To Budget Or Not To Budget
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?
-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.