You may have seen Chime member Sam in our latest testimonial commercials. You may also recognize her from her popular social media account, We Are Dan and Sam!, where she and her husband share practical advice for families looking for adventure on a budget.
Today, we dive beyond our 30-second promo and chat with Sam about RV life, budgeting tips for growing families, and her favorite money management apps.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Why is it important to budget?
Sam: Budgeting is a step that people skip because they’re like, ‘Oh, I have money,’ or ‘I get paid in two weeks, so it’s okay if I run out because I’m going to get paid again.’ But once you know where your money is going, it’s a game-changer. And sometimes, people think that by setting a budget, they’re restricting themselves, and they can’t spend as much.
But I feel more free when I set a budget. I’m still able to spend on what I want and need, but I have some accountability with it. Knowing where your dollars go is helpful because then you actually have more to spend than you think. That’s because you’re not making all these random purchases that you don’t need.
For a while, we thought, ‘If we set a budget, we can’t eat out because that’s wasting money.’ But we realized that it’s okay to eat out, it’s okay to splurge and do different things – as long as it’s within a range of spending.
Let’s say our average total for a family dinner night out is $50. We figured if we do that once a week, it’s worth it, as it’s quality time together, and we don’t have to cook.
When it comes to parenting, children behave better with boundaries and discipline. And so it is with a budget – you can spend better. You’re still able to do the things you love or have the things you enjoy, but within different parameters.
How can someone start budgeting?
Sam: It’s easy to say, ‘Step One is to set a budget.’ But it’s like, ‘Well, how do I set a budget? What do I do?’
First, write down what your necessary expenses are – utilities, mortgage or rent. These are the things you can’t live without. Then, on top of that, add the expenses that allow you to go about your day and go to work, like gas and food.
From there, budget for the extra things. You want to hit an amount that’s comfortable for you, where you’re not too restrained, but you’re also not overspending. You can stash some of it away and not use it.
Do you prefer the cash envelope method of budgeting? Chime members have access to over 60,000 fee-free ATMs.²
Also, the budget you set in January may not be the same in July or in December. So I’d say give any budget three months. If it doesn’t work out, create a new budget, or move some numbers around.
The biggest change for us has been traveling full-time as a family. Before we were stationary, we had a set rent, and a gas budget. Now, we don’t have rent, but we have an RV site fee.
Give yourself the freedom to have the money you need to pay for major expenses – we went from a couple of hundred dollars a month in gas to more like $1,500. There are also months where we stay in one place at a time and don’t go anywhere, so we don’t use that $1,500.
But we still keep the money there, because there may be one month when we’ll need the money. Like a tire blows out, and we have to use it for that.
Years ago, when I didn’t look at my debt, I would think that my student loan debt was around $5,000 – I didn’t know for sure. But keeping track of every dollar turned it into a game. For someone like me who is competitive, if I have $50 extra dollars in my budget, I would want to put it toward a goal. Just seeing those numbers go down was really helpful for us.
Any specific budget tips when it comes to growing a family?
Sam: The kids love toys, and they love to get new, little things. So we try to add a little bit of allowance in there for them.
Also, if I’m out shopping and they want a little candy or treat, I usually go to the Dollar Store. Since the items are really cheap, I can get a bunch of things. And I only need to budget like $20 a month. At my kids’ age – they’re 4 and 6 now – they can’t comprehend paying bills. But having a small budget for treats lets me show them love.
Another big expense is fast food. There are times when you have to buy something to eat if you’re running late to an event — kids are hungry all the time. You know that you just left the house, and they could’ve just had a snack. But they’re starving now, and you’re about to go to a three-hour event. So allow yourself to have this miscellaneous, emergency-type expense.
How do you budget for space when living in an RV with kids?
Sam: Even when we tell our family, ‘Hey, we live in an RV, we don’t have a lot of space,’ we still get so many toys for Christmas. Grandparents still want to get things for the kids.
So we went through all the toys in our RV and saved the things the kids really liked and wanted to play with every day. We set aside the things that were either broken, trash, or stuff to donate. Then, we set aside piles to go to grandma’s house. That way, when they’re there, they can still play with and enjoy their toys, but they’re not in our space.
We know as a family, we can’t function our best when we have too much clutter. But also, given our lifestyle, we choose things the kids are able to use that don’t take up a lot of space – items like activity books, color-in stickers, and board games. The kids love them, enjoy them, and use them daily, but in a smaller, more confined area.
Plus, with RV life, we really wanted to just be outside more. So instead of some money going toward an indoor toy, we got them electric dirt bikes. They’re more expensive, but they’re also things they can enjoy outside and not take up space.
With growing children, it’s about figuring out what toys fit them best – space-wise and money-wise.
What is the budgeting mindset families should have?
Sam: Even if one parent is the budgeter and the other is the spender, budget together. You want to take each partner’s perspective and thoughts into consideration.
For instance, ask, ‘Hey, this is our food budget, this is our gas budget. Do you think this works well for us?’ Or, ‘Hey, this is what I have set for your spending. Are you okay with that?’
If it doesn’t work out in the first month or two, don’t give up. Try it again. Because when you have the right budget, it will work out. You’ll feel like you’re thriving, not just surviving off your budget.
Family budgeting is 💯 possible – and fun
Take it from Sam. As you can see, no matter what the situation or set of circumstances, any family can budget and save. All it takes is the right approach to budgeting, a bit of thoughtfulness, and a positive attitude.
Find out how to co-manage finances as a couple.