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Best Family Budgeting Ideas

Updated on September 9, 2012


Family budgeting might sound like a big yawn....or maybe you think it can’t really be done because there are too many variables.

But I'm here to tell you it can be done....and even can be something that the entire family can enjoy and really "get into" if done the right way.

Think about family budgeting or "family financial planning" as a learning experience for everyone.

If you go about budgeting for your family the right way, this can be a great stepping stone in your children’s financial life down the road.

They will remember these principles and be able to apply them in their own lives later on.

Let’s look at some of the ways that budgeting for the family can be a great learning tool......and it can be part of the family fun too!


There are lots of budgeting programs available on the Internet. Keep that in mind as sometimes using a program makes it more visual and adds to the fun for everyone.

Many programs are completely free. Try different ones and see which one pops for your family. Some great choices are:

  • Budget Master
  • PearBudget
  • Within Your Means


  • Mint (this one is slick because it tracks your spending and automatically slides it into categories for you)
  • There are also all kinds of spreadsheets available
  • Excel or Quicken will also track expenses

It doesn’t matter how you do it.....on paper or on the computer.....but sometimes the computer capture of your financial lives shows it more clearly.


The first thing to do is have a family budget summit. Call it anything you like, but gather everyone together and have your first family budget meeting.

At the meeting, pass out small notebooks to everyone and begin by saying that this is a meeting about money. You’ve decided that the family needs to work together as a track expenses and see if there are any areas where you all could save money. Also explain that you're open to everyone's insights about money and budgeting. There are perhaps ideas or techniques that the entire family could learn from.

Stressing that saving money is teamwork is a great motivator and kids (or a spouse) feeling part of a team will always feel more inclined to examine the budget and to come up with ideas. Just remember to always listen to everyone’s input and give it careful consideration.

Explain the notebooks.....these will be each individual’s financial tracker. Everyone is to write down every penny or dime or dollar that they spend on EVERYTHING for 1 week. No matter how big, no matter how small and no fudging. This is the way that you will have your finger on the pulse of your budget and see how it's doing.

Next, run through projected areas of budgeting need. Explain briefly the concepts of money in (income) and money out (expenses) and how tracking them is vital to knowing how much to budget for in the coming months for things like new clothes for school, soccer cleats, vacation, Christmas spending, etc.

By defining the areas that are expenses, it gives everyone a clearer picture of where you’re going, the best ways to get there, and plants the seed that there may be ways to cut expenses.

Share the wealth and tap everyone’s brains. Start a perpetual needs list. This is a list of things from groceries to light bulbs. Ask everyone to contribute to what needs to go on the perpetual list.....even personal hygiene items should be on there. These are things that you eventually run out of and have to go and buy at the store.

Next, start a need-this-week list and encourage everyone to contribute to this regularly. Maybe divide up the house by rooms and give everyone their fair share of rooms.

For instance, Kim can check bathrooms for supplies and cleaning products. Jimmy can check the garage for any needed supplies on a weekly basis such as gas for the lawnmower, lawn bags, or trash can liners and pet food. Maggie and mom can check the kitchen for needed supplies each week and jot them down on the need-this-week list, based on meal planning (see below).

Don't forget to have someone monitor the refrigerator checking expiration dates on everything at least once per week. Then cycle foods that need to be used up to the front and post a small note as to what needs to be used soon to avoid going to waste.

Perpetual Needs List

Paper Towels
Toilet Paper
Dish Soap
Dog Food
Kidney Beans
Spaghetti Noodles
Tortilla Shells
Tomato Sauce


Next, tell everyone you’re going to be planning meals from now on. You want everyone involved, so it’s imperative that everyone actually LIKES the meals you plan! Try and think of nutritious meals (and breakfasts and lunches) that perhaps everyone can participate in least have a hand in.

Decide on things you can buy for making roasting a chicken and using that for lunch meat instead of buying processed lunch meat, baking cookies and freezing some, then using the rest for lunches, fresh fruit purchases for 5 days to put in lunch boxes and bags.

Try meatless meals once or twice per week to save money and encourage a healthy diet. Don’t fall into the trap of buying processed food for your menus because you’ll end up spending way more money in the long run and get less nutritional value for your expenditure.

Next, divide up and go through cupboards and the fridge to see what products you have on hand and what products you’ll need. Add the items you need to the need-this-week list.

If shopping alone works better for you, then go about it that way but when you’re working on a team approach to budgeting, sometimes it’s a good idea to involve everyone. Just don’t shop hungry and agree before you leave or enter the store that you are not buying ANYTHING that isn’t on the list.

An exception down the road might be to stock up on things that are definitely a great buy but starting out, you might want to stick to the list to keep things simpler for everyone.

Encourage everyone to compare unit prices and get the best deals. Even bring a calculator if you need to get work it out.

Tell everyone up front that you’re avoiding the snack aisles, the pop aisles, and anything processed. If you’ve been eating that way, it’s a great way to trim this expense from your diet.

After shopping, have another meeting and ask for everyone’s input. What they thought worked and what didn’t.

Then encourage everyone to start thinking of meals for the next week’s budget meeting and also encourage people to start looking for grocery coupons and rebates. Online, in the paper, or in store coupons can save everyone money.

Encourage everyone to research what days are the deal days at what stores or maybe what days they offer double coupons.

By making it a virtual treasure hunt and a team effort, everyone in the family is more apt to join in the money budgeting concept.

The next week, go over your expenditure journals and everyone discuss what they felt about their spending habits.

Discuss what upcoming events are going to be costing money such as Maggie needs a costume for her dance recital and how much it costs.

Write down all extraneous or projected expenses and then start budgeting how to pay for them and by when.

A budgeting plan that your family participates in should only include family expenses that are understandable for children and should exclude things like mortgages, utilities, etc. These expenses can be overwhelming to anyone let alone children.

You can touch on these expenses if the children are older and emphasize things like saving money by replacing bulbs with more energy efficient bulbs, doing full loads of laundry rather than small loads, turning off or unplugging things not in use, saving water in the shower, etc.

For the most part, when starting out, just stick to budgeting that everyone can understand and participate in. They can’t do anything about your mortgage payment!

Set up a savings account if you haven’t already done it for each of your kids. If Maggie for instance says that she wants a pair of $60 jeans for the upcoming school year and you can’t see spending that much for them, you’ll need to think perhaps of a compromise.

Suggest for high ticket items that the kids earn part of the money themselves. Then give them ideas and pet sitting, working for the neighbor cleaning windows, or even doing jobs around the house that fall outside the list of "standard chores".

Encourage your kids to take any money that they save (by perhaps looking at their journaling and finding some "frivolous" spending) and put it into their account. Set a great example by doing the same.

For instance “I decided I was spending way too much on lattes at $3 per day so I decided to plunk that money at the end of the week into my savings account....look how much I saved....$21”.

You don’t have to hit someone over the head to make a point sometimes.....just discussing it or showing someone an example of your own behavior can help shape theirs.

Need-This-Week List

1 lb. of ground beef
Fred Meyer
1 head of lettuce
5-6 roma tomatoes
1 bunch of cilantro
3 sweet onions
Fred Meyer
3 jalapeno peppers
Fred Meyer
Sour Cream
Fred Meyer


Meet at least once per week and plan meals together. Talk about ways to save money, buying different products to save money, and encourage all the input you can get. As they say, sometimes out of the mouths of babes!

Start planning for a vacation and get everyone’s input. Consider budget friendly vacations like maybe renting a house on the beach in a more off-season time such as after school’s back in, then just enjoying where you’re at and not having huge expenditures.

Or consider a camping vacation in summertime and explore a place like San Juan Island or another beautiful place.

Make sure you plan ahead and make reservations, know how much the total costs are, etc.

Having something to look forward to makes it all seem worthwhile when you’re trying to save money for it.

Even open an account just for vacation and throw money at it (everyone) whenever you can.

Do the same for Christmas or’d be surprised how it motivates people to save more easily and it’s nice to see it building up over time.

These are just some tips on budgeting WITH your family not FOR them. There’s a huge difference.

Also teaching the principle that want does not equal need in most cases is vital. Learning to separate these two concepts is vital for financial security down the road.

Come up with your own budgeting tips for your family and feel free to share them with me here for everyone to read!

Financial woes can be some of the worst in the world but with a little effort and being honest about finances with your family, you can live a financial happily ever after!


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