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To Budget Or Not To Budget

To Budget Or Not To Budget

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

For a change of pace, how about a question that is not baby related. It’s about the one thing possibly more stressful than babies- money.

My husband and I do not see eye to eye on budgeting. We’re in the fortunate position that we live fairly comfortably- not extravagantly, but we can afford to go out for the occasional dinner. But we’re in our early 30s with a toddler and finances are getting tighter and tighter. We’d like to buy a house, have another baby, go on vacations… but the future is a little scary. We’re fine day to day, but there is no plan for our future. We were both graduate students for years, so we didn’t have our 20s to save up. I’d like to set a budget, but admit I panic when I start trying and have no follow-through. My husband- who handles the money- thinks a budget is unnecessary and says he has it under control. I think his big fear is that a budget will leave no flexibility for fun. Most of our conversations about money end up in stress and arguments. It’s not so much that we’re having financial issues right now, but I think we could be living smarter.

So I guess my question is twofold: Do people honestly set budgets and stick to them or is our way “normal?” And if we do need better control of our finances, how do I get my husband on board?

Thank you!

-Show me da money

Is your way “normal?” I don’t know if I’d necessarily go that far, but I will guess that your way is probably pretty “common.” However, that doesn’t make it optimal, or wise.

Three fairly big red flags here:

1) No plan for the future, or even the short term. Ambitious goals (house, baby, vacations) that you probably just sorta hope will happen someday, but aren’t really taking the necessary, realistic steps to get there. I’m guessing college tuition, retirement or any sort of substantial savings cushion in case of an emergency/job loss/life event are also in the “yeah we should get on that, but it kinda stresses us out so we’ll think about it tomorrow” category.

2) Your husband handles the money so you probably have no real insight into your own financial future (or present), and the person who handles your finances thinks budgets are unnecessary and is actively resisting your (completely reasonable and probably overdue) requests that you guys get your shit together financially and set some goals and make some plans.

3) Your conversations about money end in stress and arguments. That is not a financial situation that is “under control.” Sure, you guys probably ARE fine day to day and in no immediate peril, but obviously things could be better. Most couples fight about money at some point, yes. But don’t underestimate the damage that these arguments can wreak on your marriage — finances and money issues are one of the top reasons for divorce. Deal with this sooner, rather than later.

You guys both sound like you generally find finances/budgeting in general to be unpleasant and stressful. I TOTALLY get that. But it’s part of being a grown-up. You owe it to yourselves and your daughter to get some plans in place and get realistic about your current spending/saving levels. I would highly, highly recommend you enlist the services of a third party here, since you are both in such wildly different places right now.

We use and love the online budgeting tools Mint.com offer, for example, but they are self-directed and only as good as your own commitment to using them. Since your husband doesn’t think budgets are “necessary,” perhaps loading up your monthly income, expenses and spending habits into a budget template would be enough of a come-to-Jesus moment for him, or it might reassure you both that you aren’t living beyond your means in the short term. But it still won’t address his resistance to creating any sort of long-term plan for your collective futures, and your admitted lack of follow-through, if you guys don’t stick with it month to month. So perhaps an appointment with a financial planner or some of Dave Ramsey’s resources/training would be helpful for you both. You’ll need to swallow your general anxiety/dislike of these tough money-related conversations, and remind yourselves that YOU WILL FEEL BETTER WITH A FINANCIAL PLAN IN PLACE. You really will! You’ll be able to talk about money without that creeping edge of anxiety, you’ll likely meet your goals sooner than you would otherwise…and YOU as an individual will be more in control of your own financial future and not overly dependent on your husband’s money management skills and judgement. (I know it’s another thing no one likes to talk about, but marriages do end. Death of a spouse can happen. You do yourself no favors to pretend otherwise when it comes to your finances.)

By the way, you can — and totally should! — budget for fun. Fun is essential! You can include a restaurant budget, a wine budget, a special savings line just to chip away at paying for that dream vacation or weekend getaway. Household budgets often fail because people go overboard and forget to allow themselves some fun and pleasure. Keep that in mind as you tackle this issue.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Comments

  • Bridget

    YNAB is another really easy way to get on the same page with each other. It is software you have to buy, but then you get an app for free. My husband and I both have the app on our phones so we can track spending as we do it. It’s been so good for our relationship since setting a budget together is really setting our priorities together. It gives me tons of peace of mind to know where our money is going and that we have a plan for it.

    • Yes, I was going to suggest YNAB (stands for You Need A Budget) as well. The software is great but I actually think the resources on their website might be something that could help get you and your husband on the same page. It’s less about budgeting in the way people usually think of it (inflexible categories, stress and guilt over spending anything not MANDATORY) and more about being proactive about how you intend to spend your money (so you plan how you’ll spend your money, including on fun things, and then if you change your mind mid-month and want to go out to dinner more often then you thought, then the mindset is that you be flexible and figure out where else you can cut back in to make that possible). Definitely check out the website, even if you don’t want to use the software (though I do think that’s a worthwhile investment, as well!)

      • Elizabeth

        OP: I used to be you! I never used to budget, and just thought waking up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night with free-floating money anxiety was how the rest of my life was going to go.

        I finally faced my fear and set up a budget in YNAB 2 years ago. I just download my bank transactions and reconcile things on Saturday mornings while I’m eating a big breakfast, and then I’m done for the week. I don’t have to worry about surprisingly high credit card bills, we have an emergency fund, we save a little each month for recurring (but irregular) expenses, and this past summer we bought a car in cash. We don’t have a ton of money (I’m at home full time with my son, and my husband makes a very modest salary), but it’s amazing how much more you can do with what you have when you prioritize.

        Do I still have money anxiety? Yes, some, but now it’s in small, normal, manageable ways instead of night terrors!

  • Martha

    I’m a huge fan of Gail Vax-Oxlade’s budget plan and resources, she’s very clear about what you should be saving for and gives a very reasonable budget breakdown by percentages in the worksheets on her website.  I think no matter what your view is on budgeting, having a regular savings plan for (God forbid) emergencies is so important. Like yourself, my husband and I spent our 20s in graduate school.  We have two children, a third on the way, live in one income, and don’t own a home.  Thank goodness we are debt free, but saving up for a someday home is a huge priority for us now.  Plus it is really so fun (I promise) to have dreams for the future!  Plans! Goals!  They aren’t scary, but rather a way of saying – this is an adventure we want to have together.  Let’s make it happen.  
    http://www.gailvazoxlade.com/resources.html

  • EmilyHG

    My husband and I took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace class after we’d been married a few years (we don’t follow all of his rules and, just so you know, it’s a ‘biblically-based’ program). Going to the 9-week class and working through our budget together really got us on the same page financially. And now, instead of crying and/or yelling when we talk about money, we have a plan and an agreement and a monthly budget. It’s much, much, much more fun.

    • hp

      I cannot recommend Dave Ramsey enough. Even if you are not religious, it is a wonderful program. My husband and I took it in 2009. We had a basic retirement plan in place (of the “let’s put x amount away each month”), no kids, and were comfortable (we are both middle to high earners for our area), but my “here is what is left at the end of the month” was not working. I was like your husband–scared the fun would go away if we budgeted. I was wrong. The fun didn’t end–I was able to enjoy it more without worrying that I was sending us to the poorhouse with my shoe purchases. We made great traction on our goals. Last Valentine’s Day, we were able to give each other an awesome gift–we paid off our house. At age 30, my husband and I were debt free. When my second child is born this year, I won’t be worrying about daycare or college. If you don’t want to do a class, read Total Money Make-over or sign on to Babycenter’s “We’re Debt Free” board (which is just a Dave Ramsey board–it should be called “We are working towards being debt free”). Those women know their stuff.

  • Lisa R

    I’m with Amalah–it feels better to have a budget. The book I’ve liked is All Your Worth. They have you split your money into three categories: 50% to needs, 30% to wants, 20% to savings. It’s really important that the wants is in there–just like a diet with only kale, you can’t have a budget that’s only dreary stuff. You can do it!

  • carole

    My husband and I went to a commission free financial planner last year to help us with overall financial questions. We paid an hourly fee to help us with all the overall questions like how much house could we afford with our 1 income, what type of down payment and loan options were there if we could afford something, is our retirement/saving in okay shape since we are in mid/late 30s and were we missing anything else. He had some great recommendations for us (we were missing life insurance for my husband, we need a will, etc) and it was really nice to have 3rd party to help us not screw things up and blame said person.

    • Lori

      Ooh, how do I find a commission-free financial planner? That is exactly what I need. Just someone to sit down with for an hour or two to ask a bunch of questions about my current, all-over-the-place, set-up.

      • carole

        I just did a google/yelp search of my area. It is sort of a hefty hourly fee but my husband and I felt well worth it for the info we obtained. We also felt like we were not being led down paths that were not in our interest just so someone could earn commission. 

  • sassy

    I would just like to also recommend the Financial Peace University. It will start you out at the very basic day to day budgeting and then move on to working on your future. And definitely budget for fun! My husband and I each have our own fun budget and then a separate family fun budget for each month. This month I’ve already decided I’m using my budget for some nice jeans that fit. Usually the family budget goes to eating out or toddler play places. I think my husband uses his for video games usually but I don’t even ask. Haha that’s why they’re separated because we take out the cash at the beginning of the month and then it’s judgment free.

  • Sarah

    I would also recommend a financial planner that is not based on commission. Then it’s not so much you vs him, there’s a neutral 3rd party that makes recommendations based on both your interests. I’ve never had to pay for a financial planner, so I don’t know if that’s a Canadian/American thing? I got a free consultation and advice from my bank (Where we have our mortgage), Sunlife financial (life insurance) and my investment broker (RESPs, RSPs etc.). I only have to pay broker fees for my investments. 

    We don’t follow a monthly budget but we have general 5/10/20 year goals that we are aiming for. I find there’s too many changes month to month to really budget $ for $ (that being said, we have done it while in university and we were literally living paycheck to paycheck and I had to pay the bills on specific days to ensure there was money – and hope never to do it again) and if we are purchasing something that is over $100, we have to consult each other beforehand. It works for us.

  • I highly suggest you get started. About 8 years ago my husband and I were living in a crappy condo and we wanted to buy a house. My husband thought we couldn’t afford it as we were living “paycheck to paycheck”. No, we were spending our paychecks, and not on the same page financially. I convinced him to let me budget our money (and did so that we each contributed the percentage that we made to the joint budget) fair and square. Over the next 2 years we save 30,000 for a down payment for our new house. We were able to sell that house for 150,000 more than we bought it for, and move to our dream town and buy a bigger house. We saved up an 8 month emergency fund. Because we watch suze orman together and she said to. Well, we had to use it! My husband immediately after we moved into our bigger house in our dream town lost his job after I lost my job and decided to be a SAHM. We were out of work for 5 months! So scary because our equity was in our house, but instead of havin to sell and move, we used our emergency fund. 

    We make it fun! We talk about our dreams and what we want next. A mountain cabin? Hawaiian vacation? We agree we feel best when debt free so we paid off our cars an school loans. We also have a line item for date nights, wine, social events etc. We also have “personal free spending” like hair stylists, starbucks, lunch with friends. But we are just more choosy with where we spend our money, and tracking it helps us know where we stand. 

    Just sit down with each other, take a look, decide what you can cut out, decide how much you want to save monthly, make a spreadsheet and commit! 

  • Myriam

    We don’t budget, but we track our expenses. I receive and pay all the bills, and my husbands rights me a check for 50% once a month. We make the same average salary, and pay expenses proportionnally to our income. We don’t have a joint account, but we use a joint credit card for all family expenses. So, once the family expenses are paid, the rest of our money is our own. That is what works for us. By tracking our money, we became aware of our big expenses (grocery shopping) and decided to be more mindful: we changed grocey stores and were able to reduce that expense without changing our diet.

  • Amy X

    Also, if a “budget” freaks your husband out, think of it more like tracking your expenses. My husband and I do this (using Mint.com!), and it allows us to get a feel for what our normal spending habits are. After a few months (to get some history in there), we realized we were comfortable with our spending habits, but it can be quite shocking how quickly things add up. Plus, if we know we’re going to have an expensive month (around the holidays or a vacation coming up), we know exactly which areas we can cut back on to save a few hundred bucks.

  • Stephanie

    We don’t budget, but I track all of our expenses on Mint.com. I also have a separate, online savings account (capital360.com) that offers a higher interest than our bank. I automatically have it taken money twice a month from our checking to our savings. The idea is pay yourself first. We have our money taken out for our 401Ks first and then we never think about it. Same with savings and our girls’ college funds. If we find we’re pulling savings out to cover bills at the end of the month then I know we’re overspending and need to cut back and get back on track. I realize we’re very fortunate not to have to keep track of every penny.

  • Ella

    I am one of those people who break out in hives at the word “budget”. It just seems to lead to tons of stupid arguments about things like “Why did you go to Chipotle for lunch when you could’ve packed something from home?” and “Why did you buy that book when you could’ve gone to the library for free?” Ugh. Kill me now.

    Tracking spending via Mint or whatever method you prefer is way better about getting people like me on board with conscious spending. And this really seems to be more about the letter writer’s anxiety about not having any visibility into the finances, which a program like Mint would easily solve.

    The next step would be setting up automated transfers into various savings accounts for whatever your savings goals are. The automated part is important so you don’t find other ways to spend that money every month and it doesn’t rely on you remembering to do it. It also gives you peace of mind that you’re moving towards a goal.

    I’d actually recommend the stupidly titled “I Will Teach You To Be Rich” book by Ramit Sethi, which your husband will probably appreciate a lot more that Dave Ramsey based on your description.

  • liz

    We were exactly like you folks!! Then we started to use Quick Books to track our expenses, and that was really enough to put us on the right track towards getting an emergency fund together, and towards understanding where the money really goes.

    Our shocker was how much we were spending on take-out and restaurants, as well as purchased lunches and coffees at Starbucks. So we set a budget of one restaurant meal per week, and scheduled two packed lunches a week, and splurged on good coffee at home to save money on Starbucks.

    Our son ended up liking packed lunches better anyway, so because we had lunch stuff in the house and we were packing for him anyway, that spread to 5 days. 

    We truly ended up saving about $400/month just on dining out. Without actually stopping dining out, just not doing it as often.

  • Alexis

    My husband and I don’t have a joint bank account (or credit card), so we have pretty different commitments to budgeting. I like to have a budget, even when it can feel stressful to see how little money you actually have! My husband is more of the free-wheeling type. Sometimes that works out for him and we have extra money to spend on debt, and sometimes he ends up with a big credit card bill. 

    We recently did have a talk and agreed to start putting more money towards debt (mostly my husband since he has the larger paycheck), and to be more conservative in “fun” spending (me). That has already made a big difference in our monthly spending and could be a good first step, OP. I also think sitting down and writing down your income vs monthly expenses could be a nice step with your husband – you’ll have a better idea of what the reality is, and then you two can start talking about what you want to do in the future. 

  • Bri

    My hubby and I are comfortable but we literally wonder where in the heck did that last 500 or 1,000 go last month?! It’s money not accounted for and usually ridiculously spent. In truth he’s the saver and I’m the spender and that’s very typical BUT OK as I learned through Financial Peace University with Dave Ramsey. Best 95 bucks we ever spent. You’re in a group so you get to see each other each week and discuss typically unpleasant crap like debt and how to do a budget (they show you how to do everything) and it’s inspiring to see people actually cut up their credit card or final bill in class even though it’s only 9 weeks. You can google for a class in your zip on the site or just order the class online. Good luck and yes, get moving on something! You’ll be glad you did.

  • Heather

    Even if your husband isn’t ready to have larger financial conversations that doesn’t stop you from getting your own finances headed in the direction you want them too. I live in a happily married house where the money is mine, his, & ours in different accounts. He is more fiscally conservative than I am and I do the shopping so I keep a lot of my check while covering food / Target / dinners out and he keeps most of his check while covering cell phone / electric / house stuff. It may be a middle step towards the conversations you’d like to be having instead because then your anxiety / frustration is quelled a little bit.

  • Dawn

    A great online resource is the Mr. Money Mustache blog and the forums there. I don’t agree with the philosophy completely, but the approach is inspiring to me and might be for your husband as well. It has what could be characterized as a very masculine approach. 😀

  • katina

    As long as we’re talking about Mr. Money Mustache, the other great resource (though admittedly, much better after you’re at the point where you can invest some of the money you have) is the “Boglehead Forums”.

  • Anna

    Another resounding endorsement for Financial Peace University. My husband and I did it last year when we had just had a baby. Since we took the class we have paid off all of our student loans ($14,000), saved a good chunk towards an eventual down payment on a house, and most importantly, stopped fighting or stressing about money. The class and materials are incredibly cheesy, but so motivational! I feel like getting into a budget/ system for handling your money is one of the best things you can do for your marriage and your kid.

  • Anita Alvarez

    I’m going to chime in here. I think a budget is actually freeing. Socking money away for things you need (and some you want) has really transformed how we spend and save. It also means letting your spouse save/spend on what s/he thinks is important, too.
    We’ve also made a commitment to home improvement, and saving on things like utility bills and increasing the value of our home. We live in an older home, and it was leaking heat like crazy during our cold winters. New insulation in the walls put a stop to that.