You have discovered budgeting. You're excited; a million possibilities race through your mind. You finally have a way out of the credit cycle! A whole new world awaits. You are elated; everything seems brighter.
Until you spy on several unexpected transactions, all your hard work is undone. So you investigate, only to find that your significant other is the source of this undoing.
Your queries on the subject are met with side glances and rolling eyes.
So what do you do?
This is an all too common hiccup on the journey to getting your money in order. It can be challenging but not impossible. So here are tips to help you get on the same path and work in harmony to build that stress-free money life you've always dreamed of.
1. Figure out what they care about
Budgeting can have many positive and negative connotations depending on money history, childhood experiences and where they are currently in their life. What might motivate you may not motivate them.
You know that a budget is a superpower. You know that it will lead to freedom. However, that same message may land differently in someone else's ears. Reassure them that you will not slash all joy out of life and live off beans and rice for the next decade. That's not what budgeting is about.
Budgeting is about channelling your money in a direction that makes life better. Help your partner to understand this by first understanding them.
It is essential to figure out what is important to them before giving each euro a job in the budget.
You might want to crush those loans once and for all. They might enjoy a holiday, a hobby, tools, clothes, a garden revamp, better car. Whatever it is, understanding what they value. Try to weave their primary wants into the budget. It will help them feel part of the process and bring them on board by giving them a win.
This may mean that your progress is slower than you might like, but the trade-off is having your partner come along with you on the journey and significantly increase your chance of success. Rather than being at loggerheads, frustration sinks in, and nothing gets done.
Your motivation is not their motivation. Find what's important to them, not you.
2. Have regular money dates
Communication is vital regarding a couple's or family's budget. One person may be responsible for its day-to-day running but having all parties align is the only way it can truly succeed.
Get into a rhythm where you have regular times set aside to talk. How often this happens depends on life and need. For example, laying out the week ahead every Sunday might be most appropriate in the early days. Maybe the last Sunday of the month to review the month gone by and plan the month. However, often, it is up to you, but make it regular and consistent.
For this money date, cook a meal you like or grab a takeaway coffee and walk whatever feels right. For these chats, don't make it about the money; money is not an end in itself. Instead, money is to help you build a life you enjoy and relieve stress.
Because of this, I urge you to make it about aspirations and dreams. Talk about things that make you happy now and in the future. Then, as the conversation flows, pick something that you both agree on, like that sun holiday, home extension, or something extraordinary that you can both get excited about. I'm talking truly fired up about it.
It needs to be something that is not about spending less; ironically, it often requires spending more. However, you can agree that this 'something more' is a joint thing that will improve both lives. Focusing on a common goal like this is fun, but if it puts you on the same page financially, you will be unstoppable.
Another great thing about a stretch (yet achievable) goal like this is that both parties are more likely to stick to it, as one will not want to let the other down. And that, my dear, is worth the slow and steady process.
Tracking the progress, evolving the project and figuring out ways to make it happen on each subsequent money date will make that date an event to look forward to.
3. Create a fun money category for each of you.
Fun money is integral to keeping a budget and partner on track. It is all well and good paying down debt, but there needs to be balanced. Life is less fun if there is wiggle room to reward discipline and progress.
Set aside a predetermined amount for each pay period for you and a different amount for your partner. This money is just as important as the money used to pay down debt. We are all human, and long-term hard savings with no release is not sustainable. There needs to be a bit of frivolity built in.
I often refer to Sigmund Freud's theory of the Id. We need balance to be able to play the long game of money. It is a theory that I talk more about in the book Mindful Money, more money, more freedom, more happiness. With fun money, we consistently reward ourselves for a job well done. This will reduce the likeliness of a significant backlash that often ends up blowing an even more giant hole in our finances, setting us back further than before.
The rules for fun money are simple. It is for the owner to spend as they please with no accountability. The only limits are that it must be spent on themselves for fun and that the amount should be within the limit allowed.
4. Remove friction
Not everyone wants to be neck-deep in money conversations every day. Some of us love it, but many more want as little to do with it as possible. Figure out how involved they want to be and respect that level. Just like your motivation will be different from their motivations. Their level of day-to-day involvement will be different too.
If a partner has been reluctant to get on board with a budget, they may be just as unwilling to pour themselves over spreadsheets and spend hours optimising direct debits.
If this is the case, you must be comfortable doing this leg work. Chances are that once you find your love of budgeting, as so many of us do. Many prefer( including yours truly) to be left to balance the books alone. However, if it is not your favourite pastime, taking on this role might be your concession for getting them to agree to come on board with the budget.
Find a balance that suits both and run with it. This balance can be anything from an equal 50-50 split of the budget planning to putting the fun money into a separate account each week/month for your partner, and you manage the rest or vice versa.
Make it easy for them to join in at their level so they will be more likely to stay engaged with the budget. Over time as they see the benefits, this level of engagement may grow and change. This will evolve naturally as time goes on. Be Patient.
5. Be willing to make changes and adjustments without judgement.
Budgets are living documents that evolve with your needs—being overly strict sets both up for failure and can lead to frugality and deprivation, which is not good for anyone.
If you find regular overspending in specific categories or if you can't make your current budget work, be prepared to go back to the drawing board. Look for cuts in other areas or changes you can make, so the budget is more livable for both of you.
Finding the right balance each month will take time. Some categories will need more than you thought, others less. Additionally, changing a mindset can take both sides' time, encouragement, patience and concessions. For example, a partner's fun money may need to be higher than yours initially, and that is ok, or vice versa. As a loan is paid off or a goal is achieved, correctly channelling this newly released money will take time.
Life, by its nature, is ever-changing, and your needs, partners' needs, and budgets need to change with it. Be open to this, as it will ensure that you reach the goals you value most, even if it is at a different pace or method than you had initially planned.
Getting a reluctant partner onboard with a budget will take time, patience and flexibility. Finding balance within that budget will also take time, patience and flexibility.
Keep non-judgemental lines of communication open at all times, involve them in a positive, aspirational way and let them slowly see the benefits of tracking and channelling your money can bring.
Try not to focus too much on the cash side of things. Instead, focus on the emotional, freeing and de-stressing aspects of being in control of your money. But if you persist and succeed, it will change your life trajectory forever!