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What is a normal amount to budget for:

  1. Weekly entertainment and going out.

  2. Weekly food budget.

  3. Monthly clothing allowance.

I have no idea, as I only have my mother's reckless spending (she recently had her house repossessed) as a comparison. Also, with a salary of of £57,000 and my wife's salary of £6,000, how much should we be saving every month ?

We are living pay cheque to pay cheque at the moment with no savings and about £8,000 of debt. We have a two year old son so I want to get a bit more stable and secure.

I am currently living in the south east of Wales between Cardiff and the border with England.

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Based on your other question and the stated currency, I tagged your question UK, but can you narrow your location a bit more? Living expenses can vary dramatically across the region (think London vs. Edinburgh, for example). –  John Bensin Aug 15 '13 at 13:30
I am currently living in the south east of Wales between Cardiff and the border with England. –  mat690 Aug 15 '13 at 13:33
Guys I am surprised how you 2 manage to clean up GBP 63000 ?? I know Wales is much much cheaper than London, where I live but even I don't spend so much, I am single though. You guys need to sort up your expenses pronto, or you are in deep deep trouble. 1 and 2 can always be compromised. Cut back on your entertainment and clothing. Goto Primark instead of Benetton or Armani. –  DumbCoder Aug 15 '13 at 13:38
Monthly clothing allowance!? –  Chelonian Aug 15 '13 at 17:52
It would be helpful if you listed a few of the biggest "mandatory" expenses, like housing, utilities, car loan, medical, etc. And yes, crucially, is this net or gross (gross I assume...but net would be way more helpful to know). –  Chelonian Aug 15 '13 at 17:53
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3 Answers

I'll start with a question... Is the 63K before or after taxes?

The short answer to your question on how much is reasonable is: "It depends." It depends on a lot more than where you live, it depends on what you want... do you want to pay down debt? Do you want to save? Are you trying to buy a house? Those will influence how much you "can" (should let yourselves) spend. It also depends on your actual salary... just because I spend 5% of my salary on something doesn't mean bonkers to you if you're making 63,000 and I'm only making 10,000.

I also have a lot of respect for you trying to take this on. It's never easy. But I would also recommend you start by trying to see what you can do to track how much you are actually spending. That can be hard, especially if you mostly use cash.

Once you're tracking what you spend, I still think you're coming at this a bit backwards though... rather than ask 'how much is reasonable' to spend on those other expenses, you basically need to rule out the bigger items first. This means things like taxes, your housing, food, transportation, and kid-related expenses. (I've got 2.5 kids of my own.)

I would guess that you're listing your pre-tax salaries on here... so start first with whatever it costs you to pay taxes. I'm a US citizen living in Berlin, haven't filed UK taxes, but uktaxcalculators.co.uk says that on 63,000 a year with 3 deductions your net earnings will actually be 43,500. That's 3,625/month.

Then what does it cost you each month for rent/utilities/etc. to put a house over your family's head? The rule of thumb they taught in my home-economics class was 35-40%, but that's not for Europe... you'll know what it costs. Let's say its 1,450 a month (40%) for rent and utilities and maybe insurance. That leaves 2,175.

The next necessity after housing is food. My current food budget is about 5-6% of my after-tax salary. But that may not compare... the cost to feed a family of 3 is a fairly fixed number, and our salaries aren't the same. As I said, I am a US expat living in Berlin, so I looked at this cost of living calculator, and it looks like groceries are about 7-10% higher there around Cardiff than here in Germany. Still, I spend about 120 € per week on food. That has a fair margin in it for splurging on ice cream and a couple brewskies. It feeds me (I'm almost 2m and about 100 kilos) and my family of four. Let's say you spend 100£ a week on groceries. For budgeting, that's 433£ a month. (52 weeks / 12 months == 4.333 weeks/month) But let's call it 500£.

That leaves 1,675.

From here, you'll have to figure out the details of where your own money is going--that's why I said you should really start tracking your expenses somehow... even just for a short time. But for the purposes of completing the answers to your questions, the next step is to look at saving before you try spending anything else. A nice target is to aim for 10% of your after-tax pay going into a savings account... this is apart from any other investments. Let's say you do that, you'll be putting away 363£ per month. That leaves 1,300£.

As far as other expenses... you need some money for transport. You haven't mentioned car(s) but let's say you're spending another 500£ there. That would be about enough to cover one with the petrol you need to get around town. That leaves 800£

As far as a clothing budget and entertainment, I usually match my grocery budget with what I call "mad money". That's basically money that goes towards other stuff that I would love to categorize, but that my wife gets annoyed with my efforts to drill into on a regular basis. That's another 500£, which leaves 300£.

You mentioned debts... assuming that's a credit card at around 20% interest, you probably pay 133£ a month just in interest... (20% = 0.20 / 12 = 0.01667 x 8,000 = 133) plus some nominal payment towards principal. So let's call it 175£.

That leaves you with 125£ of wiggle room, assuming I have even caught all of your expenses. And depending on how they're timed, you are probably feeling a serious squeeze in between paychecks.

I recognize that you're asking specific questions, but I think that just based on the questions you need a bit more careful backing into the budget. And you REALLY need to track what you're spending for the time being, until you can say... right, we usually spend about this much on X... how can we cut it out?

From there the basics of getting your financial house in order are splattered across the interwebs. Make a budget... stick to it... pay down debts... save. Develop goals and mini incentives/rewards as a way to make sure your change your psyche about following a budget.

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+1 for the advice to track spending. Really, what good is a sample budget when the OP may have specific items that are out of line. One's budget reflects their priorities, eg, some people live frugally but go on expensive trips frequently. I've come to believe 15% should be the targeted savings percent. –  JoeTaxpayer Aug 15 '13 at 19:12
+1 to track spending. There was a period when I was making twice as much money but zero savings compared to earlier. If I reflect, I would say everything was must and did not indulge in anything. Then i started on tracking expenses every single penny [rupee in my case]. This showed me where the money went, small changes in lifestyle automatically increased saving and I did not even feel the difference. –  Dheer Aug 16 '13 at 10:53
£63k is before taxes, Our net household income is about £4,000 a month with both our salaries and some free lance work I do. Our Rent is £650 a month and we have one car that we own outright. –  mat690 Aug 16 '13 at 10:53
Joe Taxpayer pretty well summed it up, but I'm glad to revise and consolidate the budget suggestion into a form that's a little bit easier to use, especially if you have any other details you think are 'musts' and not too private/personal to share here. –  THEAO Aug 16 '13 at 13:19
A typical budget rule of thumb is a weeks pay toward housing each month. 650 of 4000 is a great start as housing is a large number that can easily get out of control, hitting even 50% in high rent cities. –  JoeTaxpayer Aug 16 '13 at 13:48
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As THEAO suggested, tracking spending is a great start.

But how about this - Figure out the payment needed to get to zero debt in a reasonable time, 24 months, perhaps. If that's more than 15% of your income, maybe stretch a tiny bit to 30 months. If it's much less, send 15% to debt until it's paid, then flip the money to savings.

From what's left, first budget the "needs," rent, utilities, etc. Whatever you spend on food, try to cut back 10%.

There is no budget for entertainment or clothes. The whole point is one must either live beneath their means, or increase their income. You've seen what can happen when the debt snowballs.

In reality, with no debt to service and the savings growing, you'll find a way to prioritize spending. Some months you'll have to choose, dinner out, or a show. I agree with Keith's food bill, $300-$400/mo for 3 of us. Months with a holiday and large guest list throws that off, of course.

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+1 for prioritizing debt first and then rolling the money to savings. Great advice –  THEAO Aug 16 '13 at 13:33
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Zero? Ten grand? Somewhere in the middle?

It depends. Your stated salary, in U.S. dollars, would be high five-figures (~$88k). You certainly should not be starving, but with decent contributions toward savings and retirement, money can indeed be tight month-to-month at that salary level, especially since even in Cardiff you're probably paying more per square foot for your home than in most U.S. markets (EDIT: actually, 3-bedroom apartments in Cardiff, according to Numbeo, range from £750-850, which is US$1200-$1300, and for that many bedrooms you'd be hard-pressed to find that kind of deal in a good infield neighborhood of the DFW Metro, and good luck getting anywhere close to downtown New York, LA, Miami, Chicago etc for that price.

  • What job do you do, and how are you expected to dress for it? Depending on where you shop and what you buy, a quality dress shirt and dress slacks will cost between US$50-$75 each (assuming real costs are similar for the same brands between US and UK, that's £30-£50 per shirt and pair of pants for quality brands). I maintain about a weeks' wardrobe at this level of dress (my job allows me to wear much cheaper polos and khakis most days and I have about 2 weeks' wardrobe of those) and I typically have to replace due to wear or staining, on average, 2 of these outfits a year (I'm hard on clothes and my waistline is expanding). Adding in 3 "business casual" outfits each year, plus casual outfits, shoes, socks, unmentionables and miscellany, call it maybe $600(£400)/year in wardrobe. That doesn't generally get metered out as a monthly allowance (the monthly amount would barely buy a single dress shirt or pair of slacks), but if you're socking away a savings account and buying new clothes to replace old as you can afford them it's a good average. I generally splurge in months when the utilities companies give me a break and when I get "extra" paychecks (26/year means two months have 3 checks, effectively giving me a "free" check that neither pays the mortgage nor the other major bills).

    Now, that's just to maintain my own wardrobe at a level of dress that won't get me fired. My wife currently stays home, but when she worked she outspent me, and her work clothes were basic black. To outright replace all the clothes I wear regularly with brand-new stuff off the rack would easily cost a grand, and that's for the average U.S. software dev who doesn't go out and meet other business types on a daily basis. If I needed to show up for work in a suit and tie daily, I'd need a two-week rotation of them, plus dress shirts, and even at the low end of about $350 (£225) per suit, $400 (£275) with dress shirt and tie, for something you won't be embarrassed to wear, we're talking $4000 (£2600) to replace and $800 (£520) per year to update 2 a year, not counting what I wear underneath or on the weekends. And if I wore suits I'd probably have to update the styles more often than that, so just go ahead and double it and I turn over my wardrobe once every 5 years.

    None of this includes laundering costs, which increase sharply when you're taking suits to the cleaners weekly versus just throwing a bunch of cotton-poly in the washing machine.

  • What hobbies or other entertainment interests do you and your wife have? A movie ticket in the U.S. varies between $7-$15 depending on the size of the screen and 2D vs 3D screenings. My wife and I currently average less than one theater visit a month, but if you took in a flick each weekend with your wife, with a decent $50 dinner out, that's between $260-$420 (£165-270) monthly in entertainment expenses. Not counting babysitting for the little one (the going rate in the US is between $10 and $20 an hour for at-home child-sitting depending on who you hire and for how long, how often). Worst-case, without babysitting that's less than 5% of your gross income, but possibly more than 10% of your take-home depending on UK effective income tax rates (your marginal rate is 40% according to the HMRC, unless you find a way to deduct about £30k of your income).

    That's just the traditional American date night, which is just one possible interest. Playing organized sports is more or less expensive depending on the sport. Soccer (sorry, football) just needs a well-kept field, two goals and and a ball. Golf, while not really needing much more when you say it that way, can cost thousands of dollars or pounds a month to play with the best equipment at the best courses. Hockey requires head-to-toe padding/armor, skates, sticks, and ice time. American football typically isn't an amateur sport for adults and has virtually no audience in Europe, but in the right places in the U.S., beginning in just a couple years you'd be kitting your son out head-to-toe not dissimilar to hockey (minus sticks) and at a similar cost, and would keep that up at least halfway through high school. I've played them all at varying amateur levels, and with the possible exception of soccer they all get expensive when you really get interested in them.

  • How much do you eat, and of what?. My family of three's monthly grocery budget is about $300-$400 (£190-£260) depending on what we buy and how we buy it. Americans have big refrigerators (often more than one; there's three in my house of varying sizes), we buy in bulk as needed every week to two weeks, we refrigerate or freeze a lot of what we buy, and we eat and drink a lot of high-fructose corn-syrup-based crap that's excise-taxed into non-existence in most other countries. I don't have real-world experience living and grocery-shopping in Europe, but I do know that most shopping is done more often, in smaller quantities, and for more real food. You might expect to spend £325 ($500) or more monthly, in fits and starts every few days, but as I said you'd probably know better than me what you're buying and what it's costing.

    To educate myself, I went to mysupermarket.co.uk, which has what I assume are typical UK food prices (mostly from Tesco), and it's a real eye-opener. In the U.S., alcohol is much more expensive for equal volume than almost any other drink except designer coffee and energy drinks, and we refrigerate the heck out of everything anyway, so a low-budget food approach in the U.S. generally means nixing beer and wine in favor of milk, fruit juices, sodas and Kool-Aid (or just plain ol' tap water). A quick search on MySupermarkets shows that wine prices average a little cheaper, accounting for the exchange rate, as in the States (that varies widely even in the U.S., as local and state taxes for beer, wine and spirits all differ). Beer is similarly slightly cheaper across the board, especially for brands local to the British Isles (and even the Coors Lite crap we're apparently shipping over to you is more expensive here than there), but in contrast, milk by the gallon (4L) seems to be virtually unheard of in the UK, and your half-gallon/2-liter jugs are just a few pence cheaper than our going rate for a gallon (unless you buy "organic" in the US, which carries about a 100% markup). Juices are also about double the price depending on what you're buying (a quart of "Innocent" OJ, roughly equivalent in presentation to the U.S. brand "Simply Orange", is £3 while Simply Orange is about the same price in USD for 2 quarts), and U.S.-brand "fizzy drinks" are similarly at a premium (£1.98 - over $3 - for a 2-liter bottle of Coca-Cola). With the general preference for room-temperature alcohol in Europe giving a big advantage to the longer unrefrigerated shelf lives of beer and wine, I'm going to guess you guys drink more alcohol and water with dinner than Americans.

    Beef is cheaper in the U.S., depending on where you are and what you're buying; prices for store-brand ground beef (you guys call it "minced") of the grade we'd use for hamburgers and sauces is about £6 per kilo in the UK, which works out to about $4.20/lb, when we're paying closer to $3/lb in most cities. I actually can't remember the last time I bought fresh chicken on the bone, but the average price I'm seeing in the UK is £10/kg ($7/lb) which sounds pretty steep.

    Anyway, it sounds like shopping for American tastes in the UK would cost, on average, between 25-30% more than here in the US, so applying that to my own family's food budget, you could easily justify spending £335 a month on food.

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I'm spending probably a little over £250 a week on food. Fresh meat and fruit is very very expensive. We don't drink alcohol at all but we drink a lot of diet soda. –  mat690 Aug 16 '13 at 10:59
@mat690 Why do you people drink diet soda, seems like an unnecessary expense. Cut down on it. Where do you buy your meat from Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury or the local butcher. Take the cheaper option. No need to eat meat everyday. Fruits aren't expensive, neither at Tesco or Sainsbury. Buy fruits when they are on offer. –  DumbCoder Aug 19 '13 at 8:15
£250 a week without even including a drink - either you buy lots of takeaways or you buy M&S ready meals. You could get that figure down to at least £100 a week if you cook all meals yourself. –  Constanta Oct 23 '13 at 15:36
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