Top Five Tips for Tracking Family Finances
Written by Buzz Bishop

Monday, November 5th, 2018

Checking your bank balance can be scary. You flip it open days away from payday and find out your balance is less than you need, since you've been tapping away for lattes and other impulse purchases.

Having kids is expensive. Back-to-school has passed, Christmas is around the corner, and then after that, it's time for spring break, then summer...and...well, you see the vicious big-ticket spending cycle just never ends, does it?

Here are five easy tips that will help you keep track of your family's finances.

1. Don't Let the Taps Become Traps!

I've never really been able to keep control over my credit card spending. It's so easy to tap and run and forget about the balance – until the bill comes. To rein things in, I did two simple things: 1) I lowered the credit limit on my cards. They set them so high, and I easily hit the limit. Reducing the limit forces me to think twice about charging things. 2) I started using debit more. For anything outside big car repairs and vacations, I use my debit card first. That way, if I don't have the money, I can't spend it.

2. Budget High

Setting up a budget is an important part of keeping a handle on your family's finances. When working it out, set larger-than-normal costs for each line item. Your utility bill will likely be lower in the summer than the winter. Your grocery bill will fluctuate week to week and season to season. The price of gas is constantly changing. If you put a higher estimate in your budget, you'll be better prepared to cover it no matter what. And having money left over from what you've budgeted is a good thing.

3. Set Reasonable Savings Goals

I want to take the family on a big European vacation in the next couple of years. It'll be expensive. I didn't set that as my first savings goal, though. I picked something smaller and more immediate – skis. It's just a couple hundred bucks, and the savings goal is over only 10 weeks. This will give me a win in my budgeting right away.

With immediate success and results, you're more likely to stick with it.

4. Play The Long Game

When you put money into your RSP, RESP or TFSA, try to resist the urge to look at the balance every day. Growing your savings is something you need to do consistently, over time, to see impressive results. When you're investing and saving for the long term, you won't want to be too concerned with the short-term view of where things are at.

If you have a budget surplus at the end of a month, consider putting the surplus in an RESP or RSP if you have contribution room. You might also want to make a prepayment on your mortgage, if your mortgage allows you to do so, or top up your saving goal. Think of your long-term plan and find ways to help you get there.

5. Keep Things Updated

Keep track of your spending on groceries, utilities and other expenses so you can adjust your budget if needed. It's a good idea to revisit your budget at least once a year, looking for updates to your income or expenses in order to trim spending, add to savings, or maybe work toward bigger savings goals.

Do It Alone, Do It Together, Just Do It

My wife and I don't have joint accounts. We've divided the bills and responsibilities so we each know what we're paying for with our paycheques. So far, I'm the only one who has really settled in to try and work out a budget. We could get a better financial family picture if we both worked on it, but I was first into the pool – it's a start. And starting is the first step towards making real change, understanding our money situation, and keeping things on track.


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