I always tout the benefits of a budget, but I’ve been thinking that what I’m doing is more like frantic tracking. I’m more or less trying to track our money and spend it on needs before the wants devour it all. I like metaphors so I’ll use a boat.

I have a vessel I want to sail us to our goal – debt free island, but I find myself plugging more holes that doing actual steering. I’m careful to steer around the big ship sinkers, but anyone who’s struggling with finances knows that it’s those little rocks that cause all the little leaks that have you constantly in repair mode. That’s how I feel; fix, correct, repair, repeat. I am the nagging wife telling my husband to quit frequenting the ATM like it’s giving out free lottery money, or buying fishing gear when we have bills that have yet to be paid. Some small budget busters I’ve slowly overcome and others are still a struggle. So here’s my lists of what I’ve learned to get free, cheap or do without and what I’m still struggling with.

Things I no longer buy:

1. Paper products with the exception of toilet paper. I have a dishwasher so I get the lure of not having to wash dishes, but unless I’m throwing anything larger than a 10 person dinner party I use real dishes, cups and utensils. I use sponges, dish towels and rags for cleaning. I use cloth napkins and they don’t take much extra room in the washing machine. Oh and possibly the biggest mess saver of all – mandatory hand-washing after meals before my kids touch furniture or anything else with dirty hands.

2. Hand soap – I use dish soap instead. No difference except the cost in my opinion.

3. Vitamins – Kids’ prescriptions and prenatal vitamins are free at ShopRite pharmacy. So my kids complain when their friends have gummy vitamins in super hero shapes, I’m still not paying $12 a bottle for vitamins when I can get them for free. For the record I have been doing prescription vitamins for a long time, but I switched the prescription to ShopRite so I no longer have to pay a co-pay.

4. Commercial cleaners. Baking soda, vinegar and a little dish soap clean almost anything.  I have a steam mop with a washable pad for my floors. I like having less chemicals in my house with little kids anyway.

5. Expensive makeup, hair dye and primping products. I know some women can’t live without these little goodies, but it’s amazing the wonders not caring what everyone thinks about your appearance does for both self esteem and the wallet. I say this even as someone with pregnancy induced acne right now. It occurs to me I should be slathering on the coverup like I did when I was pregnant with my daughter Hannah, but it usually makes my skin worse and usually only makes me think about my skin more, not less. This time I just feel like well if this is the price of having my daughter growing in me, then let it be a sign that I’m lucky because I know there are other women who would gladly pay this price for a child.

6. A cell phone. Yes I realize I’m probably the only person on the planet without one, but I’m ok with that. I’m usually home or a handful of places and honestly I think we’ve all forgotten how nice it is not to be reached about pointless stuff 24 hours a day. I remember a time when nobody answered a phone in a public restroom, when lunch dates didn’t consist of two people texting people that were not in the same room while ignoring the people with them, and not receiving notifications every time someone you kinda sorta know messages you on Facebook. It occasionally drives my husband nuts, but I don’t miss having a high cell phone bill either. He has a pre-paid cell phone which costs $49 a month.

The Leaks I NEED to Plug:

1. Eating out. I like to be able to eat out a couple times a month for my sanity. I try to use coupons when I can, but this still takes a good bite out of my budget.

2. Fast food. It’s easy to fall prey when you’re out with the kids, but all those hamburgers, fries or cups of coffee at the drive thru actually account for more than $100 each month that we don’t need to spend. That makes me feel sick in more ways than one.

3. ATM fees. This one is ALL my husband who loves having “fun money” in his pocket at all times. Here’s the problem- all those $2 and yes sometimes $3.50 fees add up. I have a credit union in Orange County, which is far for us so cash is not king in our household. I have an Emergency Fund in a bank nearby, but we don’t touch it. Whoever said you spend less money when paying with cash never met my husband. He has no emotional attachment to it whatsoever.

4. Entertainment – I try to limit it, but it’s still nice to take the kids to do fun activities and I can’t begrudge my husband all spending on his hobbies.

What budget leaks do you deal with every month? What have you learned to do without. Maybe we can inspire each other to stay the course.