Froese: Decreasing your money woes by tracking personal expenses

What you think you are spending is very likely much lower than the real number

People who use credit cards typically spend 34 per cent more.

A wise person once said you can have more money over a long time if you make more than you spend or spend less than you make. The roller-coaster of grain prices has pinched many farm folks who are saying, “I shoulda... ” 

What you can do is keep better track of what you are spending on your farm for family living. This is very personal, and fuel for many fights. 

Dr. Brent Glory on a webinar called “Two Economists and a Lender” said that fixed expenses are difficult to measure yet they change over decades. He mentioned that family living gets pushed into the bottom of the “too hard drawer” yet there can be great outcomes if you choose to tackle this issue. Dr. David Widmer, another economist agrees that there are many hidden variables on farms such as shared expenses like vehicles, utilities and property taxes that may get muddled. 

What gets measured gets managed! 

Imagine that you think you are spending $38K a year on family living but the real number is $72K. A study in Illinois found the top third of farm families were at $144K, the low third at $57K and the middle were at $84,300 per year (U.S. dollars). On our farm our number for family living is $75K annually, and that doesn’t include any mortgages for housing nor rent. We also don’t include our charity in that number. 

What portion of your family living does the farm need to cover? Many farm partners are working hard off farm to create a decent cash flow to the farm for family living and debt servicing. Is this number being recognized and appreciated? 

The economists recommend avoiding what they call “black hole calculations,” using a number for family living that is the gap between earnings and equity changes. You need to balance off short-term versus long-term payoffs. Recognize that there is “family living creep.” The number gets bigger during lifestyle changes, inflation and living higher than the farm can really afford. 

Economists want you to read the billboard that says, “Don’t spend it!” Rebuild your liquidity in times of higher-priced commodities. 

Once family living expenses go up, it is hard to pull down. A South Dakota family of four spends US$75K, and this number depends on health-care benefits, retirement, and whether there is off-farm income. If two people are frugal perhaps $50K is a reasonable family living number with no debt. 

My friend Dick Wittman, a rancher, farmer and wonderful management consultant has a tool called the compensation worksheet. You can email me at [email protected] and I will happily send it to you. You get to work out the farm perks such as housing, cellphone, internet, a pickup truck with fuel, contributions to bonuses, etc. 

How can you make tracking family living easier? 

  • Have a personal account for family living, not mixed in with the farm account. 
  • Use your bank statement to get a quick idea of family living expenses. 
  • Use your debit card, or cash. Folks who use credit cards typically spend 34 per cent more. 
  • Talk to your creditors if you are feeling financially squeezed. Keep the debt servicing conversation respectful and open. This may also be important if your crop contracts are not going to be met due to the drought-stressed yields. 
  • Consider using a financial planner. You can start with your bank or credit union’s free service. I can refer you to fee-for-service planners who know farming. 
  • Entertain yourself with Dave Ramsey and Financial Peace University videos. He has a great success rate with getting folks back on track even though his methods may be a bit far out to you. 
  • Give your kids a Spend, Save, and Give Jar... three different jars to start having more money conversations. Ramsey doesn’t use the term allowance. He says, “Here’s your commission for being part of this family.” 
  • Get rid of secret accounts. Money is a form of energy and secrets are not helpful. Go back on my blog and start reading the Intentional Wealth Management books. 
  • Consider cleaning out the shop after harvest. New parts never used, things no longer needed amounted to $40K for a farm family who spent a week reselling the stuff in the shop. You may have things you can convert to cash, but it will take time and discipline to sort that out. 
  • Make your own coffee and tea. Avoid the“latte factor.”Small things add up. 
  • Celebrate small wins. Build on the good choices you are making to decrease your family living expenses. 

About the author


Elaine Froese is a Manitoba 150 Woman Trailblazer. She is passionate to guide farm families to find harmony through understanding. Her mission is for you to have rich relationships on your farm. Visit to learn more and book her for speaking engagements at



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