We all do it.
It can be a bit uncomfortable talking about, but let’s be grownups and discuss it.
Wait. I hope that wasn’t misleading. You didn’t think I was talking about anything else did you?
Oh man. I’m so sorry. This is embarrassing.
Nope, just good old fashioned household finances on the docket here today.
In recent years, it’s come to my attention that my husband and I manage our finances differently than most. When this topic has come up in our inner circles: family members, amongst my closest friends, even with our accountant, we’re always met with shock at the way we do things, as well as a lot of questions.
So I’ve decided to spill the beans on just how we count the beans!
Let me preface this post by saying: we are not wealthy nor are we experts in the matter. We are a middle-class, one income family, not operating on credit cards, making daily decisions and constant efforts to live well below our means. This is what works for us. It may not work for you. Also, our system was not born overnight. We’ve been together close to ten years but in the 7.5 years we’ve been married, we’ve really tapped into our personal guidelines & system.
When I told my husband I was thinking about writing a post on this subject we started discussing our finances. One of the things I asked him was when the last time we got into a fight or a heated debate about money. Neither of us could think of a time. I am not big on sweeping generalities and absolute statements, but I can wholeheartedly tell you: we don’t ever fight about finances.
Now this next part might throw you a bit: but we don’t fight about finances, because we discuss them daily. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Before Bob and I were together I was the girl that didn’t open her mail. I thought if I didn’t open my credit card statement, maybe it’d disappear. Or maybe it wasn’t true. Not anymore. There is no hiding here.
Sometimes the conversation is as simple as, “Hey, I’m going to gas up my car and get groceries today.” Sometimes it’s bigger conversations like, “I think we should and pay the mortgage early because we have a lot of bills on this next paycheck.” But at some level, we chat with one another about money every day. And here’s why: we run our checking account very low. We intentionally only keep enough money in our checking account to cover the necessities until the next pay day. Our checking account houses enough money for all the bills in a pay cycle, as well as groceries, gas, diapers, etc., with very little extra wiggle room. If you saw our checking account statement a couple days before the end of a pay cycle, you’d think we were broke.
Let me back up and start at the beginning. Hopefully this will all make a bit more sense to you.
The Nitty Gritty:
We’re currently a one-income household, but even when I worked, we’ve always operated this way. When Bob gets paid we pay the bills and put enough into checking to cover the other items I discussed as being ‘necessities’. Then all the rest goes into savings. You heard me right: ALL of it.
We have about 7 or 8 savings accounts we divide into every payday. One is affectionately called our “Oh Shit” fund. This is for if the ‘you-know-what’ hits the fan. The idea is we would have enough to cover an emergency situation, or roughly 6 months of living expenses, should we ever need it. We don’t use it, dip into it, or borrow against it. It is for emergencies only, and thank God, we’ve never needed it. The other accounts are Vacation, Home Improvements, Car, Retirement, Health Savings Account, Date Night/Sitter Fund, Insurance, etc. We’re constantly creating new accounts or renaming an account as we reach our goals.
Have you ever heard the saying that “goals that aren’t written down are just dreams?” That’s the principal we’re applying here. By naming our savings accounts what the money is earmarked for, it helps us stay focused on why we’re saving.
So on the subject of savings accounts –this is a very vital aspect of our finances. We have separate banks for our checking account and a second credit union which houses our savings accounts. This intentionally makes it slightly more difficult to access our money. If I’m not willing to drive an extra five minutes the opposite direction in town to withdraw money from a savings account, I probably don’t need the money after all. It’s the same principle as why you’re supposed to put a handful of pretzels in a dish to snack on, rather than mindlessly snacking from the bag. It’s very easy to recklessly overindulge or take a little too much when you have access to everything.
The Fine Print:
We have a lot of little guidelines for how we operate financially that make life and marriage good too. For starters, we discuss any purchases over $50. We have text alerts for when our checking account reaches $75 or for purchases over a certain dollar amount (which is super helpful when you’re running a bare minimum checking account). We also do a lot of little things out of respect to the other; as much as I’d love to be, I’m no longer a recreational shopper. When I do shop it’s for very specific need or want: a new pair of jeans, a birthday gift for my mom, a lamp for the living room. We often forgo the Starbucks coffee for a homebrewed pot. And we generally opt for picnics, strolls around the Farmers’ Market, or playground time, verses other family outings that cost money and quickly add up.
It might sound like we’re strict and we don’t allow ourselves any leeway, and that’s partly true. I mean, what good are rules if they’re never followed? But somewhere in the last decade we both just realized that our goals for the future are big, and it’s worth it to us to turn down things in the present to reach those goals. For us, saying no to things now means we’re saying yes to things later.
I’m sure there are some women who look at me and think I have no freedoms and I’m under my husband’s thumb financially speaking; but that’s not it at all. It’s entirely the opposite. I love and care about him so much. I know how hard he works to provide for me and our girls. Simply put, I respect him too much to spend hastily without being on the same page as him. And he operates the same way out of respect towards me.
Here’s the thing about finances in a marriage: we’re rarely agreeing or disagreeing about money itself. We’re discussing whether our hopes for the future are the same as our spouse’s. Sometimes we’re even asking our spouse to prioritize our own desires over their own. What we’re really doing is having intentional conversations about whether our goals are aligned and if we’re trying to achieve the same things in life.