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Help? Please pick my life apart!

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    Hi All,

    I need some help, if anyone would be so kind.

    DH & I are at the end of yet another pay period where we are in debt, over budget, over stressed and I am SICK OF IT.

    I have two big problems:

    – Sticking to the budget that I do have. I have trouble understanding where I go wrong. I think a lot of it is “little extras” – buying a drink when filling up my car, going out for coffee with a friend, etc. I need tips on how to curb this – it seems ridiculous that I must be wasting in excess of $100-$200 a month on rubbish, when I have no trouble feeding our family of four for $80/week (I know that’s not great by some people’s standard here, but it is an achievement for me).

    – Seeing if there are any improvements I could make to the budget. I’m beginning to feel like I’m not sure where I could cut back.

    Even if we could just stick to the budget we DO have, it would de-stress life a lot. While we’re not millionaires or anything, we’re certainly not on the very low end of the income scale, and I know there are other families of a similar size living comfortably on a lot less.

    So please, please, please, pick me apart and tell me what I can do to fix it!




    Chana, the first thing to remember is that you can turn it around. You just need to be confident, know your own strength and employ a couple of tactics.

    When I first started budgeting, I knew I spent a lot on junk, I wasn’t sure how much it was but it was a lot. The first thing I had to do was find out where my money leaks were and then plug them up. You need to do that too. Identify what you’re wasting on rubbish and non-essentials, and then make a firm commitment to stop doing it.

    Get yourself a small notebook and pencil and put them in the bag you take with you when you go out. whenever you stop to buy something, no matter how small or inconsequential, write it in your book. When you buy groceries, write it odwn, petrol, write it down, an apple, write it down – whatever it it, EVERY cent you spend you need to record.

    After a week you’ll see how you’re money is flowing out, after a month of this faithful recording, you’ll see your spending pattern. You might think it’s nothing to buy a magazine or a bottle of water whenever you feel like it, but when you see those non-essentials added up it’s quite confronting. I was shocked when I added up my spending and it made me stick to my budget.

    My guess is that if you can feed your family of four for $80, you’re quite a good shopper already, you just need to focus yourself, realise that you are throwing your money away and make a plan to start saving.

    When you’ve finsihed your money tracking for a month, you’ll be ready to formulate a budget. But first, you need to know where your money is going. Good luck. There are many people here who will support you through this if you need it. :tup:


    Another tip is to not try and cut off all toys/trinkets/drinkets – that will generally lead to depression and hence a spending spree. Just like dieting, the best course is a change of environment combined with a gradual, but ruthless reduction.

    Good luck! We’re all here to support you.


    I agree, allow yourself something… Don’t try to go cold turkey! 😉

    What about other areas of spending – too many trips in the car? phones? unecessary ‘things’ for the kids? books/cds/dvds (that could come from the library etc)? Your groceries sound fine, and you’re aware of the incidentals, but are there other areas where your budget is leaking?


    Personally, I find it’s repairs I haven’t budgeted for, or a box of postage stamps or haircuts, unexpected repairs, the odd ice block at the servo etc is where it all adds up…


    Drinkets! :lol::lol::lol:


    Chana, I know how it feels to have to adjust spending habits and you are allready doing well by adressing your problem. I found that the way to stop me spending on bits and bobs was if I asked myself how long wuold I have to work to pay for the drink, coffee, cake (my death;)) or whatever. Once I started seeing it as time spent working for either myself or my hubby it really slowed me down. I don’t love work THAT much and even if it is only a small amount the thought of 30minutes workingfor it still helps to slow my spending. I agree with the others though -don’t go cold turkey. My favourite $$saver is taking my own bottled water and only buying cake to share when I have coffees. Not only has my pocket felt better but my skin improved too! Good luck there. You are allready an inspiration to me with your grocery budget – my milk alone comes to $25 a week for 3 of us 😮 Maybe you could share some of your tips?


    $25 a week in milk? Do you just drink it or something? I spend about $2 a week in milk – for my porridge and latte in the morning.


    Thanks guys – I will reply in detail later (the critters need me atm), but as for the milk. We use powdered milk – for some weird reason it’s a lot cheaper than fresh milk??

    Lady Bee

    When you go out, DO NOT take your EFPOS or CREDIT cards. Leave them at home. That way you cannot spend more than you have in your wallet.

    The coffee and cake routine is a killer. Easy to blow $7-8 on that.

    Take lunches to work/school. Don’t buy them. Say you buy a sandwich, drink and perhaps a piece of fruit, that’s probably another $8-10 per adult. If you buy lunch, you’re going to pay GST. Buy your own fresh ingredients and make it yourself there’s the GST saved straight away without even considering the huge saving on the sandwich itself. Also remember if you buy a flavoured milk you pay GST, but buy a plain milk and you don’t pay GST.

    Noting things down is a great idea.

    Good luck. You’ve started the process by turning for help, so that’s a huge positive.



    Do you have compact flourescent bulbs in your house? They will save you a pile of money over their life span….

    I second what everyone here has said. All very good advice, and I empathize with your situation. It is really hard not to spend money as everywhere outside your front door seems to be geared towards relieving you of your money. We are constantly bombarded with messages to buy, and out there we are awash in glittery seductive opportunities to buy STUFF… much of which we really don’t neeed.

    I don’t get out very often. I like to stay at home, but when I do get out, I have to work to make sure I don’t buy frivolous things…

    Coffee is not frivolous, its a neccesity of life, obviously 😆 , but making it at home is a lot cheaper than buying it out. At home here, I have a stove top espresso pot, which makes great coffee, I just got a hand powered milk frother for Christmas from one of our volunteers, Jocelyn, who has been with us for most of the last year, and I make really good cappucinnos, complete with itty bitty cups to serve them in, and my wife makes great pastries, etc. Comparable to Starbucks, but better, and a serving costs pennies compared to USD5… If you are working, look into getting a kitchen/coffee station set up at work, and pool resources with your coworkers.

    Same with boxed lunches from home, but I have a coffee paradigm right now (its in a big mug, right next to me!!)…

    Good luck, and don’t be discouraged!


    Chana, I’m in awe of your $80 weekly bill for feeding four people – well done. That in itself shows that you can stick to a budget and have some good organisational skills…

    My first reaction whilst reading your post was to suggest exactly as Rhonda has suggested; to get a grip on where the money is going, the best thing to do is to write it down. Take that little notebook everywhere you go. It’s a bit of a nuisance when you’re in a hurry at times, however crucial to determining where the money is being spent.

    Once you know, you can then realistically cut back. You may decide that coffee with your friend/s on Wednesday can stay but not incidental coffees every other day – they really add up.

    Get in the habit of taking water with you. If it’s going to be hot or you’re going to be out all day then freeze a bottle or bottles of water and remember to take it with you, for all the family. If we go to the cinema in our once-in-a-blue-moon, the boys (all teenagers and upwards) all know to take water and purchase any snacks they may like at the supermarket rather than the high prices at the cinema shop. No upgrading to large (they’re superlarge!) cokes and popcorn, that’s for sure!

    If you find your credit card to be a problem, one tip I heard of decades ago and used for a time with my first husband who was a chronic overspender, was to freeze your credit card. Yes freeze! Put it in a container like a takeaway Chinese soup container, cover with water and plonk in the freezer. If there is a purchase coming up that you and hubby have decided on making, then you defrost it. It’s just that normally it’s frozen which eliminates all that incidental spending. Doesn’t seem to harm the card either…


    I just happened to switch on the telly the other day and watched Oprah Winfrey with her Debt Diet show. Apparently three families have gotten themselves into strife with debt and financial advisors have gone into their homes and worked out where their money is going and come up with solutions. It could be worth you having a look at the website where there are tips to eliminating debt and getting in charge of your life, financially speaking. And getting on top of your finances, helps you gain control of your life in general and relieves a LOT of stress. Even if you are still in debt, the fact that you are working through a plan to get out can be rather freeing.

    Another thought I’ve just had is to also jot down in your notebook the trips you take in your car. If you’re out and about a lot, perhaps you can cut down and try to make a car trip more productive by combining several chores.

    Another idea is after noting everything in your book for a month, pare right back in your activities for another month or two and see how your budgetting goes. THEN, if you can get to the end of the month without having overspent or you have money left over, you can start allowing yourself some leeway. You need to get down to the basics first, and have a base to work from. Does that make sense?

    On another thread others were mentioning how they would look at an item they were considering buying and working out if it’s something they wanted or needed? There is a difference. If your family is saving up for a household item (new lounge for instance) – ask yourself whether it’s more important to spend $25 a week on coffees – or save that $25 for the lounge.

    I was a single mum for a few years when my children were smaller. We would still have treats occasionally and sometimes when we were out they would have a large milkshake, and share it with three straws! A whole milkshake to themselves made two of them sick afterwards anyway!

    You get the picture! All the best, and fire away with more questions if you like…



    Another tip could be to only take the money you need in cash when you are going out. Leave cards and everything else at home. The way I do it is that I take the money I will need for a week out of the bank and thats all I take with me where ever I go. Once its run out, its run out and the only time I break into the next week’s money is for absolute essentials, ie milk.


    Hi Again,

    OK, I find myself with some time to reply now:

    Noting down all spending

    Good one, thank-you, we will start doing this!

    Not taking the CC out/Freezing the card

    I’m not sure this would be overly helpful for us, as I don’t feel most of the spending on the card has been “luxury” items. For instance, my DS Josh has had bronciolitis and an injury to his finger this month, both of which required trips to the doctor, medicines and the like. Part of what is depressing me about the card is that there are very few items there I can look at and think “gee, we shouldn’t have done that”. I look at the card as being a symptom of the problem, rather than the cause. If we were budgeting better long term, we would have enough money in our “depreciation fund” to cover these kinds of expenses in cash.

    (Note on the depreciation fund – only started a short time ago, but we’ve worked out, roughly, how much we need to spend on less “regular” expenses, and made it into a monthly figure. Every month, we put that amount aside, and then when those bills come in – for example, car rego – the money is sitting in the fund and we can just pay the bill).

    Anyway, thanks to those who addressed the credit card, but as I said, I don’t think I’m a compulsive credit card spender. A large part of my problem with “incidental” purchases is that if I do have actual cash lying in my wallet (rather than the card), it tends to leak out :shy:. I then end up having to put actual necessities on the credit card. Is that making any sense?

    njh wrote:

    $25 a week in milk? Do you just drink it or something?

    LOL, I had to laugh at this :). Yes, everyone in my family except me drinks milk. The boys and I have milk on our cereal every morning and the boys & DH drink it as a drink. I also use it to make yoghurt. I think the last time I checked, we use about 9lt a week.

    DH generally takes his lunch to work (sandwiches), and the boys & I eat sandwiches at home for lunch. Sometimes I will “take them out” for lunch, but usually I take them out with packed sandwiches.

    Like someone else said, I really think the coffee & cake thing is a killer. Particularly now the boys are on solids, if I give in to an unplanned snack, I’m not just buying something for ME, I need to get something for THEM if I haven’t brought anything with me. I really hate even writing this down, but now that I’ve thought about it, I could probably easily be spending $10-$20 a week on that kind of junk! :tdown:

    Christopher – you know, I think you’re onto something with the good coffee thing. I drink instant at home, but it is not the same. A while ago when DH & I were absolutely skint one day we had “cafe at home” – I made nice coffee, took out some fancy biscuits I’d made for mother’s group that week and put them out nicely on a plate and we pretended we had “gone out” for coffee! Especially now the weather is nicer, we could have a lovely “al fresco” cafe in our own backyard! Need to get back onto that :D.

    As for the comments on our shopping budget, I don’t actually think we do enourmously well! I’m sure there are lots of places we could improve. My big things are:

    – Planning meals. I have a weekly plan, and make up my grocery list from that, and then add the incidentals that I need (toilet paper, dishwashing liquid, etc.).

    – Limit meat. We eat meat three nights a week out of seven. I buy it in bulk and freeze it in meal size portions.

    – The “Grocery Jar”. Only got onto this one recently. When I go shopping, I go first to the ATM and take out that week’s shopping budget ($80 in cash). I then go to the supermarket, butcher & green grocer and do my shopping (sticking to the list, getting the cheapest item, etc.). Any money left over goes into the “Grocery Jar”. The next week, that money can come with me to stock up on any specials (e.g cheap toilet paper, bulk meat, etc.).

    – Drink water. I know this sounds obvious, but it’s better for you and flavoured drinks are a killer. If your family drinks soft drink or juice, you could easily spend $10 a week on it. Cordial is probably affordable, but we don’t like it that much and it’s really just extra calories. I do buy a small amount of diet soda to have as a “treat drink” for DH & I (e.g if I’m tempted to go out and buy a drink, I can stay home and “treat” myself to a diet cola).

    Anyway, hopefully this time next month I will have a much better idea where our money is going and can start working on how to plug those leaks!


    Family of 4 and you spending only $80 a week…if you want to do better than that move africa or somwhere where people are starving cause i find it hard to belive that you could live any cheaper in a city without starving:tup:

    just remember lifes to be lived not endured

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