You have made the commitment to manage your finances. Truly manage them. Leaving behind the days of “paycheck to paycheck” and confronting your finances with confidence. With a budget.
Creating your first budget can be a tad overwhelming. Not only are you giving yourself boundaries with your finances. You are being intentional with your spending. This can be a big change if you are tackling it on your own and a potentially bigger challenge if you are married.
In the typical marriage, there tends to be one who is the “free spirit” as Dave Ramsey calls it and “the nerd.” Free spirits being the spenders and the nerds being the financially conservative ones. In my house, my husband is the free spirit and I am the nerd.
I’m not interested in giving you the Budget 101 lecture today, more on that here. Rather, I want to discuss ways to get your spouse on board with budgeting. How do you get a free spirit to appreciate the nerd and vis versa? How do you stay motivated if you are paying off debt and feel inundated with financial goals to accomplish?
Don’t give up. Here are a few ideas to consider for married budgeting:
1. MILESTONE REWARDS – Best used in tandem with paying off debt, set milestones (e.g., pay off $5,000 of debt) and corresponding rewards for each of you to go with them. When we started paying down debt, our rewards were a measly $20 of blow money. Seeing as we had $114,000 of debt, we didn’t feel we deserved much more than that. We had already blown LOTS of money, now was the time to get focused.
We pre-set our milestones from the very beginning (e.g., when we broke the $100,000 barrier, when we get down to $75,000, down to $30,000, etc.) and mutually agreed to stick with them. This can also work if you are not paying down debt and instead use it as a savings motivator. With the milestones correlated to the amount you have saved toward a goal.
Having these rewards outlined ahead of time and comparable to what we’ve accomplished ($20 blow money for breaking the $100,000 barrier vs. a vacation when we are debt free) keeps us driven to reach our goal. Instead of constantly battling whether we have room for blow money or not in the budget each month, we both agree that it will be added in when we reach our goal. Keeping the free spirit focused, knowing their moment to spend [an agreed amount of] money freely will be here soon enough while the nerd can sleep peacefully knowing the budget is in order.
The trick to this step is keeping the milestones somewhat frequent so you are not tempted to give up. Each one will motivate you to work toward the next. Keep in mind the reward should be reasonable considering your financial position.
2. BUDGET OWNERSHIP – Despite the natural divide of the nerd and free spirit, we take turns managing the budget in our marriage. Some months I take primary ownership of making sure all our transactions are recorded and within our allotted amount and other months my husband takes ownership. Please don’t confuse ownership with involvement. We are both involved at all times. Always creating the budget together before the month begins. Always aware of where we are and communicating concerns or changes our budget might need.
When we first started budgeting, I – the nerd – was the “owner” of the budget. After the budget had been created (together) I took responsibility of making sure our transactions were recorded and everything was still within our means. All while communicating this information to my husband on a regular basis. We quickly realized this left my husband somewhat distanced from our finances. He wasn’t as connected as he needed to be. He was interacting with our finances through someone else’s lens. Missing out on the pride in ownership. We resolved to start taking turns managing the budget from day to day. After all, marriage is a partnership.
Sharing ownership of the budget along with our joint involvement did two things for our relationship with each other and our finances: 1) gave him an appreciation of what it takes to keep track of our spending and 2) taught me to give up control and trust him – the free spirit – to manage our finances. This created a deeper bond and appreciation between us. Where resentment and anger once festered, gratitude now lives.
3. LIFESTYLE PLANNING – When you don’t have cable, live off bologna sandwiches, and have no social life, it can be hard to spend much time in the world of life without debt. Envy of friends is hard to suppress and every day you are reminded of your financial status. “Wanna grab lunch?” and “Happy hour tonight?” are among the many weekly phrases that feel like a slap to the face when you hear them. No longer triggering excitement as they once had.
When you are over $100K in debt, there is no luxury in your life. You have a mess to clean up. If it isn’t necessary, it doesn’t make it into the budget. Over time you become well adjusted to your new, less extravagant lifestyle but in the beginning it can be very hard to cope. One way my husband and I overcame this lifeless feeling was to imagine our life post-debt when a large chunk of our income wasn’t already spoken for and we got to spend it how we wanted to spend it. Without obligation.
Any time we turn down a night out with friends, eat simple meals, or skip a trip we are able to find freedom in this exercise. It has no bounds. Eating poached eggs four nights in a row? Not a problem in this house. Over dinner we discuss the lavish meals we want to make when our grocery budget can be a bit bigger. Turning down an opportunity to go on vacation with our friends or family? I’m sure it would be a lot of fun, but the vacation we are dreaming about will be better.
Looking to the future and what our lifestyle will be debt-free compared to how it is now keeps us driven. It gives us the opportunity to experiment with what we really want. How many times do you think you need something and months later can’t even remember what it was? With this we can create the longest shopping lists, the fanciest dining experiences, the most elegant vacations and not spend a dime. As time goes on our lists and wishes change – free of charge.
Contentment started to mean something different to me when budgeting became a part of my life. Appreciation for the small things started to feel like the main thing. I was missing this in my life and I’m grateful to have it now. Thank God for bringing financial clarity into my life and thank God for a husband who loves eggs.