“Budget” is a word like “diet” or “homework.” It’s not a word we like to say. But it’s one we should, especially in a marriage.
When my husband, Luke, and I first got married, we both had full-time careers. And though we had said “I do,” I still thought of things in terms of “his money” and “my money.” I could do what I wanted with my paycheck as long as our bills were paid, or so I thought. We had separate bank accounts. He didn’t know what I was spending, and I didn’t know what he was spending, and that suited me just fine.
So it was uncomfortable when Luke mentioned joining our accounts. He gently suggested that maybe I shouldn’t eat out for lunch as often, and that we sit down and do a budget (a what …?) and get organized. My response was to avoid the conversation. “Do you want to go out to dinner and talk about this later?”
But even in my denial, I knew that “my” money was really “ours” now, and that we had a future to plan that might include children (yup, we’ve got two now) and a house. I knew that we should probably join accounts for the sake of simplicity and transparency. But I didn’t really want him to see my every transaction, or to have to explain every Taco Bell run or coffee stop or jewelry purchase. It was foreign and a little weird to have to check in to see if it was okay if I went out for lunch. I hated packing lunches. And I liked earrings. Like I said, the word “budget” did not make me happy.
Nevertheless, we sat down one evening and fought it out. We wrote down the “inflexible expenses” (the rent, electricity, water, phone, gas money, insurance), took a look at remaining debt, and went over the dreaded “flexible expenses” to see where we could cut back — on groceries, date night (good bye Carrabba’s), and spending money (who needs it anyway?). We predicted as best we could items that might be needed and assigned a number to miscellaneous expenses. And then we finished, and we were even still speaking to each other. Whew! (Thank you for the tips, Dave Ramsey, whom I highly recommend for budget help.)
The next phase was trickier. We actually had to follow the budget. It was like learning the word “no” for the first time. We kept reaching for things in the store and looking at things on the menu that we couldn’t or shouldn’t purchase. We felt like going for a late-night beer or ice cream run and one of us would say, “But wait, we don’t have much grocery money left …” Sometimes we were disciplined and stayed home. Other times we went anyway. The point is we had to work on it together, day in and day out. We had to discuss the purchases that we made, share receipts, and ask one another “Is it okay if I …?”
It brought us to a deeper level of trust and openness. Like most “deeper levels” in a relationship, it was uncomfortable at first; truthfully, it is still uncomfortable sometimes. There were – and still are – slip-ups and apologies along the way. We have to revisit our budget at least every couple months. But it has been amazing to see what the budget has done for our relationship. Our home is more peaceful because we know – without a doubt – that if all goes as planned, there will be money to pay all our bills and some left in the bank. Each of us trusts that the other will spend money with careful consideration instead of frivolity. Being honest and forthright with one another about where the money goes has made us a better team.