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Simple Home Budgeting For Dummies - How Mom sent her kids to college

Updated on November 8, 2015

The formula for dummies

For the benefit of those who prefer not to live, die and crash on their computers, I offer a method for keeping track of your household spending without the benefit of Turbotax, QuickBooks or any other such advanced budgeting method, It is a plan my mother devised and I can tell you that she was definitely not a dummy.

The only requirements needed for mom’s budgeting method are:

1.) a stack of envelopes and

2.) a stack of cash.

Each envelope is marked with the appropriate category as in:

  • Groceries
  • insurance
  • church donations
  • gas
  • entertainment
  • clothing
  • tuition
  • car payment
  • electric
  • telephone
  • heating expenses
  • clothing
  • medical
  • extras
  • school supplies

Note: at this time( 1950 - 2000) there were no expenses like cable TV, Internet, and cell phones

Mother would mark a dollar amount on each envelope which corresponded to the average amount of dollars she spent each month of the prior year for those categories. As examples:

groceries $400,

Gas $50,

Car payment $100

and so on, right down the list.

Cold Green Cash

Mom's money was always fresh and green
Mom's money was always fresh and green

There Was a Time When Cash Was King

Every week when dad brought home the bacon so to speak, she would head to the bank and convert his paycheck into cash, in a cash distribution formula known only to her. When she got home, she would divvy up the Five, ten , twenty and one dollar bills, then insert a proportionate amount of hard cash into each envelope. If her calculations were correct, and they usually were , at the end of the month she would have enough cash in each category to

She also had a couple of special purpose envelopes in which funds were placed that would take care of expenses that occurred on a less frequent basis. Saving for her 5 chidren's education was important so she had an envelope dedicated to that category as well. Those special purpose envelopes were for a few other categories that included:


Christmas gifts

Replacement of furnaces etc

emergency funds

The Magic Envelope that ultimately paid a good share of my college tuition expences was designated "College Fund". Over the years, i watched as the envelope swelled then shrunk with each emergency. But true to her goal, mom always brought the amount up to par. When the time came to pay tuition, she reached in and pulled our an appropriate number of $100 bills to be used for what it was originally intended. Of course back then in the late 50s, tuition was something like $20 a credit hour.

As unexpected expenses came up, envelopes were often raided to balance out temporary shortfalls in her plan, but replenished as cash became available.

The Eternal Slush Fund

The also kept an envelope for her slush fund, in which she placed enough walking around money to pay for those incidental things like a trip to the ice cream shop, the movies and other such expenditures. She carried that money in her purse, inside an envelope of course.

For Safe Keeping,

the envelopes were kept in an old cloth bank bag, She wrapped that bag securely in a piece of brown butcher paper, then placed it in the back corner of our freezer where the family fortune stayed hidden until needed for over 40 years. If nothing else, our family money always

Mom's Cash looked fresh and green .

Anyone can do their banking and bill paying using a checkbook or Internet, but it is definitely not as satisfying as working and dealing in cold, hard, real cash money.

Start a College Envelope Fund Today

Granted the idea may be a bit tedious by today's standards, but for long term hoals an envelope will work well. A few bucks, every week, instead of a couple Starbucks can add up in time. Start stuffing envelopes now and you will end up with a surprisingly large nest egg when your kids are ready for college. Take it from mom.


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