The bread & milk jar

When I was growing up my parents had a very strict budget. They had been beaten rather brutally – as many were in the 80s – by 18% interest rates, the recession and then basically loosing a home that was their dream. The market where we lived in Far North Qld slumped and there were no buyers for the beautiful home they had built when it came time to sell. It was sold eventually, but they walked away with the shirts on their backs and their health. With the house sold and our return to the city (my mum refused to send me to college for university so the whole family moved) my dad started his jar budget system. Above our fridge there was a short cupboard and in this cupboard was a jar for each outgoing that our family had. Some examples include:

  • bread & milk
  • newspaper
  • groceries
  • petrol
  • butcher
  • rates,
  • electricity, etc.

There was a running joke amongst my dad’s siblings that if there was no money in the bread and milk jar then there’s no bread and milk. And to some degree this was true.

There was also a ‘treat’ jar. At the end of the fortnight my dad would take all the left over coins (if any) in the jars and he would tip them into the treat jar. Every few weeks this money would be counted out and we would drive up to Mount Coot-tha or somewhere else that was iconic and order coffee and cakes. And we wouldn’t have to share our cake – we had a slice each. It was a real treat. My favourite at the time was a Vienna coffee (long black in a glass with whipped cream on top) with a slice of New York baked cheese cake. We’d dress up for these occasions too. I would wear my 501s and a good blouse or jumper. Mum would put lipstick on.

This worked for my family and every year we managed to have Christmas holidays at the beach somewhere nice. There was always good food on our dinner table and plenty to eat in the pantry after school. New clothes and school shoes were bought when needed but always from Stones Corner, which was the outlet shopping district in Brisbane at the time.

I remember getting my first job when I was 16 at a fresh seafood and fish & chip shop and I finally understood that things cost money. From this point on I bought my own clothes and shoes, as well as any school uniforms I needed to replace. I even bought my own personal items such as deodorant and tampons, probably more out of avoiding embarrassment of having to ask for them. You see my dad was a shift worker and did the grocery shopping during the day and nothing could have been more mortifying for 16 year old me than saying I needed TAMPONS! Heaven forbid.

Once I got to uni I continued to work part-time. My HECS were deferred and I paid my own way there too – text books, transport, student fees, beer and anything over the $19/month that my mobile phone plan cost. I was so terrified of going over the plan I remember asking friends to stop texting me and only ever using it to let my parents know my bus was stuck in traffic and I’d be home late.

Now some 21 years later, my husband and I with a mortgage and three small children have jars. We’ve budgeted pretty successfully to date but the jars seem like a natural extension and I am really trying to watch how much I am spending on groceries. I’ve even given up my fortnightly cleaner (boo-hoo first world problem I know) to put more money into our savings for Christmas holidays.

I think it’s funny how some things do full circle. A few years back before the kids came along I would have never thought I’d have a jar budget but here I am, putting cash in jars and hoping to not spend it all so I can afford a ‘treat’, such as salmon or lamb chops, for my family the next grocery shop.


S x


  1. I’ve been thinking about budgetting lately too – there is a great new pod coast – the pineapple project (which do doubt you are all over as you know them all before I do!) I think it’s important to teach our kids that money is not endless resource.

    Liked by 1 person

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