As a large family (and one with a finance guy) a budget it critical. I giggled a bit as I typed that because as with most couples there is a spender and a saver. With us, it happens to be the finance guy who is the spender. Ironic right? Don’t get me wrong there are things on my wish list and I like to buy things too I just hold back more often than he does. We all have our vices. If I’m driving somewhere I have no problem not stopping at gas stations for snacks, etc. even when I’m hungry whereas he will stop for drinks, etc. I on the other hand spend money on stuff for the kids. They are fun to shop for!
The only way to mitigate a financial disaster is being on the same page and both USING the budget. Both of those are equally important. Why? Even if you are both on the same page and agree you need to do something different with your money/spending/earning you both have to actually have a plan and follow it. Also, if you aren’t both actually in agreement on what to do or how to do it you’ll have problems and we all know money problems can wreak havoc on a relationship.
Step 1: Talk, talk and talk some more. What are you both willing to do? Are you willing to give up credit cards? Are you ready to actually look at your finances? Ready to look at and accept the amount of debt you have? Are you willing to move to a cash budget? Are you willing to take the time to create a budget and adjust it each month? Are you willing to USE a budget? Are you willing to discuss spending regularly? These are are all very important pieces and can’t be done quickly. Communication is key. For us we talked about needing to do something for months before we were able to actually make a move and DO something different.
Step 2: Create a budget. After a few years we now have a process that works for us. We have a budget in a spreadsheet format that we discuss each month. (We use something similar to the Dave Ramsey philosophy) We take a look at the calendar to plan for expenses such as birthdays, parties, holidays, special meals, trips, car maintenance, etc. At this time I also put together the shopping list for the month so we have a good idea of how much we need for groceries, etc. This takes time but is a big help for us to know what we need to adjust for that month. We have learned the hard way that if we don’t adjust the budget as needed we won’t follow it. It needs to be reasonable. We start by figuring out the bills that need to be paid such as car payments, house payments, utilities, etc. After that we go through needs/wants. Our categories are not what others may use but they work for us. Grocery (food), Target (Toiletries, cleaning supplies, clothes, etc.) Gas (fuel for auto and lawn care), Eating Out (restaurants, snacks, coffee), Car Repair/Maintenance (oil changes, filters, etc), Misc. (Birthdays, etc.) These are all categories that have an envelope with cash in them. It’s much more painful to hand over cold hard cash than zip a debit card through a machine. I also feel I pay more attention to the amount I spend when I use cash vs. card.
Step 3: USE IT! The first few months you may be excited about the change or maybe are still needing encouragement….regardless, you need to keep at it. It takes time to get used to it and sometimes you’ll slip up. We are all human and prone to make mistakes. The budget honeymoon phase may wear off and you accidentally use your debit card. It’s okay. It’s just a matter of getting back to it. As I said before, it takes constant communication. Talk with one another about what is challenging and discuss how to mitigate it. For example my husband really struggled with spending money on lunches during the workday. We talked about it and decided bringing lunch would help. He tried brining soups, etc but he still bought afternoon snacks. We talked again and then I started packing lunches for him including snacks and he stopped spending money on eating out and vending machine snacks. Little things like that can make a big difference.
It’s more work to stay within the bounds of the budget but feels good to pay off debt. Slowly, but surely the debt does get paid off and that my friends feels great!
I think my favorite part of our budget and planning is that we are teaching our children financial literacy. We are transparent with our children about how much things cost whether it’s college tuition, clothes, food or trips. It’s not that we want them to ever feel guilty but rather we want them to realize money doesn’t grow on trees it must be earned and that we need to be prudent with how we utilize it. We talk with them about spending, saving and donating money.
Happy budgeting 🙂