In our nearly 23 years together, I had always handled the money in our marriage. I kept track of our budget in my head, and I kept us from spending more than we had, but my method wasn’t very good at keeping Nerdy in the loop, or at tracking every penny of money.
Back in January of this year, we decided to really get a handle on our budget, begin sharing the responsibility and establish a plan to pay off our debt. Since then we have been meeting weekly to discuss our spending and make a plan for the upcoming week.
To say that it’s been challenging would be an understatement. However, we’re now five months into the process and I’ve learned quite a few things about sharing the budgeting responsibility with my husband and meeting on a weekly basis to set goals and analyze our spending.
I honestly didn’t realize how many unnecessary purchases I justified in my head until I had to answer to someone for it. Knowing that I would have to explain a non-budgeted purchase to my husband during our weekly meeting made me triple think each and every purchase.
Knowing that Nerdy would hold me accountable for money spent also had the unexpected side effect of keeping me out of the stores. I couldn’t spend money if I didn’t go to the store right? I just removed the temptation.
Getting Out of My Own Head
Because I love numbers and budgeting so much (yeah, I know I’m weird), I tend to get caught up in the details and numbers themselves. My husband brings me out of that wacky world by forcing me to summarize the big picture for him.
This has absolutely been our biggest challenge. We simply think about numbers differently and getting on the same page has been…well…rather frustrating.
A New Perspective
Nerdy works in the business world, I don’t, so he brings a whole new perspective to the table. He has provided quite a few ideas that I would never have thought of. It seemed like common sense to him but to me, it was a brand new way of looking at our money.
A New Respect
I look at my husband differently now. There is a renewed and greater respect because I am learning new things about him, how he thinks, and how he works.
We are also learning a new way of communicating that builds respect between us. Talking about money is difficult, and learning to have those discussions has forced me to be more considerate of his perspective and opinion, and vice versa.
A Shared Purpose
Instead of handling everything on my own and only talking about money when there wasn’t enough, we now have a shared purpose. We both know what comes in, what goes out and where it goes to.
We have a plan that we’ve established together, and we’re able to hold each other accountable. We also get to celebrate our accomplishments together when we meet our goals.
We Have More Money Than We Thought
It’s actually rather amazing to me how much money we really do have. Forcing ourselves to write down every penny that we spend also forces us to face the reality of where it all goes. There were many areas that we found needed a lot of attention if we were truly serious about paying down our debt. Once we were able to see that we suddenly realized that we had a lot of “extra” that could be applied to debt.
If you don’t currently have budget meetings with your spouse, I encourage you to prayerfully consider it. It has made such a huge difference for us not only in tracking our money and paying off debt but also in building our marriage.
I asked Nerdy to help me come up with a few pointers and tips that we’ve learned over the past five months, things that would help others to have a smooth start to weekly budget meetings. Here’s the list that we came up with.
Come to the table with a healthy dose of patience
This may not be an easy process. There may be times that you both struggle to understand each other. There may be times when you want to point a finger and blame your spouse for messing up the budget, or your spouse might point a finger at you!
For this to work, you both have to be patient with each other and always, always speak to each other respectfully…even if it is at a slightly higher volume.
This has been the area that we’ve struggled the most with when setting our budget each month. We go into the month with high hopes to save every single penny that we can so we set our budget up to reflect that goal.
Unfortunately, it’s not realistic to say that we won’t spend a dime eating out this month. While we can certainly shoot for that goal, beginning the month with zero money set aside for eating out is just asking for failure. There will be a time at some point in the month when a meeting runs longer than we expect, or someone is sick, or something comes up that warrants a trip to the local fast food restaurant.
Whatever the expense, be realistic when setting your budgeted amount.
Don’t Sacrifice Living
Find a happy balance between saving money or paying debt and still enjoying life. When you set your budget each month set aside a little money for something different and fun and relaxing, but not necessarily expensive.
For example, we will sometimes buy steak and/or seafood - not something on our regular grocery list - in order to make a special dinner at home. While the cost of that steak and seafood is an extra $20-30 above our normal grocery budget, it is significantly less than the $60-90 bill we’d get if we ate the same food at a restaurant.
We have also set aside a little money to rent a Redbox movie or enjoy an ice cream sundae from McDonald's.
The point is, you can’t just sit in your house and be miserable all the time. You have to give yourself some wiggle room to enjoy life, just be careful that you don’t enjoy it too much or fall into the “I deserve some fun” trap.
When you’re setting goals for paying off debt or saving for a specific purpose, or whatever other milestones you need to reach, also take the time to determine rewards for meeting those goals. Remain realistic, obviously, but reward yourself. It will give you the incentive that you need to persevere.
This is especially true if you are paying off debt. It’s a long and sometimes daunting process to pay off debt. Having those rewards in place for the small milestones will make it easier to continue toward the larger ones.
To give you an idea of what I mean by rewards, we were able to pay off a personal loan recently. When we set the goal to pay off that debt, we also set a reward of $40 to spend however we’d like. While it doesn’t seem like a significant reward, it was enough to give us something to look forward to.
Our next goal is to pay off one of the two mortgages that we have on our home. If all goes as planned it will take us 18 months to pay it off. When we reach that goal our reward will be rather significant. We don’t know exactly what it will be (yet), but it will be a big one.
Know Your Purpose
It’s not enough to just set a budget for savings or say you want to pay off your debt. You will quickly lose momentum and direction without a well thought out and established purpose.
Do you want to retire early? Do you want to pay off your car, home, or credit cards? Do you want to save for a big vacation? Do you want to buy a new car without taking out a loan? Do you want the freedom of living without any debt?
Whatever your reason or purpose, write it down! Go back and read it every time you feel the urge to blow the budget or toss it out altogether.
For us, we realized that we were not being good stewards of what God had blessed us with, nor did we have a Biblical view of money. For many years we chased more money. Without fail, the more we made, the more we spent.
Our focus was on taking care of ourselves, on buying what we wanted to, and going where we wanted to go, instead of focusing on trusting God to take care of us, provide for us and lead us. We had to learn to be content and live well below our means if we ever hoped to get out of debt.
I can’t say that transitioning from handling the money by myself to sharing that responsibility with Nerdy was an easy one. There were some pretty intense meetings in the beginning where we just couldn’t seem to communicate effectively. Some of them ended in tears of frustration. But every week we were right back at the table for our meeting again, no matter what.
I’m so glad that we’ve stuck with it. The benefits have far outweighed any initial frustration.
Do you have weekly budget meetings in your home? What is your best advice to those considering it?