The Easiest Budgeting System Ever

We are now *officially* a one-income family. My maternity leave benefits have ended, and the paperwork now shows that I am no longer employed. Logic tells me that we can surely live well on one income, as long as we have a budget.

Budget. Yuck. Every time we have tried to set a budget in the past we have failed. We did all the right things…

  • We outlined our monthly income.
  • We allocated money for all of our bills.
  • We made sure we were putting money into long- and short-term savings.
  • We determined monthly spending amounts for necessary categories such as food, gas and clothing.

But it just didn’t work. I don’t spend $30 a month on clothing; I buy one good-quality item and then don’t buy anything for a while. I don’t buy just enough food for the week, because I prefer to stock up on grocery deals when prices are excellent, which might mean buying 10 lbs of cheese at one time, or a dozen green peppers to slice and freeze.  So, since traditional budgeting wasn’t working, I started using the simplest money-management system I could think of.

I drew on money maven Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s rule that says you have to WRITE IT ALL DOWN. That was my starting point. I grabbed a clipboard and some lined paper, because I’m a pen and paper girl. Are you ready for the brilliance?

On one sheet of paper, I made two columns, because my husband gets paid twice per month. Under each pay period, I listed all of our committed expenses that are covered by that paycheque – including bills, donations, investments, and deposits into our savings accounts. Then I totalled each column. This sheet of paper stays on the clipboard all the time.

On a fresh sheet of paper, I wrote the date of the next payday. I noted the amount that would be deposited into our account and subtracted the committed expenses for that pay period. The remainder is what is available to spend. It needs to cover all our variable expenses – groceries, gas for our vehicles, clothes, home maintenance, and anything else we might need to pay for. Each time we make a purchase, it gets listed on the paper and deducted from that amount. Check out an example:Image

At any point, we can look at the clipboard and easily see how much money is available. It’s basic. Low-tech. Easy-peasy. Once the balance on that sheet of paper reads $0, we have to stop spending until payday. It sounds reasonable, right? But it takes willpower. We have credit cards! I *could* keep spending after the money is gone. But then I either have to use the next paycheque to pay it off, or start accumulating debt. I don’t want to do either of those things.

This is a really, truly simple way to track your spending to make sure you are living within your means. It clearly shows that money is a finite resource. It can only be spent once!

You might be wondering how a system like this works for larger expenses. For example, how do we cover Christmas gifts and family vacations? This happens through the magic of sinking funds. A sinking fund is a separate space where you set aside money on a regular basis to cover a larger, irregular expense. It could be an envelope that holds cash, or a dedicated bank account. In our family, we use five ING Direct savings accounts for: Fun Money, Emergencies, Christmas, Property Taxes, and Farm Share. Each month we contribute a set amount of money into these accounts. They are set up to take place automatically, so we don’t even have to think about it. These monthly deposits form part of our committed expenses, so we can be sure to have the appropriate amount of money available when the need arises.

In this busy season of our lives, the last thing we need is a complicated money management system. This is as simple and it works. I’ll take it.

My True Love Letter

“A real love letter is made of insight, understanding, and compassion. Otherwise it’s not a love letter. A true love letter can produce a transformation in the other person, and therefore in the world…Some letters may take the whole of our lifetime to write.”  –Thich Nhat Hanh

My husband has never written me a love letter.

Over the ten years that we have been a couple, nine of which we have spent as husband and wife, I have never received a love letter from him.  He has purchased beautiful cards on (almost) every birthday, anniversary, mother’s day, and Christmas we have shared.  Most of them have brought tears to my eyes and warmth to my heart.  Many have made me smile, and a couple of them have made me laugh out loud.  Some of them have been short, sweet, and simple in their delivery of a loving message and some have covered three sides of card-stock with words so beautiful that I can’t believe they are meant for me.   Although I do not doubt that my husband has chosen these cards deliberately and with great care, they are nonetheless cards filled with words written by someone other than the man giving them to me.

I have every card I have ever received from him.  I keep them in a clear plastic tote next to our filing cabinet, and the fire-safe box that holds important documents, the kids’ ultra-sound photos, our wedding video, and three tiny wisps of baby hair in varying shades of brown.

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I have hinted at the idea of a love letter at various times over the decade we have spent by each others’ side.  I wrote one to him in hopes that he would write one back.  I have come right out and asked him to write me a letter.  He has yet to pick up a pen, sit down with a sheet of paper, and put his feelings for me into words that I can read over and over again and cherish in a special box for the rest of my life.  He has never written me a love letter.

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He has spent hundreds of hours transforming the woods that pressed against our house, making me feel isolated and anxious, into a gorgeous yard where I feel relaxed and truly home.

He has held my hand at funerals, gotten out of his seat to find a tissue, and then helped me wipe my tears so my mascara doesn’t smear.

He has gone out for Honey Nut Cheerios, in his pyjamas, at eleven o’clock at night.  Without a single disparaging comment directed towards his very pregnant, and very unreasonable, wife.

He has stood by my bedside, holding my hand, offering sips of water, tracking down pink popsicles, and whispering words that kept me calm and helped me focus three times as I laboured babies into our lives.

He has tucked our boys into bed at night so gently and sweetly that I have stood in the hallway outside their door with tears in my eyes from the joy of having a man like him as the father of my children.

He has called out a sweet greeting to our tiny daughter as I bring her down the stairs and into the kitchen where he has been making breakfast for the boys, every morning since she’s been born.

He has thoughtfully offered insight after listening to millions of my words, tumbling out of my mouth at mach speed, more times than I care to remember.  He has held me and said, “I understand”, more times than I can count.

He has forgiven me over and over and over and over.

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He is kind.  He is not jealous.  He never thinks of himself.  He does not get angry.  He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

He has come home to me every single day for ten years.

He has never written me a love letter.

Instead, my husband has given me his whole life.  Every choice he makes is largely driven by his decision to love and provide for us.

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Every time he wipes up a milk spill, every time he offers me a smile at the end of a long day, every arm tossed over my shoulders in the middle of the night, every cold, dark trip to the emergency room with a feverish child, every financial sacrifice he makes for the sake of our future, every piece of toast he gets up to butter so I can have ten more minutes in bed, every phone call I get from him while he’s at work, every flower he sends to me from the backyard in the hands of one of our sons, every time he drives our loaded mini-van to church on Sunday morning, every time he kisses us goodnight, every time he laughs with me after a rough week, he adds to the manuscript he has been working on since the day he asked me to share his life with him.

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His life is the love letter he writes to me every single day.  And when I take the time to read it, it changes me from a woman who longs for words written on paper, to a woman who knows what it means to read love in every act, every step, every moment of a life lived together.

**Shout out to Lisa-Jo Baker for writing the beautiful post that was my inspiration for this one!**