Save Money, Live Better, Budget Binder.

Being a fairly newlywed couple, Ryan and I are still in the process of trying to figure out how this whole “marriage” thing works. And with marriage comes a joint bank account (at least for us) and sharing the bills, no matter if they’re for my student loans or for his motorcycle or for our rent, etc. Since we got married in October, we were not very…financially prepared for Christmas, nor were we used to paying all of the bills that come with finally being financially independent from our parents (or at least mostly financially independent from our parents). When you live with your parents, you don’t really have to pay rent or help pay for groceries, at least we didn’t have to. But now that we are married and living on our own, we have rent, utility bills, vehicle payments, student loans, and other bills to pay every month, plus we need groceries and other essentials throughout the month like gas for our cars.

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. “Well duh, Aimee. That’s what happens when you become an adult and/or when you get married.” And I know that. But it’s still a big change nonetheless. I’m not complaining, just simply telling you how it is.

One of the most frustrating and stressful things in life can be money, at least for me. It sometimes can feel like no matter how hard or how many hours we work, there are only so many hours in a day and it never seems to be enough. As Americans, we work twice as hard as Europeans (at least Spaniards) and still have so little to show for it. When I was living in Spain, my host parents would only work for a couple of hours in the morning, they’d come home for a couple hours around lunch time for siesta (national nap time where almost all businesses close for a couple of hours) and then maybe they’d go back to work for a couple more hours, but they were almost always home by 5 pm. Their day typically wouldn’t start until 10 am after bringing the kids to school and maybe squeezing a workout in. They get longer holiday breaks than we do also. So how do they have more money than us and get more time off? If I had the answer for you, I’d give it but I don’t. I don’t know why they get the pleasure of working less and vacationing more.

Currently, I work full-time at the Town Crier, Ryan works full-time at Center Point Electric, and I have a side-gig of freelance graphic designing to make some extra money. We live paycheck to paycheck in order to pay our bills and buy essentials like groceries, toiletries, etc. I don’t really go shopping anymore for new clothes or things we don’t really need. I do occasionally buy a new decoration or two for our house every once in a while, but luckily I still have gift cards from our wedding and I’m trying to make our house a home, one decoration at a time!

That being said, Ryan and I have started to become more financially conscious than we were before we were married. We have to think about what we are purchasing and if we can afford it along with our other bills and payments that need to be made. In pre-marital counseling, we were required to have a session on budgeting. It was difficult for us because, at the time, I was still in college and had no idea where I would be working or how much money I’d be making. Pastor Brian had us write out a rough budget using the money we anticipated we would be making and let me be really honest with you for a second, it was not easy. But it was something that needed to be done to get us thinking about it. However, we have been married for almost four months and we didn’t really have a budget in place until recently. We’ve been barely scraping by at the end of each pay period, praying not to overdraft before our next paychecks get deposited. SO, I’ve decided it is time for us to stop living like that and it is time for us to start budgeting. And thus the Budget Binder was born!

I have designed a Budget Binder for the year of 2019 for us to use and keep track of our finances, and thanks to some very supportive and motivating friends, I’ve decided to give Etsy a whirl and sell the PDF on Etsy! So what does this mean? This means that if you feel some of the same feelings I have been, or if you’re stressed out by finances, or just simply wanting to get your financial “life” in check, I think my Budget Binder could really help you! All you have to do is follow this link: Budget Binder by Aimee Pastoor Designs, add it to your basket, checkout, and then you will be emailed the PDF from Etsy! Once you receive the email, it’s as easy as hitting ‘Print’ and you’re on your way to financial organization. I have designed the file in color, but it may be printed in black and white to save on colored ink. The pages may also be printed 2-sided to cut back on the amount of paper used (it is about 70 pages long because it is for the whole year!). Also, since it is a PDF you may print at home, you can print more than just one of a certain page if you’d like or if you personally need more! For example, if you have more than one loan that you are paying back, you can print off more of the ‘Debt Paydown Worksheet’ page so you can keep track of all of your loans, instead of just one!

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I’m going to take you through each of the different pages and explain them to you so that you can see firsthand how the Budget Binder works! The first page of every month is “Monthly Goals”. This is where you can take a look at the previous month and set goals for yourself on what you’d like to change or do differently for the upcoming month and how you are going to do it. For example, one of our monthly goals for January was to reduce our unnecessary spending. Our biggest downfall is currently spending too much money on food. We go out to eat way more than we should and spend money on other “food” related things we don’t necessarily need like lattes or Mountain Dew from Casey’s when we could easily bring coffee from home or take a Mountain Dew from our fridge before leaving for work. Now, I am not ragging on my husband at all, just simply stating a fact… he spent $177 at Casey’s in December on not gas! He is in the habit of going to Casey’s every morning before work and purchasing a slice of breakfast pizza and a Mountain Dew because that’s what he’s done almost every morning for the last four years. Sometimes he goes multiple times a day depending on if he is working on the road or not. So, to combat that, we have been meal prepping breakfast foods for him to pop in the microwave in the mornings before he leaves for work, and we purchased a lot of Mountain Dew at Hy-Vee when they were on sale (five 6-packs for $10!). By doing this, he has cut his average weekly spending at Casey’s from $44.25 a week to $28.69. It is still a work in progress, but we had to start somewhere! I also am trying to cut back on eating out and trying to be better about meal prepping and bringing my lunch to work, along with cutting back on the number of times I go and grab a latte from Brew Coffeehouse. So, it’s not just Ryan at fault here, it’s both of us. I think looking back at previous months and evaluating them and writing down what we can do differently for the month to come, aka setting these monthly goals, are going to help us a lot!

Did I mention that time I tried the “No Extra Spending Challenge”? I went a whole month trying not to spend any unnecessary money on things I didn’t need. I ended up saving $800 that month! But to be fair, I was also not married and living at home with my parents so any money I made from my full-time internship that summer was either going into my savings account to pay for my trip to Ireland the following May, paying my car payment, or was being spent unnecessarily. If you’re like me and have a problem with saying “treat yo’self” way more often than you should, you should try it! It’s hard but really gets you thinking about what you’re spending your money on. Anyway, ever since that challenge, I’ve been more financially conscious about spending money on things I don’t necessarily need, yet lately I’ve fallen back into spending money on things I don’t need, I’m just more conscious about it now and sometimes I hold back on purchasing something unnecessarily but other times I have too much of the “treat yo’self” mentality. It’s a work in progress for sure, but that challenge was a great learning experience.

50464659_1191644467660276_2255287894065283072_n.jpgThe second page of every month is “Monthly Budget”. This page is so helpful for my “type A” personality because I can write down how much we have budgeted for certain things each month, then write down how much we actually spent, calculate the difference, and make notes on why we were over or under budget on certain things. Since I have now designed this to be sold and used by other people, there are a couple of categories on here that do not pertain to Ryan and I at the current moment in time, like Child Care or Child Support. So, I just cross those out and write in something else that does pertain to us, like “Ring Payment”. I have also edited the PDF since I printed it out and took these photos of it in the binder, but the ‘Taxes’ box is no longer labeled as taxes and is now ‘Internet’ because I realized while I was filling ours out the other day that there was no box for the Wifi bill, and our paychecks are pre-taxed so we don’t have to calculate taxes out ourselves. But everything else is the same as in the photo!

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Page three of each month is a simple calendar of the month. I took a survey via my Instagram story about what kind of fonts people preferred (handwritten script was the most preferred if you were wondering) and if they preferred to have things filled in for them or if they preferred filling things in themselves. For the most part, they preferred having things filled in for them. So, I put the dates on the calendars for them, but they’ll have to fill in the rest themselves. For visual people like myself, this page is perfect for writing down each bill on the day that they are due + allows me to write down when our paydays are AND if there are any big events we have going on that will be costing us more money than normal, like a vacation, Christmas, or Tulip Time (if you live in Pella or you have been to Tulip Time before, you know that it is very easy to spend a lot of money over the short three day festival). Again, this helps my “type A” personality to visually see when bills will be coming out/need to be paid versus when we get paid and I think that is very handy.

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The next page is each month “at a glance”. Now, some could say that this page could go after the first page of every month (Monthly Goals) but I don’t think it really matters. This page allows you to write down your starting balance at the beginning of each month, the ending balance at the end of each month, your mandatory bills, extra expenses you know are going to happen that month, and your savings and if you deposited any money into it/them and how much that deposit was, along with another “goals for next month” because reminding yourself of your goals never hurts, and in fact it keeps them at the front of your mind, making you more likely to achieve them. I won’t go into too much detail about what is on our “January at a glance” page, except for what is in our extra expenses box. This month, we paid for our plane tickets and our Airbnb’s for our honeymoon, along with an almost $500 expense for my car whose defrost-mode actuator decided to go bad. (It is currently -13ºF outside so having no defrost would be horrible so we had to get it fixed, if it was summertime we could have maybe waited a little bit to get this taken care of, but since it’s the middle of winter, it had to be fixed ASAP.)a Having this section helped me see what we spent large amounts of extra money on this month and how much we spent.

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The last page of each month is “Other Expenses This Month”. I went through our bank statement online and in a notebook, I wrote down every purchase that wasn’t a bill + had separate sections written down for gas (fuel) and groceries since those are not once-a-month purchases (it’d be sweet if they were though). I wrote them in a notebook because there were way more purchases than what would have fit on this page. After I got everything written down, I added up similar purchases (Casey’s, all the times we ate out, coffee) and wrote them down as ‘Casey’s (non-gas)’, ‘Eating Out’, ‘Coffee’, and then wrote down all of the other one-time purchases and added them all up at the end. This helped me to see just how much money we actually spent eating out this month and on other things that weren’t necessarily necessary. Some of them were! But some of them were definitely unnecessary.

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In the back of the budget binder (after December is finished) are some really helpful pages! The first of which is a “Bill Tracker”. On this page, I have written down our bills in order of when they are to be paid (the calendar sheet really came in handy for this) and how much each bill is approximately every month. Now all I have to do is put a simple ‘x’ in the box next to it in the current month after we pay it (to mark it as paid) or put a ‘-‘ if we for some reason didn’t have to pay it that month. Currently, my credit card bill has a ‘-‘ in it because my credit card currently doesn’t have an outstanding balance, meaning we didn’t have to pay that bill this month. This page will be great for keeping track of our bills, pun intended and making sure all of them get paid each month.

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The “Income (Regular + Other)” sheets are fantastic for keeping track of each paycheck, how much it was, and any other income that you may acquire! For someone like me who has a side-job along with a full-time job, this is very handy to keep track of “okay where did that extra money come from again?” and allows you to see if certain things are worth it or not, like going through the hassle of getting everything together and having a garage sale, versus trying to sell things on Facebook Marketplace, versus selling your gently worn clothing to a second-hand store. It is nice to see how much money you actually made in a month.

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The following page is a “Debt Paydown Worksheet”. This page is SO helpful for me to keep track of payments on my student loans. I am not going to lie, my student loans STRESS ME OUT. This page helps me to see how much I have paid and how much is on my remaining balance, along with the interest rate and if it has gone up or down. We chose to consolidate all of my loans into one because we would not have been able to afford the monthly payments to pay each loan as they were each month. Because of this, we cannot ‘Debt Snowball’ which is where you pay off your smallest loans as fast as you can so that you can have more money toward your larger loans, sooner. This is something we had to discuss and we decided it would be what is best for us as the loan we have now has a fixed interest rate, which means it will not go up, but it will also not go down. Sometimes you just have to take your chances. Anywho, this page is another page that helps me visually see how much we have paid and how much we have yet to pay on my student loans. (Well, student LOAN now since its consolidated). And as I mentioned at the beginning of all of this, maybe you have more than one loan you are paying each month! We currently pay for my wedding ring, Ryan’s truck, and Ryan’s motorcycle on top of my student loan payment. That being said, if I wanted to, I could print three more of the ‘Debt Paydown Worksheet’ pages and keep very close track of those as well. Which now that I think about it, maybe I should do so I know how much we have left to pay on each of those after each month is over!

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Next is a “Holidays & Observances” page! I have filled in some of the bigger holidays for you, but I have also written on in our binder other important dates such as family and close friends’ anniversaries and birthdays, along with vacations we are taking and Tulip Time in May. Writing these down helps me to see what is coming up and gets me thinking about if we need to be buying a card or gift, or setting aside some money so when the time comes, we can enjoy ourselves because we’ve already saved the money.

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The following page is “Yearly Financial Goals”. This page is just as helpful to me as the “Monthly Goals” pages but on a larger scale, as they are goals for the whole year. We are currently saving for our honeymoon (which is coming up very soon!), starting to save for a house, trying to build our emergency fund, save for a couple of smaller trips we have planned for later in the year, and of course, lessen our unnecessary spending. This page has specific places to put the amount of money you’d like to save and a “date to complete” section. It is said that by making your goals as specific as possible and by putting a date to complete it by, the more likely you are to be successful. On some of our goals, I did put ‘unknown’ in the “date to complete” section because I know that we are not going to be able to save enough money for a downpayment on a house in just one year. But still, writing it down and making it known that that is a goal we hope to achieve this year (to start saving for a downpayment) makes it real and it makes me want to work towards achieving it because now it is written down and I don’t want to come back to this in December and not have anything to show for the last year.

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Right after the “Yearly Financial Goals” page is “Yearly Financial Goals Tracker” where you basically write down the same information from the prior page but there is a progress bar for you to color in as you achieve your goals. Our honeymoon progress bar is 80% complete and that is such a good feeling! Our downpayment bar is only 6% filled, BUT you have to start somewhere and it was rewarding to even be able to fill in just a little bit of that bar. Again, this is a visual that allows me to see how close we are to achieving our goals!

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Lastly is the “Emergency Fund Tracker” which is another visual to show you just how much money you have saved up in your Emergency Fund. I think everybody should have an emergency fund because you never know when you’re going to need it. Ryan says that our goal should be four months wages, ideally. So that is what we are shooting for! It is up to you how much you’d like to have in your emergency fund, but we are going for four months wages. It’ll take us a while to get that much saved up, but every little bit helps and that way if an emergency does happen, at least we have something to fall back on instead of nothing at all and then we have to pay out of pocket. Just some food for thought!

That’s it! That’s the lowdown on the Budget Binder, the various pages, and their purposes. I know that January is already over, but honestly what a more perfect time to start your Budget Binder?? This way you can get everything set up and figured out for the future months, and you can finish January off by writing in all of your “Other Expenses” and see just how much money you spent “treating yourself” in January. I’m a big “treat yo’self” person, especially if it’s been a while since I last treated myself, but this can also be a big downfall if I start “treating myself” too much. Maybe you’re like me and you’re newly married, or you’ve just graduated college and have entered “the real world”, or maybe you just got a new car, or maybe you have a mortgage to pay off! Regardless of where you’re at in life, if you feel like sometimes you are drowning in financial stress and you’d like to take ahold of your finances and get them organized so you can try to do as I am and stop worrying so much about money all the time, you may purchase one here. It would mean the world to me if I could help someone else out by them using my designed PDF, but if not, at least it is helping Ryan and I out and that was ultimately what I designed it for anyway!

Before I end this post, I’d like to tell you about a couple of other ways I try to save/earn money! Someday I would love to become an extreme couponer and save a ton of money at the grocery store by using coupons (maybe that’s the “cheap” Dutch-side of me?), but currently, I fall very very short of that. I am getting better about looking through the grocery ads in the local newspaper and buying ingredients that are on sale, but other than that, I don’t do much else when it comes to trying to save money on groceries each week.

I have a really bad habit of getting on Pinterest and finding meals that sound good and then going to the grocery store and purchasing the food all at once (because life is just more convenient that way, why stop more than once if you don’t have to?) but I’m a sucker for fresh produce which really doesn’t have a long “shelf-life” and some of it spoils before I get a chance to use it. My current goal for grocery shopping is to buy only what is needed (which I’ve become really good at in the last few years) and Ryan and I been cutting out unnecessary foods like snack foods or other impulse buys when we are at the grocery store. Along with those, I need to evaluate what I am wanting to make and make sure to buy only what ingredients we will use.

Days like today, I have absolutely no idea what we are having for dinner. I don’t have anything laid out at home and nothing is prepared. So, I’ve spent a little time going through my Pinterest board and picking out things that make me think “oooh, that sounds kinda good” (which always seems to happen when I’m getting hungry and then everything starts to look good) and I’ve started my grocery list. I try to write down what I’m planning to make (the name of the meal) so that I can remember later that “oh yeah I’m getting this to make ___”. I also try to buy things that can use similar ingredients so that I have a greater chance of using the ingredients I am purchasing.

In Pella, we do not have an Aldi. In fact, the closest Aldi is in Des Moines which is a good 45 minutes to an hour from our home in Sully and I only get to shop there every now and again when I know we are already going to be in Des Moines for something else, and we have the time to stop and shop there. This is heartbreaking for me as I have become so accustomed to the cheap groceries I’d purchase from Aldi when I was living in Dubuque, but since we don’t have one close to home now that leaves the grocery shopping to Hy-Vee, Walmart, and Fareway.

In attempt to save some money, I use a couple of different “cash back” apps to help us get money back on things we are probably going to purchase anyway. The first one I use is called “ibotta”. Ibotta is a smartphone app that allows you to earn cash back on in-store and mobile purchases with receipt and/or purchase verification. The places I use ibotta at the most are Hy-Vee, Fareway, and Walmart because those are the stores I visit almost weekly. There are tons of other stores to earn cash back with through this app like Target, Amazon, Costco, Sam’s Club, and more! All you have to do is enter a valid debit or credit card (don’t worry, your information is secure and safe) and start shopping! Each week there will be new offers uploaded and new opportunities for you to earn some cash back while doing your regular weekly (or bi-weekly) grocery shopping. Sometimes you can earn money back just for uploading a receipt from one of these places! To earn the rewards you scroll through the offers of the current week and pick what you want to buy or are going to buy via pressing the + plus sign by the item. This adds the item to your “offers” and then after purchasing your groceries, you click “My Offers”, upload a picture of your receipt, and BAM you start earning cash back! With apps like this, you may have to earn a minimum of $20 or so before they will let you cash out, but hey, that’s an extra $20 you didn’t have before!

If you decide to download and sign up for ibotta, I would love if you would use my referral code! By getting your friends to sign up and use your referral code, you earn $5 back! It’s that easy! Right now they have a promotion going on that claims that if I invite 2 friends to use Ibotta this January, I’ll get a share of $100k. Not sure how much I believe that that will actually happen BUT it’s worth a shot. My referral code is: img_1956

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The second cash-back app that I use is called Dosh. Dosh is an “effortless cash back” smartphone app that allows you to earn cash back at certain places simply by running your card as ‘credit’ (instead of debit). There aren’t many places that it works at yet, but I’m sure there will be more soon! Since we live in rural Iowa, the only places near us that it works were Casey’s and Pizza Hut. However, for some reason, Casey’s is no longer offered (which is a huge bummer because we go to Casey’s a lot if you didn’t gather that from before.) This app works at Pizza Hut, Dunkin Donuts, Cost Plus World Market, Sam’s Club, Sephora, Pier 1, Payless, and more! All you have to do is link a valid card (again, safe and secure) and start running your purchases at participating stores as credit and you will automatically be credited a certain percentage of your cash back. Just like ibotta, there is a minimum balance requirement before you can cash out. You must reach $25 before being able to withdraw from your account. Just like on ibotta, you can earn money back for referring your friends. My referral code for Dosh is: AIMEEP23 and I would absolutely love it if you used my referral code if you decide Dosh is something you’d like to try.

I hope all of this has been somewhat helpful. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask! Finances can be stressful, trust me, I know. But they don’t have to be. I’m not a professional financial advisor by any means but with my Budget Binder and cash-back apps like ibotta and Dosh, they can become a little bit easier. Wishing you the best of luck with your finances from my home in little ol’ Sully, Iowa to you wherever you are.


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