I’ve been telling our family budget story from my point of view.
After all, I’m the one in charge of how we spend our money.
I am Captain of the Spreadsheets, Keeper of the Cash, and Hoarder of the Receipts.
Now I’m turning the spotlight on my silent partner – my husband, Stewart.
I thought it might be useful for you to learn what it’s like to be the non-controlling half of this duo.
Stewart promised me that he’d answer these questions frankly, ignoring the fact that his wife is asking them.
What you read below is only edited for typos. (Come on. I can’t relax that much.)
Why did you agree to go on a budget?
I’ve never been able to follow a budget.
I got out of college with a decent education, and a lot of credit card debt, and I didn’t even reconcile my bank account once until I got my first serious job.
So I got a copy of Quicken, started reconciling my account every month – best thing I ever did.
When we got married, I got Kim to use Quicken, but still no budget.
We had good jobs, more money than we needed, lots of travel, a house, a boat, new cars, etc.
Then two kids came along, we moved where the schools are top notch, but the cost of living is high – real high.
So we’re living the good life, but our expenses exceed our income and savings is going down, and this is what forced us to consider a budget.
What did you expect it would be like when the project first got started?
I thought it was my activities that were causing the problem.
I can drop a hundred bucks at Home Depot every time I go.
Then there’s West Marine, the hardware store for boats. I’d spend $100 every time I go to the boat.
When I play golf with my pals, it takes $100 if we play the nineteenth hole.
So I thought my wife was going to say I had to scale back. But that’s not it. It is not just me, it’s the way the entire family spends money.
What were some surprises you learned when you took a good hard look at the finances?
I was spending too much on myself, but so was Kim.
She went to out with her friends whenever she wanted and spent lots of money as well.
Only I never saw this, because she takes care of the bank accounts.
Then, the categories.
How do you spend 4 grand a year on kid’s sports? Easy. A hundred a month for gifts? No problemo.
If you use Quicken, sort by category, by year, and get a running average over the last couple of years, it will make you sick.
What is one thing you did not want to sacrifice when cutting expenses down?
The boat – it’s like an old friend.
We’ve had so many good times on the boat, trips to Catalina Island, Redondo Beach Pier. Sailing with pods of dolphins.
We got engaged on the boat.
It was always a good time, and our friends loved it as well. But the boat was a big old sailboat that required lots of love and money.
In the end, it was costing more than a really nice new car, and it had to go. Sob.
What were some major disagreements about the budget changes and how did you have to compromise in order to come to an agreement?
Kim created the budget in the first place, then I had to go in and change the amounts.
Things that are important to her aren’t always important to me.
It was really tough, but you really have to work to make the budget work.
How do you feel about your wife being in control of the money?
She isn’t in control of the money. We both are. I manage the big stuff, stocks, 403(b), etc., and I’m doing a pretty good job.
She manages the bank accounts and the liquid money and she works hard at it.
It is hard to manage money, but we’re doing the best we can.
How do you negotiate it when an unexpected expense comes up?
There isn’t a negotiation (yet). You either have the money in an emergency fund, or you don’t.
And if you don’t, you better start saving. And if you do, it feels really good.
If you think putting an unexpected expense on plastic is okay, you are making your credit card company very, very happy.
What has it been like for you when you tell friends and coworkers that you’re on a budget?
I never tell them. My money is none of their business.
How have you adjusted to using cash instead of your debit or credit cards?
I’m not saying they are crooks, just really good businessmen.
Think about it – what a great business model. Don’t use your money, even though you have it. Use plastic instead.
And we’ll make money off of you as well as the merchant, on every transaction! And you actually feel good when you buy something!
I work at a university. Sometimes, I go to lunch with my students. They will spend $10-15 on a meal!
Come on, man – ten bucks for a burger, fries, and an energy drink?
They do it every day and it doesn’t bother them because they’re paying with plastic. But not me, not anymore.
Kim makes me a lunch every day, and I eat it. I’ll save my ten dollar bill for the driving range.
Is there anything else you want to share?
Trying to use cash isn’t for everyone. Neither is a budget.
I lived 53 years, quite happily, the old way. But you know what? I blew a lot of money in the past. I mean a lot.
If I could do it all over again, would I buy the boat? Sure, but only if it was in the budget.
Next on American Family Budget: Three-Month Checkup – they say it takes three months to get it right. Are we getting any of it right?
Kim Tracy Prince is a Los Angeles-based writer who has a husband, two little boys, and a slightly unhealthy obsession with spreadsheets.