Did I just compare making budgets to making love?! Okay, maybe that’s a stretch, and while it isn’t sexy, the simple act of making a budget has prevented a number of wars from breaking out in this house.
I remember the first time Pete and I sat down to make a zero-based budget. It was the last thing on earth I wanted to do and to be perfectly honest, it seemed a bit overwhelming. The purpose of a zero-based budget is where your income minus your expenses equals zero for that period. In other words, if you make $2500 every two weeks, you start with that $2500 income and you allocate everything you are going to spend, save and give until you get to zero. It’s the best way to know exactly where your money is going every paycheck, and to ultimately decide where you want it to go. You might be very surprised at what you find once you start looking at where your money is actually going! If you are unfamiliar with how to make a zero based budget, you can find a pretty good overview here.
The reason I have come to love the zero-based budget is because I realized it allowed me to have a say in where I wanted OUR money to go. You may have read in an earlier post that when Pete and I first got married, we had “Pete’s money” and “Pete’s bills” and “Maria’s money” and “Maria’s bills.” When we made the decision to start working together so it was OUR money and OUR bills, I was worried I would no longer have a say (read: control) over the way we spent our money. Being a single mom for six years, I became very accustomed to having control over my money and I really liked it that way. And knowing that Pete had different ideas about what is important or “spend-worthy,” I was worried about what was going to be taken away from me. Worry is based on fear, which is a subject for a whole other post, but the bottom line is I entered that first budget meeting not knowing what to expect and fearing the worst.
The budget meeting is where a zero-based budget is born. You and your partner pick a date, time and place to sit down and work on it TOGETHER. “Budget meeting” sounds so pedantic and boring, but it doesn’t have to be! Pete was wise enough to treat this first meeting like a day date – he gets me! We had our first budget meeting over coffee and sweet treats. He was also wise enough to have already written down our biweekly income and expenses, so we could both see it in black and white. Then, together, we went line by line and talked about where we could cut expenses, and alternatively, where we could allocate extra dollars. I had the opportunity to share what expenses were important to me and felt like an active participant in directing our income. And as time went on, if there was something either of us wanted (let’s be honest, it was almost always me), we talked about it and worked it into the budget so we could plan for the expense. This eliminated stress on Pete’s part because the expense was planned for, while it eliminated stress and resentment on my part because I felt my needs and wants were being addressed. There was a time when I would come home with bags from a day of shopping and would be met with what I (now) lovingly call the “rat face” from Pete. When we started budgeting for clothing/beauty/personal needs, the rat face disappeared because I was only spending what we had budgeted for and there were no surprises in the check book. As time went on, our budget became a well-oiled machine. As I became more comfortable and secure in the process, a curious thing happened– I started to find I wanted and needed less. A topic for another post, but a curious thing indeed!
I admit the reason our budget meetings were successful is due in part to the fact we were on the same page. We had identified our WHY and agreed to work together towards a common goal. Most changes are not easy, and if your partner is not on the same page it will be very difficult to make any progress. Often one partner will be tuned into financial changes that need to be made for the good of family, but the other partner doesn’t want to see it or hear it. The biggest mistake you can make is to attempt to dictate to your partner what you both need to do and how you need to do it. The question that is most often asked of us is “How do I get my spouse on board?” In order to get your spouse on board, you have to explain the WHY behind beginning a journey towards paying off debt and becoming financially independent. Take time to talk about your dreams and develop a vision of where you want to see yourselves in X number of years. Helen Keller said, “The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight but has no vision.”
The beauty of the budget meeting is that you and your partner have an opportunity to sit down together and see (literally, in black and white) just where your money is going – and it allows you to have a say on where you want your money to go in the future. You can budget and save for virtually anything that is important to you. And as your make progress towards paying off your debts and increasing your savings rate, the budget meeting will give way to more dream meetings. As you work towards reaching your financial goals for your family, you can start dreaming together and planning what your future is going to look like. See what I mean? No more wars. When you make a budget, you make a plan– and that can become a lovely thing.