Last month, I shared some of my two-year marriage lessons, and one of them was "we need to communicate about money." Knowing that and doing that are two very different things, so I wanted to do a follow up post to share a few practical tips with you!
Woody and I don't have it all figured out, but we have put some principles and practices in place that have led to peace and health in our finances and our marriage. I have written from the perspective of marriage, but truly, I think these are good practices for anyone who wants to create financial health in their life.
Setting a budget is all about giving every dollar a name. Dollars that you don't give a name are automatically called "spent." Your budget tells your money what to do, letting you dictate your money instead of your money dictating you. When created together, a budget is is very beneficial because it gives you guidelines for spending, putting you and your spouse on the same page about whether you should spend money on something or not. It's simple—if it's in the budget, you can spend it. If its not, you don't. This initially seems controlling, but when you live it, it is completely freeing.
at the end of the day, your budget exists to equip you to use your money to promote your goals and your life purpose, not your impulses.
I kind of think of our budget as our ticket to board the train to the life we want. Random, everyday spending can be gratifying, but the sensation is fleeting. However, purposefully sticking to a plan allows us to create a meaningful life and lasting legacy. At the end of the day, our budget exists to equip us to use our money to promote our goals and our life purpose, not our impulses.
Initially setting your budget can take time, but it's worth every minute. If just the word "budget" overwhelms you, you may want to plan two to three different occasions to meet about it before you finalize it. We found great resources that helped us set our first budget from Dave Ramsey. We loved his budget worksheet with percentage values that helped determine how much to budget for food, gas, clothing, etc. We also use his cash envelope system and it has transformed our finances. We started using only cash for a few areas where we struggled to keep our spending in check (eating out, groceries and clothing), and ended up loving that system so much that we use cash for almost everything now! Spending cash feels more real than swiping a card and makes it easy to see exactly how much you have left in a budget area at any given time. We highly recommend it!
It can take a few months to get in a good flow with your budget, but stick with it! You can tweak it as needed until you find a rhythm that works. Also, your budget may change from time to time as your goals and life circumstances change, and that is good! It means you are using your money with intention to create the life you want.
Yes, calling it a party is my attempt to trick our minds into viewing this as fun! No one wants to go to a meeting, but everyone loves a party!
This is all about regularly having intentional time to talk, plan, and make your money work for your family. I recommend a monthly financial party to review the past month and plan for the next month. Also, plan an annual, extended party to discuss what worked in the previous year and what didn't, to review your budget, and to set new goals for the year.
Don't let the idea of this monthly financial party overwhelm you. Progress over perfection, friends!
Your monthly party does not have to be super long, and you don't have to be a CPA to do it well. Our monthly party is when we review categories of our budget where we underspent or overspent and balance those areas. We also distribute our next month's cash for our cash envelopes in this meeting. Once we've received our monthly income, we also come together to pray and submit our tithe before we pay any bills or spend any money for the month.
Here are a few questions you might ask yourself and your spouse to get the party started:
In what area do you feel like you consistently have money left over?
In what area do you feel like it's challenging to stay within the budget amount we've set?
Are there any new areas we should add? (This came up for us when we realized we hadn't budgeted for things like dry cleaning and gift giving)
What savings or financial goal are you most excited about right now?
What do we want to do with the money we didn't spend at the end of the month? (here are a few ideas: put it into savings, go to a favorite restaurant, bless a friend with a treated meal, get your home professionally cleaned, or put it toward an upcoming trip or celebration!)
Don't let the idea of this monthly financial party overwhelm you. Progress over perfection, friends! The main point is that you reconcile any items from the previous months, make necessary adjustments for the coming month, and talk. You may want to pray, repeat your purpose and goals to each other, or just share how you're doing and feeling about your financial plan. Also, take time to celebrate the progress you're making toward your goals! Whether general savings, giving, or a specific goal like a trip to Europe or buying a house (two things on our list this year!), you should pat yourselves on the back for working hard toward what matters!
There are no ifs, ands or buts about this one. Secrets create division and separation, not unity and there is no place for them when it comes to money. As husband and wife, you are one, and you must promote unity in every area of your marriage, including finances.
there is absolutely nothing you can buy with your money that is as valuable as unity and honesty with your spouse.
Woody and I combined our bank accounts early in our marriage, and we view all of our combined income as "ours." As we build a life together, our money is a big part of it; it helps us accomplish goals, have fun, and bless others. It only makes sense that if we want to be unified in our goals, fun, and giving, that a tool we use to accomplish many of those things (money) should be unified too.
If you and your spouse haven't combined your finances, I highly encourage it. I'm not speaking as a financial expert, but I am speaking as a cheerleader for love and your marriage. That means I am not a fan of anything that might stand in the way of complete unity and openness with your spouse. You may not be tempted to have financial secrets now, but removing the opportunity for the future will set you up for success.
To put it in practical terms, ladies, this means no covering up a day at the spa, and gentlemen, no hiding the new golf club you bought. If these things are important to you, they should be important to your spouse. There is no reason you can't save and plan to enjoy things like spa days and golf clubs within the realm of your budget through open communication and agreement. For instance, Woody and I get a certain amount of "miscellaneous spending" money each month. We both have the personal choice to use this within the month or save it for a few months and then put it toward a big purchase. Also, there are some hobbies or endeavors that we want to invest in as a family or in support of each other, and after discussing it and agreeing, we choose to pay for it from our extra savings (not our emergency fund or other specific savings).
When it comes down to it, there is absolutely nothing you can buy with your money that is as valuable as unity and honesty with your spouse. Get on the same page, be open, and let truth manage your finances and strengthen your marriage.
Friends, I hope for complete peace and prosperity over your finances as you seek a life of purpose and fulfillment. The area of money for us has been full of lots of learning and some challenges, but I am so thankful for every ounce of effort we have invested. As I see the payoff happen a little by little, it is so rewarding! If you have any specific questions about how we implement any of the above steps, I would love to answer! Just email me or comment below and we will connect! It may even call for another marriage + money post!