Spend money in a mall

It was early 2010. Alissa and I had recently gotten engaged and sat down for a visit with our mentor couple. The discussion for the day centered on finances in marriage. And we thought we had it down. Our mentor couple asked us what we thought was a fairly simple question: How much money can your spouse spend without you knowing?

We both answered confidently, “$50.”

It seemed like such a small amount. After all, what damage could be done by spending just $50? But, as a married couple of 6 ½ years, we look back at that moment and think, “Bwahahahaha!!!” I honestly can’t even fathom what it would be like to spend $50 without Alissa knowing.

Now, I know every couple is different. And some may think this is too strict, but what if I told you that throughout our entire marriage, we’ve never had a fight about money? And why have we never had a fight about money? Because I’ve never had to question Alissa’s spending habits, and she’s never had to question mine.

So, how do we make this work?

We budget.

One of the beautiful things about a budget is that we “spend” our money each month together before we actually purchase anything. We put it down on paper (or in our case, an Excel spreadsheet), and track it weekly. This puts Alissa and I on the same page when it comes to what we’re going to spend our money on. So, there are no surprises, which usually equates to no fights.

But how strict is it?

Well, we’re careful to stick to our budget, and we never overspend. However, a good marriage is built on trust. So, let’s take grocery shopping as an example. Currently, we allot around $500 per month for groceries. Alissa, as a stay-at-home mom takes care of most of the grocery shopping. So, does she have to call me every time she’s in the checkout line to let me know what she’s spending that day?

No. I trust her to stay within the allotted budget for groceries each month. Now, if she went off and spent $50 or more beyond that budget, we may have some problems. But she’s never done that, because we’re on the same page with our financial goals.

What about those days I’m at work and want to get out of the office for lunch?

Simple. We budget a particular amount of money that we affectionately call our “Eric and Alissa funds.” This allows me to have a few dollars each month to go out to eat or Alissa a few dollars each month to spend on a new shirt. We can spend this money however we want, no questions asked, as long as we stay under budget.

So, what has this allowed us to do?

By consistently budgeting since we said, “I do,” we’ve been able to:

  • Place a 40% down payment on our home.
  • Ensure that our home will be paid off in less than 10 years.
  • Save 15% of our income for retirement through the last 2 years and counting.
  • Begin saving some money for college for all 3 of our kids.

But most of all, we have financial peace in our marriage, even in the midst of several emergencies.

Budgeting isn’t easy. It takes work, and we’ve made our fair share of mistakes along the way. But over time, it becomes habit. And it’s the kind of habit that can transform your marriage and family. If you’ve been putting it off, start this month. If you don’t know where to start, pick up a copy of Dave Ramsey’s book The Total Money Makeover. Or if you want someone to walk you through how to budget, email me. Alissa and I would be happy to help.

Above all, be sure to regularly communicate about your finances with your spouse. And if you’re not married, learn these principles now. It will be time well spent.

Question:  What’s your biggest struggle when it comes to budgeting? (Share in the comments below.)

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