8 Steps to Breeze Through Budget Planning

It’s that time of year…for most of us and something that always ends the year is doing my budget for the next.  I’ve been blessed with a good budget; one that sustains my needs in the classroom, but it’s still hectic because if you learned anything in college, always getting the best deal…if not the free alternative, is a necessity in the art room.  My OCD tends to lend a hand when it comes to doing my budget and allows me to compare deals, make the best deals, and feel stress-free for summer. It might seem like more work than you currently do but it is a genuine time saver and life saver when it comes down to it.  Any art teacher that isn’t willing to save every penny should probably read the news regarding budgets more…time to start pinching!  If I can lend a hand to anyone about budgeting by sharing my ways, then I’m glad because I understand how stressful it could be.

1. First, I inventory what I have.  Thankfully I take note throughout the year of what I’m using so inventory is a matter of subtraction from last year’s inventory after packages arrived.  It’s a pain staking process but it’s worth it.  You would hate to end up with too little or too much if you don’t do this step.

2. Before I do any formal budgeting, I consult my fairy godmother.  This simply means, I collect all the catalogs for the upcoming year (even the ones I can’t afford) and put post its on anything and any page that has something I would have in my ideal world. Of course, we know I can’t afford all this – no one can, but it sprouts ideas; reminds us of things we had needed or wished we had…and the expensive stuff leads way to similar items or solutions we can use.  I browse online. I Pinterest and I blog to find out what others are using that might replace some of the “crap” I bought last year.

3. After my fairy godmother visits with post its, I break out the spreadsheets.  As helpful as a computer is, I do this by hand.  I make a template and print off a dozen or more sheets to fill out with pencil.  I stress pencil, because the last thing you want to do is look back at your breakthroughs and go “why did I do that?” If you erase and re-write you’re not stuck second-guessing.  On the other hand, you could cross out simple mistakes that you want to be aware of so you don’t do it again.  I label these drafts because that’s what they are.  These spreadsheets from left to right include the headings “Page #”, “Item Name”, “Quantity Per Item”, “Product Number”, “Price”, “Amount Ordered”, “Total”, and “Total with Discount“.  That’s right…discount.  Always call every catalog and company you go through to see what discounts they can offer.  I do not order from anyone who won’t supply me free shipping (most will with orders over $50-$200 and currently, all of my orders receive a 20%-50% discount on all items.)  Always, always ask. You can also send them your final draft and they’ll respond with a quote for smaller if you show how much of a valued customer you could become.

4.  Next, I make a list of everything I need to have – no matter what.  This helps a lot.  While I’m doing this, I open my spreadsheets on the computer. Once I have implemented my formulas (not a math person…thank god for XLS) into the form, I am ready to go through my fairy godmother’s notes and add them to the computer, making sure my “must have” items make it.  As I go through the items, catalog by catalog, I can start seeing where my budget is dwindling.  I am able to veto things I want but know aren’t necessary.  I can look at my inventory and see where to make sacrifices.  My budget is always exceeded.  This doesn’t stop me.  Always go over on the first draft.  And even double up.  REMEMBER; this is a draft! Competing companies have competing prices so including what you want on both lists helps for the later steps.  I complete Draft 1 and print all my orders off.

5.  Print and start striking…Set your lists next to each other.  Find the same items and cross out the most expensive way to order that item; keep the cheapest.  This goes surprisingly quick now that you don’t have to think about what you need or what you want.

6.  Update your spreadsheets. Check where your budget sits with the discounts.  Consider this Draft 2. You would be surprised to find that you’ll typically be spot on if you are self-aware.  Before you move onto the next step, if any of your orders are higher in price then you would like, email the company and see what they can do.  I do this, no fail. If nothing else, it helps me confirm that I got the prices and items right. It’s their job to do this, after-all.  They want your money! And yeah, they may not have anything else to give…but once in a while, bam – they save you pennies or hundreds.

7. Now that you have your must have budget and you’ve consulted the company; you can either cut back on things… or if you are lucky, you may have some cash left over.  I usually reserve $100 for emergency Wal-Mart trips – it’s always good to admit that none of us can always get it right.  Anything left over after that, I pinch and spend or I double up on things I know I will eventually have to reorder.  I hit those “oh I want!” items quickly if I can.

8.  Now that you’ve considered all you can and you’re sitting just under $100 of your cap…if you can do this; you’re ready to go.  Something fantastic to consider about this process is that it allows you to have all your information in one file with 3-4 sheets to click through.  You can type in addresses, phone numbers, emails, codes for discounts or shipping and handling, and the total price you have been guaranteed (remember, you contacted the company to pinch everything you can).

With the information you’ve included, you can print your sheets off and hand them to your district administrator (or whoever) and it’s usually more than enough information for them.  I’ve quickly learned that showing your organization in this manner can also reassure those with the money that you’re worth considering.  And since you’ve attacked the “must have”s, the discounting, the comparisons, and how you can sneak in the extras…you can leave the school year (or start it) with a stress free attitude and anticipation for that day that always feels like Christmas…delivery day.

And I close with the note that the first time you do this process, it’s a matter of some work to get it in place.  But when you come back even just after a year, you’ve already got it all in place and your inventory will help.  Even your previous budget can be a great resource for your next.  Organization is key to a lot of success in a classroom, no matter the subject matter.

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