Money is on my mind alot these days. How much do we have, do we need, do we spend, will we spend, where's it coming from, what's left...you get the point.
The exhausting thing is, I'm really not good with numbers and I know barely anything about finances. And the little knowledge I have was mostly acquired over the last 2 years.
Don’t get me wrong - I thought I knew about money. I was raised in a middle-class home where I was neither spoiled nor deprived. I never had an allowance. My high school paychecks were signed over to an account in my parents’ name or cashed for me to use as I needed. Since I’ve never been a shopper, I’ve mostly ever used money for food (oh, the glory of going “off-campus” for lunch as an upperclassman!) or travel. I never had a credit card. I graduated college without debt, thanks to generous scholarships and my father’s financial wisdom. My parents never talked about money in front of me or with me. We had what we needed and that was enough.
My husband also grew up in a middle-class home. He received an allowance, which was basically whatever money he needed to buy whatever he wanted. In his family, money was used to buy the best of everything, even to purchase gifts as a means of showing love. He learned that if you wanted something, you bought it, whether or not you could afford it. Debt was normal and my husband graduated with quite a bit of it.
We went into marriage with little realization of each other’s spending habits and no plan for our family’s finances. We spent years fighting over money, racking up debt, and unnecessarily living paycheck to paycheck. It seemed we could never get ahead - or even get on the same page.
People, this is what’s called “Living Without Purpose.” And it will kill you.
Since I’m not dead, something obviously changed for us. And, in case you find yourself in a similar situation, I’m going to share our super secret with you. I’m going to tell you how you, too, can love your spouse AND live intentionally with money. How you can AVOID DEBT (or get out of it!) and still buy stuff you like. Are you ready?
Are you shocked and amazed?
Well, it’s true. One day, my husband and I got our heads out of our butts and we sat down and wrote a budget. An honest-to-goodness budget that assigned every dollar of income to an expense until every dollar we earned was spent on paper before a penny of it was in our wallet. As Dave Ramsey says, we told our money where to go instead of wondering where it went.
Still not shocked and amazed enough? Let me share 4 truths about budgeting that have rocked my world.
1. A budget isn’t a ball and chain that enslaves. I was surprised to discover that having (and keeping) a budget freed us to allocate money according to our values and priorities rather than aimlessly spending and hoping we have enough left for what we want. We have given more money away since we started budgeting than we ever did without a budget - and yet our income level has barely changed! Budgeting allowed us to be more generous with money.
2. A budget reveals your weaknesses. The irony of not having a budget is that we assumed we were living within our means. But the truth is, not having a budget gave us an excuse to spend blindly and kept us ignorant of the areas where we were wasting money. We blamed our income level rather than our spending habits on our state of need. Even if you aren’t concerned about making ends meet, without a budget, you have no direction or check on where the money goes. Budgeting provides accountability to make wise (informed) financial decisions.
3. A budget motivates good habits. When we were living paycheck to paycheck, we felt overwhelmed that we’d never get ahead and afraid that we’d be in debt forever. But with a budget in hand, we could actively cut spending in some areas in order to purposely throw more money at paying down debt. In our first budget year, we paid off $8,000 in debt with a minimal change in income. Budgeting disciplined us to think before we spent and to plan for unexpected circumstances.
4. A budget supports marital unity. Most couples have one person who handles the family finances. But I’m not sure how many couples have regular family meetings to discuss those finances - unless by “meeting” you include the fights instigated by accusations and anger over where the money went. There’s a reason that many couples cite financial disagreements as a major cause for divorce. Creating a budget each month forced my husband and me to sit, face to face, and prioritize our expenses. Budgeting brought oneness and peace to our marriage.
In case you think we became financial experts over the last 2 years, let me assure you that we still don’t achieve a perfectly balanced budget every month. And we remain a long way from being debt free. But our behavior with money has been radically altered and this has changed our entire perspective on how we can live - and give.
What's your financial state? What's the secret to your success? What do you want to change?