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We’re turning to magic jars of money in hopes of socking away a few bucks

We put the money in the jars today.

It’s part of a budgeting exercise popularized by Gail Vaz Oxlade on her show Til Debt Do Us Part and it’s a devastatingly simple to spend more wisely, or at the very least understand your spending better.

In case you’re not familiar, let me give you a quick run down. You plug in some numbers into Gail’s spreadsheet (i.e. your monthly earnings, your monthly expenditures) and her calculations spit out how much money you can/should allot for each of five jars. It’s a bit like a vending machine, except instead of giving you a bag of Hickory Stick-flavoured regret, you get financial planning.

It can be jarring at first to see how much money you have to spend on each area of your life in any given week.

It can be …jarring… at first to see how much (or little) money you have to spend on each area of your life in any given week. Above is a dramatization. We have more than zero dollars this week.

Her calculations come with handy “shoulds” like how much you should aim to spend on housing (no more than 35% of your monthly income) and how much on debt (15%) and savings (10%). It’s a quick way to see whether you’re spending, for example, a little too much on “Life” (should be 25%) and nothing on savings. If you need a reason to start saving 10% of your income, just Google yourself to your bank’s retirement calculator and find out your chances of retiring before age 95. Or don’t and just spend that 10% on wine instead.

Our version of the magic jars

In a flurry of optimism Saturday, Jason suggested we give the jars a shot for February. I must have finally subtly mentioned a budget enough times for him to narrow his options to: capitulate or distract me with a Downton Abby marathon.

He agreed to jarring up our funds for the next month just before realizing February was pretty much upon us. But that didn’t dissuade him. We tallied up some approximations of our spending for Gail’s spreadsheet and he volunteered to gather the cash while I was at work today.

I came home to an envelope of crisp, maple-scented polymer bills just waiting for me to tuck them into their new vessels.

I did this jar budget a few years back when I was living the single life and trying to spend more consciously. This time around, my goal is even less defined. Naturally, there’s the nebulous end-game of wanting to have a little more money in my account between paydays. But there’s also the spectre of a shaky Alberta economy (oil at $48.24 a barrel and the Canadian dollar at $0.79—not a fun way to celebrate Throwback Thursday) and tax season looming (just in time for me to finish paying my 2014 taxes). It just seems like a smart time to get on top of our money before… it gets on top of us, I guess? And evaporates?

Day 1 on the magic jars

Our jars aren’t especially lean. We’ve started with numbers based on what we think we spend in a variety of areas, like groceries, entertainment, clothes and gifts, and our vehicles. It shouldn’t be hard for us to keep our spending within the world of the jars. Shouldn’t. Maybe we’ll slim them down in subsequent weeks.

We mostly tapped into the Food jar today. We spent on such essentials as Soy Milk, Miso Gravy and a brownie. No feelings of deprivation to report! Before we went on our brownie mission (decided we needed something to assuage the windchill after temperatures have dropped about 20 degrees Celsius since last week), Jason momentarily forgot we were drawing our loonies and Bordens only from the jars. If nothing else, we’ll probably save a few dollars on debit fees this month.

My guess is we’ll have some serious bank left at the end of the week. No promises on what we’ll do with it. We do have an empty Bulleit bourbon bottle where we’ve been stuffing our small bills as a makeshift, rye-scented piggy bank. Maybe an RRSP would be wiser? Or just more bourbon?

Will keep you posted. Anyone else ever try the magic jars? Did you have success?

Filed under: Blog

About the Author

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I am a writer living under a pile of scrap paper and unopened fan mail from the cable company. I believe a messy desk is simply a sign of inspiration waiting to be uncovered. But I’m biased. More from me on Twitter: @zoeywrites


  1. This is so great! I love budgeting and I have SO MUCH TO SAY ABOUT THIS. I use an app that is the equivalent of Gail’s jars. I find it quite easy since (wait for it) I stopped using cash as much and just enter my purchases into my phone. I’ve been on the same budget since November and it’s working really well for me. I’m tightening the purse strings this month because it RRSP season and I LOVE TAX REFUNDS.

    A smart thing I did was
    fgbvvwesaaaa3r4 (ThirdCat says hi)
    shop around for a new bank account. I just wrote and erased a whole paragraph about my new bank account. You’re welcome.

    Tracking spending and knowing where my money goes (wine, bakeries) was a really good exercise for me. In fact, the week you were in L.A. my evenings with ThirdCat’s nicer cousin were spent working on calculating a years worth of spending data. Fun.

    Good luck! I’m looking forward to seeing how this works for you.


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