How Budgeting Saved My Marriage

How Budgeting Saved My Marriage

When I got pregnant with my first child we knew we had to save money. We had been bopping around before then, putting money on credit cards and paying it off, taking some money and putting it into savings, taking it out again. Not doing anything really stupid but not really being on top of the situation. We had put some money we got from our wedding in savings and we hadn’t really done any savings since then. We WANTED to save money but there never really seemed to be any money at the end of the month to put away.

When we realized we needed to save more money for the baby, we hit a snag. I am naturally frugal and have an easier time just NOT spending money. My husband is not a big spender, but he occasionally buys a coffee, a danish, a pricey ingredient at the store. While I was busy trying NOT to spend money, he was still spending money on things that I, personally, deemed frivolous. He would come home and the critic in me would start: “Are you sure you needed to buy a sandwich? You could have remembered to pack one at home”, “Another coffee? Really?”. And as you can imagine he didn’t respond to that really well. As we continued to bicker, I became more controlling and he became more defensive- “You’re not my mother” became a common refrain. When he came home with flowers for me in an effort to appease, it just escalated the situation! “I don’t want flowers! I want to save money!”. It was not exactly the harmonious, loving home that we both wanted to have. We had become something that we both didn’t want to be: A COUPLE THAT FIGHTS ABOUT MONEY.

We were heading down a dark road and it had to stop. All our interactions were becoming about money and the “SAVINGS” was a big, black cloud that hung over our marriage. We didn’t know how to get there and we were fighting as we tried to figure it out.

So we decided to do something we had never done before: We made a budget. (Cue the music).

And it worked. We stopped fighting. By creating a budget we were able to take the emotions out of the money which left us with nothing to fight about. Click To Tweet

We had a specific amount of money for household expenses, and a specific amount of money for each of us to spend. We each decided for ourselves how to spend that money.

Why did this work? Because it was really never about the money. It rarely is. It was about the emotions that money evokes. You see, I grew up in a poor family. Not dirt poor- but a “live on a strict budget don’t get dental work until its urgent” type of family. When my father lost his job, things were really, really tight and stressful. So I was determined that I would have savings and money in the bank to try to avoid those tense times. It made me feel secure to know that there was a $50 bill in my purse that wasn’t being spent. Just in case. It was important for me to have money in the bank.

My husband, on the other hand, grew up with a financially controlling parent. Every purchase was scrutinized, discussed and analyzed. While they were pretty comfortable financially he never felt the freedom to purchase anything on his own. Even when he spent his own money, he would be questioned and guilted about his purchases. When he became independent, he needed to be able to spend his own money without feeling controlled or analyzed. He didn’t mind having a set amount to spend-he minded being told HOW or WHEN to spend it. He wanted to be able to decide for HIMSELF when to buy a cup of coffee or not.

Budgeting gave us both what we wanted. We put aside money for savings right when we got paid (instead of putting aside what was leftover) which gave me the feeling of security and purpose that I craved and that allowed me to stop feeling panicked about the money he spent. On his end, he was able to decide what to spend on which item without feeling guilty or uncertain about his choices. It was freedom within a framework- which is what he wanted.

The budget we created was made by both of us. We both agreed to the amounts and the system. We have lived on this same budgeting system for years now, with a few minor adjustments. We honestly rarely talk about money. When we do, it is to discuss changes to the budget or big purchases-its all done calmly and respectfully (and rarely). We already know what we each need and what our overall financial goals are so we only rarely have to discuss the “nuts and bolts”. There really is nothing to fight about and money does not make its way into every discussion like it used to.

Some Tips about Creating a Budget with your Spouse or Significant Other:

  1. Be calm and respectful. Realize that it is rarely about the money. It is about the emotion that money evokes.
  2. Respect the other person’s needs and wants.
  3. Write it down and agree to reevaluate.
  4. Choose a quite, peaceful time to assess how the budget is working.
  5. Give your partner space. Trust them to follow the budget and stick to the plan.
  6. Support the other if they mess up. The relationship is more important than the money.

 

What budget did we use? This one right here! 

How To Pick A Resolution That Will Actually Stick

It’s that time of year! Resolution time. We usually like to start with some lofty goals and high ideals. It’s the month of extremism and abstinence.

I won’t spend money on anything for the whole month.

I will stop drinking forever.

I will not make any impulse purchases ever.

These are all dreams that are not actually realistic. We are humans. Humans have wants and desires that are hard to overcome and to do that we have to be realistic. Setting to large of a goal can actually lead to failure. It it easier to accept defeat when it was long-shot anyways. “Reach for the stars” and “aim big” are great tenants to live by but not very practical when actually choosing a goal and resolution that you want to reach.

Every big achievement starts with small baby steps.

Specific. Actionable. Measurable. Realistic. Lasting

Lasting- Choose something that is maintainable. Going on a spending fast is not going to get you anywhere concrete. It may help you for this month, but what about the next?

How do you choose a resolution that you will actually keep? Make sure it has some of the following characteristics:

Specific- big, sweeping statements sound nice and motivational but are not actually practical. I will not drink alone before 8 o’clock at night is a specific goal that solves a specific problem.

Actionable- Choosing to do something is easier than choosing NOT to do something. I will make myself coffee at home is easier to do, than I will NOT buy coffee at Starbucks.

Measurable- You need to be able to measure what you do do that you can celebrate when you do it. You need to be able to build on the positive momentum of your achievement. Create a goal that you can measure. Something subjective is not ideal because of the human tendency to create excuses. So “I will not make impulse purchases” can’t really be measured because who decides what is an “impulse”? I will not spend more than $50 is measurable, you either did or you didn’t. “I will make coffee at home for one week” is measurable.

Realistic- If the goal is unrealistic or too difficult than you will quit before you start. We don’t like failure so if the goal is never going to be reached we probably won’t try at all. You are probably not going to save 50% of your paycheck right off the bat. You probably won’t cut all impulse spending right away (if this is an issue for you). Some things that are more realistic? 5% or 10% of your paycheck should go to savings. Put $5 a month away in a retirement account. Set a budget for impulse purchases that is what you can afford but not too small that you blow it all on the first day.

Lasting- Can you pick something that will last the whole year? Choosing a goal or resolution that will last and be a real change in your lifestyle (forever?) should really be the point. After all, wouldn’t it be great if each year you make a change that can be build on the next year? Don’t pick something flashy that will make you burn out by February. Pick something small, meaningful, realistic and measurable that you can really do for the whole year!

The Number 1 Problem with Personal Finance

I just read a whole thread on Twitter “bashing” FIRE and extreme miserliness. The gist was “Why be miserable just to save money?”. It then started veering into the mentality of “If I can’t/don’t want to be miserly then why shouldn’t I spend/waste tons of money?”
I rarely get political but I think we have the same issue with politics today.

THE NUMBER ONE ISSUE WITH PERSONAL FINANCE AND POLITICS TODAY IS EXTREMISM ON BOTH SIDES.

The problem with extreme blogs and subreddits (though why anyone uses that as a barometer is beyond me) is that the extremism is broadcast and amplified on social media. At the other end is the extreme materialism that has permeated our culture. Those that show off their extremely lavish lifestyles. This, too, is broadcast and amplified on social media. I know that I sound like a grouchy old lady complaining about today’s ills and “social media” but I am just a millennial who is seeing what is going around in the world. There is no moderation. There is no “middle ground”, there is no “balance”. There is either good or bad. Extreme one way or extreme the other way.

In terms of finance, there is either a miser or a lavish spender. Pay off all your student loans in 2 years or never pay them off. Never buy deodorant or buy $11 deodorant. Analyze each purchase or never look at the bill. I think that “we” (as in people who live today) often tend to look at things and then either hate or love them. If we have an idea with which we disagree, we automatically take up the opposing stance without considering that there may be a middle ground. There may be a balance. There may be good and bad mixed up together. We are so desperate to label everything “good”, “bad”, “tolerant”, “intolerant” that we can’t see that maybe there is a middle. Maybe there is a mixture of both.

Now, since this is a personal finance blog and I don’t want to sit and complain about “what is wrong with the world today” I will turn my rant to personal finance.

There is a way to be financially responsible without becoming a miser. There is a way to enjoy life without spending all our money. You can be financially stable without being a millionaire or retiring at 40.

Now, if you choose to practice extreme frugalism, out of choice, (there are many people who must do this out of necessity) than I guess that is your choice and right. Just be aware that extremism can often lead to abuse and then it is no longer your choice or right.

My message is this: don’t be turned off from being financially responsible by extremism. Don’t stop listening or doing the best you can just because you heard/read/saw/experienced the other end. Allow yourself to find the medium and the balance that works for you.

You can stick to a budget and still buy things you enjoy.
You can cut frivolous spending and still do things you enjoy.
You can use hand-me-downs and not traumatize your children.
You can save money and still spend some.
You can be careful about going into debt and still go to school.
You can make careful financial decisions and still have children.
You can choose to stay home often and still still go to a family wedding.
You can not buy a brand-new Audi and still have a decent car.
You can shop sales and use coupons without driving you and your family crazy.

It does not need to be all or none. It really doesn’t. That voice in your head? The one that is telling you that it’s not worth doing unless you’re doing it completely? Realize that extremism is rearing its ugly head.

Let’s not let extremism of any sort ruin our lives and our futures.