Preparing a family budget doesn’t have to be hard, and it will help you understand where your money is being spent, ways to better manage personal finances, and how to save cash to meet your financial goals (including saving to invest for longer-term goals).
Follow some expert tips to help you in preparing a family budget and start saving:
Write down what you spend your money on
The first step to take when thinking about organising a family budget is to find out how much money you spend and what it buys each week.
It is a good idea to keep a diary of all your expenses for a month, which will give you a rough idea of where the money goes! You might be able to retrieve sufficient information from existing spending records to get started right away: check your credit card spending and ATM withdrawals and try to account for everything spent over the past month/ quarter.
Once you draw up a budget it will help you take better control of your money and give you tips on where savings can be made.
Set a time frame for your budget
Decide on a time frame for your budget – it could be a weekly, monthly or a yearly plan – depending on the financial goals you’d like to achieve. In most situations an annual budget is preferable, albeit that the level of detail might vary as between the first months of the period chosen from the later months (which could initially be in more summary form).
Estimate your family’s income
Estimate your weekly, fortnightly, or monthly wages (after tax) plus any other income that you regularly receive. Also include money such as bonuses, income from investments (including dividends from shares, interest on ‘bank accounts’ and rent on properties held) and government benefits and payment entitlements.
Analyse your family’s living expenses
Living expenses could be divided into two different categories for your budget – those that are essential (your needs) and those that you like to have (your wants).
The essential costs to list in the budget will include housing (home loan repayments, insurance, maintenance), utilities (rates, electricity, gas, water), transport (public and/ or own vehicle), food, education, medical expenses and ‘unavoidable’ family special-occasion gifts (birthdays, anniversaries, festive occasions).
Your wants are goods and services that you like to have but are not required to live such as extra-curricular activities for school-aged children, takeaway food, family outings to special events (theme parks, movies, theatre etc) a coffee at work, Pay TV and gifts for non-family situations.
Calculate the difference between your total income and expenses
If you have money left over (you have a surplus and are “in the black”) then additional money could be saved to help meet your financial goals, such as purchase of assets, retirement planning, replacement of motor vehicles etc.
If you are over-budget (you have a deficit and are “in the red”) it’s time to change your spending habits – and re-work your budget.
One of the easiest ways to trim your budget and to save money is to stop buying any unnecessary “extras” that you’ve identified. (We have had clients who have discussed the family gifting situation and set limits on amount to be expended for those festive occasions and birthdays.)
Regularly update your budget
It is a good idea to review your budget against actual expenditures on a regular basis (and at least annually) – especially if circumstances have changed. For example, you might get a pay increase, buy a home, or there may be an addition to the family.
There are lots of free budget planners online that you can use to help you sort out your finances and get your household on track to save money. Kidspot recommends: St George’s free budget planner. (We at Continuum Financial Planners also find the St George tool helpful, but for more detail and control – for those who are comfortable using spreadsheets – we also recommend using the Microsoft Excel ‘Personal budget worksheet’ available from Microsoft Online (which can be accessed free via a search from a newly-opened Excel spreadsheet).
Need help preparing a family budget
The team of experienced, qualified financial advisers at Continuum Financial Planners is available to assist you in the development of your personal/ family budget: to arrange a meeting with one of the team, phone the office (on 07-3421 3456), or complete the Contact Us form on this website to receive prompt attention.
The thought leadership for the above article was Kidspot.com.au, from sources including MoneySmart. It has been copied and modified to provide additional functionality to our readers. It was originally posted in March 2012 and has been occasionally refreshed/ updated, most recently during June 2021.