As I write this, I’m thinking back to our first budget meeting ever. All I remember is that there were tears and also a weight lifted at the same time.
It’s like a secret that you finally share with someone or knowing a full truth, even if it’s not going to be pretty. To see all of our debts listed was like looking at the big, scary monster that’s been hiding under the bed — knowing it’s going to ugly, but at least now you see all of its ugliness clearly. There is something so empowering about seeing it for all it is and making a decision to tackle it and never go back.
I had come clean with all my secret credit cards and Tony shared that he had been saving money to keep me from getting my hands on it. The air was cleared and the truth had set us free. Tony no longer had to bear the burden of finances on his own and I finally felt like I had some direction and control.
We started with an Excel spreadsheet that has now grown into an epic history book of virtually everything we have made and spent over the past 6 years, month by month.
Within the past year or so, Dave Ramsey has come out with an app called Every Dollar, and many people swear by it. There is a free version or a $99/year version that connects to your bank account so you can categorize each swipe. We tried it, but after several years of the spreadsheet, the app did not come as naturally for us. In The Total Money Makeover book, there are many budgeting sheets as well as tons of free resources on daveramsey.com and others that are easy to come by with a quick Pinterest search.
Budget meetings almost always include beer and cheese because our Wisconsin roots run deep. Also, no one said this has to be awful. In the beginning, we had to update and change things often because life happened and we wern’t Used to be prepared for it. Now, we have those modifications of the budget less often and we are much more relaxed. Of course when one of us is tired, we try to reschedule for a time that we are both clear and focused. It’s really frustrating when one person is running the show on their own.
We have gone through slumps where the thought of going through our finances feels so overwhelming and exhausting. We have had weeks or months of unfocused overspending and the further away we get from it, the harder it is to start over — much like exercising or anything else that requires discipline or behavior modification. It’s like how I look forward to my regular workouts when I’m regularly working out. I can’t believe I can now say that about talking finances with my husband.
To eliminate overwhelm, we have recently put together an agenda so we have clear direction on where to start. At the beginning of the month we start with our projected numbers, which is really easy now that we have been doing it for so long. We usually copy and paste for each new month and modify from there.
- Account for all bills that have withdrawn from checking account
We have 3 columns for each pay period – budgeted, spent, and notes. The budgeted column doesn’t change much month to month. The first things we do is enter in the actual numbers of what has been withdrawn from our account or “spent”. That also means that if I have withdrawn our cash to fill our envelopes (more about that here), we enter in those amounts as well.
- Reconcile debit card swipes
You know I’m the world’s biggest Aldi fan because shopping there is the only way I feed this family of 6 big eaters on $130 a week! I am so glad Aldi just came out to the Richmond area and a brand new store is projected to open up down the road from my house this year!! (You guys, I’m obnoxious about this. I talk to my neighbors about it all of the time and they are yet to match my enthusiasm for grocery shopping.)
Sometimes there are those couple of things they only carry as Special Buy or they have run out of something I need this week. This, my friends, is when I order from the magical Instacart. If you don’t have Instacart in your neighborhood yet, I would be willing to guess you will have it soon. You order online and groceries are brought to your door by your new best friend and it is nothing short of amazing.
Obviously, when I order from Instacart, I pay with my debit card ahead of time. When it comes to a budget meeting, this is where we enter that extra swipe in the spent column. Then, we adjust the amount of cash that we withdraw for the next pay period. This is how we’ve done it so far. I could see us eventually taking less cash out and just budgeting for more online grocery orders.
We also do this when we need to use our debit card for gas because the cash is at home or I order a gift on amazon.com. Because we pay for most things with cash, our online banking transactions are easy to keep up with, especially when we are having our budget meetings regularly.
- Transfer to savings
We try to live on less than we make, and this is where we allocate how much goes into what kind of savings – replenishing our emergency fund of 3-6 months of expenses if we had dug into it, IRA, kids’ college, etc. which ties into the next step.
This is absolutely my favorite part. This is where we start planning an itinerary for when friends are coming to visit and budgeting for all of the things we plan to do or extra food we will need to buy. This is where we talk about our next home improvement project. This is where we start saving and planning for vacations. This is where budgeting actually gets exciting. If you are familiar with Dave Ramsey, you know he talks about how one spouse is usually the “nerd” and the other the “free spirit”. If you haven’t figured this out yet, I’m definitely the free spirit. I would absolutely be using an app to track all of this instead of an intense spreadsheet with formulas to track retirement savings projections, like my husband Tony. He’s the facts and numbers guy and I’m just in it for the fun parts and talks about feelings – ha! (To read all about how this changed my marriage, read this post.)
Side note: As the spouse who was reluctant to sit down and even start a budget, I plan to later share all about how to (maybe more so how NOT to) get your spouse on board.
If you missed it here or here, I am giving away 5 Total Money Makeover books to readers for the month of June. To enter, just subscribe here to my email list. Tony and I buy a handful to give as gifts when they go on sale around Christmas every year, because friends often ask to borrow my copy. It’s more fun to give them their own copy to keep. If you simply need to buy a copy right now, it’s also available here.