How to live on a budget (without your head exploding)

howtoliveonabudgetSo now that I’m in the land of self-employment, I’ve recently updated our family budget to make sure we can cover the essentials while my income has become more intermittent.

Jumping from a decent fortnightly part-time wage to a scenario that relies on payment of invoices required me to a complete rethink of what’s necessary for us as a family and what’s not and how being more mindful with our money has lots of far-reaching benefits, that really have nothing to do with how much money is actually entering the bank account.

The fact that first got me thinking about this was when last year I took on an extra day in the office and although I had an updated budget and we hoped to whittle away a bit of savings, it really didn’t happen and we ended up living pay to pay just as we had been. What was happening was that I was so stretched in terms of time and the stress of juggling it all, that our mindless spending went through the roof – an extra day of buying lunches as I wasn’t organised at home, extra coffees at work, a few extra takeaways here and there, last minute dashes to shops. All things that I wasn’t necessary budgeting for and that were not the best use of our money. While I knew that my change to self-employment would be tough financially – at least initially – I was looking forward to getting to know our money a bit better and making it work for us, rather than the other way around. 

Now, almost a month into the new regime and I’m starting to get into the rhythm of our new budget and I thought I’d share what’s working for us and how I’m trying to make it as stress free as possible.

Creating a family budget

My first step was to create a realistic budget based on our regular income to cover our day-to-day expenses and make it all add up! I have always used an excel spreadsheet for this, but this year I decided to look around at budgeting apps for something more portable and easy to update. I found Good Budget through some googling and browsing the app store and I like how it was simple to set up and use. I set it up with our weekly income amount and then created ‘envelopes’ of budgeted amounts for each of our expenses. As the money is spent, withdrawn or direct debited from our bank account, I go into the app and withdraw the money from the appropriate envelope. It’s super simple and gives me a snapshot of what’s been paid and what’s left each week ( you can set it to whatever your pay period is). For me, it’s working a whole lot better than my previous spreadsheet system and it’s working well to keep me accountable – the next step is for Mr P to download it to his phone, so he can also check in on what’s been paid and what hasn’t yet.

Tracking your bills

The next part of my system is tracking our bills. I’ve now got a system that as soon as the bill enters the house, the amount and due date are entered into another app I found (look, I’m a bit app crazy!) called Pocket Expense. This then lists and totals the bills coming up in the next 30 days and I set a reminder for each one, so I don’t miss it. Using these two apps in tandem is working for me at the moment – as I know one is for day-to-day spending and one is for longer term bills and for us these are coming from different accounts so it seems to work quite well for now. Having one place where the list of upcoming bills sit has helped me feel more organised and plan these payments in advance.

Menu planning and grocery shopping

Mr P’s pay cycle is weekly, so I’ve moved from doing a fortnightly shop to weekly and only buy what I need for the week ahead. This has meant I now write a quick meal plan on our whiteboard and then a corresponding shopping list. As much as I loathe grocery shopping, the weekly shop is much quicker than my previous fortnightly shop and having a strict budget to stick to means I try and make the most of specials and seasonal produce. I’ve actually been enjoying cooking much more since making this change and taking into account what activities and social events we have scheduled for the week, and planning the menu accordingly, affects what menu I plan and what we spend.

Having fun on a budget

Knowing we only have a certain amount of money to spend on outings and social activities means that we look for things that are free or really cheap and the good news is that there’s heaps out there to do that doesn’t cost a cent. Our big goal this year is to spend more time outdoors with the kids and already this year we’ve been exploring national parks near home, walking and bike riding on local tracks and packing picnics to enjoy in the park. We’ve been inviting people around for no-frills barbecues that don’t require heaps of money or prep and really focusing on what matters to us – spending time with each other as a family and catching up with friends more regularly.

Keep an eye on your financial goals

A good motivator for me is what the end goal of sticking to this budget and keeping our family debt to a minimum will be. At the moment the big goal is to be able to sustain my business in its start-up stage so I can keep working for myself. This might not seem like a big goal, but for us it’s the one that most aligns with our family goals. Once my income from the business is more steady, it will be time to set a new, measurable goal. Think about what you’d most like to achieve right now? Is it reducing household debt, saving for a new car or getting a certain amount of savings in the bank? This is a good way to set your intention and motivation.

So that’s a bit of an overview of how we’re attempting to live on a budget this year – I’m sure to keep you updated with how we’re going, but for now I’d love to hear from you – what are your best tips for living on a budget? 

Towards mindful family living

Mindful Family LivingHappy New Year, my fellow Sanity Savers!

I always love the freshness of a new year. It always feels like the slate can be wiped clean and you can start the year in the way you want your life to be. I know new year resolutions can get a bad rap, but I relish the holiday down time to slow down and make some intentions for the new year. This year is one I know will be different and that’s due to some big changes I made as 2014 drew to a close.

I quit my job

In the dying days of 2014 I walked into my boss’s office and quit my job. I’d love it if it was that simple, that one day I decided that I would resign and marched right in there and did it. However, I am never that decisive so the move followed months of weighing up pros and cons, of planning, budgeting, dreaming and scheming. All the layers of my decision making process intertwined and proved to me beyond reasonable doubt that it was the move I had to make – for myself, for my family and for my career.

The final weeks of 2014 were a flurry of tying up loose ends, farewells and Christmas planning so sitting here now feels very much like a new beginning. While previously I’ve been a freelance writer on the side of my part-time job as a journalist, this year it’s all up to me as to how much money I earn and what my work/life balance looks like. While I’ve been hankering for this kind of freedom for a long while, it also presents a myriad of challenges – how to live an inspired life on less, how to stay motivated when working from home and how to create an organised and distraction free home (as it will now also be my place of business!). 

Towards Mindful Family Living

If I was to sum it all up, my big goal for this year is to create a mindful family life – living with intention and making choices that support our family’s values, aspirations and dreams. A big part of that is continuing to look for ways to stress less and look after myself so that I can be the best mother I can to my boys. I want to introduce systems that tame the chaos of our family life. I want to live adventurously and explore new outdoor activities as a family. I want to make the best use of my time and free myself from frazzled. I want to stick to a budget that allows us the means to plan for our future. I want to make good food choices for myself and my family. And lastly, I want to share how I go about that with you, so you too can start to explore what mindful family living looks like for you.

So, who’s with me? I’d love to hear what the new year holds for you and what changes you want to make to live more mindfully in 2015.

Photograph: Alicia Summer Photography.

Birthday reasons to smile

Today was my 35th birthday. Despite my misgivings in the lead up that 35 seems like an awfully large number, today as I celebrated with a quiet weekend staying at my parents’ house I feel nothing but contentment.

So, as I sit here with a belly full of tea and cake I thought it might be apt to recall the moments that made me smile over this, my birthday weekend.

J singing happy birthday loudly, at random intervals throughout the day.

My wonderful moustache cake, made by my sis-in-law Stacey.

Watching the boys splash in the river, before stripping off and running around in the nude.

Catching up with one of my oldest friends and laughing like we were 10 again.

Birthday messages and phone calls from lovely friends and family.

Pizzas cooked on the BBQ, eaten outside with all the family.

The new necklace, bracelet and earrings Mr P got made for me featuring my birthstone and star sign stone.

A bracelet my talent sister made for me.

Slipping away for a nana nap as the boys did some gardening with their Grandpa.

Walking around the streets of my hometown and peeping in the little shops filled with beautiful things.

As these little moments wash over me with their simple joy, I’m reminded of what really makes me happy. How the small things are really, really big and the things I thought were big (like the number I was turning) actually has no meaning at all.

Looking forward to many more little moments that make me smile.

What made you smile this weekend?

Kicks up the bum from the universe

Ever felt like the universe is constantly giving you little kicks up the bum in the direction you’re supposed to go? It happens to me sometimes. Sometimes it’s playful and other times it really, really hurts.

I notice I get little kicks whenever I think seriously about giving up blogging here. On two occasions now – the most recent being last week – when I’ve been on the verge of giving up this space, I get an email from a parent just like me, coming to terms with having a baby with facial palsy, thanking me for writing about my experiences. The emails are always just so lovely and the tinge of worry, yet glowing love they have for their babies, takes me hurtling back to the time I spent googling for answers with my own special boy feeding away, oblivious to the tears that dropped onto his little head.

In that moment, I know that my almost four years of blogging here is worth it and it inspires me to keep telling my stories of parenting a child with a difference. So, I begin this year with a new resolve to keep telling my stories, the big and the small, the joyous and the painful in the hope that we can all revel in our own differences and that of our children.

This year will be a momentous one here in our household as we prepare J for hopefully beginning big school next year. One of the reasons I haven’t been blogging as regularly is that a lot of my energy has been focused on being completely and utterly present with him and working on his speech, language and physical movement. At the end of last year we went through the process of gaining entry into our local Early Childhood Development Program (ECDP), which prepares kids with special needs for Prep. We had been warned that getting in is sometimes hard for kids with speech/language delay, but when we met with the staff they couldn’t be more accommodating. We started to attend playgroup there while we did all the mountains of paperwork to get in. In the end, they suggested we try to get him in under ‘physical impairment’ due to his facial palsy. Which worked and J started at his ‘new kindy’ this week.

Accessing the ECDP and its services constituted a big kick up the bum from the universe. What I found there was so much support and understanding for Jarvis and for me as his mum. Until this point, the idea that J had ‘special needs’ was something I wasn’t comfortable admitting to even myself. His differences were just him, the challenges we met along the way – the appointments, the tests, the therapy –  was just part of our journey. However, standing in a room with a group of kids, all with different needs, and their parents who were there to help them, I realised that I’d found a place where there was no ‘normal’ and I felt a sense of peace. At that moment, I knew that for four years as I struggled to learn how to be his parent and to show the world how brilliantly I was coping (cough, cough!) that I constantly compared him to other kids his age without his problems, instead of comparing him to his own potential – which although endless, just takes a little longer to shine out of him.

I can’t dwell on the fact that it took me four years to come to this realisation, but I sometimes wonder if I would have cut myself a bit more slack a bit earlier had I known it to be true. The upshot is, I know in my heart of hearts that I never could have loved my boy more if I tried and that I continue to be his advocate and his guide on this sometimes rocky road, despite my personal feelings of inadequacy.

Having said all that, I know that as a family we are up for the challenges this year brings and J is over the moon excited about his ‘new kindy’. And me? I’ll be here, blogging a bit more regularly about our journey thanks to the all the little kicks up the bum that have landed me back here in front of this screen. Where it seems like I belong, after all.

Farewelling Christmas apathy

Ho, Ho, Ho! Things have taken a decidedly festive turn here in the last week. The tree is up, there are presents lurking in cupboards ready to wrap and I’m starting to plan the Christmas feast for Christmas day.

We usually travel to either side of the family at Christmas, but this year we’re having our first ever at home Christmas. It means I have to step up my Christmas spirit – which isn’t hard when you’ve got a three year old in the house who is just starting to understand what Christmas means.

Because we are usually away, we’ve made do with a small fibre optic tree bought from Coles with no decorations. That just wouldn’t do this year, so on Friday we set to work decorating our first proper sized tree. Jarvis got very excited by the baubles and got quite into the spirit shouting “MORE, MORE” even though the baubles were all nestled in the trees branches. And as a result, so did I. The iPhone was aclicking, instagram feed being updated and I genuinely felt that ‘inner-child’ moment of Christmas tree decorating of Christmas’s past.

I love our tree and this year it feels especially symbolic of firsts in our family: Hugo’s first Christmas, the first year Jarvis really ‘gets’ Christmas and our first family Christmas in our own home.

I’m still madly ticking off to do lists like a person possessed, but that tree in the corner is somehow a calming influence. A reminder of what it’s all about: family, fun, feeling, togetherness and effort rewarded.

What’s happening at your place this Christmas?


A band, a baby, a BBQ and a vintage store

Yay for Friday! And a Friday before a long weekend at that!

For those like me living in Queensland, we are lapping up a whole extra public holiday this year! Yeehah! Labor Day is being moved from May to October for us from next year, but this year we got both. Being on maternity leave, this wasn’t immediately apparent so it’s kind of crept up on me like a big surprise party.

In thinking about all the fun stuff we could do this weekend I remembered I hadn’t shared with you what we got up to a couple of weekends a go.

We went to see a band. With our baby. In a vintage store. And there was a Brazilian BBQ! So many of my favourite things in one sunny Sunday afternoon location. Continue reading

Fathers Day meets wedding anniversary

Yesterday was of course Fathers Day and it was also Mr P and my six year wedding anniversary. The morning started early with both boys in the bed and Jarvis handing over his card and ‘best dad in the world’ award he made at day care.

It also happened to be our monthly farmers market down the road. The plan was to wander down early and buy yummy stuff to feast on with my parents (Grandpa and Grandma) who were making the trip up from Northern NSW. Continue reading