The Magic Jars

We have implemented a new system for our variable spending at our house.  We no longer use debit cards or credit cards for purchasing groceries or any of our other variable expenses.  We use the ‘Magic Jars’ system that we learned on the show “Til Debt Do Us Part“, hosted by Gail Vaz Oxlade.  We used her interactive budget worksheet to list all our income, debt and variable expenses and we tweaked it and decided on the following amounts for our jars (which you can see in our new header!)

  • Groceries  —> $250.00
  • Transportation —> $50.00
  • Allowances —> $23.50
  • Clothing and Gifts —> $ 10.00
  • Entertainment —> $5.00
  • Everything Else —> 16.50

Our jars total $355.00 in variable expenses per week.   It’s LEAN for a family of 10.  We have watched Gail’s show on television and marvel sometimes about how much some small families get in their jars.  But there are reasons for why everything here is lean…we are saving for our house.  It’s a one-year sacrifice on a lot of things for the sake of finally owning our own home.

Groceries – We allot $250.00 a week for groceries, diapers and toiletries.  I have stated before that we plan all our meals carefully and try and make sure dinners for the week come to around $10 per meal or $70 a week.  We also have to factor in lunches, breakfasts, snacks and treats.   We don’t eat a lot of treats in our house and a lot of times, the ‘treats’ are in the form of popcorn and homemade baked goods.  Our weekly trip to the grocery store uses up about $200 and we leave the rest for milk during the week.  With a teenager in the house, and 10 people, we go through a 4 litre bag of milk a day (I would love to cut that down!).

Transportation – We allot $50 a week for gas and oil for the cars.  I work from home 2 days per week and generally I can get away with $10 in gas and that includes taking the kids to extracurriculars.  Shane and I both work fairly close to home.

Allowances – Every child 4 and over gets an allowance.  From the age of 4 to when the kid enters high school, they receive half their age in allowance.  Now, most advice we read suggests that a child should get $1 per year of their age.  We just cannot afford to do this right now, so half their age it is.  Evan, being in highschool, gets $10.00.  Of that money, they must put half in their piggy bank (which they cannot get into) and they are free to use the other half on anything they want.  Again, we ask them to save a lot more than what we’ve read about.  Most say 10% (which is what most people should save from their salary). 

Clothing and Gifts – Right now we have a very tight budget for clothing and gifts.  We generally do not use it every week.  We are very lucky to have many generous friends who give us A LOT of hand-me-downs for the kids.  We also rarely buy new for them and shop at Talize and Value Village

Entertainment – Yes, this jar is very slim at $5.  We just don’t have a lot to spend on going out to movies or the like.  We find things that are free or almost free to do with the kids.  We own a trampoline and swingset in our backyard and we are very close to parks and the splash pad.  In the winter there are a few free outdoor rinks in our community and there’s always toboganning.  If you look, you can always find fun things to do for free.  Today we’re going to a pumpkin patch and apple orchard…it’s free to go, they have a cool playground and petting zoo for the kids and we’ll get some apples and pumpkins while we’re there.  We also belong to the local YMCA.  We can go swimming, take the kids to drop in basketball or soccer.  While it isn’t free, it’s an amazing deal.  Two adults and unlimited children under 21 can have the registration option (which includes swimming lessons and Te-Kwon-Do) for $104 per month.  Considering swimming lessons at the local community centre is $75 for 10 sessions for EACH child, it’s a bargain just for the lessons.  

Everything Else – This jar is for everything that we might not foresee needing during the week.  For instance, last week I came down with a bacterial infection of the skin…I needed a prescription.  Although I have a plan, I needed to use some of it for my 10% coinsurance.  Sometimes we might raid it for something that the kids need for school.  It’s a catch all jar.

Believe it or not, sometimes we have some money leftover in the jars (last week we had $45).  We’ll take this money and stow it away.If something comes up that we need cash for, we’ll have a stash.  At the end of the month, if there isn’t anything we need, we’ll put it on one of the credit cards that we need to pay off. 

You can use money from one jar to pay for something that should come out of one of the other jars.  We might take $10 out of the ‘everything else’ jar to buy those 2 for 1 roasting chickens that come up on sale at the local grocery store, or for printing pictures for our scrapbooking obsession.  The goal of the jars is to not run out of cash before the end of the week. 

We’ve only been doing this jar system for a few weeks, but so far, it’s going quite well.  It’s difficult to see something that you want and know that you just don’t have enough money in the jars to pay for it.  However, if you have a specific goal in mind, whether that be buying a house, saving for a trip or paying down consumer debt, the sacrifice is worth it.  We will only have live on these small amounts for one year…at that point, we’ll revisit the amounts in the jars.  Saving money and spending frugally is addicting and satisfying, so I am pretty sure that the variable spending won’t increase too much.


5 responses to “The Magic Jars

  1. awesome you guys! It makes me want to try it out myself 🙂

  2. Another way to do it is the envelope system, same concept you just use envelopes I remeber my Aunt and Uncle used it, some of other family made fun of them for it ( Yea but you know my family Judi and Amy). Turns out its from Dave Ramsey, whose concepts we use a lot in our household. I am trying to survive a month with no paychecks and very little cash… ahh yea it’s intresting right now, I just remind myself how much better the pay flow will be when his checks do start,lol.

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