Hope for your financial life and beyond

Ending the Money Fights (Part II): Relationships Blossom When Couples Budget

This is part two of three on how couples can resolve the constant fighting over money.

Men's Shoes

My breakthrough occurred while shopping for these.

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

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4 Reasons Your Budget Isn’t Working

budgets that workSo, the budget doesn’t seem to be happening for you each month? Can’t figure out how to do budgets that work?  Well, take heart. At least you are trying. That’s more than can be said for a good portion of the human race who just make excuses for why they don’t want to attempt one.

If you are having trouble, that’s OK. Budget success doesn’t happen overnight. It took my wife and I six months of making adjustments and having emergency budget meetings before ours began to settle down and become consistently stable from month to month.

Budgets That Work

This I know with complete surety, developing a quality budget changed our life. But it wasn’t without some missteps along the way. In those early days, I found these four things wrecked our budget every month.

1. We left items out of our budget

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Students Comparison Shop for Generics and Save Big!

comparison shopDoes your child ever groan when you buy generic brands at the grocery store? That’s what happened recently on one of my shopping trips. I was trying to comparison shop when I reached for the generic brand peanut butter.

“Dad, do we have to get that?” whined my 12-year-old daughter. “We always get Jif.”

“You don’t even eat a lot of peanut butter,” I replied. “Besides, your sister is the peanut butter connoisseur of the house. Let’s test it out and see what she thinks.”

Much to her chagrin, her five-year old sister loved it! Oh, did I mention our food budget also liked it?  There’s a $1.80 difference between comparable jars of Publix peanut butter and Jif and a $2.50 difference between the Publix brand and Skippy or Peter Pan.

This led me to do some field research on food prices, using my high school personal finance class as data collectors. I gave them a list of about 20 items and asked them to comparison shop the difference between name brands and generics at their local grocery store. They were then to calculate the difference they would save by buying the generic brand.

The result was a real eye opener for them.

Comparison Shop Data: Name Brands vs. Generics

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Can We Ever Step Off the Gas With Our Finances?

Sit at home or enjoy lifeI love competition. Better yet, I love to win. Doesn’t matter if it’s a marathon, a card game, or playing Horse with my 10-year old son in the driveway. (He hasn’t beaten me…yet.) I want to come out on top.

This competitive spirit also works its way out when I prepare our monthly budget. I love seeing if I can reduce the prior month’s spending amount for each budget category, thus being able to save more. I know, it’s a little sick. I’ve made budgeting into my own personal can-you-top-this contest.

Some may like that I’m this intense. After all, isn’t this level of passion necessary to win with money?

Well, yes…but not when the kids go naked because you haven’t purchased clothes in six months. That’s a little too intense. (Disclaimer to grandparents, family and friends and DFCS: Just using hyperbole here. No kids are actually going without adequate clothing in our house.)

The issue though is valid to consider.

When can we loosen the reigns on the budget? Do we have to drive hard all the time? When can we take our foot off the gas just a little bit? We free spirit spenders want to know.

My answer may be frustrating and seem like a cop-out. [Read more…]

Budgeting Series, Part III: How to Make a Budget

Income - OutgoingsYou’ve come to this post for a reason: to get control of your money. You are tired of making excuses and are ready to make a giant step towards being financially healthy. I applaud your courage because the journey you are about to embark on is not for the faint of heart.

The first few real budgets my wife and I put together were a disaster. We had some long “discussions” about how much money should go in each category and we were always changing numbers in the middle of the month for things we had not anticipated. I thought we would never get it right. But we stayed the course with it, through the trial and error, and eventually we figured it out.

The best part is – now that we have figured it out – doing a monthly budget is pretty easy. So there is hope.

In this post, I’m going to walk through the steps of how to set up a budget. By the time I’m done, you will have the basics to begin setting up an effective budget.

But before I get to the nuts and bolts, there are a few ground rules about budgeting. A budget’s effectiveness will be lessened if these principles are not followed:

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Budgeting Series, Part II: 8 Reasons Why People Don’t Do A Budget

$1000 Budget PigIf you are reading this it’s most likely because you have at least a passing interest in this financial tool we use called a budget. That’s a good thing because, as I noted in Part I of this series, even though money is an inanimate object, it exercises tremendous power in our lives. So it’s crucial that we utilize a budget to help us gain the upper hand with our money.

Even though budgets are vitally important to our financial well-being, most at some point in their working life have lived without one. Seems silly doesn’t it…that we would willingly choose go budget-less if they are so helpful?

There are a variety of reasons someone may choose to live without a budget. I’ll start by sharing why I chose not to have one for many years. I didn’t do a budget because…

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Budgeting Series, Part 1: I Have No Hand, But Am Gonna Need It

Image at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Welcome to the Luke1428 budgeting series. It’s a prerequisite for every personal finance blog to talk about budgeting, so here’s my shot at it. I’ll be dealing with many aspects of the budgeting process over the next few weeks, so buckle your money belts and lets figure out how we are going to save, pay some bills, and discretionary spend to our hearts content.

At its basic level a budget is a spending plan. Or if you prefer a cash flow plan designed to give you an idea of how money is circulating through your household on a month-to-month basis. Think of it as how your total monthly income covers your total monthly expenditures. Sounds like a big elephant to tackle I know.

It would be easy to jump straight to the how-tos and what-fors of budgeting but I’m going to go a different route in Part #1 of this series and attempt to answer the sickest question ever devised by mankind. It’s the question every parent LOVES (ha-ha) to hear from his or her inquisitive child.

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How to Control Overspending and “Gotcha” Moments

control overspending

Awww…did you forget about a bill this month?

The number one reason you should be saving money right now is for emergencies. Guaranteed they are going to happen. The second reason we need to save money consistently is for making purchases or for paying bills. As I’ve written about, this concept goes completely against the grain of what is normal in American society. Even though your friends won’t be doing this, there are two completely legitimate reasons why you should develop a monthly saving pattern.

First of all, saving for purchases can help control overspending because it forces us to wait. We tend to get into trouble with our spending habits because we believe in gratifying ourselves instantly. We see something…we like it…we buy it, on the spot. We don’t think how that purchase sets us back financially because it makes us feel so good.

Following a monthly savings plan has another benefit in that it helps eliminate the monthly budget busters that I call “gotcha moments.” What’s a “gotcha moment?”

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Giving: Like Never Before

Give to charity - FDP CreditHave you ever taken a moment to evaluate and reflect on how you organize your monthly budget? What line items find their way to the top of the column? Mortgage…food…car loan…clothing…pet food…Netflix subscription? What tends to get left over and pushed to the bottom?

I believe our budgets give us an indication of what we value most in life. We put the have-to-happen items at the top and the things-you-could-do-without-if-you-had-to items at the bottom. Makes sense. I mean, after all, we have to prioritize.

Everyone’s priorities are different and there is nothing wrong with that because our individual situations are unique. However, there is one priority we could probably give more attention to, and in 2013, I want to make it a goal. I want to give like never before.

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3 Reasons Credit Cards Didn’t Work For Me

Credit Card TrapTo use credit cards or not? That is the question.

Like most of you, I have placed a good many credit cards in my wallet through the years. I believed what every American hears – that using credit is convenient, it’s safer than carrying cash or debit cards, and there is protection on large purchases. I also figured I needed one for emergencies, and of course to improve my credit score for those all-important car and home loans.

Good people come down on both sides of this question and the purpose of this writing is not to discuss the pros and cons of each position. Rather, I would like to share with you why, after years of using credit cards for EVERY purchase, I just finally decided it wasn’t for me. I just couldn’t get past these three issues in my life.

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The Best Food Budget Ever

What would it be like if you could go 40 days without food? If you could, that would seriously put you ahead on your monthly food budget. In my family of six, I estimate approximately six weeks of no grocery shopping or going to restaurants would put us to the positive about $1,800. (I know…we don’t coupon much.)

I think there would be a revolt in my house if I tried suggesting this and rightly so. None of us could naturally go this long without eating…unless maybe we had a supernatural meal to sustain us.

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