Welcome to The Budget Diaries! The Budget Diaries pays homage to some of my favorite blog post series, the Money Diaries of Refinery29 and Cosmopolitan Magazine. In this series, I’ll be interviewing fellow bloggers about their budgeting habits, giving us a small peek into their financial lives.
For this week, we’ll be interviewing Jenny, a personal finance blogger at Living Life, Loving Us, a blog focused on helping young families achieve their financial goals.
Hi, thank you for agreeing to this interview! Will you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m Jenny, a pediatric ER nurse by trade, mom to an adorable toddler. Along with my hubby, Jimmy, I write a family financial blog called Living Life Loving Us.
We started our financial journey a few years ago after going through fertility treatments with our daughter. We were left with over 100k in debt and needed a plan. That triggered a dive head first into the financial independence community.
Fast forward 2 years later. We had not only paid off all of that debt but turned our financial life around. This has brought us not only happiness with money but a feeling of freedom, relief of stress and a happier life overall.
We now have more time to spend with one another as a family, and we focus our money on things that bring us value like traveling and cooking gourmet meals at home. Through a few simple changes, we have managed to pay off debt, career hack to actually work less and make more, and live a life we truly love.
Do you keep a consistent budget?
We do keep a consistent budget. It’s an ever-evolving budget, but we consistently track our expenses. I was actually recently asked what my #1 budgeting tip was. After much, much thought I realized that it was reevaluating your budget on a monthly basis.
Most of your line items will stay the same, but there are often variations in income as well as outgoing expenses. Some months there are irregular expenses, and some months are 3 paycheck months. WIN! You want to be prepared for these, but more importantly, you want to re-evaluate your goals, values, and plans. This transforms budgeting from a financial ‘diet’ of sorts into a lifestyle change that you can maintain. You have your eye on your goal. [You’re] spending your money on what you and your family value at that time in your life. And you’re consistently adjusting to changes. It’s not meant to be deprivation, it’s just meant to create awareness on where your money actually goes.
Related: How To Budget Your Money Wisely
How did you start budgeting?
Our budgeting started a little over 2.5 years ago. We had never really had any debt, made good money, and thought we were doing well. Hello, reality!
We hit a stumbling block and didn’t have a plan. [After that], we spent over 2 years doing fertility treatments, became pregnant with our now daughter, and looked up after the dust settled. We were staring at over 120k in debt, most medical but some just life, and had NO IDEA how to tackle it. Personally, I was convinced we would just be paying a monthly payment for the rest of our lives. Just add it to the car payment, house payment, already existing medical payments, credit cards, etc.
Hubby, on the other hand, was much more analytical and devised a plan. He fell [into] the rabbit hole of the online financial community and came home one day with the idea to “pay off all of our debt in 2 years”. Although skeptical, I got on board and settled in to listen to all of these ‘crazy’ ideas he had, including creating a budget.
And so the budget was born. Our initial budget was archaic, lengthy, complicated and scary. However, we stuck at it because, like anything, it takes time to actually work. We made adjustments, didn’t blame one another for mistakes, and kept at it. After about 3 or 4 months the budget became less scary. We were paying off debts, finding seemingly lost money, and taking charge of our financial lives.
Though our debt is now gone (and those car payments will NEVER return), we have continued to budget. Why? Because we like seeing where our money is going, what we can pull together to save for, how quickly we can reach our goals, and how easily we can create a life we love!
How much is your typical weekly budget?
Typically we don’t track the budget weekly. We have monthly allowances for groceries, eating out, gas, and miscellaneous items. Our budget has become such an effortless part of our life that it all seems to balance out at the end of the month whether we frontload and spend 40% of our grocery budget in the first week or plan a date night and use our eating out budget towards the end. If there is a great sale on our normal household items then I won’t pass it up because we only get $100/per week for groceries. I simply purchase less the next week to balance it out. I will pass it up if we’re at the end of the month and the money just isn’t there though.
To answer your question however, if we divide the monthly budget in to roughly 4 weeks, we budget around $300 on gas, groceries, eating out, and all other non-living expense items. These are the items that we control the budget for. If we have a month where we need to, I can easily cut back on grocery or miscellaneous budget. This works out well if you have a variable income or irregular expenses you would like to cash flow.
What’s a typical week of expenses for you?
A typical week of expenses? As I’ve said, we really focus on the month as a whole as opposed to weekly. We are very transparent with our budget, but I will preface by reminding everyone that a budget is a very personal thing. It’s not all about numbers, it’s about savings rate, your family’s values at that time in your life, and path to achieving your goals. That being said, yes, we could tighten up our budget. In fact, we just downsized and we for sure could have spent a little less or gotten out of our community to lose the HOA fee. BUT we chose a home and a lifestyle that fit our budget and our family! That’s what it’s all about.
So, our monthly expenses, including absolutely everything but our ‘fun’ investment money and vacation budget (actually our largest line item), totals to about $3,800. For some this is high, but for us this has cut us to over a 45% savings rate and it’s ever growing. As our income increases our budget does not. Anything extra is simply that, extra. Also, we have many things that we could cut: protein, nails, car washes, gym, BUT for us it allows us to live the life we live, save more than enough, and still give ourselves a few luxuries.
We work hard to find ways to save without sacrificing our quality of living because we are very comfortable with our savings rate and financial projections right now. If needed, we make cuts. However, I will say that not giving up the HOA with our new, ‘rightsized’ home is something I do not regret one bit. I’m able to take our daughter on runs with me for hours along tree-lined paths. We are only a few minutes from the main community center, park, and pool. AND we can watch sunsets on the dozens of lakes. Every day we enjoy something outdoors. We live in an area that is just vast, treeless lots with cookie cutter houses, so to have this little slice of paradise to call home is well worth the $320 per month.
Our budget definitely evolves. I also always try to keep both grocery and miscellaneous categories under budget, but life happens. [There’s] inevitably something that breaks on the car, maintenance for the house, or even a Spartan Race that we want to sign up for and that miscellaneous budget may be used to it’s full $300 potential. BUT that’s what the budget is there for, to guide you in your choices, make you aware of your spending, and help you take charge of YOUR money.
What do you think is the hardest thing about budgeting?
The hardest thing about budgeting is, by far, starting. It’s terrifying! You don’t want to restrict yourself to something that makes you feel like you’re depriving yourself, that you’re ‘reporting’ your spending to your spouse, or that limits your choices of what to do with your money. You’ve gone years without a budget so why do you need one now?
Well, that’s where finding a goal and what you value comes into place. Maybe you’re just tired of living paycheck to paycheck. Maybe you can’t understand why no matter how much more money you make it never feels like you have any extra. Or maybe you want to pay off a debt or save for more vacations. Whatever your goal is, it gives you something to aim for. It gives budgeting a purpose.
Like I said, the first 3-4 months of our budget were scary, messy and not so much fun to be honest. There were stumbling blocks, learning curves, and adjustments to be made, but after that initial hurdle it was and is easy.
It’s second nature to pay for something then pull out my phone just to jot down what we spent in our budgeting app. Not because we’re ‘reporting’ it. But because we want to track our spending, our savings, and see where we can improve. Once you get past the mental hurdle of actually starting your journey who knows? You may get hooked like we did and end up with money left over at the end of the month wondering “what do I do with this?…”
What advice can you give to anyone who’s interested in budgeting?
Do your research. As you can see from our budget, it’s super personalized. No one’s budget is going to look the same. Maybe some similarities, but most are vastly different. We all have different priorities, values and goals, and that’s the beauty of the financial community. There is enough information out there that you will find what works for you and your family.
Find like-minded people. Budgeting can feel lonely in the beginning, but there are so many people out there with similar stories to yours. Reach out, ask them questions, get tips. Join some facebook groups where you can share your experiences or even your struggles. It’s much easier to do something when you have support.
Talk about it. In the beginning our friends, family and colleagues looked at us like we had 2 heads. They simply couldn’t understand what we were doing or why we were doing it. The concept of having paid off cars and zero debt was foreign to most people we talked to. Talking about [money], in general,l was kind of taboo or awkward, to say the least. As time went on and they saw the things we were able to achieve, the life we were able to live, and the plans we had for the future, they became more and more curious. They would start asking questions, listening to the ‘crazy’ things we were doing, Most importantly, they started realizing that what we were doing wasn’t so crazy. It was simple. We were taking charge of our money, dictating how it would be spent and therefore working less!
Most are still not on 100% but I’m proud of the changes they’ve made and the steps they’ve taken to gain more control of their own finances. Some have downsized homes, sold cars, or even done things as simple as creating a rudimentary budget that has saved them hundreds upon hundreds of dollars a month by simply spending consciously.
Anything to say to our dear readers?
Well, I think you’ve heard enough from us, but I do want to say thank you to everyone, including this site, who has helped us along our journey. The people in the financial independence community are some of the sweetest, most open people I’ve ever met. And they are willing to share their knowledge with the [sole] purpose of helping others.
It’s amazing how simple it is to get your financial life back on track, but without some guidance, it seems impossible. Heck, I think it would have been impossible if we hadn’t had the help we did. Going from these ‘crazy’ ideas to what we feel about money today is just mind blowing to me and I’m so so grateful. It’s the money, but more so it’s the feeling of freedom and the ability to make decisions for yourself. You’re not held down by mainstream ideas that you will always have debt. You need to make more to live better, or you can’t retire until you’re at least 65. You’re free to make those decisions on your own!
Thank you so much and may you always lead a financially free life!
Thank you so so much for this opportunity. We LOVE to talk about budgeting because it’s something that has completely transformed our lives. Therefore, we’re kind of passionate about it if you can’t tell.
We definitely don’t have all of the answers, but we provide a unique spin on it with some career hacks, focus on travel, and moderate frugalism. And we are more than happy to share what we’ve learned the last 2.5 years.
Thanks again and talk to you soon!
Living Life Loving Us
Follow Jenny in her adventures at Living Life, Loving Us:
If you want to check out the other posts in this series, take a look at this link right here.
Have something to share? If you’d like to be a part of this series, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org! I’m looking forward to having you here!