Let’s play the game How to Stay on Budget. Here’s how to play, and a few rules:

We have to know the difference between gross and net incomes. Also, the difference among fixed, variable, and discretionary expenses. The objective is to end with a zero balance.

Gross income is your pay stub amount. Automatic deductions of taxes, insurances, retirement plans, etc. are taken out and what you’re left with is net income. It’s not how much you make, net income is how much you keep. Start with this net income for your living expenses.

Your living expenses are divided between fixed expenses and variable expenses. First, deduct fixed expenses, like rent, mortgage, loans. Next, deduct variable expenses like utilities, food, auto, etc. from net income. As the name suggests, there is some variability in these amounts. Here is where you have options for making your money go farther.

Lastly, deduct your discretionary expenses like dining out, movies, misc. entertainment, and personals from net income. If the balance is a negative number, you have too many expenses. Something has to be cut to end up with a zero balance. Zero means that you have accounted for all your income. You only have a finite amount of income. Become a personal auditor of your expenses, and make adjustments to your monthly spending.

Those are the definitions and rules, so put this advice to work in order to fine tune your budget, and stick to it each month.


Cartoon with check mark

  • have a trial run
  • plan, plan, plan
  • know your costs up front
  • commit to your goals
  • report results each month

Cartoon with x mark

  • get discouraged
  • be pressured by friends and neighbors
  • bring credit cards to the mall
  • shop through catalogs
  • impulse buy


Do have a trial run

Try this game for 1-2 months to get the hang of it. Who will be the coordinator? Is it the person believing in controlling their financial life? Yes! Is it the person who is consistent, perseveres, and has conflict resolution skills? Yes! This could be anyone at any age, and in any situation in life. Keep at it. It works.

Do plan, plan, plan

Your goals could be to save for college, retirement, vacation, or to be debt-free from onerous credit cards. All these can be accomplished with planning. If there are multiple goals, prioritize them. Work on a maximum of two at a time. More than two gets confusing and hard to see success.

Do know your costs up front

Doing research or getting professional advice can help with the cost projections. The costs of these professionals is well worth the money. They are available to give you options and answer all your questions.

Do commit to your goals

It is easier to work as a team. Get a buy-in from the family, especially the kids. Let them know that everyone is playing the game. Tell them how they can help in attaining the family goals. Give them ideas like environmental savings in the home: shut off lights when not being used, have only full loads for washing clothes and dishes, and wear extra layer of cloths instead of turning up the thermostat. You can already see some savings in electric and gas usage which will translate in lower expenses. Lower expenses equate to reaching your goal sooner.

Do report results each month

Hold an informal short meeting with all members to let them know how they are going, what were their successes, and where there can be more improvement. Make it part of a family night. Make the night fun with small rewards: pizza, or a movie at home with popcorn. Get suggestions for the next meeting.


Do not get discouraged

The process is a skill. It will take a couple of cycles to master. So, give yourself time. It is not rocket science. It is not high level math. Simple addition and subtraction is the only requirement. Please use an adding machine or calculator. This can be a learning experience for the children, and a math lesson without them being aware of it.

Do not be pressured by friends and neighbors

A lot of people wish they were better with their money. There are so many examples of people declaring bankruptcy, or having their homes foreclosed on—probably because of a lack of financial know how. Be proud you’re taking the bull by the horns. Teach others and be a good example not only to your kids, but friends and family as well.

Do not bring credit cards to the mall

The modern mall. What a credit card haven! Temptation is all around you. The plastic card doesn’t look or feel like money, until you have to pay the bills with your hard earned income and deal with debt. You would be surprised how much that little item will increase your expenses. Begin to learn a self-control technique by saying ‘NO’ to that next tempting item.

Do not shop through catalogs

It’s so easy. They appear at your doorstep, saying ‘buy some’, ‘it’s only’. You can even shop when the mall is closed. You can shop in your pajamas—what a concept! First, know what you need (not every little gadget). Another self control technique is ‘do you need it or want it?’ Learn the difference between needs and wants.

Basically, you need food, shelter, and clothing. The rest are wants. Are you really going to use it often? Is it worth the price? Is quality there? Answer these questions before purchasing item.

Do not impulse buy

This drains the pocketbook and bank account rather quickly. Retailers make it so enticing for you to succumb. Sale promotions, 2-for-1s, holidays, quantity purchases, the checkout line at the supermarket are just a few examples. Again, there are big advantages to self-control. The reward is less expenses and nearer to those goals.


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There are so many helpful budgeting tips mentioned here. Take advantage of them! Develop a ‘simple’ or ‘frugal’ mentality. Learn the most important ones, like learn to say “No,” and “Do you need it or want it?” The repercussion of not embracing these concepts reduces your cash flow. The money savings from practicing these concepts can shorten the time to achieve your goals. Imagine being on that warm, sandy beach sooner, the kids off on their own sooner, and becoming debt free sooner. Becoming debt free is an objective well-pursued to increase independence from creditors. Play the How to Stay on Budget game monthly to achieve these goals.