What word could strike fear in the hearts of grown men and women alike more than the word “budget”? Maybe not everyone has that fear, but chances are that in a married couple, at least one spouse HATES budgeting.
Mark’s take: For us, Lauren has wanted nothing to do with anything that even resembles a spreadsheet or accounting software. Her face quickly become withdrawn the moment I shared with her my latest projection for our household expenses. And then of course, my carefully crafted projections would never come to fruition. I was way too optimistic in spending on groceries, I didn’t even take into account buying clothes and a host of other expenditures. We were doing it way wrong for way too long.
Several years ago we reached rock-bottom, financially speaking, and had to get our budget in line. But how? We had tried so many times and failed miserably.
Would you believe me if I told you that this formerly financially dysfunctional couple actually ENJOYS budgeting now? It’s true. We enjoy it enough that we actually broadcast our monthly budget night live for the world to see. But full disclosure here — in the beginning of getting our financial act together, budgeting wasn’t so rosy.
Is cable TV important enough to be spending $120 a month? Is dining out that important to us that we needed to be spending $200 a month? Is saving for retirement so unimportant to us that we won’t contribute to our IRA? Is driving a nice car worth $350 a month to us?
These were the hard questions that we had to begin asking ourselves… but while every item we cut from our budget meant a sacrifice in our lifestyle, we were okay with it. Yes we had some fights, but we were ready for the change.
We had never really sat down to decide these things as a couple; we had been letting our values follow our money instead of the other way around. These were hard discussions that had waited WAY too long to occur. Lauren and I come from completely different backgrounds when it comes to money, so we had to reconcile our upbringings to decide what works best for us.
Lauren’s take: When I see a spreadsheet, my heart sinks and I break out in a cold sweat. Mark always wanted to budget and show me his latest color coded spreadsheet, but I revolted. I hated every second of it, so we just never did it….
Then we found ourselves in over $40,000 worth of debt and realized that we had to make a change in the way we handle our money. We sat down and created a budget for the first time together. I can’t say that it was easy, it was actually very hard and I may have cried a couple times. The issues we fought over were mostly because I spent money that wasn’t in the budget but should have been. Things like clothing, extra curricular activities, and birthday presents. I realized that even though I didn’t want to use spreadsheets and work on numbers, I was still a valuable part in creating the budget and my input was needed.
We decided that we were both good at something and in order for us to budget together and not kill each other, we needed to both play into our strengths. Mark’s strengths are spreadsheets and numbers. My strengths are knowing how to save money and knowing the family schedule and events like birthdays, field trips, parties, etc. But we also provide flexibility in our budget with a miscellaneous category to help smooth out small unplanned expenses so we don’t argue about every last penny!
Here are 3 ways to budget as a couple so you don’t kill each other
1. Decide your values together.
Now several years removed from those first few months, budgeting has become so much more to us than numbers. It gives us an opportunity to come together as a couple and get on the same page in our relationship, and as a family. Every single month, we purposefully spend money in a manner that reflects who we are, and who we want to be.
If you are just starting out doing a budget we recommend sitting down and creating a Financial Bucket List. This list is one that you make up together by deciding what you want to do with your money, both short-term and long-term. This will help you align your values with your spending habits and hopefully you can come together on an agreement on how to spend your money as a couple.
2. Plan fun things.
Budgeting for expenses doesn’t mean that we just talk about our bills and how much we plan to spend on groceries. We also get to do things like:
- Plan dates
- Plan fun activities for the family
- Decide where to donate money
- Plan and save up for vacations
We view budgeting as planning our lives together, both in the short-term and the long-term.
3. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!
Budgeting can be fun for couples that are on the same page. By communicating about your money together, you know where you both decided it will go. This helps alleviate the pointing of fingers and blaming. Extra tip: Budget miscellaneous spending money that will be designated to each of you each month. By setting aside $50 per month for each of you, you will have some freedom to spend just a bit how you want, but within a limit. We find that this often helps people feel less restricted with their budgets and helps decrease money issues in a marriage.
If disagreement over finances is the number one cause of divorce, then maybe the opposite could be true. Maybe intentionally agreeing over finances can be a source of strength in a marriage. We have found this to be true. Budgeting together has made us closer, and has helped us talk and understand each other’s values and desires.
But by coming together once a month and creating a budget TOGETHER, we found that we were much more successful at paying off our debt. It helped us on our road to paying off all our debts so we can now enjoy life being debt free.
About the authors: Mark and Lauren Greutman were once in over $40,000 in debt and running a $1,000 deficit per month. They changed their life around, got out of debt, and now teach others how to budget and be debt free on their website MarkandLaurenG.com.