Ah, the budget.
Either you love it, or you hate it.
Well, love may be a strong word. Most people tolerate it or hate it.
If you hate budgets, don’t feel bad. You aren’t alone. After you swipe your card at any major retailer now, they routinely ask, “Do you want your receipt?”
While I hold out hope that retailers are on a quest to be environmentally friendly, and while I also hope that they’re sure you’re tracking it through software at home, you and I both know that isn’t the truth.
People don’t need the receipt because most people don’t budget.
They don’t balance a checkbook.
They fly by the seat of their pants.
…and that’s okay.
I don’t think the average person NEEDS a budget. Sure, it’s nice to have…kind of like it’s nice to have a salad with your steak. But if the steak is saving money and the salad is finding a way to find more savings…please give me the steak first.
NOT Having a Budget Can Totally Suck
Here’s a cautionary tale of misery and horror: If you don’t have a budget or at least a method to track expenses, I’ll tell you what happened in my family: We fought. Fortunately, we never crossed paths with Chexsystems.
One Day At Joe’s House:
Cheryl came home with school clothing for the kids. I had a tight grip on the amount of money in the checking account and knew that we couldn’t afford it. Why were we wasting money on a bunch of new clothing when we could buy them as the kids needed them?
Apparently, at the time, the best way to solve this problem was to address it head-on, in a loud voice.
Her best response was to address me back… in a louder voice.
I can explain what happens next, but it wasn’t pretty. We were having “the money fight.”
Because we didn’t communicate BEFORE the shopping trip.
That’s When I Realized the Universal Truth of a Great Budget
Great budgets are about communication, not about writing numbers.
If you can’t…or you refuse to budget, the most important piece for you is to talk it out.
Budgets are about finding ways to save money toward goals, and in the case of a family; those are SHARED goals. It doesn’t matter if the goals are short or long term. If your life’s aspiration is to buy a new Batman video game, a budget that shows how much money you overspend on Magic the Gathering cards and Star Trek tee-shirts may help you prioritize better.
I’m not judging the goal. I’m a Batman lover. Promise.
…and if you’re planning on playing the video game alone, well your job is finished. You can examine your expenses and go. However, let’s say that you’re planning on budgeting with others.
Family Meeting To The Rescue!
I love the family budget meeting because it brings people together to talk about their money, and I’m a lover, not a fighter.
How Often Should I have the Family Meeting?
Weekly. I’ve read monthly, but let’s get real. The family that budgets together stays together.
What Do We Do In The Family Meeting?
You can go this one alone, without my help, but I’ll tell you, we’ve picked the lock on the family meeting.
Here’s the MUCH REFINED agenda at the Saul-Sehy house:
Review and pay bills together. All bills go in a little basket until the meeting. We open them and pass.
Why? I can’t tell you just how many mistakes or opportunities we’ve found just by having two sets of eyes on all of our pretty little bills.
Review financial assets together. We’ll open Zillow to go over our rental house and our home. We’ll throw open the 401k, SIMPLE and brokerage statements. We’ll talk just a little strategy.
Why? I love this part, and Cheryl doesn’t care. But she likes to know what’s happening because she’s going to outlive me by at least a decade. It’s in our genes.
Talk about Big Stuff coming up. Our current big stuff is a trip to Italy this summer and new chairs for our dining room….and the twins college bills. Would someone like those?
Why? Neither of us spends a ton of trivial money during the week if we’re focused on Italy and those chairs. We want that vay-kay really, really bad.
How Long Does It Take?
Our family meeting takes roughly 15 minutes. Sometimes, if we’re crazy, it’ll go 20.
What If You Miss One?
Get back on the horse the next week.
What If Joe’s Agenda Doesn’t Work For Me?
Dude, this isn’t patent pending or anything. Flex it to use however it works best. Just use your powers for good, okay?
Your turn: do you use a family budget meeting? Are you going to make it a ton better now that you read this incredibly inspirational piece that included a random Batman reference? Share below:
Our budget meetings include the kids too, at the end, in an overview type of capacity. Obviously, we as their parents have the last say, but including the kids in our meetings assure that they understand where our money is going and why we set limits on entertainment spending, etc. Plus, we’re hoping it’ll help them form the habit of doing their own budget meetings someday. Great post, Joe!
Kurt @ Money Counselor
My wife and I have annually what I’ve dubbed a “summit meeting.” Reviewing last year’s spending vs budget, then setting the new year’s budget is part of the agenda. Lots of adult beverage required. 🙂
Kurt, you know how to turn a budget summit into a PARTY! 🙂 I think I’m going to steal that idea from you….
Matt @ momanddadmoney
Love this Joe. We don’t have a strict month-to-month budget but we do have general goals that we track against and talk about regularly. I agree 100% that keeping an open discussion is much more important than making sure you stay within your budget to the penny. At this point we try to go over our spending every month, but honestly unless there’s anything that’s off track we don’t stress it too much. We talk often enough on an informal basis, especially when there are big decisions to be made, that our check-ins are pretty quick.
Hitting those big decisions is key. We like to review the bills together so that we can catch little things. It’s been a fun exercise.
I think the last time I balanced a checkbook was in 5th grade when we were learning with play money. These days I believe people need a budget or at least be truly aware of what they’re spending. Great post.
Ha! It’s a lost art, Michael.
Done by Forty
Great advice, Joe. We definitely have a regular monthly meeting with some ad-hoc talks thrown in, but I’ll give the weekly thing a try. I can see how the more regular communication will help.
I like the weekly meeting where we pay the bills together because we each see every bill. Otherwise, the informal thing works fine. Ours is pretty informal, but with an agenda that’s pretty tight.
We talk about money quite often while we’re paying off my wife’s student loan debt. Once that’s gone we’ll probably need to institute some sort of more official meeting or else Tori will probably lose interest. Right now she loves seeing the student loan debt die though!
I’ll bet she does! You’re at a really cool point.
I love the family meeting and look forward to paying bills together. That’s the “fun” part for me.
Free to Pursue
Could not agree more that discussing the family’s financial position is paramount to success, regardless of whether you have a budget or not. We have a monthly savings goal. We pay ourselves first and then communicate on a weekly basis about medium to larger purchases to ensure that we work within the money we have available. Using a credit card (ONLY if you consistently pay it off monthly) and using mint.com is a great way to know where you’re at and what you are spending your hard earned dollars on. As the saying goes: “What gets measured [by everyone who can influence the outcome] gets done!”
Great saying. That weekly communication about big expenses is huge. Once everyone knows the big priorities, everyone can focus on them.
We definitely talk about this as a family, 10-year-old included, every week when the paycheck comes in. We have an end goal and it helps us to stay motivated to get there. Great article!