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3 July 2008

Budgeting - don't be a carbon copy

Graphic from the Carl Larsen gallery

Whether you like it or not, to live a simply or green life, you must reduce your spending. It's part of the territory. You will get away with not growing your own food, you don't have to keep chickens, goats, make soap, bake bread, sew or knit, you can live in the city or the country, you can work or not, you can be young or older, but the one thing everyone has to do is to reduce their spending. Every time you buy something, you also own the carbon released into the atmosphere in the making of your product, you own the petrochemicals used in it's manufacture and in the transport that gets it from where it was made, or grown, to your home. Living simply will reduce the amount of of money you need to live because you'll be satisfied with less and you'll be making a lot of what you use. Maybe you'll also do some of those things I listed above, like bread baking, growing food and sewing. You'll also make do with less, recycle and mend, and in the process of that you'll give old items new lives and reduce the amount of things you buy.

A simple life costs less than the life lived by most western people now.

So if you believe me when I tell you that you must reduce your spending, also believe me when I tell you the best way to reduce your spending is to have a budget. This is not a scary thing, it's liberating. A good budget will be one of the best tools you'll have to help you live the life you want for yourself and your family. I've said before that a simple life is not about deprivation and being miserable, so with that in mind, when you first start living this way, make your budget a document that will give you the life you want but allow yourself small things that you need to be happy. My only luxury is $10 a week that I can use to buy what I want. Many of you would wonder why I bother with such a small amount, but that is what this lifestyle is about, it's being satisfied with the small things and being happy with the life I live. If you do it well, your life will make you happy and if you do budget for small luxuries like an occasional cup of coffee, I bet you eventually give it up because you'll find other things you want to spend that money on - things that will be more important to you. But if you can't imagine a life now without being able to buy a cup of coffee, a magazine, a bottle of water or whatever, budget for it.

The only things you'll buy from now on will be what you've budgeted for.

This is how we wrote our budget. We got all the bills we paid in the previous year and added them up to make a yearly figure. That was four electricity bills, three gas bills, in the first year we guessed how much petrol we used. We added up our grocery bills, what we spent on medical, optical, dental, the garden, postage, house rates (or rents), water, insurance, phone, Internet, gifts, clothes, shoes etc - everything we spent money on was calculated out at a yearly sum. So we had a yearly figure for each thing - our electricity, our water, groceries, petrol etc. Then, because we shop monthly, we divided our yearly amounts by 12 to give us 12 monthly amounts. That is what we budget for - 12 amounts for our 12 months. If you shop weekly, fortnightly or bi-monthly, divide your amounts up by 52 (for weekly), 26 (fortnightly) or 6 (bi-monthly). Whatever the amount is that is what you have to spend for the period you have chosen.

We keep the money for our fixed bills - the things we don't have to pay in cash, like the electricity bill, phone, internet etc - in the bank. Those amounts are paid by direct debit directly from the bank when the bill comes in. For everything else, our grocery shopping, petrol, garden supplies, dog food etc, we withdraw that amount - for us it's $690 a month - in cash. That cash is then divided up and placed into a ziplock bag that is named for its purpose. For instance, I have one bag for grocery money, one bag for bulk food money, one bag for medical, dental and chemist. The good things about these bags is that you deal with real money, you see what you've spent and what you have left.

Hopefully, you've started tracking your spending because that will play a big part in your budget. When you've tracked your spending for a few weeks, you'll see the pattern of your spending. You'll find places where your money is leaking and you'll be able to stop those leaks. If, when you do your budget, you find you do not have the amount of money you need, go to your tracking, find those leaks or items that are not needed, stop the spending on those things and so you have it to cover what is in your budget. And remember, now you only spend what you budget for. If you've budgeted for your cups of coffee and you can afford them, that's fine, if you cant afford them, you will have to do without. My feeling is that if you've read this far you will be keen to get your money in order. My guess is that paying off debt and living a good life will replace your coffees - or whatever your luxury is - and you won't even notice the absence.

We try to be thrifty with all our purchases so we have money left over at the end of the month. Usually it's around $100. That money is then put into our emergency fund. If we have enough money in the EF, that leftover money goes straight into our savings. But if you're paying off debt, I would encourage you to build up an emergency fund, then put every spare cent towards paying off your debt. Put your left over money as an extra payment on the debt with the highest interest rate.

So that's it. That is my guide to budgeting or creating your own spending plan. I'm not going to say it's easy, I know it won't be, but if you can do this, it will be the thing that makes the biggest difference to the way you live. And as I said before, don't be fooled into thinking you can keep spending and also live simply - it's impossible. You do one or the other. I hope you can reduce your spending, I hope you see the worth of it, because if you do, you will be able to live well on less, you'll pay your debt off much faster and you live a life that is unique and not a carbon copy of all the others in your street.


  1. One suggestion that I really like of yours is to have $10 a week to spend on whatever you want. I really like that idea, and will implement that.

    We take out a set amount per week from the bank and when that is gone, its gone. Anything else has to wait until the next week, until I take out the money the following week.

    I am enjoying your posts.

  2. This post is timely. My child support payments were slashed by 7K a year. Just found out yesterday. The boys and I (4 teenagers) already live very simply (veggie garden, I bake everything I can, I work full-time as a teacher, we waste very little as it is), so today's job is to re-jig the budget to allow for the loss of $600 a month to the coffers. (Apparently I can raise four boys on $25 a week. Not each.... but in total.) I suggested to them that I feed them less. They weren't very taken with that idea...

  3. Thank you Rhonda, that is wonderful advice, I'm going to redo my budget this week once I finish our businesses end of financial year stuff and for once I'm actually looking forward to it cause I know its not something that needs to be feared but something that will give me freedom.

  4. Rhonda,

    Thank you for telling it like it is..... You make it sounds so easy. I guess it is easy if you can stay on budget:) How do you keep up with rising costs like gas and food?

    We have never taken out one lump of money for the month. I think we will try this.

    Do you both get paid once a month? We get paid every two weeks and I have my budget split for the month.

    Rhonda I really believe this will help us. Thank you for taking the time again to tell us how to budget. I will let you know how we do:)


  5. Have just taken one giant step towards budgeting. I have just cut up all my store cards(4 in all and all maxed out)Have set a budget and have allowed an extra $20.00 per month per account to pay off the balance. So the only cards that I have left are my EFTPOS and my fuel card which is for petrol only and I need that for my work vehicle. We have gone from a 4 car family to a 2 car family and it is still hard to be able to afford every thing that goes with running a car. Well good luck everyone on your new or old journey it is a big step to stop spending. I now only go to the shops once a month and if I need anything I just have to make do with what is in the cupboards.

  6. I have just finished my first month of a Rhonda-look-alike-budget :) I've never been a really big spender, even when I was earning big money, and have always put away what I need to cover bills each month.

    But I tried your 'ziplock' bag budget last month, and it worked pretty good. There's some things I still need to add to my expenses, like chook food, as this is a recent expense. I also need to stop "borrowing" from one bag when another is empty.

    I'm blessed I have no debt, my dear son gave me his 'old' car.....a 1998 model, and pays my rego and insurance, in lieu of birthday and Christmas gifts, which suits me just fine.

    I've recently bought my own house, and on my wish list was being close enough to town that I can walk to do small errands, and being on a bus route....I have both these where I am.

    I've started growing veggies, a slow process, as I need help to set the beds up, and am waiting for a friend to have a day spare to help. But I live in an area where market gardens are rife, and so my fruit and veg expenses aren't too high, and I'm buying local.

    Your post was a great timely reminder to look closely again at where I spend my money, I'm not sure where I can pare any more off my spending, but it's good to have these reminders...thanks Rhonda.

  7. Dear Rhonda Jean;

    Budgeting is hard work. I have found it one of the hardest things to do - but very needed in order to live a simpler life.

    Thank you for your encouragement.


    ps: I have been reading your blog for a year now, and I remember that I'll show you pictures of my garden once I got it started. Well, I am posting them in my blog later this week. I hope you get a chance to stop and visit :)

  8. I have been budgeting all my married life, without children, with small children and with children at university. Now I wouldn´t "need" to budget any more, but after 3 weeks, I simply had to. I felt like something was missing. You are right, it is liberating!
    Btw, I found your blog only recently, and I love it. Now I am reading through your archives. Thank you for the wonderful inspiration!

  9. hello everyone and welcome to the new readers. It is always a pleasure to see new people here. Thank you all for sharing your stories - it is wondeful to read your positive experiences.

    frog, I wish you the best for your readjustment. Having had two boys of my own, I know how much they eat during their teen years. Please stay in touch and let me know how you get on.

    woo hoo kate!! go you!

  10. Rhonda,

    Thanks for your posts about budgeting. I feel my husband and I really should be more organized in this area.

  11. I enjoyed this sentence "but that is what this lifestyle is about, it's being satisfied with the small things and being happy with the life I live." However I would replace the word satisfied with the word content. I have been striving to find contentment, as the Lord wants for me.
    I'm starting to turn the corner and find contentment in things of God and not things of man.

    Happy 4th!

    quote from John Piper's book, "Don't waste your life"
    speaking about CS Lewis,
    "He (CS Lewis) helped me see what is there in the world - things that, if we didn't have, we would pay a million dollars to have, then ignore"

  12. Sorry! I just realized that you don't live in the states- and I wished you a happy 4th of July.. silly me. Have a great day, all the same. :)

  13. We're still in the process of tracking everything we spend and devising ways of making sure that we don't spend money which is budgeted and sitting in the bank for something else. We've come a long way from spending heedlessly the way we did when we were first married (I still wince when I think how much of our capital we ran through because we just didn't think about our spending - we could be a lot further ahead in our mortgage if we'd started with the faintest idea of how to manage money!). But each month we get closer to spending less than we earn, and tucking money away in an emergency fund. We've just started the ziploc bag technique and so far it's working well.

  14. Rhonda,
    I really enjoy your helps me get better perspective on my "job" duties at home. I retired a little over 2 years ago and I'm still having a hard time adjusting to retirement. Of course, I love not having to go to work every day...but, I miss the fulfillment from a job well done and the social interraction. But, I am slowly realizing that the chores I do at home also count.

    While reading your blog entries on budgeting, I remembered a book I read many years ago and decided to pick it back up and read it again. It is "Your Money or Your Life" by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. I remember thinking that this was a fabulous book when I read it the first time...and, I have to say it is just as fabulous (if not more). So many of the things they talk about are very relevant to those of us who are trying to really live life -- instead of just working and dying and wondering what life should have been about. If you havent' read it, please read are so good at helping people see these things that I think there might be some concepts in this book that could be shared with others.

    Thanks for such a great blog! I look forward to many, many more entries!


  15. Hi Rhonda,

    Your posts on budgeting are very inspiring.

    I've just started setting up my budget again after spending the first part of the year too ill to follow up. Everything slid out, payments fell behind and I'm now desperately trying to play catch up. It's starting to feel easier now that I'm using my faithful spreadsheet again, though :)

    One thing I'd like to ask you is how you budget in the current climate where prices are rising all the time? I've found myself going way over budget on my energy this month because it's increased so much and according to the government, it's set to rise another 40% before the end of the year. This applies to most other things, too. If you have any tips as to how to deal with this, I'd love to hear them :)

  16. Mimi, I LOVE 'your money or your life'. I read it at the very beginning of my transformation. It's dotted throughout my blog as a recommended book.

    Sharon, I have written about that topic here:

    Please read all three posts - they were written on 3 consecutive days and are really one long post.

  17. Since reading this post I have convinced hubby that we definitely need to sort our budget out. He's agreed to look at this with me tomorrow. I am expecting some teething problems as we've never done this before and as you mention in some previous posts it's a mindset change as well. Thank you for providing inspiration.

  18. I am reading this article a year after you wrote it, and it is such good information! I am going to try and look at our year of expenses and see if that will help with the budget. I really feel blessed to have come across your blog!
    Christa H from Tennessee

  19. I've been making progress with budgeting, too. Reading this blog has really helped me. As I've made changes, unexpected money has come to me! I took the bus and bicycle to work all of last year, and now have a new location just a mile from my cottage! That frees up 3 extra hours a day! I've gotten my electricity bill down to $11.00 a month by using flourescent bulbs, unplugging everything, and turning off most of the lights. I even turn off my hot water heater when I'm not using it for a bath. So, instead of spending more than I earn,(as I was, to the tune of $300 a month!) I am getting ahead... what a shift! I love your idea of taking out a lump sum of cash for groceries, etc. I've started doing that and it's terrific. I am starting to come in under budget which is exciting and fulfilling. Thank you Rhonda for your generosity and gifted teaching!


  20. Thank you for a great post on Budgeting this morning,i folow a very strict Budget for myself,as i am on a fixed low income,i allow myself $25 pocket money a fortnight,at first i used to alway's spend it on going out for a Lunch,not now,i really think about what i am going to use that $25 for,and i now save it up,for maybe something special i really want(like your Book,Rhonda when it comes out)money is too precious to me now,i follow the Envelope system,which work's great for me,and i save all my small change,and when it get's to $50,i take it to the Bank and save it,it's become a real hobby now,how far i can stretch that Dollar!and i have stopped running to the Super-market every time i run low,i now plan ahead,and stock pile,and use what's in my pantry,and it's very satisfying to make as much as i can myself,well i'm off to make my Bread now,have a lovely day, xx Carol


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