Budget on A Chalkboard

We’ve tried all sorts of things to get us to stick to a budget. It isn’t so much about controlling our spending–though that’s part of it–but rather about knowing exactly where everything is going. It’s a very good feeling to know what’s in your bank account without looking.

Bills are done monthly, and don’t factor in to this trick. Gas is also part of those bills; to make that clear we use one credit card for gas only, and pay it off monthly. Our daily expenses include food, art supplies, home supplies, movies–basically anything that isn’t a bill. If we have something huge, like a car repair, that is handled separately. You’ll see why.

On the top door of our refrigerator, we’ve affixed a rectangle of Wallcandy Chalkboard Panels. I love these things–the canister the Spousal Unit bought me three years ago is just about gone. We’ve used it for tons of stuff. But you don’t need it–there are all sorts of ways to set this up. Maybe you have a whiteboard you aren’t fully utilizing, or a magnetic notepad that never quite gets used for grocery lists.

On our chalkboard we have to-do lists and shopping lists, but this is the big one:


We have a daily budget that we set, sometimes changing it depending upon circumstances (that’s another story). That daily number will be different for everyone. For us, it’s net income – bills – savings – some extra for breathing room / 30. About once a week, I draw a new grid that includes the weekday abbreviation and date (DAY), amount spent that day ($), and the remainder, or what’s left over afterwards (REM) . If we go over our budget, REM is put in parentheses. REM carries over. In other words, if we overspent by $10 on Monday, then $15 again on Tuesday, REM is going to be ($35). Conversely, if we are under budget, REM builds up. We can decide to be extra careful to save up for a splurge.

Caution on REM, though. Getting too far behind can be demoralizing. This is why something like a car repair is handled outside the daily budget. We do two things when REM goes bad: sometimes we reset REM on payday, because we have our full daily budget in the bank anyway; if it happens frequently, we realize we need to adjust either our budget or our habits.

These are a lot of words to explain a very simple trick. What makes it so valuable? It’s visible. At the end of every day, there is an accounting. Where we stand is always right in front of us. We don’t let it get us down–it’s an awareness tool, not a guilt weasel (hat tip to Kevin Hearne). We’ve been doing this for several months, and it’s worked better than anything we’ve ever tried. While it’s best to keep the chart out in the open, if you have thundering herds of strangers in your house all the time, you may want to be more discreet. I’m honestly not sure how that would work. Out of sight can mean out of mind. But it’s still definitely worth trying if daily budget is something you struggle with. I don’t have children, but I wish my parents had done something like this when I was a kid. I would have learned so much!

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