In personal finance, where income, expenses, dreams, and aspirations converge, the budget emerges as a crucial tool. It’s not just a set of numbers, rather, it’s a strategic plan that empowers you to navigate the complexities of financial decisions. And when you have a family, creating a family budget becomes even more important.
Table of contents
- What is a family budget?
- 8 steps for how to create a family budget that actually works
- Expert tip: budget for irregular expenses
- Why should you specifically have a “family budget”?
- Categories to include in your family budget
- Expenses unique to families with kids
- What is a reasonable family budget?
- How does a typical family budget look?
- What is the average family monthly budget?
- Articles related to budgets
- Build a bright financial future with a budget for your family!
In this guide, we’re diving into how to create a family budget that works for your family and its unique circumstances.
From understanding fundamental principles to mastering practical steps, you’ll acquire the skills to start a budget that goes beyond being a mere spreadsheet to being a financial tool guiding you toward your financial goals.
So let’s get into creating a budget for the family that genuinely suits your needs!
What is a family budget?
A family budget is a tool that makes managing money for an entire household easier.
The budget helps you decide how to allocate income so that you are not only taking care of your bills but also making progress toward your goals.
In short, this budget guides your decision-making, helping you balance present obligations and future aspirations for a well-rounded lifestyle for you and your household.
8 steps for how to create a family budget that actually works
Now for the nitty-gritty of crafting a family budget that’s not just a piece of paper but a practical roadmap to financial success.
In these eight steps, we’ll learn how to budget effectively, ensuring your family’s goals and aspirations are at the forefront of every financial decision.
1. Gather your financial information
Start by piecing together your current financial position.
Gather your recent bank statements, utility bills, pay stubs, and credit card statements. These documents provide a clear view of your income sources and expenses, and then offer essential pieces of the financial puzzle.
This step is about awareness—understanding where your money comes from and where it goes. By gathering this information, you’re arming yourself with the tools and insights needed to make informed financial decisions.
2. Define your short-term and long-term goals
Now that you’ve got a grip on your financial picture, it’s time to plot your course.
First, outline your short-term goals—those you’d like to achieve within the next year or so. Maybe it’s tackling credit card debt, going on a family vacation, or a home renovation project.
Then, set your sights on the long term.
These are the bigger dreams that might take a few years to accomplish—think of buying a forever house, funding your child’s education without taking out student loans, or having a long and comfortable retirement.
In addition, your goals will shape where you allocate your money, ensuring every dollar takes you closer to what matters most to your family.
So, take a moment to reflect on and define those goals. You can even use examples of financial goals.
3. Include savings goals
Now, let’s talk about one of the most important players in your budget game: savings. These goals are all about securing your future.
For instance, savings goals might include:
- Unexpected events and emergencies
- Starting a business
- Professional development
- Estate planning
- Funds for aging parents’ care and support
- Charitable donations
- Starting a family or growing the one you already have
In addition, by making savings a non-negotiable line item in your budget, you’re essentially saying, “Hey, future, we’re ready for you!”
This disciplined approach strengthens your financial foundation and ensures you’re prepared for life’s surprises and opportunities.
4. Be realistic
If you want to have a family budget, dreaming big is fantastic, but it’s crucial to keep things doable when it comes to your budget.
Your goals should push you forward without knocking your financial stability off balance.
This keeps you motivated and steadily moving toward your financial aspirations.
For instance, let’s say your current monthly savings are $200. A realistic goal could be to boost that to $300 per month—a challenging yet attainable step forward.
In contrast, an unrealistic goal might be to save $1,000 per month, which could strain your finances and cause frustration.
Remember, the key is to stretch yourself without snapping. By setting goals that match your financial landscape, you’re ensuring steady progress and avoiding burnout.
5. Identify needs vs. wants based on your family values and goals
With your goals in sight, it’s time to sort out priorities.
For example, think of your budget as a filter, separating needs from wants.
List your essential needs—housing, groceries, utilities, and healthcare. These are the must-haves that keep your family running smoothly.
Then, consider your wants. These are the extras, the nice-to-haves that enhance your lifestyle but aren’t necessities. This includes eating out, equipment for hobbies, seasonal home decor, and entertainment subscriptions.
Most importantly, at the end of the day, you want to get your spending and monthly expenses list aligned with what matters most to your family.
And cut all other expenses as much as possible.
6. Plan ahead for special occasions
Life is brimming with moments that deserve a celebration, whether birthdays, holidays, or other milestones.
But let’s not forget that these festivities can sometimes come with extra expenses.
That’s where your budget comes to the rescue. So be proactive by including these special occasions in your financial plan.
For instance, to include these special occasions in your budget, set aside a separate category for the “Special Occasions Fund.” Allocate a specific amount of money each month to this fund so that you’re prepared financially when these events come knocking.
For example, suppose you know your child’s birthday is in six months, and you anticipate spending $300 on gifts, decorations, and a party. In that case, you can set aside $50 monthly in your Special Occasions Fund.
By thinking ahead, you can relish these joyful times without worrying about their impact on your wallet.
7. Track and review regularly
You’ve crafted your budget—now it’s time to maintain it.
Set aside time each week to track your spending against your budgeted amounts, or consider budgeting weekly. This practice isn’t about perfection, however, it is about staying aware and accountable.
As you review, look for the following:
- Consistent overspending in “want” categories, such as dining out or entertainment
- Unexpected costs that may have cropped up during the week and how they impact your budget
- Progress toward your savings and debt reduction goals
- Expenses that may vary throughout the year, like back-to-school shopping or holiday-related costs
Adjustments are a natural part of the process.
It’s like fine-tuning a musical instrument to produce harmony. The key is to make those tweaks and keep your budget aligned with your family’s evolving needs and aspirations.
For example, let’s say you’ve been consistently overspending on entertainment, allocating $100 per month but spending around $150. This trend could lead to an annual overspend of $600.
By identifying this pattern during your weekly review, you can decide whether to adjust your entertainment budget or find cost-effective alternatives to manage your expenses better.
8. Get your kids involved
This step isn’t just about teaching—it’s about empowering the next generation with financial know-how by teaching financial literacy for kids.
For example, start by having age-appropriate conversations about money. Share stories, discuss saving and spending, and let them make small decisions within limits.
As they grow, involve them in budget discussions.
Show them how you allocate funds, prioritize needs, and save for goals. This hands-on experience lays the foundation for responsible money management as they approach adulthood.
Other ways to involve your kids in the family budget may include:
- Having them pick which of their “wants” to prioritize
- Having them set their own savings goals
- Giving them a small grocery budget and teaching them how to compare prices, stick to the list, and look for discounts
When you involve your kids in the family budgeting process, you’re not just building financial skills but nurturing a lifelong sense of financial responsibility.
Teaching budgeting for kids helps them be confident and capable of handling their own financials.
Expert tip: budget for irregular expensesHave you ever been caught off guard by unexpected expenses that mess up your budget? It happens to all of us.
But here’s the good news: there’s a smart way to handle these surprises and keep your finances on track. Review prior years’ financials and identify any recurring irregular expenses.
Look for: car repairs and maintenance, medical expenses, home maintenance, membership renewal, seasonal utility increases, vehicle registration renewal, back to school supplies and field trips, tax preparation fees.
You’re already a step ahead by recognizing these possibilities and quantifying them. Now, set aside some money each month to build a buffer against these unexpected costs.
Why should you specifically have a “family budget”?
A family budget puts you in the driver’s seat regarding your spending.
No more puzzling over where your money vanished to or how to stop spending money—instead, you’re in charge, dictating where each dollar goes and also turning spending into a deliberate and informed choice.
But there’s more to it. Think of a budget for the family as a shared playbook.
It’s a platform where every family member gathers, understands the financial game plan, and gets on the same page about financial objectives. Additionally, this unity can go a long way in fostering a clearer understanding of financial priorities and a collaborative approach to managing money.
In addition, perhaps the most impactful aspect is the conversation it sparks.
A budget for the family dismantles the barriers often surrounding money discussions. It creates an environment where money becomes an openly discussed topic—no more hushed conversations or avoidance.
Instead, financial matters become approachable and open, facilitating candid and productive exchanges.
Categories to include in your family budget
A typical budget encompasses various categories that cater to the unique needs of a household, especially when children are part of the equation. Tailor your budget template to suit your family’s lifestyle, and adjust as your circumstances change.
However, some essential categories should be included in a comprehensive budget.
This category covers your mortgage or rent payments, property taxes, insurance, and home maintenance expenses.
Additionally, family-sized homes often require budgeting for utilities like water, electricity, and gas. Quicken explains that this is often the most expensive budgeting category.
With growing appetites and nutritional needs, families typically allocate a relatively large portion of their budget to groceries. This category includes everything from food essentials to household supplies. However you can try out the cheapest grocery list to save on costs!
Childcare and education
Families with children need to budget for childcare, school tuition, books, uniforms, and extracurricular activities. These expenses vary depending on the age of your children and the educational options you choose.
Medical expenses are a critical consideration for every family budget. These include health insurance premiums, doctor visits, prescriptions, and potential emergency medical costs.
Transportation costs can add up with multiple family members potentially commuting to work, school, and activities. This category includes car payments, fuel, maintenance, and public transportation fares.
Savings and investments
Prioritizing savings and investments for your family’s future is crucial. This category might include retirement contributions, college funds for your children, and emergency fund savings.
Allocating a portion of your budget to debt repayment is essential to maintain financial stability. Especially if you have personal loans or if you want to reduce credit card debt.
Entertainment and recreation
Families also need to enjoy quality time together. This category can cover family outings, vacations, hobbies, and additionally, leisure activities.
Clothing and personal care
Children’s growth spurts and changing fashion trends mean this category needs to be included in your budget. Also include personal care items like toiletries and haircuts.
Many families allocate a portion of their budget to charitable donations, teaching children the importance of giving back to the community.
Expenses unique to families with kids
Additional costs you may incur in support of your children should also be included in your family budget.
However, these costs will fluctuate as your kids get older.
So let’s break these down by age:
- Newborn to 3 years old
- 4 to 12 years old
- 13 to 18 years old
Newborn to 3 years old
In this phase of rapid development, careful financial planning becomes essential to ensure that you can provide your child with the best possible start in life.
From the basics of diapering to the complexities of childcare arrangements, this is the time to lay a solid foundation for both your child’s well-being and your family’s financial health.
So be sure to include the following in your budget, especially when preparing for a baby:
- Diapers and baby wipes (and lots of them)
- Formula and baby food
- Strollers, cribs, car seats
- Medical expenses from the frequency of doctor’s appointments
- Daycare, nanny, night nurse
4 to 12 years old
During this dynamic phase of childhood, your kids are developing their personalities, interests, and a deeper understanding of the world around them.
They start school, build friendships, and also find hobbies.
From education-related costs to extracurricular activities and their evolving social lives, each aspect demands careful financial consideration.
If your kids are within the 4 to 12 years of age group, include these in your budget:
- Frequent new clothes as they grow quickly at this stage
- College fund
- Extracurriculars like sports, singing, musical instruments, dance, and art
- Birthday party gifts for your kids’ friends and birthday parties for your kid
- School field trips
- Summer camp
- School supplies
- Medical expenses for cold and flu bugs brought home from school
- “Big kid” beds and other bedroom supplies
13 to 18 years old
As your children approach the final stretch of childhood, the years from 13 to 18 emerge as a period of remarkable self-discovery and preparation for the exciting journey into adulthood.
By understanding and preparing for the financial commitments that come with this phase, you’ll be better equipped to foster your child’s development, exploration, and pursuit of their dreams. This is also a good time to teach investments for teens!
For these final few years of childhood, you will want to budget for the following:
- Phones, laptops, iPads
- College applications
- School supplies
- A car
- Car insurance
- Field trips and social events
- Lessons and equipment for hobbies
What is a reasonable family budget?
A reasonable family budget is highly personal and depends on your expenses.
For instance, if you have a larger family, your budget may need to allocate more resources to expenses like groceries, utilities, and possibly larger housing.
On the other hand, a smaller family might have different priorities, with more flexibility in certain areas.
Similarly, where you live plays a significant role. Urban areas often come with higher housing costs and transportation expenses.
In contrast, rural areas may offer more affordability.
That said, no matter your circumstances, a good rule of thumb for a reasonable budget is to follow the 50-30-20 budget template guideline. Approximately 50% of your income is for necessities, 30% for wants, and 20% for goals.
How does a typical family budget look?
A typical family budget splits your money into different categories of income, goals, needs, and wants.
This includes what you spend on where you live, like rent and utilities, as well as money for food and going out to eat. You’ll also set aside cash for getting your family around, like car payments, gas, and insurance.
The budget covers school stuff, too, as well as savings for the future (college fund, anyone?) and having fun together on family vacations.
By checking and adjusting the budget, you can stay in control of your money and reach your individual and joint goals.
What is the average family monthly budget?
For instance, it could be broken down as follows:
- Rent, mortgage, interest, property tax, maintenance: $1,884
- Utilities: $800
- Groceries: $627
- Car payments, gas, insurance, maintenance, and public transportation: $800
- Health insurance and care: $450
- Eating out: $200
- Clothing and shoes: $150
- Entertainment: $200
You will also spend on income taxes and social security, often taken out before you receive your paycheck, and thus not necessarily a needed category in your family budget.
Articles related to budgets
If you learned a lot from this article, check out these other great posts about families and budgets!
Build a bright financial future with a budget for your family!
Creating a family budget is an evolving process.
It provides a structured framework that allows everyone to work together towards common goals while ensuring financial stability and avoiding family financial problems.
As you navigate the process, the steps outlined in this guide offer a roadmap to success, and you can also use one of the best budget templates.
Involving your children in family budgeting fosters financial literacy and open communication about money matters from an early age. By taking charge of your finances through a budget, you’re building a bright future and getting your financial house in order.