This is part two of three on how couples can resolve the constant fighting over money.
Last week I outlined how communication is the first step to ending the money fights in a relationship. Unless couples share their values, goals and feelings with one another, they will continue to bump heads over how their money is spent. It’s inevitable. When couples don’t share the same vision the relationship falters.
When my wife and I began to seriously and openly talk with one another about money, our financial life began to change. However, the unity didn’t result from us just talking about it. We knew there had to be an action step, something that would cement the ideological bonds that were forming through our discussions. That step came in the form of a joint commitment to prepare and live on a budget.
Ugh…budgets…I know the feeling. Unfortunately many people have had terrible experiences with them. This leads them to create excuse upon excuse as to why they don’t need to prepare one. They are essential though, if couples are going to have a breakthrough. I know in our lives, the budget did more to move us forward than anything else.
Step #2: Work on a Budget…Together
My wife attempted for years to write a budget to no avail. There were reasons ours never worked, one being I didn’t follow it. She would write the budget and then I would go out and spend whatever I wanted.
That all changed when we started working together and I could see the numbers being put into the various budget categories. That triggered something in my brain. It was as though I had been given a bunch of mini goals, a number for each category, that I didn’t want to exceed. I began to view it as a spending competition with myself.
The budget process we followed went something like this:
We had one person draw up the budget. Mrs. Luke1428 took the reins in the early days since she had been working on it already. On her own and before the month began, she would input the numbers into all the income and spending categories. We used an Excel spreadsheet to record this information.
The next step involved a budget meeting that went through four phases:
a. Mrs. Luke1428 would present the budget to me. She would remain quiet as I looked it over and then would answer my questions about it.
b. I would change at least one thing. (This created involvement on my part and eliminated my ability to solely blame her for the numbers in the budget.)
c. We agreed on the adjustments and then recalculated the numbers in the other categories to account for the changes.
d. Then we would look each other in the eye and solemnly swear to live on it for that month.
Those first months were tough. We would always forget to put something in the budget. Or something unexpected would come up. In order to solve these issues, we came back together and held an emergency budget meeting. We had to move money around in the spending categories to solve the issue because we were committed to staying out of debt (by using credit cards) to solve the emergencies. Working together in those crisis times, though challenging, created oneness as we fought together against life’s curveballs.
It took us 4-5 months of using this process to get our budget running smoothly. In that time, our mutual tension about the budget subsided as we began to experience success. We learned to respect each others input and find ways to meet the other person’s needs.
Being the natural spender of the pair, I did encounter some initial failures. However, it finally clicked for me one afternoon while shopping for some clothes. I already had a few purchases in hand when I happened upon a sale in the shoe section of the department store. It was a good sale and I’m a sucker for shoes. Even with the discounts however, the shoe purchase would put me over on my clothing budget for the month.
I remember standing there thinking, “This is a great deal on these shoes. What’s the harm in going over my budget by $30? It’s not THAT much over and I’m sure I can sweet talk Mrs. Luke1428 into seeing my side of things.”
Then I remembered my obligation to be more disciplined with my spending. I thought about the budgets Mrs. Luke1428 and I had so meticulously prepared. I knew there was a chance my sweet talking attempts could turn into another “disagreement” and I definitely didn’t want that. Mostly, I was tired of blowing it and wanted to win.
So I put the shoes back, then went and paid for my other things. That was the day I came 100% on board and my spending habits began to change.
In the last installment next week, I’ll look at the final step to ending the money fights: planning the future together.
Have budgets been a help or a hindrance in your relationship? Is it easy or difficult for you to agree on spending patterns with your spouse? What’s the most difficult thing for you to work through in your budget? Do you have a shoe fetish?
Prior Post: I’ll Take Money Over Love