In Real Time: A Different Kind of Budget


Oh, here we go…

The dirty little secret.

You know how I’ve written quite a bit about money?  Like how important it is to manage it well as a working mom, how to make it be a blessing to your family, how to keep money from disappearing, how to manage money jointly with your spouse, and these tips to save a few bucks?  And let’s not forget about how we managed to become (and have remained) debt-free.

But now I’m ready to tell you.

Budgeting doesn’t work for me.

At least not the type of budgeting that everyone else talks about.  You know, the kind where you list your income and then your expenses and you make sure that your income is more than your expenses so you’re not going in the hole, and then you’re good to go!  The budget works for the month – see you in 30 days!

Here’s why it doesn’t make sense to me.  It gives you an overview that you have enough money, a general idea of how to allocate your income, and helps you identify what areas of your life you might need to cut.  It tells you that theoretically everything will work out this month.  But with this type of budgeting, there is no organization to your money and no implementation plan.

I don’t know about you, but my checking account balance is not $0 on the first of the month.  And it better not be, because my mortgage is actually due on the first.  Paychecks come in every 2 weeks, which may or may not coincide with the other paychecks on the 10th and 25th.  I might plan to spend $400 on food this month, but I don’t do it all at once.  I do it week by week.  Insurance is due every 6 months, daycare is due on the first, preschool is due on the 15th, gas is a weekly expense, cable gets paid sometime in the second half of the month, followed shortly by the cell phone bill, and then the utility bills come rolling in every 2-3 months (usually as an unwelcomed surprise at the worst possible budgeting moment).


How can I manage all of this, keep my checking account from going in the red, and still make progress on our financial goals?

Here’s my strategy!

I actually keep an ongoing budget in an excel spreadsheet with a running balance of how much we should have in our checking account.  This makes it super easy to cross-check the day and see if our checking account balance is running ahead, behind, or – hopefully – right on target.

I’ll show you what this looks like.  *Please note:  While I’m usually pretty much an open book, I’ve changed the amounts of our income/expenses because…well…I’m not that open.*


I plan for every time I expect to spend money in the month, which makes it easy to see what my checking account should look like.  So for example, I know that if I check my bank account on the 10th, my balance should be $2,250.  If it’s less, it means we overspent somewhere and need to figure out where.

As the month goes on and I pay a bill or take a line item out in cash, I’ll highlight it in yellow.  That way I know that I am on track up until that particular point.


If I have an unexpected expense come up, I just insert a line item with the date of the expense and easily update the expected account balance (since it’s all just calculated using an automatic formula).  If, somewhere down later in the budget, that update makes the expected account balance go negative I know I need to adjust something – reduce an expense or move a payment date, for example.

This just keeps going on and on and on…the budget I’m currently working off of runs all the way back to January, I think.  It’s nice to have a quick and easy way to see where we had expected to be and compare it to where we are in real life.  I also appreciate that the budget identifies the date I should pay each expense {this helps keep me organized} and I can always work in random, non-recurring expenses like preschool field trip fees or camping expenses.  Finally, I have my whole historical budget so I can go back and see how much that electric bill was in January to help me plan for the next one.

I call this my “real-time” budget.

I even have it linked to my phone for easy access anywhere, and my husband has it linked to his.  Neither of us can say we didn’t know what the plan was for our money.

So there you have it, my secret’s out.  We don’t follow the budgeting “rules” but I’ve found this works much, much better for our family.

How does your family manage their budget?


6 thoughts on “In Real Time: A Different Kind of Budget

    1. No need to freak! Think of it this way – it gives you a plan so then you can FREELY SPEND WITHOUT GUILT OR WORRY! “Budget” doesn’t have to mean “limited.” If you want to put $1000 in your budget for clothes, go ahead and do it (as long as you can pay all your other stuff). It’s just a plan!

  1. My strategy is far simpler – just make sure my raises outpace our increase in expenses 🙂
    I am only half-kidding. I’ve kept a firm grasp on our budget, coupled with double-entry accounting for the past 8 years. It was great. I always knew what was going on, and knew what the near-future held. At the end of last year I had to give it up. It took more effort than I was willing to spend. Sherri has picked up some of the slack, but not all. I miss having a better grasp on our finances… Oh, well. Can’t have it all. My new strategy is flying by the seat of my pants. 🙂

    1. Sometimes that’s the only strategy left when you’re trying to raise a family and not lose your mind. As far as I can tell you all can afford food, so that’s a good indication that whatever you’re doing is perfectly sufficient! 🙂

  2. Thank you so much! I literally just searched, “I created a budget, now what???” I love the thought of a budget, but if my bank account doesn’t start with X amount of dollars to work with the budget, what am I supposed to do? Funny enough, I’ve done exactly what you talk about before, to figure out the next few weeks or so, but never thought about making it my “budget”. DUH!!! My husband works shift work and between overtime, shift differential, double time and time and a half I never know what his paycheck’s going to be. This will make things so much easier for us! Again, I thank you!!! 🙂

  3. I’ve never successfully maintained a budget. Ever. Now, with husband in school, and out income all on my shoulders (save the whopping $10K in school loans that we get as his “income” every 6 months), I just try to not go red, which inevitably happens every May and December when our “padding” from his loans run out. Thank you, Los Angeles for being the most ridiculously expensive place to live.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s