Warning: This is long and painful, but so is life sometimes, so hang in there until I get to the good part. Maybe you will learn how to avoid my mistake!
For a long time I thought I had a handle on our finances and for the most part I did. The problem is that “I” is singular and “our” is plural and you can’t have one person doing all the work and figuring and another person meddling with that without knowing what’s going on. In many households I believe that is how it ends up working and it’s also the reason money is such a stressor in relationships.
If you have ever listened to Dave Ramsey, you may have heard that there is usually one person who is good with numbers and planning and another person who is more of a freebird who just says let me know when we run out. And in our relationship this has kind of been true. I am the number cruncher. I could do it for hours. Pouring over the minutiae of our budget is like a meditation. A stressful meditation but it can certainly hold my attention for hours at a time, much unlike the “om” kind.
My husband’s motto however is something like “well, good thing we still have paying jobs” or “we’re still employed so we always have more money coming in. Don’t worry about it.” Ack! I only wish I could be so laid back about money.
It’s not that I am completely obsessed (no, not completely) but I want a plan. I NEED a plan. And to me, worse than not having a plan is having a plan that changes constantly. Miscommunication and lack of a system can lead to deficits that you aren’t even aware of until it’s too late. Up until now, I frequently would receive receipts from my husband that were months old. I’d then have to go back in to review my log to see if I had accounted for it 4 months ago and if not add it to the current budget. Other times I would know we had x number of dollars leftover from our paychecks and make a plan for it only to learn that he had spent money on something that obliterated the leftover money. And hopefully I hadn’t acted out my plan yet, but sometimes I have. Ugh.
Unfortunately sometimes I have big plans for some big money that also get wrecked. Like Christmas. I know that Christmas is not a surprise every year and I try to plan for it. I always under estimate my husband. Even when I ask. My birthday too. Last year I planned to use our tax return to pay off some bills and use toward vacation. My husband, lovely dear man that he is, kind of spent all of it on a surprise birthday party for me. Ok, I can’t really complain when he spent countless hours pulling this off without my having a clue and I know his “love language” is in giving gifts but it kind of set the pace for the last year. This year for Christmas I was bright enough to ask him how much he wanted to spend on me so I was able to budget it. Then on a romantic whim he stopped at the pet shop and brought home a puppy for our anniversary (it’s December 23rd) and then I was back in the hole I was trying to prevent.
So if you are astute, you can probably tell from the language I am using that it’s obvious when “I” plan something “we” doesn’t always get informed and you know what? “We” doesn’t read minds. Even though I know this, I still wasn’t communicating well with “we.” That was a problem.
It all came to a head in January. While “I” was busily trying to remedy the Christmas situation I went to the ATM to deposit a check. I checked our balance and all seemed well. I went home and made a payment by phone to our bank. The next day I checked the balance on the loan I had paid on and noticed my checking balance was HALF what it should have been. What? Apparently a couple of big bills, including our mortgage, had been taken out later than I expected so the balance I saw at the ATM was before the bills were paid!
So I then started pouring over our bank account and credit card transactions and found over $1800 of unaccounted for purchases!
Ok, so hold the phone. Something had to give. I got my husbands attention and we sat and went over everything. He looked over the printed out credit card statements and said he realized then how quickly all those little piddly transactions add up. It quite amazing really. He also realized that I meant it when I said we could not spend any money in order to balance this out. We also had one of the most comforting conversations about our finances ever. At least, from my perspective. I realized that “I” can’t be the one to plan everything and expect it will be followed without communicating to “we.” And “we”realized they can’t spend without finding out first what “I” know about our balances.
We put away the credit card and are only using it for gas (5% back AND more convenient!). We went on an “austerity” budget that is probably more strict than Greece’s. We switched to cash only for groceries (one of our biggest overages every. single. month.). And we are talking more about money.
I wish it was all peaches and cream after that but about 2 weeks into this we did our tax return and found out that we owe ANOTHER $1800! What are the odds? However, because I already had the austerity plan in place it is simply (after much weeping and gnashing of teeth) being extended and we will be able to pay our tax bill on time. Please note: this is the first time in 54 years my husband has ever had to pay taxes at the end of the year (as I have now heard several times). He is quite distraught. Please be kind to him. Poor guy…
In the end, we have been forced into simplifying our budget. The budget or spending plan has been whittled down to must have’s only, like mortgage, utilities, gas, groceries and such. Any other expense is being taken into consideration on an as needed only basis. It’s kind of freeing. I know I have my basics covered and now we can consider anything else that comes along and determine it’s worthiness. Because we are still in austerity mode, we won’t be spending any money on anything except in an emergency so it also gives us time to consider just how important something is to have before running out to buy it. I have already considered many things and have already taken them off of my “want” list because after just a few days of mulling it over, I’ve determined it’s not worth what it will cost. I am now queen of my spending and can be more discerning. It’s powerful.
Having control of your finances and not letting them control you is the name of the game. Like good old Dave says, you have to have a plan for your money and tell it where to go or it will disappear never to be seen again.
So do you have a budget or spending plan? Do you do a cash method? Who does the finances? How’s the communication about it? Need help? I suggest Mary Hunt or Dave Ramsey as both have been very helpful for us. If you are a Christian I also recommend the book “Money, possessions and eternity” by Randy Alcorn. Excellent advice. There are also online tools for budgeting such as Mint and Good Budget. I am a paper and pencil kind of girl personally.
My personal advice is this: gather all of your statements. Reconcile them. Make a list of your must pay bills and expenses. Include a little fun money for a coffee or lipgloss so you don’t go crazy. Make a list of debts with current amounts owed and current pay off dates. Confirm how much you are bringing home in pay each month. Create a spending plan for that money. IF anything is left over, decide to pay it toward debt or an emergency fund. Also use the leftover for things like vacation planning, holidays, birthdays, etc. Review your spending plan monthly. Review your credit card and bank statements monthly and reconcile them (this is where I fell down). Make sure all members of the family who spend money and have access to your accounts are on board. Consider not using credit cards. If you can’t pay off your credit card each month, cut it up and stop using it. Don’t keep digging yourself into a hole. Keep your chin up and eat some chocolate. Preferably while going over your budget every month. 🙂
I hope our pain can help someone else avoid the same trouble. Our family is very lucky to be employed and although our little fiasco is inconvenient it has not been devastating. No one should feel bad for us. Our lights are still on and we have heat. Since there are no guarantees in life however, we should all be more vigilant in our finances and stop pittering away money! It just might help your marriage too 😉