How to Make the Household Budget Work

Budgets suck. Not being able to buy the things you want also sucks.  But having less-than-no-money sucks even more.  Not everyone has the same spending habits.  Some people are perpetual savers, while others are compulsive spenders.  What if your spouse is one, and you are the other?  How do you maintain both your marriage and your financial solvency?  You make a budget!

Budgets are boring – sometimes worse… perhaps agonizing.  But they must be done, and they must be done with reality in mind.  Spreadsheets are great – I have a massive spreadsheet that tracks all of our utility bills, credit cards, car payments, insurance payments, savings payments, and it even does the math to help me determine how much money is in the bank after all of those are taken care of.  It works for us, but it wasn’t an easy path to get there.

You CAN put this puzzle together!

The first thing you need to figure out when creating your budget is to figure out what important things aren’t getting paid.  Are your credit card bills racking up while you inexplicably run out of money in your checking account?  Do you constantly look around and ask “where did all of our money go?”

After much painful soul searching, I can tell you where most of my money goes.  It goes to lunch and Starbucks.  Any ‘budget’ article you read is going to tell you to start bringing your lunch to work and brewing your own coffee.  I don’t ascribe to that.  It’s too simplistic, and you wind up still wondering where all of your money went.

Realistically, the walks to and from a restaurant is the only social aspect of my work day.  If I don’t buy my lunch, I’m stuck in the same room from 8am to 5pm.  I can’t live like that.  I need the social aspect of going for a walk with the people I spend the majority of my weekdays with, not just ‘do you have a minute to review the meeting before the next meeting’ conversations.  To me, that is worth the $10-$15 per day (between $250 and $300 per month – seriously, do the math!)  As for the brewing your own coffee, for those who can do it, I applaud you.  I fully admit that the yuppie part of me enjoys ordering my venti soy, extra water, no foam chai latte.  However, the human part of me really enjoys the “Hi, Abby!  Are you having your Abby-Chai today?” that I get every morning when I walk in to my regular Starbucks.  It cannot be denied that people enjoy the ‘Cheers’ aspect of life.  It’s the small-town-in-the-Big-City feeling that makes me feel special… and it’s totally worth $100/month.  The way I see it, $400 per month is cheaper than therapy, and it makes me happy.  This is what we call my ‘Happy Expense”

So we know what I ‘spoil’ myself with.  What do I cut out so that I can afford those daily luxuries?  I cut out shoes, clothes, and haircuts at a salon.  I save up for a pair of shoes, and I wear them until they no longer protect my feet from the elements.  My clothes get renewed about every two years.  My size doesn’t really change, and I take care of my clothes so that they can last that long.  As for my haircuts, I drive 2 hours to visit the in-laws fairly regularly.  There is a salon near them that gives me the perfect haircut for $18, plus tip.  If I really need a haircut, and I’m not going to visit the in-laws anytime soon, I (gasp) don’t get a haircut in Chicago. Seriously, Chicago salon haircuts cost more than a week’s worth of Starbucks.  I figure out what to do with my ‘transition length’ hair and move on with life.

Yes, I am a woman, and I give up fashion for food.  Pick yourself up off the floor and read on.  There’s a point to this whole story.

 

The point is, a budget is not about ‘giving up the latte’ and saving thousands of dollars per year.  It’s about deciding what is important to you, and spending your money on that.  The real trick is finding what is important to your spouse, and finding the balance between what *you* want, and what *they* want.  For example, my husband smokes.  (I know, smoking is bad for you, blah blah – I don’t need help with this particular argument).  Since smoking is his stress relief, he will sometimes bring his lunch to work in order to spend his ‘Happy Expense’ on cigarettes.  When figuring out the budget, we agreed that if he didn’t make me quit my Starbucks habit, I wouldn’t make him give up his cigarette habit.  (the discussion about the whole ‘smoking is bad for you’ is a separate issue that we’ll probably talk about in a separate article).  In order to facilitate these fairly expensive habits, we had to make them ‘line-items’ on the budget.

The things to ensure are listed on your budget spreadsheet are as follows:

Something to keep in mind is the order of this list.  Yes, Savings is WAY up there.  Savings is important.  Savings lets you take care of the emergency situations that life brings you.  If you have to skimp, don’t skimp on savings.  Also notice that your ‘Happy Expense’ items are on the bottom of the list, and they are a single line item.  That is because they are equally important.  If there is skimping to be done, you BOTH must feel it – not just one of you.  Do I really need to explain why?

 

As with pretty much everything, the most important thing you need to do to make a joint budget work is TALK TO EACH OTHER.  Sit down with all of your bills in front of you.  Face the reality of what is there, and what you have to work with.  Depending on your situation, this could be a VERY uncomfortable conversation, but it is one of those necessary conversations that can really improve your standard of living.  If you’re at the point of alternating between Top Ramen and rice and beans in order to pay  the things you need to pay, do it.  Things won’t get better until you start heading in the right direction.  When I first created the budget, I could barely afford either Starbucks or lunch.  Now I can have both, and I can start looking forward to the next thing on our ‘Happy Expense’ list.  Remember, things don’t have to cost money to be good.
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About the Author: Abby Dryer's goal in life is to bridge the communication gap between men and women. She finds herself giving lots of marital advice to her guy friends whose wives don’t want to have to explain *everything* to their husbands. “Women are hard to understand. I’m a woman, and *I* don’t even get us sometimes! Goodhusbanding is a great guide to help men understand their women, and hopefully communicate with a little more confidence, because that’s what works… communication!”

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