my basic expenses again. Admittedly, I could cut a lot of things out of our food and drinks budget, but I hate feeling deprived when I can afford things I like. Combine that with slowly trying to save for the glasses I want (Ok I don’t REALLY need high index, but the polycarb is half an inch thick and puts dents on my nose, so I want it and transitions, which is going to be around $400 for my new glasses with my insurance,), and yeah. Maybe by this time next year I can save at least 1k that isn’t earmarked for anything else.

    • Rebekah Loper
      February 4, 2015 - 8:48 pm · Reply

      I am… oddly reassured by the fact that there is someone out there with worse vision than me. Polycarb lenses are still a better choice for me than plastic lenses (which WOULD be 1/2″ thick on me).

      I have a hard time with not having a few treats, myself, and it’s part of why I’m trying to make sure we both get an ‘allowance’ each month. My splurge this month is going to be the next Goodwill 1/2 price sale later this month, though, lol. I also need to treat myself to some new books occasionally. New PAPER books. Not ebooks.

      • Leigh Caroline
        February 7, 2015 - 7:17 pm · Reply

        *laughs* Last time (about 3 years ago) that I got mine done, I have a -6.25 and a -6.75, both with astigmatism. Oddly, I feel like my vision has gotten slightly better, probably because I’m hitting the age where I’ll start getting a bit farsighted too, and it’s probably doing both at once. Dear goodness, yeah, I haven’t had plastic since middle school!! And heh. I’m out of storage space for paper books. It’s ebook acquisitions only until I dent the paper hoard. 😉

        • Rebekah Loper
          February 7, 2015 - 9:08 pm · Reply

          The only reason I have room for books currently is because I cleared a lot out with the massive garage sale back over the summer. I’m trying to resist ebooks until I’ve read a few more of what are on my kindle. >_<

  • Laura Weymouth
    February 4, 2015 - 8:51 pm · Reply

    When we were first married I did the budget for a couple of years. And it was just bad. I’m the saver in our relationship and Tyler is the spender, so it was mostly just me getting super frustrated. Then we switched to him overseeing the budget and everything is SO much better. Like, he keeps even me on a tight leash, let alone himself! If he wants to buy something that’s not in the budget he roots around the house to find stuff he can sell on Craigslist. He’s a big Dave Ramsey fan now so we’re kind of picky about personal expenses (we’re a little more liberal with outings for the kids), and we’re looking to possibly pay off our mortgage in 11 years, which (hooray!) is our only debt.

    Pretty much now the only thing I have to work on is the grocery category and the urban farming category. Groceries we’ve struggled with in the past because like you, we lump household goods into that category as well. And we have two kids in diapers, which are PAINFULLY expensive. This spring hopefully Mags will be potty trained and I’ll switch Rosie over to cloth diapers, which I already have a stash of. Somehow they just never worked for Maggie but Rosie doesn’t mind them. I’m currently trying to fiddle with the grocery budget to get to a place where I can buy significantly more of our food from local farms as opposed to from stores. January we worked really hard to keep on budget and actually managed to not go over for the first time in ages.

    As far as the urban farming category, I’m just trying to make my homesteading endeavors self-sustaining. In December I sold a one-year subscription for a dozen eggs a week and was paid up front, and the funds from that have been covering chicken upkeep quite nicely. I still have a fair bit remaining too, so that should see me through to spring when the hens lay more and I can sell extra eggs. I made my seed purchase around Christmastime when we had some extra money kicking around, so that’s already taken care of.

    Good for you for revamping the budget and working to stick to it! Keep up the good work. Sometimes you’ll have a bad month, but don’t let it discourage you. It’s definitely worth the time and energy to get to a place where you’re not overspending on a regular basis.

      • Laura Weymouth
        February 5, 2015 - 2:08 pm · Reply

        I wouldn’t have thought of it either! I just posted on Facebook that I had an extra dozen eggs a week available for one other family over the winter and Tyler’s boss told me he wanted to buy in for a year. He would have the good business ideas, lol. And it’s great because now the Pink Poultry Palace is fully funded until spring when I can hopefully sell more and my chicken overhead is lower because I don’t have to buy bedding! (As you can see, our budget has forced me to take the self-sufficiency of my chicken project quite seriously!)

  • Maria Zannini
    February 4, 2015 - 9:08 pm · Reply

    I think you’ve done remarkably well considering you have an extra dependent and only one solid source of income.

    The only thing I noticed amiss was home taxes and insurance. Is that included in your mortgage?

    Your utilities and internet are much cheaper than mine. I’m jealous. 🙂

    My budget update shows up on tomorrow’s blog. I’m listing some of the tips I used to save money on groceries.

  • heylookawriterfellow
    February 5, 2015 - 8:35 am · Reply

    Now that I’m working from home Ellen and I have a sort of budget.

    But the one remarkable thing that I have been discovering is just how expensive it was for me to work so far away from my home. Back in the $3 per gallon days, my little car drank $80-$100 in gas every week. (And that doesn’t include Parkway tolls) I’ve been working from home for over a week now and I haven’t even gotten rid of half a tank yet. Also my lunch budget is gone. I’ve had the same $10 bill in my pocket all week. So we’re getting off the right foot.

    For what it’s worth, I think you did a great job in January. No one can predict computer problems or the unintended expenses of The Farm Life. Cut yourself a little slack.

    • Rebekah Loper
      February 5, 2015 - 9:31 am · Reply

      Part of the reason we moved when we did was the rising gas prices back 3 years ago. Since we only have one car, and I need it most days, I have to drop hubby off at work. In the (rented) condo we were in before the house, it was 15 miles one way. So we were driving 60 miles a day just to take hubby to work and to pick him up. We were easily doing $80-100/wk, too.

      Now, a tank of gas will last me 2-3 weeks. Versus one week, tops. But we live two miles from his job now, and it’s wonderful.

  • S.B. Roberts
    February 6, 2015 - 7:57 am · Reply

    You go, girl! It sounds like you have great categories to start off with, and as you learn your spending rhythms, it will get easier.

    My husband and I have been on the hardcore budgeting train for three years now, and it’s been a very freeing experience. He’s more of a saver, and I’m more of a spender, but we’ve been able to find a happy medium. (By the way, having personal spending money is a great idea. It allows that little bit of freedom for when you really want that something-or-other that’s not in the budget.) Setting those boundaries (with a budget) lets him know that we’re saving enough and have everything covered, and it lets me know that I do have $15 to spend on those perfect, adorable shoes without feeling guilty.

    I don’t know what method you’re using, but we’ve been using YNAB (You Need A Budget… yeah, really original). It’s a one time $60, and we feel it was well worth it. It lets us put in all of the receipts, bills, and such in real time and makes it easy to reconcile bills and bank statements. Even comes with some great, free classes on budgeting and money management that helped us a lot. If you’re interested, you can check it out here:

    • Rebekah Loper
      February 7, 2015 - 11:52 am · Reply

      We’re not really using a particular method, though I know several people who have gone through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, so I’ve picked up a few tricks here and there. I’ve looked at several different ‘methods’ over the past few years, but found that most of them didn’t fit our particular needs/lifestyles. I like some of Dave Ramsey’s concepts, but he bases a lot of his budgeting on percentages, and it just didn’t work for our income level. We’re only just now even remotely within reach of the ‘only use 25% of your income to cover your housing’ goal that he has. For most of our marriage, it’s been more like 40-50%. And his food percentage was just laughable. It was 15-20%, and I was like “… than I have $150 a month for groceries & household expense. That just doesn’t work.”

      So a lot of it has been trial and error, but we’ve done okay, and now I’m just thrilled to be at the point of actually setting some savings aside!

      I honestly don’t reconcile my bank statements anymore, especially since I have online access. I know what’s going in and what’s going out all the time, and I write so few checks (about 4 a month) that I’d have to try really hard to lose track of them. Everything else I pay online, for the most part.

      The internet is such a convenient thing. XD

  • mossfighter
    February 8, 2015 - 3:27 pm · Reply

    I’m an accountant in England, no matter where you are in the world or what you do budgeting is very difficult, forecasting is a better word for it. Budgeting implies that you’re cutting costs, that’s not true, you’re trying to see into the future with the benefit of hindsight, Forecasting is a better word, you’re not necessarily trying to cut costs , rather to manage your income and costs so that the first is enough for the last, which may include savings.
    You’ve made a good start, most folk don’t even try it, if you keep going with it and change your focus to a forecast then I think you’ll succeed in getting your personal finances under your own control, see it as a process which you refine and improve every rime you do it and it will work for you. I do wish that more folks would try.

What do you think?

About Rebekah

Rebekah Loper writes character-driven epic fantasy featuring resilient women in trying and impossible circumstances who just want to save themselves but usually end up saving the world, often while falling in love.
She lives in Tulsa, OK with her husband, dog, two formerly feral cats, a small flock of feathered dragons (...chickens. They're chickens), and an extensive tea collection. When she's not writing, she battles the Oklahoma elements in an effort to create a productive, permaculture urban homestead.