3 Keys to Managing Family Finances Without Fighting

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The Key

Who wants to talk about money today?!  Anyone?  Anyone? (Cue crickets chirping).

Yeah, so talking about finances can be a huge downer.  It's one of the reasons why, for a long time, my preferred method of talking about money with Mike was to essentially stick my head in the sand.  It's such a common behavior that economists have a name for it: the ostrich effect.  While we were never dealing with any particularly risky financial situations, the day-to-day decisions of trying to agree on how to allocate a finite income into what seemed to be an infinite number of needs and wants was enough to make me crazy.  If we didn't talk about it, things would just sort themselves out eventually, right?

Not so much.  Handling finances is one of those things that will continue to pester you until you and your spouse or partner come to some system that works for both of you.  It's been said that couples tend to have variations of the same few arguments over and over throughout their marriage, and it comes as no surprise that arguments about money top the list.  

I recently read a statistic on Dave Ramsey's blog said 57% of divorced couples cited money fights as the primary reason they didn't get along.  And yet most of us still prefer to spend our time hedging the money conversation – pretending it's not an issue, putting out financial fires as they pop up, and arguing about it rather than finding a solution.  In the same article, the author asks how we would feel if we knew that 50% of our neighbors were being attacked by bears.  Would we do something about it?  Perhaps talk to our families about it, and come up with a plan of how to avoid a bear attack?  Last time I checked, there were no bears in my suburban 'hood, but I bet each and every one of us gets a bill or two in our mailbox.  Maybe it's time for a plan.

It took us over 10 years of marriage to finally get a system in place that takes into account each of personalities, but we finally have a solid method of handling our finances together.  Here's what we've found works for us.

1. Budget

We start each month with a fresh budget.  We use a spreadsheet on the computer, but experiment with different systems until you find one that works for you (There are online resources like Pear Budget and Mint.com.  Dave Ramsey, of course, has online tools.  And there's always the good, old-fashioned pen and paper).  We tally up our projected expenses in each category and estimate our income for the month.  The goal is a zero-based budget, where expenses – income = zero.  Every dollar has a name, whether it goes to eating out or saving up for a car.  

2. Budget Meetings

We set aside time to talk about the budget twice a month – once at the beginning of the month to set up the budget, and once mid-month to see if we need to make any adjustments.

Here's where you might get frustrated, as in the beginning these meetings can be synonymous with arguing.  It takes time to figure out a good, working budget.  It's hard to change spending habits and compromise.  By coming to the table over and over again and discussing finances, you get better at it.  Habits and perspectives will shift and you'll find yourselves working together.  Set aside a block of time when you're both able to focus fully on each other.  I find a glass of wine and agreeing to do something fun together when it's over works miracles on your outlook.

3. Spending Policy

We have a specific dollar amount where, if we want to buy something over that number, we agree to check in with the other person first.  It helps keep spending in check and it avoids any number of arguments that begin with, "You spent how much on what?!"

By committing to following those three things, we've experienced tremendous rewards in our marriage.  

  • Relief:  Knowing that you are on the same page and that you have a plan eliminates stress and worry.
  • Trust:  We know the other person isn't going to blow a significant chunk of money on a whim.
  • Confidence:  I'm not inclined to think about financial planning (see reference to my denial above).  Working on this stuff together has given me the confidence to feel secure that if anything ever happens to Mike, I know exactly what to do to keep myself financially sound.
  • Vision:  The ability to have calm, honest discussions about money has opened doors for us to talk about our plans for the future.  

The time and energy we've invested into finding a way to manage our finances together has been so worth it.  Now we have more energy to devote to our other big arguments, like whose job it is to wash stinky things!  Just kidding (mostly).

Do you have a system that works for you?  Or are you struggling with your inner ostrich?

 

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Kindness Repaid in a Peppermint Mocha

This post is part of my 29 Days of Giving Campaign.  You can see the rest of the posts in this series here.

Throat … is … so … sore.  It's pretty rare for me to get sick, and really hard for me to let go of the reins so I can rest.  But I'm following Dr. Mike's orders and calling it a night early.  

Today I Gave:  What I hope was helpful advice to some friends about budgeting, and specifically budgeting for Christmas.  Don't worry, it wasn't unsolicited advice.  They specifically asked me to meet with them and go over some things.  Mike and I are nowhere near having this stuff all figured out, but I feel like we've come a long way.  When someone asks, I'm more than happy to share.

Today I Received:  Two things stand out today.  First, the same friends who asked for my advice treated me to Starbucks.  Speaking of budgeting, Starbucks is often the downfall of my personal budget, so being on the receiving end of a freebie is always appreciated.  And now this evening Mike is taking over so I can rest.  No bedtime stories for this scratchy throat.  It's so nice to know that I have a partner that is always there to step in when I need extra help.  

And now it's time for bed. Doctor's orders.

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Peterson’s: Eating Well on a Budget

In the last few weeks I've been working on an editing program from Blurb that turns your blog into a book.  As part of the process I've been going through each and every post from day one of this blog.  It's been entertaining (embarrassing at times), and eye-opening as well.  Reading through all the posts I realized that certain places get mentioned over and over again.  One of those places is our favorite grown-up restaurant, Peterson's.

Peterson's is a locally owned and operated restaurant that specializes in steaks and seafood.  We paid our first visit there on my birthday two years ago.  It's no secret that I love to read about food, and that includes keeping up on Indianapolis restaurants.  Peterson's was consistently ranked among the best places in Indy for steak, and their pastry chef at the time was racking up his own accolades right and left.  I had high hopes for it, especially since it's right around the corner from our house.  I love Fishers and all, but it's not exactly known as a mecca for locally owned, unique restaurants.  It's more like a sea of chains around our part of town. 

So with high hopes and all, we went to Peterson's to celebrate my birthday.  And oh my.  We were impressed.  And full.  And happy.  And broke.  Peterson's is not cheap.  So we thereby proclaimed it our special occasion restaurant and dreamed of the next occasion that would bring us back to filet, au gratin potatoes, lobster bisque and dark chocolate cake.

On one visit, I vaguely remember signing up for their e-mail newsletter.  Every month or so I would get an e-mail from them, listing menu changes and upcoming events.  Around the first of the year, though, the newsletter changed ever so slightly.  I'm not sure if it has to do with the recession, or just a new direction for the restaurant, but they started offering specials via the newsletter. 

In the spring we were treated to a customer appreciation dinner that included half-off entrees and free dessert.  In the summer they offered a coupon for half-off an entree.  When your entrees are between $20-$40?  That's a big deal to us.  In that same newsletter, this little tidbit caught my eye: Peterson's was on twitter.  Of course I began following them right then and there. 

Peterson's is one of those small business who uses twitter superbly.  They tweet often, and they offer great information and deals to those who follow them.  I've been treated to a free jumbo lump crab cake appetizer (normally $13) for mentioning a secret word they put out on twitter.  Last night we opted to have dinner in the bar to take advantage of half-price cocktails and appetizers.

Peterson's also participated in the 92.3 WTTS Half-Price Radio Mall.  The Half-Price Radio Mall is another excellent way to find great deals on things that are local to Indy.  In this instance, we were able to purchase $50 gift certificates to Peterson's for $25.

So that brings us to last night.  My mom had offered to take the kids off our hands for an evening.  We never turn down an offer like that!  It seemed like a perfect evening to visit Peterson's.  Here's how it went down:

I checked twitter on our way to the restaurant and saw this tweet:

Petersons

When we see Patron and margarita in the same sentence?  We get very happy.

Instead of sitting in the dining room, we opt for the bar (which is a different atmosphere, but just as pleasant as the dining room). Instead of my normal glass of wine (which usually runs around $10) I opt for one of the half-price cocktails.  Mike does the same.  I normally get the lobster bisque to start off, which is $8.  This time I chose a crab cake from the half-price appetizer menu ($6.50).  Mike and I chose full-price entrees (they're just too good to pass up).  He got a double filet and his favorite au gratin potatoes ($49) and I chose the Scottish Organic Salmon Steak ($29).  I saved half of it to bring home, because I can't pass up the phenomenal dessert menu.  I ended my meal with caramel apple and walnut bread pudding with vanilla ice cream ($9).  It's big enough to share, but Mike doesn't care for bread pudding.  What a shame.  At some point during the meal we both snuck in another half price cocktail.  The grand total for the night, using our gift certificate and half-price deals? $95, including tip (Another touch I love? They always bring you two homemade truffles along with the bill.  I guess to sweeten the blow, I suppose).

I realize that $95 for a dinner out is by no means a cheap date.  It's not something we could afford to do every date night.  When I compare the meal I enjoyed last night to the countless sub-par meals that we've eaten at chain restaurants, though, the real value of the experience trumps the price.  A meal at a nicer chain restaurant that included appetizers, cocktails, entrees and dessert would easily cost us $50 or more.  And for what?  Mediocre meal made with processed ingredients, poor atmosphere, and money that goes to corporate headquarters.  I would easily forgo a few of those poor meals, eat better food at home, and save my  money for a night at Peterson's.  We'd spend more, yes, but we'd be guaranteed a meal of high quality food from a restaurant that strives to use local whenever possible.  We'd be guaranteed a pleasant and attentive atmosphere from a staff that is truly glad we're there.  And our money would stay here in the community, sending a message that we prefer and are willing to support local restaurants.

My main message here is that it is possible to be frugal and stick to a budget and yet still enjoy some of the nicer experiences out there.  If there's a restaurant you love, seek them out on-line.  Are they on twitter?  Do they have a newsletter or a facebook page?  Keep an eye out for special offers in your community that can make that special place just a bit more affordable.  Consider swapping a few visits to an unmemorable restaurant for some meals at home and put the money you save towards a really special evening out. 

If you have any similar experiences I'd love to hear them.  After all, you know how I love to read about a good meal!

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