Milk and Honey Magazine tips for young women on budgeting their money in a God-honoring way.

Breaking Down a Bad Budget

Hannah Coffman

I don’t know about you, but paying taxes, choosing health insurance, and budgeting weren’t covered in my college skills class. When I graduated from college in 2015, I entered into life with my husband without a good grasp of how to navigate all of our bills, taxes, and other responsibilities.

This year, we’ve committed to breaking bad spending habits. If you use a credit or debit card as your main form of payment (and you probably do), you know how easy it is to swipe your card without thinking twice about it.

Setting ourselves achievable monthly goals has been a huge help in this endeavor. We want our money to be spent responsibly, but it’s hard to track whether our spending is responsible or not when we swipe our cards without a thought.

I wanted to share this process with you because it has helped us so much. Here are three practical ways to break down your budget and find areas to save:

Set realistic goals for yourself

Don’t be afraid to start small. For instance, with my on-the-go lifestyle, cutting out to-go coffee entirely is almost impossible. Instead, I limited myself to a certain number of coffees I could buy within the month, which helped me stop and think before leaving the house: do I need to bring a thermos of coffee with me? My husband is more of a soda drinker, so he limited himself on the number of sodas he could purchase within the month. It might seem like just a small change, but it makes me aware of how often I think to myself, “I’ll just stop and grab a hot, caffeinated beverage.” I’m a freelance writer, so I often work in coffee shops and I’m always tempted to spend the money I’m making on coffee to sip while I work. This exercise allowed me to take a step back, take a deep breath, and re-focus my priorities.

Determine ways you’re wasting money

This is different for each person. For me, convenience gets me every time, and I end up spending the majority of our money on food. Whether I’m spending money on fast food, coffee, or the convenience of going to a more expensive grocery store that is closer to my house, I often end up spending more to save myself an inconsequential amount of time. My husband and I live in a small town with just one grocery store, and it’s quite expensive. However, just fifteen minutes away, I have several options that are much more cost-effective. For a whole month, I gave myself the goal of driving a little farther to shop at a less expensive store—and I’m so glad I did. It saved us a lot of money and helped me remember to buy non-perishable items so that we wouldn’t feel the need to pop over to the grocery store to grab things for dinner. Going to the grocery store with a list, having recipes planned out for the week, and meal-prepping can also help save you a ton of money. I haven’t perfected this yet, but I’m working on it!

Give yourself the buy-one donate-one rule

Over the past several years, I have developed good habits of shopping at thrift stores, frequenting sales, and knowing all the best resale shops, but shopping is still a habit of mine. I love fashion, I love shoes, and I’ve often intended to window shop but instead ended up purchasing a few new outfits. In the past, I’ve talked myself into this habit by saying, “It’s only resale… it’s discounted… it’s only a $20 purchase.” All of these things are true, but those little purchases add up over the month. For our first money-saving month, I made a commitment not to buy any clothing. It was so much more difficult than I thought it was going to be (even though I didn’t need any new items.) One of my favorite thrift stores had a dollar clearance day, and I had to keep my eyes on the road and drive by.

After that challenge was over, I’ve bought a few new pieces, but I’ve also decided to go through my closet and clean out what I don’t wear. One of the most helpful things for me was to organize clothes by type—so, a pile of t-shirts, a pile of dresses, a pile of jeans. This really helped me see the excess in my collection—no one needs thirty t-shirts—and donate what I don’t need. Now, I have a buy-one donate-one rule. When I purchase a new item, I have to donate something from my collection. For instance, if I’m buying a new dress, I have to donate an old dress that I don’t really wear anymore. I think this rule makes me more conscious of what I’m buying. Am I really willing to part with an item of clothing to buy the new piece, or do I just want to buy it because it’s only $5?

Budgeting and spending money responsibly is so important, but it can be hard to know where to start. Start small, set yourself goals and challenges, and treat yourself to a fancy coffee drink when you’ve made it through the month. Just don’t forget to put it in the budget!