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You Need A Budget: Money Management for a Happy Marriage

By Dustin | Finances & Careers

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You Need A Budget (YNAB) is the best budgeting software I have ever used.  In fact, YNAB is so awesome that my wife even likes it!  But more on that later…

If you are a regular reader here at Engaged Marriage, you may recall several recent posts about our search for budgeting software that met our needs as a busy family.

After many years of faithful budgeting that allowed us to pay off $54,500 in debt, we recently started to slip up in our spending and planning.

In a quest to find the right software to get us back on track, I reviewed 5 of the top budgeting tools on the market and wrote my opinions of them.  Each had their strengths, and many offered a way to track spending and plan for the future with far less time and energy than I had been spending with my homemade spreadsheets and manual receipt tracking.

The Best of the Best

After I did that initial review, I basically narrowed things down to just two choices that seemed like the best fit: Mint and You Need a Budget.  Well, after trying them both out and putting them to the test, I’m confident that we’ve found the right budgeting tool for our marriage.

While I enjoyed Mint’s online access and the overall picture it provided (including retirement accounts and other investments), I felt that it came up short in the primary area that we’re concerned with, which is budgeting.  Mint doesn’t “look ahead” and it makes the process of planning for the future quite cumbersome.  It’s not bad for a free service, but it simply didn’t stack up to YNAB.

You Need A Budget does all of the things you’d expect a premium budgeting software to do:

  • It allows you to import your banking transactions as you wish (with no need to give up account passwords like you do with Mint), so you never have to worry about saving receipts for every nickel you spend day-to-day.  Plus, with slick iPhone and Android apps (plus Kindle Fire), keeping track of your budget on the go is super easy.
  • It makes it easy to categorize your purchases for simple budgeting on the “envelope system” (without the need to carry around envelopes…unless you want to).
  • It lets you know when you are overspending on a certain category and lets you balance your budget on the go.
  • It allows you to plan ahead to save for large purchases and  irregular expenses.
  • And it gives you the insight you need to make wise decisions about your family finances.

Sounds great, right?  Well, what makes You Need A Budget superior is all that is goes well beyond the basics of normal spreadsheet budgeting!

The Four Rules for Financial Success…

OK, this is where the nerd in me really gets excited. 🙂

If you don’t already know that having a budget is the first step to financial success, well now you do.  Seriously, you really do need a budget.

So whether you use a great software like YNAB or you just write everything down on a piece of paper and track your spending manually, please know that you must have a budget if you want to achieve any level of financial freedom.

The budget is a great tool for identifying how you are spending your money.  However, the real power in budgeting is the ability to plan ahead and change your behavior to achieve financial goals.

I want you to read the following four principles for sound money management and think about how important they are for success in personal finance…and marriage.

1. Stop Living Paycheck to Paycheck

2. Give Every Dollar a Job

3. Save for a Rainy Day

4. Roll with the Punches

Pretty killer financial principles, right?  Well, the best part is that they…

….Are Built Right In!

Do you want to know why I’m so excited about You Need A Budget?  It’s because these Four Rules are built right into the software!

I encourage you to head over and read more on the You Need A Budget website (save $6 when you use that link!), but here’s a quick overview of  why these “rules” matter and how powerful they really are:

1. As you start using YNAB, the software will literally guide you to help you get ahead by a month (so you use May’s paychecks to pay Junes expenses, for example).

This will give you breathing room and allow you to stop wasting time by timing paychecks with bills.  Plus, if you’re on a variable income, your budgeting “problem” will be eliminated.

2. It helps you put every dollar to work with a specific purpose and plan.  Your financial awareness will increase tremendously, and you’ll find contentment as your spending aligns itself with your core values.

Communication between spouses about money can be restored in the process.

3. The software lets you anticipate and save for larger, irregular expenses so you’ll be ready.  This helps you eliminate the crazy ups and downs in your spending, and it lets you see a true picture of your discretionary income.

You can enjoy opening the mail again when the money is there waiting to pay the bills as they arrive.

4. We all mess up, and we all overspend from time-to-time.  The key is to stick with your plan over the long-term and maintain consistency.

YNAB helps keep you moving when you fail so you don’t quit, and it lets you start each month with a clean slate, which is a huge psychological boost.

Again, when you visit the YNAB site, you’ll find great videos that go over each of these points in detail.  I think you get the idea though, and I hope you can see why this makes me so excited.  OK, so no one probably understands that, but trust me when I say that I think this built-in methodology is sweet! 🙂

Purchase, Installation and Use

The You Need A Budget website is the place to go to read, listen to or watch tutorials that will show you everything you want to know about the software.  However, I want to hit the high points here for your convenience.

  • Purchase – YNAB is sold for a one-time fee.  Many of the other premium software packages require monthly fees, but if you are sticking with it for the long-term (as you should), then a one-time fee is certainly the way to go.  Plus, I’m convinced that one month of living “on a plan” will more than pay for the price of the software.

Also, you can try YNAB free for 34 days with no obligation (they don’t even take any payment information up-front), which is a great way to see if it fits your needs.  Plus, they offer incredible (free) support.

BONUS – I’m an official partner of YNAB, so when you use this link, you’ll save $6 on the cost of the software!

  • Installation – I found the installation to be a snap.  And the software did some cool things like automatically set up defaults so when I go to my bank’s website to download transactions, they pop right into YNAB in the right format.
  • Use – You Need A Budget is primarily desktop-based software, which originally concerned me because I didn’t know how I’d access it from both my home and work computers.  However, they’ve thought of that, too!

When you buy a YNAB license, it allows you to install the software on as many computers as you’d like, and with their CloudSync technology, you can hook it up to a free Dropbox account and keep your budget synced in real time on all of your devices!

So, I have YNAB on both of my computers, and I just keep our budget file on a flash drive so I can open, change and save it wherever I’m at.  I also picked up their iPhone app (also available for Android and Kindle Fire) so I can budget on the go.

So Awesome Even My Wife Likes It!

By now, you surely know that I’m a bit of a geek.

After all, I created our original budget spreadsheets and went through years of pain to track our spending manually while trying to plan ahead for our family finances.  And I didn’t mind it until I got so darn busy that I couldn’t keep up using those methods.

Well, you may not know that my wife is what Dave Ramsey would call a “free spirit” at heart.  She wants our family to be comfortable and she’s not an irresponsible person.  However, to say that she enjoys budgeting or has any desire at all to track spending on a spreadsheet would be a major stretch!

After I got YNAB installed and had a chance to play around with it for a while, I decided I just had to share it with Bethany even though I figured she’d think I was asking her to watch paint dry.

Well, I have to say that she actually complimented the look, feel and functionality of the software.  And she said it was something that even she could stand to use! (yes, that is a ringing endorsement of a financial product coming from her 🙂 )

If you aren’t the “budgeting type,” I would encourage you to give YNAB a try.  I really think anyone can intuitively “get” the budgeting process and, more importantly, achieve success in their financial planning using this awesome software.

The YNAB website and the software itself are packed with excellent resources to teach you about not only the software but financial planning as a whole.  They even have free forums, a blog, live online classes and a free “YNAB University” where you can gain a wealth of great information all at your own pace.

The Bottom Line

I could seriously write about this software and the topic of achieving financial freedom all day.  However, the YNAB website has all of the details you’d ever want to know about their product, and I have plenty of time to write posts about money.  Here’s the bottom line in my opinion:

  • You (really do) Need A Budget.
  • You also need a solid financial plan and goals for the future.
  • If you want to use software to aid you in the process, YNAB is the best product I have found to get the job done effectively.
  • Whether you use YNAB or not, please start addressing your finances today.  Your marriage will benefit more than you can imagine.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments to this post.  Please post a financial goal that you are currently working on with your spouse or fiance.

Here’s wishing you success with your money and your marriage!

The Grass is Always Greener…and I Don’t Give a Damn!

By Dustin | Finances & Careers

The Grass is Always GreenerWe’ve all heard the expression “The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side” throughout our lives, and I actually find it to be a useful mantra whenever I start feeling sorry for myself.  It is so easy to lose sight of our blessings and develop a jaded perspective, particularly when we’re faced with examples of the situations we do not find ourselves in.

I was (again) reading Your Life. Live it. Love it. recently, and a particular chapter really resonated with me.  A passage called “The Grass is Always Greener Right Under Your Feet” serves as an awesome reminder of just how powerful our own perspective can be when it comes to our happiness.

My life is full of examples of “what ifs” and “if onlys” and I’d like to share a few with you to see if you can relate.  I’ll take a peer over into my world from the perspective of someone with beautiful, free, single, wealthy, independent and uninhibited grass.

And then I’ll tell you why I don’t give a damn about their green grass!

Marriage is Hard

I got married when I was young and straight out of college.  If I wouldn’t have tied myself down, I could have spent the last nine years living an independent and free lifestyle.  I could have experienced relationships with many different women, spent a lot of fun times with my buddies and probably improved my golf game considerably.

I could have traveled extensively and experienced all that the world has to offer.  Incredible opportunities for wealth and entrepreneurial success would have been mine for the taking, and I could have taken part in all of the amazing adventures that I have only read about in books.

Kids are Expensive

I have two small children and one on the way.  The sacrifices that my children require in time and loss of independence are really incalculable.  The constant pressure and burden of providing for their every need is really stressful, and it makes it very difficult to care for myself and experience any truly free time.

My kids also cost a lot of money.  Their childcare costs alone would allow me to live in a house that costs more than twice my current home.  If I didn’t have the ongoing expenses associated with their food, clothing, entertainment and activities, I would have amassed a very nice nest egg by now.  And I’d be driving a sweet ride that didn’t require car seats.

Responsible Adulthood is Confining

I have a lot of stress in my life that is caused by all of the things I choose to do as a “responsible adult.”  Aside from spending a lot of time with my wife and children, I have a full-time professional career, a growing blog (about marriage of all things), church activities, community service and commitments of time to my extended family and friends.

If I instead lived at home with my parents and spent my time doing only the things that I enjoy, I would have an incredibly flexible and stress-free lifestyle.  I could drink beer and play video games late into the night, and I’d be able to take a trip to Vegas or go on a ski trip in the Rockies at the drop of a hat.

I would have the life that poor schmucks with a 9-to-5, a mortgage and tee-ball coaching duties can only dream about.

If only…I’d have a great life!

I Don’t Give a Damn About That Grass

I love my life.

When you peer over a proverbial fence and look at my yard with a judging eye, you’re likely to see some rough patches, some areas that have been neglected for lack of time and several crazy kids running around making a lot of noise.  My property isn’t as large as some, and it has some fences around it that may make others feel a bit trapped.

But it’s my grass, and it represents all that makes life so precious in my world.

  • That free and independent lifestyle would not have fulfilled me and given me unconditional love for the last nine years.
  • That big house would feel really empty without happy children and a beautiful wife inside.
  • Those trips around the world would be worthless within a life that has no meaning.

The grass will always look greener on the other side…and I don’t give a damn.

Instead, I thank God for every beautiful blade of grass that I find on our side of the fence.

Can you relate?

What part of your “lawn” do you love even though others may view it as weeds?

Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Photo by Geoff Penaluna

Our Debt-Free Marriage: How We Paid Off $54,500 in the Name of Freedom

By Dustin | Finances & Careers

Would you like to have a debt-free marriage?  Does it seem possible?Our Debt-Free Marriage: How We Paid Off $54,500 in the Name of Freedom

I can tell you from experience that it is not easy.  But it is so worth it.

There have been several events in our life lately that have caused us to reflect on our own journey to financial freedom and all that it has meant to our family and our marriage.

I am excited to share our story with you with the hope that you will find some information and motivation that will help you wherever you may be in your own financial life.

The Debt-Laden Duo

When Bethany and I got married in 2001, we already had a fair amount of debt under our belts.  It was nothing extreme by any means, and we were probably on the low end compared to many of our friends.

We didn’t even have any credit card debt at that point, just a car loan and good ole student loans from college.

I even had a pretty decent understanding of personal finance thanks in large part to a co-worker who shared his copy of Financial Peace by Dave Ramsey with me on the eve of our wedding.

I really loved reading that book, and it gave me an appreciation for Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps and the promise of living a debt-free lifestyle.  Unfortunately, the pull of “stuffitis” and all the things that seemed like “needs” in our early years together caused us to look past this wisdom and pile up the debt! 🙂

After a year of marriage, we decided it was time to buy our first house.  And with that came new furniture and appliances.  And a new car.  And then another new car.  And more stuff.

We peaked out in 2004 at $54,500 of non-mortgage debt.  Wow.  That’s a big number, but we frankly didn’t feel much pain from it because the payments were never a big strain for us.

We were a long way from a debt-free marriage, but it didn’t bother us much.

If you can make the payments, everything is fine, right?  Wrong.

The Wake-Up Call: A Positive Test

It was around this same time that we decided it was time to start trying to grow our family.  Through God’s grace and our discovery of Natural Family Planning at this same point in our marriage, we were to find out that Bethany was pregnant with our son.

(As an aside, I can now see in hindsight just how incredibly transformative these couple of months were in our lives in so many ways.)

That did it.  It was the realization that we had another human to care for that really got our attention.

Sure, we were doing okay with our finances, but we were certainly not being the wise stewards that we could be.  And we were not planning for the future the way that we should be as parents.

Welcome, Gazelle Intensity!

Once we decided it was time to clean up our mess and start taking our financial stewardship very seriously, all we needed was a plan to follow.

Fortunately, I remembered back to that Financial Peace guy I had pseudo-studied a few years earlier.  And he had a new book!

It was our reading of Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness that provided us with a clear plan for “what” to do along with many inspiring stories of families that have used the same principles to achieve financial freedom.  If you are looking to improve your financial life, I cannot recommend this book enough.

That said, the information it contains is far from rocket science.  His seven baby steps are pretty simplistic, actually.

The magic is in the focused intensity that Dave preaches, and the idea of “gazelle intensity” wherein you treat your debt like a hungry cheetah that’s chasing you (a fleeing gazelle) down.  Run!

It takes passion, energy and commitment to pay off a large amount of debt.  And it takes a lot of hard work.  There’s really no substitute for effort if you want to make a major change in your financial future and live a debt-free marriage.

For us, this meant a firm commitment to incurring no additional debt and a new mindset focused first-and-foremost on paying off our stupid debts.  Practically speaking, the real key for us was building and strictly following a family budget that reduced our spending on things like shopping and eating out at restaurants.

We didn’t take vacations and we kept our entertainment on the simple side.  In a word, we got frugal.

I also worked a LOT, and we used any small amount of money we could come up with to pay off the next debt in our debt snowball.  There weren’t many big moments of major progress.

Instead, it was all about being consistent and maintaining our intensity over the course of several years.

We’re Debt Free!!!

Once we got fired up and determined, it took us approximately 3 1/2 years to pay off our $54,500 of non-mortgage debt.  The day that we actually went to the credit union and paid off our SUV (our last debt) was surreal.

I called Dave Ramsey on behalf of my family that same day and got to scream “I’M DEBT FREE!” live on the air on his radio show. That was 2/29/2008 (hour two of the show that day), and that has become a very important date for our family.

Since then, our debt-free lifestyle has honestly become a routine. It just seems like the only logical way to live now, and I can’t imagine having so much of our income tied up in payments. I know making payments is the “normal” way of doing things in our culture, but this is another area where I have learned that normal sucks. 🙂

Debt-Free Marriage for Life

Debt-Free Marriage Pays OffWe’re still very proud of our accomplishments and excited about what it is setting us up to do in the future.

Each day without payments is a day that adds to our savings and investments and, ultimately, enhances our family’s financial freedom.

Like I mentioned above, the fact that we’ve been debt-free (other than our house) for two years now has really started to pay off (pun intended) recently.

I look forward to sharing the specifics in future posts, but suffice it to say that we love our debt-free marriage.

I strongly encourage you to consider adopting a debt-free lifestyle.  The rewards are fantastic and worth the effort.

If you need some help, check out our section on Debt Freedom and Money Management for lots of great tips.

I really want to hear from you on this topic.  Do you have a debt-free marriage? 

Do you think it’s possible?  Where do you need help to make it happen?

Engaged Finances and Engaged Marriage- So Happy Together!

By Dustin | Finances & Careers

Engaged FinancesEditor’s Note: This is a guest post from Fern Alix-LaRocca who gives five great tips for achieving financial harmony in marriage.

Some couples will immediately combine their finances in a marriage and some will keep their money separate. It doesn’t matter how you divvy it up. What does matter is what you decide to do with it- together.

Many couples are squeamish around discussing money because maybe they are ashamed of the debt they accrued or maybe they feel bad about not knowing how to manage it properly. You can engage your finances together with these 5 tips:

1. Let your goals be your guide– not the economy or newspaper journalists. When you have the end result in mind, it’s a lot easier to save together to fund that goal. Figure out if you want to own a house, take off of work to be with a new baby, prepare to be self- employed, etc. Then use some of the free online calculators to figure out how much you need to save and invest to meet your goal.

2. Your money must earn money for you to get ahead.  Don’t get stuck in the rat race of making money and spending it. A part of every dollar that you earn should be saved and invested to make more money for you. Why? Because taxes and inflation will eat away at anything you earn, but if you have an additional way of making money (like investing) then you can get ahead over time.

3. Promote mutual understanding of each other by discussing how you were raised around money and what your money personality is. It is important that your spouse understands where you are coming from, so they can be more understanding and compassionate about how you make financial decisions.

4. Make saving and investing for the future fun. My husband and I have a financial meeting once a quarter before we go out to dinner on Friday night. We talk about what went right and what went wrong and how we can improve. Through our discussions, we educate each other and review options and opportunities that we can take advantage of to grow our money.

5. No matter how different you are in your money personalities you can still find common ground and come together to realize those goals and aspirations that you both want and deserve. Get out the pen and paper and start now after dinner with a discussion about what you really want.

Remember that you can’t reach a target if you don’t know what it is. Let failure be an option. You aren’t always going to get it right, but keep forging ahead. It is a learning and growing experience to be enjoyed together.

Knowing the basics of money will help you attract it, keep it, and make it work for you. Have a plan and make money work as hard for you as you do to earn it. Engage your finances with the tips above and stay happy together.

Photo by wwarby

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Fern Alix-LaRocca is a Certified Financial Planner™ and Financial Coach with over 25 years experience as a fee-only Financial Advisor. Get  do-it-yourself financial planning advice by subscribing to her free e-newsletter at http://www.wholeheartedway.com

You May Be Married, But Are You Truly United?

By Dustin | Finances & Careers

Marriage, Money and UnityEditor’s Note: This is a guest post by Brad Chaffee.  Engaged Marriage is sponsoring his Manage Your Money Challenge, and I encourage you to check it out.

Every year we find ourselves celebrating our anniversary with the one we love. What is it that we are celebrating exactly? What does it mean to be married? Marriage symbolizes unity, or the coming together as one, but is that what we are really celebrating?

It’s what we should be celebrating, but is it? Maybe what you are really celebrating is a social achievement that acts as a mask, covering the real reason that getting through another year is so special. Let me explain.

Before I go on let me just say that I am guilty. I am guilty of taking that day for granted sometimes. Don’t get me wrong. I love my wife with every ounce of my soul and being married to her is so wonderful, BUT the truth is that I sometimes fail her. Sometimes I do not act as if we are a team, and she would probably admit she has her days as well.

It’s a part of being married. What do you do?

You remind yourself every single day how much you love your spouse, and you FIGHT to make yourself a better mate! You’ll never be perfect but when it comes to your family, it should always be your goal. My point is that you should never stop trying to be extraordinary in your marriage. You should never stop trying to be truly married united.

Are you truly united with your spouse?

That question reaches into many aspects of your marriage, but I want to talk about one in particular. Did someone say money? Well what did you expect, I am the Enemy of Debt after all.  And I am feeling very pumped up right now about this subject specifically, because I am starting my first ever Manage Your Money 31 Day Challenge. In order to win with money you have to manage it right?

What if I said budgeting could save your marriage?

Money is one of the leading causes for divorce, and certainly the number one reason for money fights. Money causes money fights? Go figure. 🙂

Are you truly united with your spouse on money?

  • Do you have a budget?
  • Do you feel like a team?
  • Are you on the same page?
  • Do you talk about your goals?

Does your spouse know where YOU WANT TO BE in 5 years? (I know, enough with the questions already, but I have a challenge for you at the bottom of this post about those questions, so bear with me.)

First, let’s discuss how you can become better united with your spouse. I want you to practice “becoming perfect” by working on the list below. I want you to do it as a team. Spend 15 minutes a week discussing this list—make an appointment to meet about this specifically. Forget about American Idol and ESPN for 15 minutes. This is how you continue to FIGHT AS HARD AS YOU CAN to be your spouse’s everything. You become extraordinary. For you, for her, and for your family’s sake.

This list pertains to every aspect of your marriage, but for today, and this challenge, we are going to focus on your money relationship with your spouse. Budgeting is the best way to come together with money. Perhaps you could become united with money the right way by signing up for my Manage Your Money Challenge.

It’s TOTALLY FREE, there are A LOT of prizes that will help you both become UNITED with your money, so I hope you’ll consider it. (I encourage you to join but even if you don’t, check out that awesome prize list.)

“THE” List WE Need To Work On
To be practiced daily

Challenge Yourself To:

Be Accountable – No placing blame anymore! If there was a mistake made and you weren’t involved in it, you should have been—take responsibility.

Be Patient – It takes time. Don’t think you are going to be able to agree on everything. Mastering the budget *specifically* takes time and patience. Stick it out!

Be Realistic – Do not make, or hold onto unrealistic desires. If you have debt, and no budget, you can’t afford to buy a new car. Just sayin’. 😉

Be Understanding – Understand that your wants and needs will not be your spouse’s wants and needs. Compromise on the things you may see as invaluable, even if you don’t understand. as Dave Ramsey says, “You don’t have to get it, you just have to get it.”

Be Specific – Make sure that you are clear about what you want? Discuss your goals in detail. What do you want? How are you going to get it? When do you get started?

Be Honest – Managing the money as a team is about trust. Don’t ruin that trust by being dishonest about your purchases. Ladies, you know you spent $30 from your grocery budget to pay for that purse. And men, you know your friend didn’t pay for that fishing trip.

Be United – Be on the same page! It’s hard to read the same book when you are both on different pages. Just like it’s hard to win with your money when there is constant resistance slowing you down. It’s in your best interest to be united.

Remember you are a team! Act like it.

I asked a lot of questions in this post. A bonus challenge of sorts, although it could be argued that you should do it first, is to take a piece of paper and write every question down. Answer the questions honestly, and discuss them at your first 15 minute meeting. Get to know each other. You don’t have to cover every question the first time. Try one per week.

Maybe Dustin would be so kind as to let me do a follow-up post to see how we’ve done, *myself included*, in about two weeks. 😉

Good Luck!

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My name is Brad Chaffee from Enemy of Debt, and I absolutely love helping people become debt free. Something I love even more is helping you realize that you are the only person holding you back. I was a non-believer myself, but now I am debt free and you can be, too. Stay motivated and subscribe to Enemy of Debt today.