Doing a budget is not fun. There is nothing pleasurable about going back through old financial records looking for charges, checks, payments and deposits so that the budget can reflect reality and be meaningful.
But there are multiple benefits to doing a budget. In my case, I immediately spotted an odd feature of my monthly payments. One creditor, my cell phone provider, had bills that ranged from $0 to double the anticipated payment each month. Upon checking, I found that there was an error in the online autopay feature provided resulting in double billing at different times, resulting in double payment some months and credit balances in others.
In that case there was no net savings but correcting the billing error did stabilize my bank balance. However, in another case I noticed my car insurance payments had increased dramatically over the previous year, something I might not have noticed had I not gone back and reviewed billing and payment records for every account for three years. The result was a change in both coverage and carrier, saving substantial amounts. There were other smaller adjustments made when I saw a billing and payment history for other accounts over three years.
Taking a budget course ended up saving us a lot of money. That particular experience may not be typical – I was very busy at work for a lengthy stretch and had too much banking and bill paying on automatic – but regardless, doing a budget was helpful in other ways. I also saw the cumulative effect over years of small payments – a small amount here and a small amount a bit later adds up to a lot. That was especially true because we lumped expenses together into categories which displayed openly the combined expenses of, for example, transportation.
There are a few areas where I saw that these small expenses can add up and damage your finances. I like to refer to these small expenses that sneak by easily as financial leaks. If your financial battleship has enough small leaks, it will sink. It does not take a torpedo attack or a dive bomber; a few small leaks add up to a major problem, enough to sink many a household.
Here are a few of the areas where leaks often occur.
Keeping an American family entertained is no easy, or cheap, task. In fact, it is a potential financial leak of more than small proportions. Combining a report by CNBC with some local research, consider these costs, taken from Tampa Bay area sports franchises and online sources, we see:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Tickets for 4, food, drinks and parking) – $500.
Tampa Bay Lightning (Tickets for 4, food drinks and parking) – $363.58.
Tampa Bay Rays (Tickets for 4, food drinks and parking) – $219.53.
Movies (Tickets for 4 only) – $36 for the matinee.
Netflix (basic) – $95 per year, although for premium packages it will be higher.
Cable TV (basic) – $64.41, although for special packages it could be far higher according to the FCC.
A Concert or production at the Straz (tickets for 2 and parking) – $350 to $4,230, depending upon the play, musical or program
A gym membership – $354.
Fantasy sports leagues – $251.
The better choice?
Life does not have to be that expensive to be thoroughly enjoyable. Watch the games on TV (no parking fees, no drive time, far cheaper food and supermarket prices for the soft drinks). Better still, give the TV a rest and get outside, try a simpler and more family-oriented approach such as a hike in a local park like Lettuce Lake Park or Flatwoods ($2 per car entry fee). Find a free public concert. Visit the public library and find great books, videos and magazines – all free! Start a new hobby or renew an old one. The options are as endless as your interests and your imagination.
If you have never totaled up your annual transportation costs, do it. There is a significant chance you will be shocked. To be fair, you have to go back at least three years to pick up some of the repairs that are infrequent but meaningful such as brake re-linings, air conditioning repairs and recharging, etc. Be sure that you add in:
Car payments (or savings you are setting aside to buy a car using cash)
Registration and license plate
Car washes or wash supplies
Tire repair and replacement
Other minor maintenance
Other major maintenance
Occasional Taxi, Uber, Lyft or public transportation
For the average American, according to Nerdwallet.com the total will come up to a number over $8,000 per year, not counting the occasional Uber, Lyft or public transportation or the parking! Nerdwallet.com even provides a calculator to help you add up all related expenses.
The better choice
A car is a necessity for most people and the typical American lifestyle, but expenses can be reduced if you learn to walk and not drive everywhere and all of the time. See Ideas for Living Better Through Stewardship on some of the savings possible if you walk or bike occasionally. Even keeping your tires properly inflated is a great money-saving idea. Other things you can do to save is plan your errands and trips, combining them whenever possible. Carpooling with neighbors and friends can save a small fortune each year.
Here is another area where I received a surprise. My wife shops at a convenient Publix grocery store. But I couldn’t just add up the Publix receipt totals because we also, at times, make a trip to Sam’s (to save money, of course) and a few stops at other specialty stores because they have a special (and delicious) product. Now, we do save by getting gas cards at a discount at Publix when available (a $50 card for $40 for every purchase of over $50 in groceries). However, that did make both the transportation totals and the food totals harder to compute when I was doing my budget and it took a bit of the sting out of gas costs. However, the food costs were still higher than I ever expected.
But then I added in eating out a few times a month, buying soft drinks on the way to work, a few purchases I now make on Amazon that used to be made at Publix, and I was genuinely surprised. Fortunately, we really don’t eat out a lot, otherwise my medical bills might have shot up!
Surveys show the average American eats out at a cost of over $3,000 per year! That pushes food costs to over 12% of the average budget.
The better choice
“Hey, I have to eat!” That is correct, but where and what you eat can dramatically impact anyone’s budget. Shop for BOGOs, do shop at a store like Costco or Sam’s for the items that can be purchased best and cheapest in reasonable quantities, collect at least a few coupons, and look for coupons when you do eat out. The short answer to the above is that grocery shopping should never be a trip down the aisles, looking for the tasty items. Grocery shopping should only happen after you have eaten and with a specific list, one prepared with all available and useful BOGOs and discounted items.
One of my wife’s favorites, especially in cooler weather is a large pot of soup, one thick enough to be closer to a stew. It fills the house with a rich smell and fills us for several days with healthy, delicious and inexpensive food.
Here we touch upon a topic that is far more emotional than logical, pets. No, there are few things against which anyone can easily measure the love of a family pet. Regardless, it is good to know the cost before you invest in a pet and not after it is too late.
According to a survey by CreditLoad.com, on the average, pets cost $507 per year, however, when an illness or injury strikes, average figures are worthless. Furthermore, according to Moneyunder30.com, the ASPCA more accurately puts the average cost of the first year above $1,000.
The better choice
There is hardly a better choice than a loving pet, but timing can be everything. Wait until your budget has plenty of slack room, you have an emergency fund built up and you are ready for the inevitable expenses of pet love and ownership.
It really is possible to plug the financial leaks
I recommend budgeting because I have found that it worked for us and saved us unexpected money. If you are unsure how to get started, try Financial Peace University or Crown, both of which have courses that teach budgeting well and from a Biblical perspective. Crown has an easy-to-use guide that makes budgeting simple. You can just download it and try it out.
Budgeting allows you to track your expenses and spot hen the figures start to climb out of line. Plugging the financial leaks will never be easy but it will never happen unless you try. Start now!
About the Author
John Campbell has retired from a 40 year legal practice as a trial attorney in Tampa. He has served in multiple volunteer roles at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida, where he met Jesus. He began serving as the Executive Director of the Idlewild Foundation in 2016. He has been married to the love of his life, Mona Puckett Campbell, since 1972.