Make budgeting a family project

May 23, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin


Think of a realistic budget as the GPS that will help you reach your financial objectives. Unless you know how much money you have available and make a plan to spend less than you earn, paying off debt, saving for a down payment on a house or getting ready for retirement may seem like insurmountable goals.

Budgeting is not rocket science, but it requires discipline. Where you have a partner, both of you should participate in the process. Any children should also be involved to a more limited extent, depending on their ages. If the whole family understands and agrees to budget priorities established by the group, it is more likely that they will follow the roadmap. 

Keys to successful budgeting: 

Some keys to successfully budgeting are:

  1. Understand how much net income your family has every month.
  2. Identify your fixed and variable expenses.
  3. Build debt repayment and savings into your budget.
  4. Establish family priorities.
  5. Develop a plan to control costs as required.
  6. Record all expenditures to help you stay on plan.

Two techniques for staying on plan that money maven Gail Vax Oxlade uses successfully with couples on her television program “Til Debt Do Us Part” are:

  • Cut up debit and credit cards and spend only cash.
  • Allocate the amounts you have available to spend for each category like food, clothes, rent etc. into a series of “jars” for every pay period. 

Getting started

First of all, gather up all your payslips, bills and credit card statements so you have the information you need all in one place. There are lots of online tools that will allow you to enter your data and play around with the numbers until they add up to something that will work for your family.

For example, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada offers an online budget calculator.  Vaz Oxlade has a no-cost guide to building a budget and an interactive online spread sheet available on her website.

There are many other calculators and specialized spreadsheets available online, but I’m a big fan of googledrive. This free application allows you to create an online spreadsheet and give other family members access from different devices.

While you may choose to have only one person enter or delete data, if each person can record money spent on an ongoing basis, anytime someone is contemplating an expenditure, he/she can get a clear picture of the state of the family’s finances. 

Fixed expenses

There are certain unavoidable family expenses that recur on a regular basis. These may include rent or mortgage payments, house insurance, property taxes, utilities, car payments, gas, car insurance, other transportation life insurance etc. You get the picture.

While you could move to less expensive accommodations or take the bus instead of driving if you have to, these expenses cannot be easily reduced in the short term. Therefore, make sure you account for them carefully up front when you are developing your budget.

Food, clothing

Food and clothing are important components of your budget. If you use a credit or debit card for most purchases, it should be fairly easy to track these expenditures over the course of several months. If you use cash, you may have to make a conscious effort to record how much the family spends over a specific period to gain a good understanding of the family’s spending patterns.

Perhaps you eat out frequently and bring home fast food several times a week. This is an area where you may be able to control your costs and at the same time provide more nutritious meals for your family.

Adults can often declare a moratorium on buying clothes for a considerable period. Where growing children need bigger sizes in clothing and shoes, consider clothing swaps of gently used items with family and friends. They are very easy to arrange online. 


Land lines, smartphones, internet, cable TV, electronic games, tablets and laptops. You may be shocked to discover how much you spend on technology and connectivity. Contact your service provider and ask for a better deal or a better bundle. Consider getting rid of cable TV and subscribing to Netflix for $7.99/month. Resolve to keep your current technology for longer. And resist the temptation to buy the latest new gadget on the market.


Add up how much you spent on entertainment last year. By attending community events instead of buying more expensive tickets to professional theatre or big name sports teams, you can save a bundle and still have a lot of fun.

Rather than spending thousands of dollars on international travel, plan a “staycation” or a long weekend at a local tourist attraction you have been meaning to check out but never got around to visiting. 


The money you save for your children’s education or your retirement should not be left to chance if you happen to have enough money around at the end of the month. Build RESP, Saskatchewan Pension Plan, RRSP and TFSA contributions into your budget and “pay yourself” first every time your paycheque is deposited.

Are there free or low cost budget tools that work for you? Have you recently turned your finances around? Send us an email to so*********@sa*********.com and share your ideas with us. If your story is posted, your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

30-May Wedding How much should you spend on a wedding gift?
6-June Bringing home baby How to prepare financially for a new baby
13-Jun Fathers Day Frugal gifts your father will love
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