As a mom of a 2  year-old and a business owner, staying on budget, making our money stretch and making the best use of my time is always a challenging feat. I often find that if I’m not diligent about keeping track of my spending and being cognoscente of how I am spending our money, it easily gets out of control. I know that I’m not alone - today’s moms are not only influencing most of the family purchases, but are responsible for managing the family finances. While it is not an easy task, there are some great and creative ways to make the most of your money.

Creating a Budget and Making It Stick

Citing lack of time and interest, many people have no idea how much they bring home, what they spend monthly or how they spend it. Isn’t it interesting how much time we take to plan so many things in our lives - from kids’ classes and activities to family vacations, home decorations and even what we are having for dinner. So, why are we not taking the time to plan our spending and our savings? Simply put, this type of planning is called a budget and taking the time to put this type of plan together is the first step towards experiencing true financial freedom.

Coming And Going

There are two important parts to making a budget work. The first step is to know what your net income is each month. This could include side jobs, bonuses, regular pay checks, alimony, child support and whatever other additional income comes into your household on a monthly basis. The second step is a bit more tedious - you need to figure out how you are spending your money. To do this, collect receipts for EVERYTHING you spend money on, and if you can’t get a receipt then write the purchase on a post it note. Your spending can include big ticket items such as mortgage, taxes, groceries, babysitters, vacations and utilities. However, don’t forget to include the smaller items such as drive-thru lunches and dinners, vending machine snacks, magazine subscriptions and tolls. If you spend it, write it down - no matter how small the amount.

As soon as we begin to document how we spend our money, we begin to really think about spending and we are more apt to spend it on things that are important to us. I’d suggest just writing down your spending for one month to get a real idea of how much money is leaving your pocket.

Once you have a monthly spending amount, you need to begin breaking it up into categories such as food/entertainment, utilities, miscellaneous, gas/car, mortgage, vacation, insurance, clothes, kids activities, childcare, emergency saving and giving. This will give you a clear picture of where your money is going.

Setting a Limit

Give yourself a spending limit for each category - assigning each a specific amount of money you plan to use. When added together, the category amounts should add up to what you bring home each month. The two most important categories are emergency savings and giving. If you don’t have the priority of saving and giving down first, you are really short-changing yourself.

Once you have amounts assigned to your categories write down your spending every week and put the amount you spend under the appropriate category. As each week goes by, keep a cumulative total per category and make sure you don’t go over in your spending. If you go over in a category, spend under that amount in another. Start again each month with a new spreadsheet. It will take about 3 months to really get your groove.

Now that you have a feel for your spending you might want to cut some spending out of your plan. Here are a few ideas on how to save money but still maintain your lifestyle:

Groceries: Where do you shop? Do you know what a good price is for the things you use all the time? Do you pay attention to sale items? Become more strategic in your shopping—opting for stores that have great prices every day AND who have great sales. I love Aldi for the basics and I think Meijer has great every day prices as well as awesome sales. Another favorite of mine is Woodmans, an employee owned grocery store, with a few locations in Illinois. Woodman’s is the size of a Home Depot with Aldi prices, and if you can’t find it at Woodman’s it doesn’t exist (well almost!)

Coupons: I do cut coupons and I think they make a huge difference. I cut them from the Sunday paper and immediately put them in an envelope, and toss it in my car. In my car is a coupon accordion file. I keep it there all the time so when I’m out it’s with me. I file the coupons when I’m waiting on a train, a stop light etc, or picking kids up. I have a second coupon file in my car too – one for fast food, restaurants, gift certificates, dry cleaning, movie rental, store credits, and other coupons. This too stays in my car for when we are running around and need food or other shopping coupons.

Know Your Rates: Stay on top of your phone, cell phone, cable and Internet packages. I usually shop for new providers every few years to get the best rate. I also shop my home and car insurance every several years as well.

Use Your Resources: Two more quick ideas for saving on tons of things, the Entertainment Book, and the Radio Shopping Show, (for those of you are in the Chicago suburbs or the Las Vegas area). The Entertainment Book is available in almost all areas of the U.S. and has “buy one get one” coupons for fast food, sit down casual and formal dining, dry cleaning, car washes, groceries, clothes shopping, travel and more. These books are also great if you are taking a vacation – order the book for the place you’re going and save on eating out and local attractions. As far as the Radio Shopping Show goes, you can get great deals on all the things the Entertainment Book does at 40-80% off retail.

I’ve got tons of ideas on saving money, and what I usually tell people is to just take an idea or two and make them a habit. The one or two things you do can really add up. Good luck and happy saving and spending!!