Welcome to the first installment of the Married Money Management series here at Engaged Marriage where we take a look at the keys to financial success for married couples.
The first and most important step to achieving financial success in your marriage is to make a budget.
Put simply, a budget allows you to tell your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.
Some couples are reluctant to create a budget for their household finances because they think it’s too difficult, too confining or they honestly just don’t want to know how poorly they’ve been handling their money.
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While I can definitely relate to these feelings, the fact remains that creating a budget and living with a plan are absolutely essential.
Our First Big Mistake!
In the first few years of our marriage, we thought we could live just fine without a budget. Believe it or not, I actually read Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace right after we got married when a co-worker suggested I give it a look.
Well, I loved the book and thought Dave’s advice was excellent. We decided we’d try some of his strategies…but we thought we could do it without bothering with a budget.
We’ll get much deeper into our own story as this series progresses, but suffice it to say that doing things our way resulted in the accumulation of more than $54,000 in debt and years of unnecessary financial stress. Knowing what we know now, this is really frustrating.
In hindsight, it’s very easy to see where we went astray. We skipped the most critical step in the journey to financial peace. We were too stupid and stubborn to create a budget for our household.
Please don’t repeat our mistake. If you desire more financial success, you must have a budget!
Based on the reactions I’ve heard from both close friends and Engaged Marriage readers, I know that some couples are intimidated by the idea of a budget and feel that it’s too complicated or cumbersome for them to take on.
Please know that a budget can be as thorough or basic as you decide to make it.
Basically, a budget is a summary of your financial “ins and outs” during a given month. You just write down all of your income for the month and all of your expenses and you have a record for that month.
When you use that information to plan ahead for the next month, you’ve got yourself a budget!
This can literally be as simple as writing down your income and expenses on a sheet of paper. The key is to track your expenses for a few months so that you can accurately project your needs for the next month.
The most basic way to do this is to keep receipts for all of your expenses for two months. You can then use this information to establish a baseline in your spending habits.
Take a look at these habits and decide if and where you need to make cuts to meet your goals or if you need more income. Put the revised spending and/or earning amounts down on paper to plan for the next month, and your budget is all set.
A budget does not have to be complicated or overly detailed.
It must account for every dollar you earn and spend, and it must be agreed upon as a couple. Aside from those two basic rules, it can take any form that you desire. And please note that it will likely take several months of trial and error before you zero in on an accurate budget.
Bethany and I used homemade Excel budget spreadsheets and manual tracking of our receipts for several years. It worked just fine, and it provided the information and motivation that we needed to attack our debt and live within our means.
We have since “graduated” from those manual efforts and realized the power and (awesome) simplicity of using budgeting software. I’m now convinced that this is the best solution for most couples, and it makes things SO much easier that I feel it’s a no-brainer to invest a few dollars to get started with a solid budget software.
Budgeting Tools Are Your Friend
There came a time after we became debt-free that we found ourselves slipping back into old habits and getting sloppy with our budget. It was then that I decided it was time to look into options beyond our Excel spreadsheet and keeping a receipt for every purchase we made to track our spending.
Frankly, we had become so busy and bored with this approach that we would sometimes get a month or two behind in tallying up our spending and fail to even plan ahead, which defeats much of the purpose of budgeting.
Even though we used these manual methods of budgeting to get out of debt and meet other financial goals, we decided it was time to use technology to our advantage and make our efforts more sustainable. I tried out most of the popular options for budgeting software and wrote a review based our experiences.
I encourage you to read my budgeting software reviews and see which option fits your family’s needs. Any of these options (free or premium) make it so much easier and less time consuming to get your budget working versus doing it on your own.
After a lot of research and trials, we found that the best budgeting tool for our family is a software called You Need A Budget. I can’t say enough good things about YNAB, and they now have iPhone and Android Apps available to make it even easier to track and plan. Plus, when you use this link, you’ll save $6!
If you think that budget software would be helpful in your situation, please take a moment to read my full review of You Need A Budget based on our experiences.
If you decide to give YNAB a try, you’ll be able to get started on your budget today by importing your electronic transactions from the past two months to know where you’ve been with your spending. As a couple, you can then decide what needs to change, quickly set up a plan for next month and then start following it.
You could literally have your budget ready to go in a matter of a few hours using this technology. While premium software like this is not free, we’ve found that it’s money well spent.
In most cases, you’ll save much more than the software cost simply by getting started and tracking your spending, earning and saving habits. Plus, using this link, you will save $6.
Budgeting Benefits for Your Marriage
The benefits of budgeting within marriage actually go way beyond laying the foundation for financial success. Budgeting your money can actually be an awesome way to enhance the communication and trust in your relationship.
If you are married, both spouses should have input in the budgeting process. This is really a critical component of any budget that is actually going to work, which means that it is respected and followed by the entire family.
After all, why would you follow a plan that you may not agree with or that you feel has been forced upon you?
This is why communication is key to the budgeting process. You and your spouse need to sit down together and discuss your financial goals and decide in advance how you want to use your money.
This doesn’t mean that you have to combine all areas of your financial life or change the way you spend money. While there may certainly be value in doing so, you can build your budget to accommodate joint or separate bank accounts, cash or credit card spending, and frugal or extravagant spending habits.
After all, this is your budget designed for your particular family’s situation. You are in control…together.
It’s also totally fine if the “nerdier” spouse wants to create the draft budget and then get input from the other. But there must be input and “buy-in” from both husband and wife that the final budget is a spending plan that they agree to stick to.
Again, this could be a plan to spend beyond your means and rack up crazy amounts of debt. I hope it’s not, and most couples don’t plan to go deeply in debt, but the point is that you will communicate about your goals and decide together how to use your family’s financial resources.
That is the real beauty of building a budget for your own family and your own situation.
After you’ve sat down together and figured out your spending plan for the coming month, it’s time to put your money where your mouth was and spend as you have both agreed.
When a budget is in place, you can feel good about spending as you have planned. However, you’ll have accountability to deal with when you are tempted to go astray.
Think back to the last time you spent a lot of money on something impulsively without talking to your spouse first.
Was it part of your overall financial plan? Did you have a bit of buyer’s remorse afterward? How did your spouse react when they found out about your big purchase?
You and your spouse create the budget and you control what it says. However, once you agree to it and you commit to each other that you’ll stick with the spending plan, you have an ongoing promise to your spouse to uphold.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t buy something that’s not part of the budget. However, it does mean that you need to give your husband or wife a call to make sure they agree there’s good reason to change your mutual financial plan to accommodate it.
And the two of you can decide on the limit where the other needs to be consulted when a “spending audible” gets called.
Simply put, it means that you must trust your spouse to be financially responsible, and you must hold up your end of the agreement to them as well.
Communication builds a budget and trust makes it work.
Go Take The First Step Today: Build a Budget!
Regardless of whether you decide to start with a pen and paper or a software tool, the most important takeaway from this post is that you must have a budget. It’s vital for your financial success, and it’s a valuable marriage-building practice as well.
If you already have a budget, that’s fantastic. Take some time to review it together and decide whether it still meets your needs and financial goals.
If you don’t have a budget yet, please do your marriage a favor and go get one!
After all, it’s the first step to effective Married Money Management.
Here’s a rundown of all the posts available to you in the Marriage Money Management series:
I couldn’t agree more Dustin. My wife and I went out and bought Quicken the first day we were back from our honeymoon. A few months later we switched over to using YNAB and we will never go back. It is without a doubt one of the best ways to manage your budget. And I love having my budget on my iPhone!
Thanks, Rob! I can’t wait for YNAB to get their Android App released so I can use it on my phone. Our financial intimacy has been one of the best parts of our marriage.
Dustin, I could not agree more about having a budget. Although I get really annoyed when authors (such as Dave Ramsey and others I have read) give a sample budget and everything works out perfectly. My husband is in school full time and works 2 part time jobs. I work 3 part time jobs. We have no debt except my student loans and some medical bills that we pay no interest on. We are bare bones in terms of how we spend money. Writing down the money that we spend on bare essentials to survive still exceeds our income! Authors and financial guru’s never touch on our type of situation, except to say live on less (I can’t possibly imagine where exactly we are supposed to cut expenses, especially when it is all bills and food). And no, I am not one of those women who is in denial about spending money on clothes and shoes. For one, I hate shopping (my husband loves that about me), but I can’t remember the last time I bought new clothes. We still write out a budget, but we have to call it a “faith budget.” We work hard and do our best to make money so we can survive, but we have to trust that God will supply the resources to bridge the gap in our budget. And you know what? God ALWAYS comes through!
Thanks, Sarah. It sounds like you guys are working your tails off to make your ends meet as well as possible. It’s very impressive that you have such limited debt given your current situation, and I hope that your husband’s schooling will pay off with a significant salary increase when we completes school.
I can understand your frustration with personal finance books, but I also see that they can’t address every situation and must keep the material relevant for *most* readers. I think Dave Ramsey would advise you to sit down with a financial counselor in your situation, which again is frustrating because it costs money. It all boils down to income vs. expenses, and it sounds like you may be struggling on the income side (you control expenses very well), so I hope that will improve for you over time.
I appreciate your Faith as well…thanks again!
Dustin, I know authors can’t address every situation. And yes, Lord willing, we will be better off when hubby is done with school. He is going into software engineering (really the only field that hasn’t had a significant impact due to the economy) and has already had a fantastic paid internship that offered him another summer internship next summer that could turn into a full time job when he is done with school. Also, he gets 5 grants, 3 scholarships and we only use the subsidized loan if we need it for living expenses. SO, he will graduate with minimal student debt.
I listen to Dave’s podcast quite frequently and his advice in situations like yours is usually to write out all your bills in order of priority – that being food, utilities, mortgage, transportation (I think that’s the order, could be wrong), then keep going down the list with loans and other debts. Start allocating money from your budget to the top ones and work your way down until you run out of money. Then just stop. If you don’t have enough you don’t have enough.
I don’t mean to say this to tell you what to do, but I believe that’s how Dave addresses this.
If that still doesn’t work, I’m pretty sure Dave would tell you that you just need to make more money. When you’re working as hard as it sounds like you are I’m sure that’s almost an insult, but with 5 part-time jobs between you, maybe there’s an option out there you haven’t considered that could bring in more income in the same time you’re using now.
I was the last one to jump on the budget bandwagon, but when we used a budget to help save money for our first home, I saw the importance of it. I am proud of Dustin for showing me how to spend our money wisely and helping us become debt free. I agree that communication is key when incorporating a budget. Talking about goals and dreams gets us fired up to save for our future!
Man, I could really get used to these kind of comments. 🙂
Thanks, darling, for having faith in my crazy financial ways over the years!
Yeah, budgets!! I grew up in a big, poor, single-parent, no-budget home. Now I love budgeting, and I encourage my six siblings to do the same. As with Sarah S., my wife’s and my income fall just short of our living expenses – but the Lord ALWAYS fills in the gaps! I love to hear that someone else is seeing those red numbers in their Excel projections, and looking right away to the Lord in faith.
~ j oliver
I just started writing about my own journey with my wife through Dave’s plan and can attest 100% to everything you said about budgeting being crucial to building trust and a sense of TEAM.
For those of you just starting out, it took us quite a few months to get it right, and it requires constant adjustment and tweaking, so don’t get frustrated.
In fact, the first time we finished our monthly meeting without a fight we high-fived we were so excited with ourselves.
It’s a great feeling to be building a plan and following through every month, and the benefits far outweigh the hassle.
Thanks again for a great post.
Thanks, Evan! Your story about your early attempts at budgeting sure sound familiar, and it can be a real struggle to get headed down the same path. However, as you know, it is so worth the effort! Keep up the great work and please continue to share your insights with our community.
I’ve had a “budget” for years, but I forgot to do that part where you track what you’re spending. So it’s an excel sheet full of fiction at this point. The good news is that the light bulb finally turned on, and Hubby and I are tracking our expenses for the first time this month. Nothing like a spring resoultion, right? Anyway, I’m looking forward to the first “money date” that Hubby and I have, where we can actually see where our money is going!
My husband and I attended a class a few months ago at our church about managing money. (It was not FPU, btw.) The teacher gave an analogy that resonated with us. He said most people want to be successful financially and that it’s like building a house. Your income is like the building materials that get delivered to the construction site every month. Most people have a vague idea of what they’d like to accomplish which is like a sketch of a house. You cannot build a house with a sketch! You have no idea where to put each piece, and it would be impossible to reach the desired result (a house). A budget is like a blueprint. You shouldn’t see it as constricting but as a map of where each dollar of your income is going in order to reach your desired result. That analogy was so helpful to us, and now we see budgeting as a freeing tool to help us reach our goal of financial peace.
Just thought I’d share. 🙂
Oh, I LOVE that analogy Laura. I’m stealing it! 😉
For some reason, I thought you might. 🙂
Great post, Dustin. After 29 years of marriage and 29 years of stress in the finance department we finally decided to start a real budget. I had toyed with it some years ago but found it cumbersome. We recently purchased YNAB software and I LOVE it! The word “budget” always sounded restricting to me but what I’ve realized now is that family budgeting brings freedom. Now we know exactly where our money is going and my wife and I communicate about money regularly so we’re on the same page and we can plan, for the most part, what our money needs to do each month. I’m only sorry it took me so long to figure this out. Thanks for your encouragement.
Thanks, Dave! I’m glad you decided to check out YNAB – we also love it and it’s awesome to hear how it’s positively impacted not only your money but your marriage. That’s what it’s all about!