Master the dark art of budgeting

by Sarah Liversidge

At some point in our lives most of us will struggle to make ends meet. When I first became a mum, I had grossly underestimated how much children could cost. I also felt totally out of control with my new life, which exacerbated the issue. I couldn’t manage a shower and change of t-shirt, so how on earth was I supposed to ensure our finances were up to date?

I’ve worked in accounting for many years, so you’d think I’d have had an unfair advantage, but alas – our finances were in the toilet and the worrying kept me up most nights. Of course, there are people who are financially ready for the changes parenting brings, but I surely was not one of those people. My entrance into the world of parenting was a very messy affair.

The average household expenditure for families with two kids is around $1600 per week. That’s a whole lot of clams, particularly when the median household income is around $1700 – and a lot of people are earning a whole lot less. If you are one of the ‘average’ families, that formula leaves very little wiggle room should you hit an unexpected patch of expense.

My first step to controlling my personal rogue economy was to create a family budget. I still use the same template, which you can use now too. The great thing about this worksheet is it works out for you just how much money you can afford to be spending each day. (The numbers in the template are a sample to illustrate how it all works – obviously you’ll replace those with your own figures.)

What I found when I started this was alarming: we were going backwards every week and we needed to get it together fast.

Here are some tips that really helped. They might help you too.


  • Cut up the credit cards: Unsecured debt can bring you undone very quickly and few of us manage to pay the entire balance each month. The interest on these products can be crippling.
  • Do a budget: The more detailed the budget the more you can trust the numbers. Try different formulas that work for your situation, and design it so it’s useful for your situation. Anytime there is a major change in my finances I spend a short time adjusting my budget. It gives me confidence that I know where I’m at. Before any major purchase I review its impact on my budget. This can be a fantastic decision maker – do I really need this expensive thing?
  • Don’t shop everyday: I try not to go to the shops every day as this greatly reduces the opportunity for incidental purchases. Depending on your habits this could result in huge weekly savings.
  • Always factor in ‘fun’ money. Even people like me can see the tedious side of counting every penny. If your budget is so tight there is no opportunity to let your hair down you may soon find you throw the whole thing out the window.
  • Keep an eye on mortgage payments. A general rule of financial thumb is to keep your housing/mortgage costs lower than 30 per cent of your gross income. Any higher and you may enter the land of Mortgage Stress – not pretty.
  • Keep a safety fund for life’s surprises. Call it savings, or whatever you like. Just set a little bit aside and use it when you need to, it helps reduce the stress to know it’s there when you need it.

It’s difficult to deny our emotional connection to money so don’t bother trying. The way having money aids our sense of security, and not having it, can be a source of immense panic. If we don’t address our underlying behaviours, we may not be able to get ourselves out our debt hole.

I love the fact that our spending also tells a story; so much of life is marked by the constant changes in our accounts. The way we live, where we go, the things we love are always in those numbers and they mark the passing of our time. Maybe I’m a little too romantic about it but it’s something I see every day, and I appreciate that the numbers form some kind of strange matrix. If you look close enough, you can see real people living their lives.

For a bit of fun take the Money Personality Profiler quiz. It can be useful to work out what your patterns might be. I’m amazed at how many different personality types they’ve come up with.

And if you think you have a financial problem, seek advice. Sometimes banks offer a free appointment with their financial planner – these guys can be a great to get you started toward your financial goal.

Often, all it takes is some consideration and a little time. Maybe you have a friend that’s pretty good at this stuff and can show you how they do it. The point is that we’re not alone,  and it’s not a dark art. Sometimes it just takes a little practice.

Love Champagne Sarah’s work? Check out some of her other posts:

Let’s talk about being present

Community glue – a how-to guide for neighbourhood projects

Written By

Carolyn is the editorial director of Champagne Cartel and a freelance writer. In her spare time she is a long-distance runner, peanut butter enthusiast, and single mum to three incredible humans.

1 Comment

  • Hi Sarah. I like where you say that our spending tells a story. When I am passionate about achieving something (for example, our first overseas family trip) I ask myself if what I am about to spend my money on is going to help me achieve that. If not, then I don’t buy it. Thank you for an interesting & honest post.

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