[2023 update: my ex and I are now divorced, amicably co-parenting our children, and I consider him a friend. I now do budget meeting as a single mom.] It’s 6:30 A.M on a Sunday morning. Hubby and I stumble out of bed and trudge (quietly!) to the kitchen to start the coffee. It’s time for budget meeting! Why do we do this?
Because budget meeting has been the single most important tool my husband and I have used to improve our finances. It’s also been great for our relationship. I explain why below.
The Wow of Budget Meeting
My husband and I began weekly budget meeting in 2010, after attending Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University classes. At first, we really didn’t know what we were doing. We just knew that “Dave said” we should. So we made a budget. We wrote up a list of the debts. And then we developed a financial plan.
Those first budget meetings weren’t easy. While we never got into a fight during one (which Dave says is very common) there were definitely tense moments.
You see, when you talk about money, you’re not just talking about money.
You’re also talking about your dreams and deepest fears. Talking about money forces you to address your deeply held beliefs. It makes you confront issues in your marriage. Therefore, budget meeting helps you get to know one another better. And this was especially important since we were in our second marriages with insta-family (after saying I do, we had 5 kids at home).
Budget meeting helped us to quickly learn about one another’s values, fears, and dreams in a way that may have taken years to discern otherwise. Talking about our money makes it easier to really work together to meet goals.
We’re able to support each other emotionally during discouraging times.
It was very difficult for my husband especially to confront past money mistakes and deal with his debt. When he was down, I was strong. And the converse is also true of course. When I feel discouraged, he’s in a good mood and can lift me up.
Budget meetings give us instant feedback into our finances.
We got to celebrate together each time a debt was paid, or when our savings or income jumped. (We met our goal of paying off debt in 2015!) By keeping careful track of our spending and income, we’ve been able to lower the former and grow the latter.
“What gets measured gets improved.” – Peter Drucker
Budget meeting motivates us.
Budget meeting motivates us to look for ways to save money to meet important goals. I think this is especially true of my husband, who, despite his “let it flow” tendencies, is also competitive by nature – budget meeting pits us against each other in a friendly way to see who can do the best!
A recent example was when we saved the down payment on our first home. At the moment of this writing, we’re saving for a new-to-us car. (We only pay cash for cars and this will be the third time we’ve done this.)
And while getting out of debt, we were determined to lower our “fixed” monthly expenses. Among other things, we negotiated with our internet provider to lower our bill from $70 to $30. That’s $480 a year for one phone call!
Budget meetings keep us both accountable.
I asked my husband what he appreciated most about budget meetings. This is what he said:
“It really helps me to know where our money is going. I feel more in control of things. Since I’m the free spirit, I’m not as likely to take time to do this. But since we do budget meeting, the organization is happening in my life, and that gives me a feeling of contentment and ease.”
My husband is the “free spirit” in the marriage, and I’m the nerd. Without budget meeting, it would be so easy for him to opt out of things he hates doing (logistics, paperwork, number crunching). The result would be resentment on my part. Because as the nerd, I love tracking things and all that geeky stuff. Budget meeting ensures that we’re BOTH working on things. Nobody gets to opt out or slack on the financial stuff. And nobody is overworked. We’re pulling together.
Budget meeting has become an important priority to us. We see so much value in it.
So we’ve talked about the why. Let’s talk about the HOW of budget meeting.
The How of Budget Meeting
1. Create a quiet environment.
We have held plenty of money discussions around the kids, because we feel it’s good to be somewhat open about these things so the kids will learn good lessons, both about money and about healthy communication in marriage. Generally speaking, however, we do budget meeting at a time when there will be minimal interruption.
2. Set a definite time.
If you leave it for “whenever it’s convenient”, it’s not as likely to happen. Set a specific time and day of the week and you’ll stick to it more. If you’re working towards an important goal such as getting out of debt, it’s probably best to meet weekly to keep each other informed and encouraged.
3. Come prepared. Do your homework!
When we meet, my husband shares the totals he’s tabulated for his income and spending so we can update our records.
We share results of our “homework” assignments. For instance, my husband may have made a call to negotiate a lower payoff to a creditor. I may have been working on lowering the grocery budget or switching to a low-cost cell phone provider. Etc.
4. Organize your stuff.
Keep your supplies in one place so that when it’s time for budget meeting, you don’t have to hunt around for stuff. We used a simple box for a long time. It held the forms we use for our budget, a notebook, pencil, and other materials related to finances. Make it convenient so you save time and won’t get distracted.
If you’re working on paying off debt, keep a list of your creditors handy along with their contact numbers. Keep a copy of the recent bill in your budget meeting box. A phone or calculator is also handy.
5. Create a new budget every month.
This is key! It took us a long time to figure this out, and it would have saved us so much frustration if we had understood this principle of budgeting from the get-go.
Each month has different issues. In August, you’ll have back-to-school shopping. Summer? A vacation. In April, taxes. At other times, gift-giving. If you’re self-employed (or just hustlin‘), your income likely changes each month, so adjust for that.
Your budget is a tool that serves you, not the other way around! While we have a basic template (it lists expenses that don’t change and averages for discretionary items) to refer to, we purposely examine each month and make changes if needed.
6. Be Kind!
My husband and I, like most couples, have different money styles. He’s got more energy and can work harder than me. As the free spirit, he has a “let’s see what happens” outlook. I have a “make it happen” view. (If you’re a types geek, he’s an INFP and I’m an ISTJ.) He’s more likely to splurge and is generous, and I’m more likely to rigid and tight-fisted. I’m terrified of the IRS, he’s part hippie.
We balance each other.
Instead of trying to change each other, we’ve learned to leverage our strengths to make budget meeting work. It isn’t a time for criticism. I think the reason we didn’t have arguments even during our debt-free journey is because we spoke honestly but carefully to one another. Focus on the goal, not the mistakes of the past. You’re a team!
Budget Meetings Help You Meet Financial Goals
Some of the goals we’ve met as a result of budget meeting: we paid off over $86K in debt, paid two midwives in cash for home births, bought two cars with cash, improved hubby’s credit score, saved a sizable down payment on a home and then bought it! To say nothing of raising 7 (and hubby is financially responsible for an 8th) kids.
Do we always do budget meeting regularly or perfectly? Nope! In fact, we recently got off track a little bit after we bought our home and didn’t do one at all for an entire month. But when that happens, my husband and I both start feeling a little stressed about money. And inevitably, one of us will call for a budget meeting so we can talk again!
Do you do budget meeting with your spouse? What have you noticed?
You may also enjoy:
- My interview on the His and Her Money Show
- Have you seen my ebook? The Temporary Tightwad: Radically reduce your spending, meet a money goal and change your life
- How I do budget meeting as a single mom
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