In Monthly Expenses

Our Family Budget

Apker Family Budget

Since I began writing this blog I’ve had a lot of people ask me; “How are you going to pay off $350,000 in student loan debt”?!?

Fair question.

The shock inherent in that question hasn’t even had the benefit of full information. Our plan is to (hopefully) be free from student loan debt within five years (more on how this is possible in future posts)!

“What”?!? “No WAY”! “You’re either crazy, getting a TON of help from family, or insanely wealthy”!

I assure you that we’re not getting any help, we’re not insanely wealthy, and we’re not doing anything TOO crazy.

I will admit that both Katie and I have very good incomes, but more important than that, we try to live well within our means. To do that, we faithfully adhere to a family budget.

First, a little background.

There was a time, not very long ago, when we were really poor. Like, not able to pay the rent, buy groceries, clothes or other necessities poor. That period between the end of law school and the beginning of my MBA program forced us to push the limits of how little we could spend to survive.

We never ate out, we cooked a lot of meals with superfood staples (lentils and rice are cheap, healthy and delicious), and we limited every other expense as much as we could. At our tightest we were sustaining four people spending less than $1,750 a month living in Portland, Oregon. For reference, our rent at the time was $1,275 a month. We were spending less than $500 a month for everything else (full disclosure, we were relying on government assistance for health care and food).

Some will say those numbers are impossible. I’ll have you know that it’s certainly possible, it’s just not that much fun!

I look back on this time as a tremendous blessing in disguise. If we hadn’t been forced to live as frugally as possible, we may never have learned how inexpensively one can live if one really tries. Now that we’re focused on paying back loans as quickly as we can we’ve upped our budget enough to give us a little more luxury. Though we’re still living very inexpensively we feel spoiled because we have so much compared to what we did have. Perspective is everything.

For those who haven’t had the luxury of poverty to teach you how to budget, this lesson will be harder to learn. Self-imposed restrictions can be difficult. But, like a healthy diet or exercise plan, it will be worth it!

Given our lofty goals and our focus on frugality, Katie and I have decided to share our budget with each of you. As you look at the expenditures for each category keep in mind this is the most we’ll ever spend in a month. Just because there’s money left in a budget category near the end of the month doesn’t mean you can spend your money on worthless things. Money remaining in a budget category is not “permission” to spend. Budget categories are guidelines that should only be reached when something out-of-the-ordinary occurs.

As you get used to living within a budget it doesn’t feel like a restriction. You become free from the impulse common in our society to “have things.” I’ve found that having things has rarely made me happier, but the additional time with my family during inexpensive outdoor activities and the health which comes from avoiding fast food are very valuable. We try hard to stay well below our budget in each category, each month.

Staying below our budget is a fun game for us. The less we spend, the more money we get to put towards our highest interest student loan! As we reconcile our budget at the end of a month, and see how many hundreds of dollars we are under our budget, it provides a rush. That rush makes all of the decisions to monitor the thermostat, skip a meal out, or bike instead of drive, worth it.

With that, here are the numbers.

Category Monthly Budget Description
Utilities  $                 215.99 Includes electricity, gas, water, sewer, garbage.
Food  $                 630.00 All food expenses, regardless of the source.
Fuel & Vehicle Maintenance  $                 184.00 Gas for cars, regular maintenance and savings for repairs.
Household Items & Miscellaneous  $                 392.95 Household items, expenses for children, everyone’s allowance, babysitting.
Annual Subscriptions & Memberships  $                 107.90 Insurance, YNAB, iCloud, Amazon Prime, AAA, credit card fees, etc.
Vacations & Gifts  $                 265.00 Saving for Christmas and Birthday gifts, and for family and couple vacations.
Charitable Giving  $                 556.40 Includes tithing and other donations.
Living Expenses Subtotal  $             2,352.24
Housing  $             1,368.74 Mortgage and HOA.
Housing Subtotal  $             1,368.74
Personal Expenses Subtotal  $             3,720.98


It’s important to note this is a high-level overview of our budget for introductory purposes. I’ll follow up with more information on how we’re able to stay within the budget amount in each of these categories in future posts.

Again, I want to make it clear that these are our maximum expenses per month. We (all five of us) easily live on less than this, and we don’t feel deprived at all. We feel rich! I mean, look at the “Vacations and Gifts” category, the “Annual Subscriptions & Memberships,” and “Charitable Giving”! All of those are things we could easily do without, or drastically reduce, if we were forced to. And, I know what you’re thinking. “That food budget: six-hundred and thirty dollars a month”? “They must be super high-rollers”!

We are. We eat out like six times a month on that luxurious number. A goal of ours is to go out less frequently on date nights and put another ~$50 a month towards student loans.

That household and miscellaneous number? There’s definitely some fat we could trim in there.

And really, as Katie and I were reading this just before we posted it we were like “we spend THAT MUCH, we can do better than that!”

If we were really ambitious and Spartan, we could lower these numbers. If we didn’t have student loans to contend with, we could easily live on less than $40,000 per year without too much sacrifice. And, if (when) we pay off our mortgage, we will easily come in under $25,000 per year in living expenses.

Faithfully adhering to this budget is integral to our ability to pay off our student loan debt. If we didn’t live on a budget, we wouldn’t have enough surplus to make the payments mentioned in the previous post.

This isn’t a pipe dream, these are real numbers and anyone can do it. If you currently have and adhere to a budget, I challenge you to look for ways to trim fat wherever you reasonably can. If you don’t currently have a budget WHAT THE CRAP ARE YOU WAITING FOR!?!? Go sign up for Mint or YNAB right now! Seriously…I’ll wait…

If you’re committed to paying off your student loans, or if you just want to live better for less, I highly recommend checking out the sources of both information and inspiration listed below! Also, please feel free to share your comments, I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Happy budgeting!


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