How to get a grip on your household budget

NOTE to self - tasks for new financial year.

Grimace at credit card bill after end-of-financial-year sale spending. Start collecting statements for accountant. Draw up new household budget ... eek!

If you're like the majority of Australians, your weekly household spending is about $680 and keeping an eye on your hip pocket is a necessity.

Suncorp Bank's most recent Australians' Saving Habits Report found that amount just covers current housing, transport, recreation, household furnishing and equipment, and clothing and footwear costs.

The average household was estimated to spend $69,000 on general household living costs in 2012.

Financial Counselling Australia chairwoman Carmel Franklin said there was huge financial pressures on households these days, and often people spent more than they earned without really knowing where all the money was going.

"People have limited incomes and there's unlimited things you can spend your income on," she said.

One of the keys to ensuring money doesn't become the bane of your existence is to keep a firm grip on your household budget - and we're about to help you get a start.

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The best way to work out what is draining your wallet is a spending diary.

For the tech savvy, you can use one of the multitudes of household apps available for iPhones and Androids, such as Wally+, TrackMySpend and Dollarbird.

Examples of budget sheets are also available on Australian Securities and Investments Commission's MoneySmart website.

A poll on the website has found 14% of Australians use written notes or a spreadsheet and 12% use an app.

But 16% don't keep track of their spending at all.

ASIC suggests kicking off your diary by just monitoring how you spend - whether it is for a week, a fortnight or a month. It's not about judging yourself, but learning about your spending behaviour.

Then you can you make realistic goals, identify your needs and wants, and begin to trim the fat.

Ms Franklin said there was no one size fits all budget because families, couples and singles all had different circumstances.


No matter how well people budget, some months will always be tougher than others.

ASIC suggests going through your past spendings, whether it is through bank statements or otherwise, and highlighting big bills that come in less often, such as birthday presents, insurance, car registration and council rates.

First, diarise when these next payments are due and then add how much these big bills cost in total annually.

Then break the amount into the number of pay periods you have, so a certain amount can be set aside into a separate account each time you receive your wages.

On average, Australians allocate 11.5% of their income to savings.

But Ms Franklin said there were options for those who were living pay packet to pay packet and struggled to save.

She suggested people find out about "bill smoothing" to see if regular payments, rather than once-offs, could be made.

Those on Centrelink benefits can also ask about Centrepay to ensure regular amounts were deducted for utilities and other bills.


Only you know what you and your family truly need and what you truly want.

Prioritise your financial goals and necessities and then work to cut back on the things that aren't so necessary.

Do you need to eat out as often as you do? Do you need to have your hair dyed professionally every month?

And the one that always crops up: do you need that $4 caffeine fix every day? It might not sound like much, but that one coffee five days a week, 52 weeks a year, adds up to more than $1000 a year.


It is hard to argue with that old saying that savings accounts are really "spendings" accounts.

If you have enough income to save, try to put the money into a separate account so you are not tempted to spend it.

And while you might be dubbed a cheapskate for seeking out the best bargains, remember those shaking their heads are often not getting the savings you are.

Ms Franklin said people should also make sure they were aware of the concessions they were entitled to.

Over-60s should ask for seniors discounts wherever they go and website also offers some great coupons for metropolitan and some regional areas.

Credit cards can also be compared at or

But Ms Franklin warned people should remember that while credit cards were convenient if used well and paid off regularly, they also had high interest rates and could lead to spiralling debt if left unchecked.

"It's more being very careful about how you use it and when you use it," she said. 


New financial year, fresh start


WHEN there's something strange in your finances, who you gonna call? Costbusters!

Costbusters is our answer to many readers' cries for hip pocket help - an eight-week series starting tomorrow that offers handy, practical tips for holding onto your hard-earned cash and encouraging you to face some home truths about how you spend your money.

As the new financial year gets underway, now is the perfect time to run a microscope over your finances.

Costbusters will bring you tips on how to save on things such as utility bills, food and groceries, insurance and mortgages, cars and fuel, entertainment and clothing, not to mention those little creatures (with either two legs or four) who suck up a heap of your dough.

So follow our series from tomorrow. We'll do the research so you won't have to.


Australian Securities and Investments Commission's MoneySmart website:


Credit and Debt Hotline: 1800 007 007


Financial Counsellors' Association of New South Wales: 1300 914 408



Financial Counsellors Association of Queensland website: (to find a local financial counsellor)

Financial First Aid: 1300 370 255 or 1800 007 007

Average weekly Australian household costs

$20 - bakery products

$32 - meals in restaurants

$7 - shoes

$13 - household appliances

$12 - mobile phone

$9 - childcare

$14 - audio visual equipment

$9 - books &


$52 - holidays

$11 - animal expenses

$11 - personal care

$20 - health practitioners

Source: Australian Securities and Investments Commission