How Should Newly Weds Handle Their Finances?

By being honest, creating a strict budget and discussing financial goals together, you will be well on your way to successfully handling your finances as newlyweds.

By Ainsley Selene

Allow me to introduce you to Ainsley- a guru of finances and investments.  Today she is talking to us about how to figure out what to do with your finances as newlyweds.  It can be a big step to suddenly be responsible and accountable to someone else with your spending, but Ainsley is here to help us ease that transition.  Wise words.  Thanks Ainsley!   – Celeste

How to Handle Your Finances As Newlyweds 

A new chapter in your life can be overwhelming as the transition from doing things alone moves toward doing most things together. As husband and wife, one of your duties will be to talk about money and how to handle your finances. Based on a recent study, half of Millennials prefer merging their finances with their partners before they even tie the knot.

Is this a good idea or an early financial decision to avoid? In this post, we will provide effective ways on how you can manage your finances as you enter this new phase in your life.

Be honest

Certified financial planner Therese Nicklas said that the first rule is to be honest, as honesty can be the greatest foundation of your relationship.  Be open in discussing your assets, income, and especially debts (if any). Nicklas said that hiding these details to your partner could be considered as ‘financial infidelity.’ Have a working attitude with your husband/wife by avoiding the ‘this is mine’ and ‘that is yours’ mentality. Bring all financial documents – pay slips, past and recent credit record, insurance policies and more to the table when discussing financial matters. Lastly, there should be no blaming one another. Listen to what your partner has to say and just be honest about your financial situation.

Create a strict budget

When creating a budget, the initial step is to add all the essential expenses, such as rent, food, and utilities before the discretionary costs like shopping and gym memberships. If you are unsure of your monthly spending for each category, we suggest that you keep close track of your spending for a month. In terms of your savings, it is recommended to save 20% of your monthly salary for emergencies (10%) and retirement (10%). Smart spending is necessary now that you are saving together for your family. Thus, instead of dining out, cook together at home or cut out rarely used expenditures such as cable or expensive smartphone plans. For those with previous debts, only use 30% of your salary for savings and paying liabilities, while 70% should be your take home.


Photo cred:  Jenifer Correa
Build financial goals as a couple

There should be three kinds of goals that couples have to include in their new financial plan: emergency funds, short term goals for one to five years, and long term goals for the future. Short term goals include costs for down payments in case you are to purchase a new home or car, while long term goals cover payments for your children’s education and retirement. Never invest all your money in retirement accounts, as it will now allow you to withdraw the amount without incurring a penalty. It will help to discuss your realistic life aspirations together, as your savings and financial goals will be determined by it. At some point, it will help to consult a professional in managing your finances, so never be afraid to do so when you feel it’s necessary.

Discuss possible investment plans

Included in the process of outlining financial goals is to discuss investment opportunities that you can do together. It can either be a health plan that covers all your future hospital bills, especially maternity costs, and other investments that can keep your money earning instead of sitting in your bank account. However, you need to take note that investing requires more than just knowing the basics, especially if you decide to invest your money in the stock market. FXCM states, “Education is essential” when investing so that you know how much you should invest, what should be your realistic ROI (return of investment) value, and when to call it quits. They did remind possible investors to cut losses and let profits run. Although it is difficult to throw in the towel and as humans we rarely want to admit defeat, this shouldn’t impact your willingness to invest in the future. Rather, it should set your limitations on how much you are willing to risk to earn bigger.

Lastly, enjoy the ride. Being a newly wed couple, you need to take things lightly for now and enjoy every new change in your lives. Money should not be the center of your relationship, but failing to manage it can greatly affect your marriage – often, it’s the root of many divorces. If you think you have more tips for our readers who just recently got married, then feel free to leave a comment below!

Alright alright . . . we’ll start a budget.

By Celeste

What a great series we’ve had on marriage and finance!  I just wanted to wrap things up by giving my two cents (pun intended) and also a public commitment to doing better about our own finances.


When I first thought of this series (well actually a reader requested we hit on this topic and he was right to do so) I wanted to hit on all different topics relating to marriage and finance.  I wanted to talk about what to do if you’re a spender and your spouse is a saver or vice versa, how to strengthen your marriage without spending money and how to make financial decisions both you and your spouse would be happy with.

Those were my initial ideas.  When the posts started coming back to me, I was thinking, “Hmm, I thought these posts would all be different, but they all talk about budgeting.”  And then it hit me that DUH!  Budgeting IS what you should do if one spouse is a saver and the other a spender.  It’s the answer to how to strengthen your marriage without spending money and how to make financial decisions together with your spouse.  It’s kind of the key ingredient to not fighting with your spouse over money.

And I was so hoping there’d be another way 😉

I found it rather awkward to ask someone to write the post “When One Spouse is a Saver and the Other is a Spender” (‘hey you seem to spend a lot of money and your spouse doesn’t right?’ or ‘hey your spouse seems to be spending a lot of money and you don’t, right?’  either way . . . awwwkward) So I was going to write it myself because, I am more of a spender and Rich is more of a saver.  For the visual learners:

My spending habits.
Rich’s spending habits.
But then I realized, I don’t really have any advice for people on this topic.  “But Celeste,” you’re thinking, “That has never stopped you from dishing out advice before!”  It’s true, I know.  But money stuffs is not my forte, so I’ll offer a resolution instead of advice:  We’re going to start and stick to a budget.  For a year.

Rich and I, if our budget history were to be depicted in a graph- it would look more like a heart rate monitor with sporadic peaks and troughs than a linear progression through the years.  Last week as I’ve analyzed why this is, I’ve come up with two reasons.

The first comes from Eean’s post when he said (over and over) that a budget’s success or failure is completely dependent on your dedication to tracking your spending.  Huh.  Total light bulb moment for me.  I keep wanting to be more consistent with budgeting so I keep signing up for these free online programs thinking they will be the answer.  But, to be honest, those weekly emails from or my bank or whatever else I sign up for don’t tend to influence my spending behavior much.  Time to start tracking my spending myself!

The second reason I came up with is that I’ve never scheduled a regular time to do the budget into my (or our) schedules.  I keep thinking I will do it, but if I don’t plan on when, it gets bumped down to the bottom of my to-do list.  And the bottom of my to-do list tends to be a sad, lonely and neglected place.

So.  New plan!  Rich and I have decided to track our spending diligently for the next three months (as per Eean’s suggestion).  To do this we will keep all our receipts and while we’re watching a show on Thursday nights- we’ll collect all the receipts and write them into our budget categories.  Then, after three months, we’ll calculate a more exact budget and still write down all our expenses on Thursday nights.

It’s gonna work guys.  I’m committing to the internet to stick to a budget for a whole year.  I’ll report back hopefully with a post called, “How We Stopped Fighting About Purchases and Solved All Our Problems and Became Filthy Rich.”  In case you don’t recognize us at that time, we’ll look something like this:

Budgeting – who’s with us?!!?

Wanting What You’ve Got

By Angela

This post is part four of the 4 part series:  Finances and Marriage.

When I asked Angela to write a post on finances and marriage, I actually knew nothing of their financial habits.  But I just had this hunch that this was a strength of theirs.  I think my hunch was right.  Angela is on top of things.  I knew she would steer us well in matters of money.  I’m hoping I can apply her counsel to our own finances and be a little better at wanting what we’ve got.

For more of Angela’s wisdom, see her post on how to divide up household labor with your spouse here.    – Celeste


Growing up, we didn’t have a ton of money. I’m the oldest of five kids and my Mom passed away when I was twelve. Before she died, we were doing pretty well financially. My parents owned several businesses and things were pretty good. After my Mom was gone, my Dad struggled to raise our family as a single parent. We had enough for our needs, but there was not often wiggle room for much else.

At 16, I was out there working and helping to bring in some money to help our family stay afloat. The same was true for my other siblings. We basically gave all our paychecks to my Dad to help pay bills and buy basic necessities. Living paycheck to paycheck is not a good feeling and it definitely contributed to stress in our lives. However, not having many means didn’t necessarily translate to frugality in our family. In some things, we were thrifty, but not all. My Dad was prone to impulse buys and easier access to credit for my father in my teenage years sometimes created issues. Let’s just say, all of us children have had to learn how to budget in our adult lives.

Fast forward to marrying Brandon. His family also did not have a lot of money growing up. His family has seven kids and their parents often had to really stretch their budget. Frugality and thriftiness was needed, often out of necessity.

Knowing that financial problems are a large contributor to divorce in our modern society, we discussed how we wanted to approach our finances before our marriage. After we were married, we developed a budget together and after 14 years of marriage, we STILL discuss our finances together and fine tune our budget as our lives change.


You’ve already read some wonderful things on finances and I’d like to second all those you’ve read so far. To add a bit to all that, here are some of the things that we’ve found important in our attitude & practices concerning finances:

You’re in it together

There is often a feeling of disconnect between couples when one there is only one spouse who is bringing home a paycheck. The spouse who stays at home may not feel like she is contributing as much.

We have some friends who are married with kids. The wife went to visit family sans kids and the husband took off a week of work to watch the kids. When I asked him how the week went, he said it was really difficult to work so hard for 24 hours a day and not have a tangible reward such as a paycheck at the end of all that work. He said his wife had expressed similar feelings of frustration and he told her that the paycheck that he brings home is actually half earned by him and half earned by her, because of all the work she does at home to nurture their children and build a home contributes to him being able to go to work. You’re in it together and raising a family and building a marriage is a joint effort.

Make a budget

We are of the “budget every penny” with Excel camp. Some of that is because of our frugal upbringing and some of that because of a reaction to living from paycheck to paycheck growing up. Others (i.e. Eean!!!) have written extensively on this, so I won’t spend so much time on the nitty gritty details. Let’s just say that

  1. We keep all our receipts.
  2. We do our budget every week (if you wait too long to do the budget, no one will want to go in and tackle it!)
  3. We are both involved in the process. I think it that is very important that both spouses be involved in the process. Yes, I know that in some relationships, it is more practical for one spouse to work out the budget. There may be one of you who has a better knack for getting the budget in order. In our household, I usually do the budget because I stay at home with the kids and I have a bit more time to do it than my husband. That said, Brandon usually does the budget at least once a month.

I think this is important, because if only one spouse does the budget, it is hard for the other to fully appreciate the family’s financial situation and standing. Also, since I am from a single parent family, the idea that one parent could suddenly not be there is a very real possibility, so both parents should know the in’s and out’s of the family finances. It is also helpful as a self-evaluation tool to see where you are spending money yourself and how that impacts the overall dynamics of the budget.

“Wanting What You’ve Got”

There is a Sheryl Crow song called, “Soak Up the Sun” and in it, there is a line that has stuck with me. The line is: “It’s not having what you want. It’s wanting what you’ve got.”   In society today, there is such a drive to acquire Things. You make money to buy things. Sometimes these things are necessary and sometimes not. This can sometimes create a dissatisfaction with what we currently have even if it is perfectly functional. So, shifting our thinking from getting the newest and shiniest toy to using what we have right now, can be really hard. Everyone is doing it right? Well, sometimes forgoing the next best thing can actually help your family invest in things that are more meaningful. Also, being grateful for the things you currently have can help you create happiness in your life now, rather than somewhere down the line.


Sometimes it is just nice to have a bit of money set aside in the budget that you don’t have to feel guilty about spending. It could be as little as $5/month for each of the spouses. My mother-in-law suggested this to us at the beginning of our marriage and it has been great. So Brandon gets a bit and I get a bit each month. Have a bit of money that you can be “extravagant” with makes even the tightest budget a bit more bearable.


Having What You Want

Let’s be realistic though. There are things that are non-essential that we may really want. That’s okay and it doesn’t make us bad for wanting them. Also, as we get older, birthday and Christmas wish list items seem to be more pricey for others to fulfill (I think Brandon has a standing item on his wish list of a Tesla roadster). It’s not terrible to have a desire to get a brand-new couch rather than using the twice handed down couch from college days. Often, people will just stick it on a credit card and bring home that slick new couch. Instant gratification! However, you end up paying a ton on interest.

So, a way that we save up for bigger ticket items is to budget for them. Then we pay for the item completely and don’t have to pay for interest. But this requires forethought and Patience! So, if you’re like me… I’m saving up for a $800 DSLR camera lens. It is going to take a while, but I’m happy with what I have now and I’m saving up (in my allowance) for my lens. I will eventually get my lens without having to pay all that extra interest. And my marriage won’t suffer by blowing a huge $800 hole in it.

Note: I’m not railing against buying things on credit. Sometimes costs come up that you can’t foresee in your budget. Sometimes the only way to get a necessary item is using your credit card. What I’m focusing on here are the items that are not really necessary. These are the types of things when asked the question, “Do I really need this NOW?” and the answer is “No”.

Charitable Contributions

We work in our charitable contributions to our budget. Otherwise, it is too easy for money to go to different places first. We donate money to our church so that we can help those who need help. Even if you’re not religious, I would highly suggest that you give a hand at charitable giving. Why? Because we are just so fortunate in this country. Even when we’re dirt poor college students, we have more than so many others in the world. Giving helps us realize the bounty in our lives and makes us grateful for what we have built together in our family.


As with so many things in our marriage, there is a constant need to communicate. Finances are no different and unless you are open and honest about the state of your finances, it can become a problem in your marriage. I find that Brandon and I often give each other reality checks on what we’re spending money on in our day to day living. This helps us be on the same page and have a better idea of our saving goals and spending habits for our family.

Dealing with finances is not an easy process and it requires quite a bit of work. But it can be something that unifies you in your marriage and brings you together. As Brandon and I have worked together on our finances, it has become a way to build up our family. It adds to our marriage rather than dividing us. (I just had to put that in there as a math major!)

How to Finally Create a Budget You and Your Spouse Can Stick to

 By Eean Crawford

This post is third of a four-part series:  Finances and Marriage.

For this series, I really wanted to say not just, “Hey it’s important to work out your finances with your spouse.” I do want to say that, but I also want to show HOW to do that.  Like, really, hold your hand through the process of working out your finances together with your spouse.  The only problem is, I don’t know how to do that.

Thank goodness this blog is collaborative.  Eean is a business professor at the University of Iowa.  He’s also a good friend and most definitely an expert on this topic.  He told me that the way to work through financial decisions with your spouse is this funny thing called a budpit? Budgschmit? Budgit?  Something like that.  He’ll explain it.

Seriously though, this post is GREAT.  It’s long, but it’s important, so if you’re in a hurry right now- I want you to pin this post, bookmark it, email it to yourself, whatever.  Then come back when you have more time and start to work out, update or improve your very own budget!  You can do it!  And you can do it with your spouse!  And it will be WORTH it!!  Do it!  (this is now me motivating myself)  – Celeste


Whenever I talk about budgeting with people, in large groups or small, I poll the audience with this question:
Do you know how much you spent on groceries last month?
a)  Yes to the penny
b)  I can guess within $25
c)  No idea
Take the poll yourself right now.  I’ll even give you three minutes with your computer or personal files before you answer.

Whatever you answered, know that in almost every setting I have asked this question, fewer than one third answer “Yes, to the penny.” Of the remainder about half can guess within $25, and the other half have no idea. This doesn’t surprise me at all.

Gallup’s 2013 Economy and Personal Finance survey revealed that only 33% of American households have a budget in which they track their income and expenses. Look at your neighbors on the right of where you live. Look at your neighbors on the left of where you live. Now look at yourselves. Two of the three of you don’t have a budget.

The Discipline to Track Spending is the Difference

I doubt you need to hear it again, but if you want to get your finances under control, you need to have a budget. Of course budgeting is a good idea in theory. So why does it seem to be so hard to put in to practice?

I believe the answer comes down to one thing: the discipline to track your spending. That means every time you spend money, you record the amount and what it was spent on. The discipline to track your spending is what makes budgeting work. The lack of discipline to track your spending is what makes budgeting fail. No matter the budgeting system you use, whether high-tech or low tech, it will only work if you have the discipline to track your spending.

If you have never had that discipline to track your spending, don’t feel bad. You’re in good company. Or should that be in bad company? Or should we say misery loves company? It just means most people aren’t in the disciplined habit of tracking their spending. But that doesn’t mean you have to stay that way.

When we were first married, I had been tracking my own personal spending diligently for over three years. Astyn, in contrast, hadn’t. She didn’t keep track of what she spent. She just kept track of what she had left in the bank and whether it was enough to cover immediate anticipated expenses. In her words, “It only worked because I didn’t spend a lot of money. But it didn’t really help me plan very well. Before we got married no one had even talked to me about budgeting.” I remember Astyn’s surprise (or is shock the better word?) when she learned that I tracked and assigned every single transaction to a budget category. She was less than thrilled when she realized I wanted us to do that in our marriage. And maybe that was a topic we should have talked about more before we were married. But you don’t always come into a marriage with identical attitudes towards finances. We were too busy gazing deeply into each other’s eyes under moonlit skies on the stairwell outside her apartment door (cue mushy romantical music, like Fleetwood Mac’s “I Wanna Be With You Everywhere”).


Astyn gained the discipline to track spending, and today we maintain that discipline together. She balked less at the idea of budgeting and tracking spending when she realized that attaining important goals that she had for herself and that we had for our family (like being able to make it through graduate school debt free and allowing her to stay home after we had children) would only be possible if we actually had a plan in place. The long-term goals of what she (and we) really wanted out of life were the real motivation. The budget and the discipline to track spending were just the method to attain those goals.

So before you launch into budgeting, figure out what is it that’s going to give you the discipline to track your spending? If you can’t come up with anything, let me give you a starter thought in the form of a question:

How much money do you need to make in order to be a millionaire? 

You can interpret millionaire in lots of ways – but for now, define a millionaire as having one million dollars in cash or investments after you subtract out all debt. See the end of this post for the answer.

Creating a Budget

Okay, so I’m assuming that by now you have found your motivation to track your spending. Peter Pan wasn’t kidding about needing the happy thought in order to fly. You either have your budgeting happy thought, or you are at least committed to finding one. Either way, at least commit to being willing to track your spending for the next 90 days. That’s all I’m asking.

And here’s why: first you have to create a budget. To create a budget, you need a realistic picture of what you are spending your money on. How do you create a realistic picture if you have no idea what you’ve been spending on stuff? So before you actually create your budget, you just have to track what you’re spending on stuff for a little while. Tracking your spending for one month isn’t really enough to give you an idea of what you’re consistently spending, because month to month you might have irregular expenses.

Tracking your spending for at least three months is usually enough to give you a decent picture of what you’re spending your money on. Six months is even better. But for now, just commit to three months. Don’t worry about sticking to any certain  amounts just yet. You just want an idea of what you’re spending. We found that 3-6 months of tracking our spending was necessary before we had a realistic idea of what we spent on stuff. Before that 3-6 months, our budget was total guesswork. After a year of tracking spending, your budget will be pretty dang accurate. It’s pretty incredible how your spending averages out over an annual cycle.


What systems to people use to track their spending? Here are some:

  1. A piece of paper. That is all. Divide it into squares. Put a category in each square. Put it on the fridge. When you make a purchase, bring home the receipt. Write the amount in the appropriate category. Add it up at the end of the month. This is how I started back in the day before smartphones (yes, can you believe that was as recently as 2001?).
  2. A check register. You know, the paper ones that come with checkbooks? Use one page for each category. Follow the same strategy as with the piece of paper on the fridge. The pages are already divided for you. And it fits in your pocket and goes with you.
  3. A white board. Follow the same strategy as the piece of paper. It’s bigger and writing with dry-erase markers is intrinsically fun. Unless your kids find them. And erase your expense tracking.
  4. An excel spreadsheet. If you are moderately computer literate and know how to use Excel, this is a very popular choice. I have several Excel budget templates that I’m happy to share with you via Celeste.  PLEASE shoot her an email at athingcalledloveblog{at} if you are at all interested and she’ll send them along.
  5. – it’s a free online expense tracker. It securely links to your online banking institutions and downloads your transactions to be categorized. I’ve heard mixed reviews about it’s accuracy in automatically categorizing transactions, however. But it’s free.
  6. – You Need A Budget – can try it free for 34 days. After that it’s a one-time $60 purchase. You manually enter your transactions on a computer, tablet or smartphone. It’s the high-tech version of the piece of paper or whiteboard. It adds the convenience of being able to sync your expense tracking across all your devices.
  7. – free; links securely to all your electronic transactions for up to four accounts, limited to 25 budget categories; paid version unlimited accounts & budget categories plus bill pay and debt center. Automatically downloads all your transactions so you don’t have to manually enter them. All you do is drag and drop the transactions to the category you want to assign them. Allows you to split transactions into different categories. Syncs across smartphone, tablet, and computer apps.

What do I recommend people use? I suggest they start with the old fashioned piece of paper. Don’t let the technology get in the way of you learning the discipline to track your spending. Do the piece of paper, or the check register, or the white-board. But keep it low-tech for the first three months. All you want to focus on initially is having the discipline to track your spending. No high-tech solution will make you budget if you don’t have the discipline to track your spending. Have I said that enough already?

We personally have used for the last 10 years. We like that we don’t have to manually enter transactions, and we have confidence in the encryption that links securely to our online bank accounts. We do very few cash transactions, but when we do we can manually enter those. Full disclosure: my brother-in-law co-founded and I am an investor, so your using this service could technically benefit me personally to the 0.0007% of shares that I own in the company).

For those that don’t want to link their online banking institutions, Excel or YNAB are a good choice. You manually enter all your transactions (and Astyn’s sister who uses YNAB has found the personal accountability for inputting transactions to be motivating).

The real takeaways here are find the discipline to track your spending. That means for every transaction, record the amount and assign it to a category; total the category at the end of the month. Do this for three months. Now you have a decent idea of what your starting budget should be.


Budget Categories

What should your budget categories be? They can be as simple or complex as you want. We started off pretty simple, and the categories have changed over time as our needs and income have changed. Below are our budget categories as they stand today, approaching our 10-year anniversary with Eean working full-time and Astyn at home with five kids ages eight and under and having purchased our first home four years ago. I’ve only listed the categories, but no amounts. I have also added some notes next to most categories to explain our thinking or how we use them.


  • Fuel. We probably over-budget fuel costs because you never know when gas will be $4.00/gallon again. But because this category overfloweth with funds, it’s paid for our last three road trips across the country. See? Budgeting lets you do fun stuff guilt free.
  • Insurance. We take our annual insurance premium, divide it by 12, and then save that amount each month until the payment is due.
  • Maintenance. We put a monthly amount into this; when we need to fix our cars – the money is there.
  • Purchase. We make a $300/mo payment to the Bank of Eean and Astyn; in four years we’ll have over $14,000 cash ready to purchase our next car; of course, I’m hoping my 1997 Corolla with 180,000 miles lasts forever!


  • Groceries. This includes eating out, which we could separate out if we wanted to.
  • Work Lunches. This didn’t exist when we were in graduate school, but now this allows me to go to lunch at work or to take people to lunch on once-a-week basis.


  • Cable & Internet. We have basic, so basic, like local channels only cable; and Netflix; we’re set.
  • Clothing
  • Electricity & Gas
  • Furnishings
  • Home & Cell Phones
  • Incidentals. This is like cleaning supplies, shampoo, shaving cream, etc. And diapers and wipes. Oh my how many diapers and wipes. My rough estimate is that with our five kids in the last eight years we have changed over 15,000 diapers.
  • Insurance
  • Mortgage
  • Repairs
  • Water/Sewer/Trash/Recycling


  • Health Insurance. This is actually deducted from our paycheck, but we have a category in the budget to recognize it’s there
  • Out of Pocket Expenses. For co-pays, deductibles, prescriptions, etc.
  • Life Insurance. We didn’t obtain term life insurance until just last year, after nine years of marriage; I only point this out to reiterate that not everything in your budget comes all at once. Budget categories have grown for us over time as needs and income change. I suspect we waited a little too long to get life insurance, but I’m glad we finally have it.


  • Tithes & Offerings. We have always paid tithing to our church along with a monthly offering that can be used to help provide food, shelter, clothing to the less fortunate.
  • Birthday. For our own family birthdays as well as for the extended family or kids’ friends birthday parties.
  • Holiday. We take the total amount we’re willing to spend on Christmas, divide it by 12, and then put that amount into this category each month through the year.
  • Just Because. Wedding presents, baby showers.
  • To Do Good. This is a new budget category for us this year inspired by none other than Rich and Celeste! We save a certain amount each month that we just have waiting to help someone in need. We then pray for opportunities to use it where we can do someone good.

Real Estate 
Note: Real Estate is currently our least-used category – meaning the purchase of new real estate isn’t something we’re planning in the immediate future; it’s more here as a place-holder for longer-term goals

  • Down Payment. Includes savings for our next home purchase.
  • Major Improvements. Beyond regular repairs, this is for making substantial renovations or doing serious remodeling.
  • Transaction Costs. You know, all those extras like closing costs, inspections, title fees, and on and on… gotta save up for those too.


  • Emergency Fund. Following Dave Ramsey, our initial goal for this was to save $1,000 fast. After that, our next goal was to save 3-6 months of expenses, which we did after about 1-2 years of employment.
  • Retirement. Big credit is due to Astyn, who had firm impressions that we should start saving for retirement even while we were poor graduate students. So we did. We put 15% of our graduate student income into retirement savings. After graduation the habit was easy to continue. So now we save at least 15% of our real-job income into retirement.


  • Children’s Recreation. Kids sports and activities, now including piano lessons which our kids started a year ago; this budget category did not exist until the kids were about four years old.
  • Dates. If we went on dates as regularly as we should, this category would be drained; but since we’ve been terrible at going out lately, this category is flush – just waiting for a romantic extravaganza.
  • Education. This was once used to pay my graduate school tuition/fees; now we use it to pay for the kids’ elementary school fees/PTA/college savings.
  • Her Spending. His and Her Spending are our fun money, yahoo! These also didn’t exist in graduate school, but now that we’re gainfully employed, we each have a small monthly budget with which we can do whatever the heck we want. Astyn had saved up hers long enough that she just used it to go to Mexico!
  • His Spending
  • Vacation. Since we live nowhere near family, we ball-parked how much we thought we’d spend on airfare and rental cars every two years to visit family, divided it by 24, and this is the monthly amount we save for vacations. Maybe one day we’ll actually take a vacation that isn’t to visit family. That’s a novel thought. Haven’t yet done it in 10 years of marriage.

Sticking to Your Budget

The easiest thing I can say about sticking to your budget is this. Don’t start a category at zero and add up to a total as the month goes on. Start with a total amount in the category and subtract down to zero as the month goes on. Any leftover you get to carry over to a new month (or transfer it to some other category if you want).

So let’s say after your three months of tracking you realize that you spend about $500 per month on food, $200 on gas, and $600 on rent (simplified example with made up numbers).

On August 1, you put up a fresh sheet of paper on the fridge. In the “FOOD” square, you write “$500”. In the “GAS” square you write “$200”, and in the “RENT” square you write “$600”.
On August 3 you go grocery shopping. You spend $125. You come home, put the groceries in the fridge, and then you notice your handy budget staring at you on the fridge door. You pull out your receipt, and right underneath the $500 in the FOOD square you write “8/3 – Food 4 Less – $125” and beneath that you write your new total: $375. You instantly know that for the rest of the month, you can spend $375 more on groceries.

On August 7 you fill up the car with gas. You spend $40. You come home, walk past the fridge, see your handy budget beckoning to you from the fridge door. You pull out your receipt, and right underneath the $200 in the GAS square you write “8/7 – Quik Trip – $40” and beneath that you write your new total: $160. You instantly know that for the rest of the month, you can spend $160 more on gas.

On August 8, you pay your rent. You pay $600. Right after you cut that rent check you think, “Ugh, I need a refreshing beverage.” You go to the fridge and see your handy budget welcoming you like a loving friend. Under the $600 in the RENT square you write “8/8 – Landlord Aug. Rent – $600” and beneath that you write your new total: $0. Luckily you don’t have to pay any more rent in August.

The month goes on. You are diligent and disciplined. You’ve tracked every expense that month. On August 31, you notice that in the FOOD square there is still $23 leftover. In the GAS square there is $15 leftover. You can decide what you want to do with that extra (save it in the same category for next month, go spend it on something fun, transfer it to some other category where you accidentally overspent, save it up toward some other category like a vacation, the possibilities!). You decide to just carry it over in the category for the next month.

So on Sept. 1, you put a new sheet of paper on the fridge. In the “FOOD” square you write $523″. In the “GAS” square you write “$215”, and in the “RENT” square you again write “$600”. And then off you go to track your expenses for the month of September.

Once you have the discipline to track your expenses, then you just need the discipline to not buy stuff if you don’t have the money in a category. For some motivation with that, enjoy this bit of wisdom from Saturday Night Live.

We have found that sticking to our budget isn’t restraining. It’s freeing. It frees us to spend guilt free on things we need and want because we have saved up the money for them. We just don’t worry if we have the money for something anymore. We know if we have the money.

Last thought: How much money do you need to make to be a millionaire?

Don’t be shocked. It’s only $35,000 a year.

(Go to this website, and plug in these numbers: Current age – 35; Current annual income – $35,000; Expected inflation – 3%; Desired retirement age – 70; Income replacement – 90%; Pre-retirement investment return – 8%; Post-retirement investment return – 8%; Social Security Benefits – No. Leave everything else at it’s default value.  Click Submit. Be amazed.)

When you retire, you will be a millionaire. If you save just 13% of your yearly income, you will have $1,085,803 in the bank.

Quoting from the website:

“To provide the inflation-adjusted retirement income you desire, you may need to save 13% of your yearly income (less any employer match, if applicable). This year, for example, the amount would be $4,535 or $378 a month. The total amount needed for retirement, including amounts already saved, is $1,085,803.

“If you wait just one year to start saving for retirement you may need to save 14.2% of your annual income, which amounts to $4,954 in the first year. Save Now and Save Less!!!”

That’s my happy budgeting thought. Nearly anyone, on any income, with a little budget discipline and saving, can be a millionaire. I’m glad Astyn was inspired when we were 26 and 24 to start us saving for retirement. She knows more about budgeting and finance than she gives herself credit for.

Married on a Budget

By Lynne

This post is part two of a 4-part series:  Marriage and Finances

When I asked Lynne to guest post on the topic of marriage and finances, she said, “Well . . . we’re not really the average couple when it comes to spending money.”  I said, “I know!!  That’s why I want you to guest post!”  Lynne and Brian seriously might be the most frugal people I’ve ever met.  Sometimes when I meet people who are super good at money management, it makes me feel guilty for not being better about it, but Lynne doesn’t make me feel that way at all.  Rather, Lynne and Brian inspire me with their humility and wisdom. They are the very embodiment of that cheesy adage “the most important things in life aren’t things.” (and if you have this adage on a plaque hanging in your home, by cheesy I mean awesome and inspiring).   – Celeste


Disclaimer: In our almost 12 years of marriage, our income has always hovered around the poverty threshold, sometimes dipping below it, sometimes rising above it. However, we have never been truly poor.  We’ve never had to worry about where we’d get our next meal, or how we’d pay the next month’s rent.  I realize that a substantial portion of the world’s population suffers from a poverty of desperation.  This post is not meant to belittle their situation, or by any means to suggest that I have answers to those problems.

Dublin, Ireland, November 2004:  We live in a tiny studio apartment in the charming quarter of Rathmines.  We share a bathroom with the neighbors – which at nine months pregnant, I’m beginning to find somewhat inconvenient.  As I’m not allowed to work in Ireland, and much of our savings is going to rent and tuition, we’re learning to cut corners elsewhere.  Potatoes are cheap and can be cooked in a variety of ways. If we wait until our neighbor Ronan is out of the shower, we can use the rest of his hot water without having to pay for our own. And walking into town (for me) and biking to the University (for my husband) saves us on bus fare.

Getting on the same page financially

Early in our marriage we acknowledged that we were in this together.  We consolidated our bank accounts and sat down to make a budget. For the first three or four years of married life, we accounted for every penny we spent.  Every Monday evening we’d gather our receipts for the week, enter them into Quicken, assess the week’s spending, and eat a bowl of ice cream. Though sometimes tedious, this did several things for us:

  • It meant eating ice cream together – always a boost to one’s marriage
  • It opened up communication about spending
  • It made us each accountable to the other
  • It helped us budget ahead. We would estimate how many years our car or computer had left in them, and start setting aside money so that by the time they died we’d be able to pay out of pocket for a replacement.
  • Most importantly, it helped us align our priorities.




During our engagement, I was working in Germany, while my husband-to-be was shopping for our first apartment.  He asked if I had any requests, and I told him I wanted a place with a dishwasher.  Instead he found an apartment in an old brick house with hardwood floors, a chartreuse kitchen and a claw-footed bathtub and . . . no dishwasher.  The thing is, I absolutely loved it.  I began to reassess my own priorities and decided that a dishwasher wasn’t as high on the list as I initially thought. In fact, it wasn’t until this last year, for the first time in our married lives, that we moved into a house with a dishwasher.  That means almost 11 years of hand-washing dishes, most recently for a family of five.  But it was okay; we were spending on things that we both found more important. Priorities in a marriage will depend upon the couple, and will naturally change with time and circumstances.  Our priorities may seem somewhat atypical, but they’ve come through constant reassessment of what we really want, over what we sometimes thought we wanted.  Here they are . . . roughly.


  • We pay 10% of our income to religious causes
  • Doing this first has helped us remember what life is all about – helping other people and making the world a better place.
  • I also believe that our willingness to do this first has made other aspects of our lives fall into place by divine intervention.


  • We wanted to have children, but didn’t want to put our children in daycare.  While there are some wonderful childcare programs and daycare is unavoidable for some, for us it meant a major expense, and we didn’t want to miss our babies growing up.
  • This one has been exceptionally tricky; we’ve had to coordinate our schedules to tag team it.  For most semesters we’ve been able to avoid babysitters completely (except for date nights, when usually we’d trade with friends).  The most we’ve needed childcare was 10 hours a week for one semester.


  • We got married with one semester of our Bachelor degrees before us, but knew that we were both looking toward grad school.
  • While this was a priority, it was not one we were willing to go into debt for.
  • We realize that for some professions: medicine, law, dentistry, etc. – it is near impossible to avoid debt – but our degrees, in Art History and Creative Writing are not nearly as marketable as those, so we thought it wise not to dig ourselves into a financial hole from which we had no guarantee of emerging.

Travel and Experience

  • As a teenager, my sister once commented to a friend, “When I’m rich, I’m going to travel the world!” to which the friend replied, “Don’t.” Flabbergasted, my sister repeated “Don’t!?” and her friend clarified, “Don’t wait until you’re rich!”
  • Besides the five different states we’ve lived in during our marriage, we’ve been able to live in five different countries (ranging in durations from one month to one year).
  • We’ve found the trick to this is to have someone else pay for you to live abroad.
  • In some ways, living abroad on a budget has meant a more “authentic” cultural experience – figuring out the local public transportation, bargaining with the tomato woman in the open air market, etc.


  • We always worked to put 5-10% of our income into savings.
  • Having a savings has provided a lot of peace of mind and reduced stress in our marriage.
  • It has given us hope – as we’ve saved ahead for a down payment on a house, travel, etc.
  • It has also provided a lot of freedom. When the opportunity to move to Rome for two and a half months arose, we could pay for plane tickets the next day.

In order to have the things we wanted, we had to be willing to do without things that were lower on our list – usually stuff.  It means that we buy our clothes at thrift stores and our furniture on Craigslist; it means that despite having four kids, we live in a two-bedroom house (but that’s okay, as we don’t have any stuff to fill it.)


Unforeseen benefits of frugality

  • A lack of stuff
    –   Stuff can be a burden – it is nice not to have too many things to clean up, store, and manage
  • A focus on things of value
    –   It has helped our children understand the value of things, and avoid materialistic tendencies. One of our family mantras is “Be grateful, not greedy!”  We were recently walking down the toy aisle of a store when my oldest son commented, “Everything here is so commercially.”  (I also attribute this lack of materialism to our lack of TV and our living abroad – our kids have seen many who live without).
  • Greener living
    –   Using cloth diapers, line drying laundry, eating beans over meat and buying used clothes and toys have all reduced our carbon footprint.
  • Unity
    –   Well kind of . . .



In truth, our financial decisions have not really unified us as much as our striving for unity in our marriage has informed our financial decisions. Supporting each other full-heartedly means that our lives are integrated practically.  When I successfully defended my dissertation in the fall, my husband felt a sense of accomplishment.  Likewise, I feel thrilled when he gets a poem published, and we both rejoice when we see our children’s accomplishments. These are things we’ve achieved together.

I am happy to report that I now cook more than potatoes and I take hot showers without a second thought.  In the end, I wouldn’t trade that year in Ireland for a cushy house with a three-car garage.  It is experience, friendships, and education that have made our lives interesting and full.

One does not need to be rich to live richly!