Budget Why’s Your Money, Your Relationship, Part 3 Amanda Kirk, MS
Budget why’s. Like budget “wise”. Get it?
Okay, okay, let’s move on.
In the first post in this series (LINK TO FIRST ARTICLE), I hinted toward a question we can ask of our budgets and each other that will not only tell us how we are doing relationally but can actually help improve our relationships. I guess I don’t need to tell you the question since I so blatantly laid it out in the title. But just to be clear, the question is – why?
Ask yourself why you want to work on your finances. And why you want to improve your relationship. Better security for your future; less anxiety when the bills come in? Less yelling in your home? The chance to save up for that trip to Italy you’ve always dreamed of? To get back to those loving feelings you and your partner enjoyed in the early days of your relationship?
Let’s consider this hypothetical couple, Mack and Joanne, who want to improve their relationship along with their finances. Here are some steps they may follow:
- What’s our “why”?
First, Mack and Joanne spend some time considering, then articulating to each other their overarching “why”. This big “why” identifies their goals and desires as they determine their biggest reasons right now to put this emphasis on improving their relationship and their finances.
Mack wants to work on their budget so he feels less stressed about the bills and knows he has a plan to handle financial situations as they arise. Joanne wants to argue less with Mack about money and eventually have the financial freedom to pursue a career change.
- Make a list.
Next, they list all of their expenses, even down to the cups of coffee they each buy on their way into work each day.
- In order of importance.
Then, they place those expenses in order of priority – mortgage or rent, light bill, water bill, groceries, car payment, phone bill, and so on. Priority begins with meeting basic needs – paying for a girls’ weekend away or season tickets for your favorite sports team should not come before paying the rent, of course.
Once those basic expenses are addressed, they must decide the order of priority for the remainder of their expense list. This is done, again, by asking “why” – Why do I include this in my budget? Why is this important to me?
We often don’t think about why we spend money on certain things. We just…do. Answering the question “why” requires us to identify the value that thing has to us as we discussed in the second post (LINK TO 2nd ARTICLE). The items that hold more meaning to us will go higher on the priority list.
As a bonus, simply by asking the question intentionally, Mack and Joanne may be able to eliminate some items because they cannot think of a good reason to continue paying for it!
- Oops and oh no.
Mack and Joanne have been courageous to get this far and, although the conversation was a little awkward and looking through their expenses has been tense at times, they feel relieved to be this far through the process. Their fears are confirmed, however, when they tally up the total cost of their monthly expenses subtracted from their take-home pay. There’s just not enough money left – now what?
- We made the list, now check it twice.
Now they go back over their budget, line by line, armed with the power of the same question they started with – Why? So they ask of each item on their expense list: why do we spend that amount on this item? What adjustments do we need to make? Are there any sacrifices we can make for a while to get closer to our bigger “why” goal and improve the bottom line?
During this exercise, they will be encouraged to think creatively about how they can decrease the amount they are spending on many of the items. In some cases, they may choose to eliminate it from their budget altogether, either just for this season while they focus on their larger goals or indefinitely!
For example, regarding groceries, Mack and Joanne recognize they like to eat out and often shop the grocery aisles without a plan. Perhaps they will consider identifying some simple meals they can plan for, cook at home, and limit their eating out to once per week, thus slashing their monthly grocery expense by as much as half. And so on.
For this part – and all – of the process, they will each have to keep their defensiveness at bay and swallow backbiting or judgmental comments regarding the other’s answers and suggestions. No eye-rolling or snappy comments allowed. But they can do it, because they regularly remind themselves of their own and each other’s “big why’s”. They know why this is important.
- Now what?
After working through several versions of their budget, making cuts and adjustments as needed, Mack and Joanne will be encouraged to revisit this same conversation as often as needed. Generally, couples will need to discuss on a monthly basis or as new expenses arise, but the process, stress, and time required tend to decrease over time as the couple becomes more united and their budget more solidified.
Now that they understand each other’s “why’s”, they can commit to working together to provide for each other in the ways most important to each, rather than trying to do a little bit of everything – or nothing. In essence, they are now working together for the good of each other’s financial and relational goals.
Uncovering the “why’s” of our budget can make us wise. Financially and relationally. And that’s a good foundation to build on. *
*This is not meant to be an exhaustive financial plan or prescriptive of every financial and relational situation. A therapist can help you and your partner improve your ability to work together, communicate effectively, define your “why’s”, and build a sense of safety between you. For additional resources on tackling financial issues together, financial experts such as Dave Ramsey can be an invaluable resource.