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But in addition to reducing interest, I should also be focusing on honing down my budget. The problem is that many of my expenses are so variable - child care, gas, utilities, etc. I do use Mint and will use the 12 month averages to arrive at an actual number and will post them shortly.

12 month averages can help, somewhat, but on another set of forums, we're fond of saying, "There's no such thing as a 'normal' month."

Every month is different. There will always be some expenses that vary (sometimes wildly). There will always be an emergency or an expense you forgot or a school fundraiser or a blown tire.

A 12 month average is a good starting place, but it's just a starting place. It doesn't help to know that you need $112.34 each month to pay your 6 month insurance bill if it's due next month and you haven't already been setting that aside. It doesn't help that much to know that last year you averaged $34.16 for car repairs if you need $625 right now to fix something.

And now it's time for my usual pitch for You Need A Budget.

Mint can tell you what you've spent and where. It's good for that.

YNAB helps you figure out what to spend before you do.

It's a pricey bit of software (currently $60) but there are discounts available (anyone who owns it can give you a link for a 10% discount) and there's a free 34 day trial. And once or twice a year they run sales (I also think it's currently free for college students).

It's possible to use the YNAB method without the software. It's essentially an envelope budgeting system where you plan what to do with the money you have, not what you think you're going to get.

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