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
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’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
- We keep all our receipts.
- 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!)
- 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.
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”.
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!)