How can I make a budget we can BOTH stick to?
August 21, 2010 10:27 PM   Subscribe

Our household income has been cut in half in the last six months and although we theoretically have enough money to get buy, we keep running out. We're really bad at this. Help? (details inside)

I had to leave my job at the end of last year due to health problems, so my husband and I have been living on one income since then. At first it went ok, but we had some savings and tax refunds and various other bits of money that picked up extra expenses. Although we have reduced our bills and spending, my husband and I really like spending money and it's been a struggle to deny ourselves things that we want when we really, really want them.

The upshot is that we've used up all our savings and currently have $1.50 in the bank to last us the next week. We're living paycheck to paycheck and I mean, really barely making that. Given that my health has not improved as much as I hoped it would with some time off and that I haven't had any success with getting any disability, our financial situation is going to stay this way for a while. I'm desperately trying to figure out ways to add to our income, but we'll see.

So we really need to get better at this thing called "budgeting." I handle the money, but I've never had to watch it this closely. I've heard about online sites like Mint that are supposed to help immensely with this, but welcome specific recommendations or warnings. I need a way to keep track of not only what I'm spending, but what I'm going to need to spend on various things in the next few weeks and then be able to see how much is left over (if any, sigh.) I prefer free solutions, but if there's better software out there for what I need and it costs, let me know that too.

The other issue I have besides being better organized is getting my husband to see eye to eye on the need for budgeting. He has generally been good about letting me handle the money and checking with me before making big purchases. But the idea of having to cut back on things and make sacrifices isn't really getting through to him. As an example, he refuses to stop going to Starbucks every morning, even though he only gets regular coffee and we can make that at home. He is ritual oriented and a little Obsessive Compulsive and Does Not Like Change or disruption to his routine. I understand that, but am getting increasingly frustrated by his unwillingness to even consider various budget restraints. In fact, he hates the whole idea of having a budget.

I'm afraid that regardless of how much work I do with making a budget, I'm going to have a hard time getting him on board with it. We're to the point where I don't think we can make any more cuts without us feeling the pain and I don't know how to get him willing to share in the sacrifices and yet do it in a way that is fair to both of us. But I can't live with things in such a dangerous state and he doesn't seem to think it's a big deal that we have zero money.

Any suggestions? Unfortunately, "get him to read such-and-such book" is not a good solution because that's the absolute worst thing I could try to make him do (from experience.) I'm sorry if this post is a bit long and rambling, but this is just such a concern for me right now.
posted by threeturtles to Work & Money (36 answers total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
He needs to sit with you while you do the budget. Either that or each of you gets a certain amount of money to spend and when it's gone, it's gone. He can choose to spend it at Starbucks or he can save it and put it on something else he likes, but he has to understand that there is a finite amount of it.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:35 PM on August 21, 2010 [6 favorites]

Unfortunately you are going to have to make some hard choices and cut back.

First things first. You have to pay rent/mortgage and utilities. Then you have to pay car payments/insurance. You have to buy groceries. These are your fixed costs. These can not be skipped, no matter how many bill collectors call.

The rest sort of falls into place. You cannot buy things you "want". You can only buy things you need.

As for getting your husband to go along? Print out a bank statement saying "$1.50". That's reality, that's where you are. Rituals will have to be changed.
posted by sanka at 10:36 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Can you write at all? Maybe writing for a content mill such a Textbroker or Demand Studios would help a bit. It's not difficult to make an extra hundred dollars a week if you are good at internet research and can type reasonably fast. I would recommend starting with Textbroker - love them!

My husband and I have used the "envelope method" of budgeting with some success. You withdraw the money you need in cash, place it in the appropriately-marked envelope, and when it's gone, it's gone. It's kind of like a game, but it has worked for us.
posted by Ostara at 10:41 PM on August 21, 2010 [7 favorites]

In fact, he hates the whole idea of having a budget.

Not to be mean, but this is a problem. Yes, we all hate the idea of not being able to buy what we'd like, when we like, but we have to face it.

After allotting money to each monthly expense, do you have any left over? You could divide that between yourselves and say "okay, this is my monthly "fun" allowance" and you'll have to decide how you'll spend that. If he wants to blow it on Starbucks coffee, then so be it, but he can't spend on any other luxuries.

He is ritual oriented

Now is the best time to create new, more budget-friendly, rituals. I'm in college and have had to budget all through undergrad. I also come from a less than wealthy family, so budgeting is something I've had to deal with my whole life. One thing you learn quickly as a kid who can't have every pretty thing you'd like to have is to compromise and use your imagination. There are ways of thinking about simple or mundane things that makes them seem more special. Even nowadays, when I feel a little sad that the things I have are a bit too basic for my tastes, I get out some scissors and glue and ribbons and lace and have at it. Sometimes things just need a little more frill to seem special, haha.

It seems like he's more interested in the ritual of drinking coffee in a nice cafe setting, rather than the coffee itself. Is there someway you could make coffee at home seem more interesting? I used to buy flavored creamers or coffees to use at home and made a point to make my drinking coffee time an "experience". As in get "yummy coffee and sit down in comfy chair in quiet room with good book or planner. Enjoy taste of my coffee with it's flavored creamer". The point is to make the activity more than just boil water, add instant coffee. The quality of any experience, anyway, is all in your head. It all depends on how you view it.

If you can, find free alternatives to fun, but costly things you used to do. If you liked renting movies or buying books, use your local library instead. We use our library to pick up several movies and series each week. Because of this, we've never felt the need to go to a movie theatre, buy a book from the bookstore (unless we reallllllly like that book) or even subscribe to cable (we don't even have a tv). If you like to eat out, try planning special meals you can cook at home and cook them together. If you feel bored with your clothes, see if you can't use trimmings or something to make them "new". Also, thrift stores often carry brand new/really good condition items for very cheap. You just have to dig.

This is getting long, so I'll stop here. But you do need to talk to him as plainly as possible and make him see that your current situation is dangerous. I think he may not want to face the reality, because it seems so mundane. To him, not having money means not having the little things that make his everyday life enjoyable and this is kind of threatening. So, you have to make him see that this is not the case. Yes, he may have to give up specific pleasures, but show him that they are alternatives that are pretty good, if not as good as.
posted by joyeuxamelie at 10:53 PM on August 21, 2010 [5 favorites]

Seconding the envelope method that Ostara mentions.

As for how to budget, this can be really simple, but the first thing you need is data on where your money already goes. Assuming you have at least some of that (bills from last year, receipts), make a simple spreadsheet with a set of three columns for each month.

* Show income in the plus column.
* Put the amount of the mortgage/rent and each bill, rounded up, in the budget column. (If you have seasonal fluctuating bills, make sure you adjust the amounts per month.) Add specific categories for other necessary spending -- this means groceries, vital toiletries, gas/parking/trainfare for his job and any other necessary travel, and hopefully at least a modest amount for savings. And then add envelope money for each of you. It might be wise to add an envelope for minor unexpected household expenses, too.
*Put the actual amounts as you pay them in the minus column.

In case it's not obvious, the most important part is that the number given by your bank as a balance is utterly irrelevant. The money you have is the amounts in those envelopes, everything else is promised out. PERIOD. And cut up your credit cards.

Savings plus extra gets withdrawn after payday and goes into a separate emergency savings account. Doesn't matter if it's pennies or dollars, transfer it. Start with zero every month, which forces you two to operate with a highly structured amount of money that minimizes exceptions.

We have an account set up in ING just for extra money, because while it's linked to the bank accounts, it takes a couple of days for money to transfer, but it's out of sight and mind.
posted by desuetude at 11:26 PM on August 21, 2010

Response by poster: As for getting your husband to go along? Print out a bank statement saying "$1.50". That's reality, that's where you are. Rituals will have to be changed.

Yeah. He knows that. It just doesn't bother him. I know he gets his attitude from his parents, and he grew up poor, but his parents do things like go out and buy a brand new truck for no good reason on a whim. He says he grew up poor and is used to being broke. It makes me feel ill, but he just honestly isn't bothered. Which on the one hand is nice because he's at least not angry about it and tries to reassure me that things will be alright, but is really frustrating when I try to change the way we live.

After allotting money to each monthly expense, do you have any left over? You could divide that between yourselves and say "okay, this is my monthly "fun" allowance" and you'll have to decide how you'll spend that. If he wants to blow it on Starbucks coffee, then so be it, but he can't spend on any other luxuries.

I suggested that exactly a couple of months ago. And I think that may be where we end up finally, if I ever make this work. But he was very resistant and negative to the idea. I'm just at a point of not knowing how to bring him around without it turning into a big fight. And I want to avoid making this about finger pointing and emotions. Argh.
posted by threeturtles at 11:56 PM on August 21, 2010

I have quite a few friends who swear by the Zero Balance Budget. I don't live paycheck to paycheck, but I actually tried it (for a couple of years, on a military income), and I actually had a lot more money at the end of the month than I had originally predicted.

My comment on that post:

I’ve been doing a “Zero Balance” budget for about 18 months now, with a twist:
I get paid every two weeks, and I have found it easier to budget by breaking it down by pay period. For the purpose of this example, let’s say I make net $2000 every two weeks, and I’ll use the first pay period as an example.
1. Always pay yourself (savings account) first. I try to save $500 every two weeks. So $2000-$500= $1500
2. Divide mortgage by 2. If $650/2=$325, then $1500-$325=$1175.
3. Divide your recurring bills for the month into similar amounts (1.Cable+ CellPhones+ Insurance = about $300, 2.Water+ Electricity+ Insurance = about $300). Pick one that you’ll pay during each given pay period (in this case, we’ll pay 1. at the beginning of the month, and 2. at the middle of the month). So now, we’re at $1175-300=$875
4. Now, I get paid on the 1st and the 15th. So my $875 needs to cover me from the 1st until the 14th. So, $875/14=$62.50, so I have $62.50 allowed to spend for every single day until the next pay period (this is for groceries, gas, etc…).
5. If I go “over” on any given day, then I just re-compute based on the balance I have left. For example, if I spend $100 on Groceries and gas on the 1st, then I just re-calculate for the other 13 days ($875-$100=$775/13= $59.61 a day).
Screwing up at the beginning (going over), isn’t that painful, since the overage is spread out over a (relatively) long period of time. (I very rarely get an “overage”, it’s hard to spend $60 a day on just daily expenses) Towards the end, you’ll notice that the times you could only really spend maybe $40 or less, will boost your daily “allowance” significantly. Usually, by the end of the pay period (on Day 14), I’ll have like a $200 “allowance” for the day. On the 15th, I transfer over (to savings) whatever I had left from the beginning-of-the-month paycheck.
When you reach $5000 or so, transfer that money to a CD or investment.
Using my plan, I have completely paid off all my credit cards and car payments, and am now financially independent.
Try it for one month. It WORKS.
posted by Master Gunner at 12:51 AM on August 22, 2010 [137 favorites]

Based on your follow up it seems this is you freaked out by this situation and he isn't. You'll have to sit him down and explain that to him, the coffee will fall into place once he recognises how upset and scared you are.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:55 AM on August 22, 2010

Best answer: Honestly, divided expenses is just a dry run for divorce. Certainly not a team building exercise.

The good news is that if you two are truly bad at managing money, the world will figure this out and deny you credit; a wake up call will be issued. Could be a interest rate spike, could be a sherriff delivering court papers. The bad news is that credit is fundamental to American working poor. Cell phone rates for people with bad credit are brutal, and financing a car or appliance repair is gonna be tough. So I worry about the advice to cut up credit cards. I understand they can be high rate, and can finance frivolous purchases, but you don't get financing at Sear's anymore. You get a Sear's credit card.

One piece of advice; build a budgeting ritual. Every month I review everything. Bank accounts, spending, investments, debts, everything. I'm a single guy with savings and positive cash flow, so once a month is fine. Your situation is more precarious, and should be done perhaps once a week. Doing this weekly also reinforces the ritual better than once a month. Find a time that's good for the both of you, and review the weekly budget. Try to find something rewarding to completing the ritual, like dinner or a watching a TV show you both like, or a movie from the local library (I'm sure you can find something relevant or better than my lame suggestions).

The first time you do this will be hard, so come prepared. Pull up old bank statements and figure out what your expenses are before the ritual. Cash transactions and ATM withdrawls will make this harder, but you should be able set up the envelope system described by others here. Make a calendar with due dates for your various monthly bills. Come up with a financial goal, like saving up 1 month's worth of expenses, and figure out what you'll sacrifice to make that happen, and put one or two suggestions in your pocket for a cut on his end.

When the budget review starts, lay out how much you have right now, and present all the bills from the calendar due between now and next paycheck, and how much you'll have in income. Hopefully these two balance. Then present your savings goal in an upbeat manner, and ask for his opinion. Whatever it is, say you're thinking about cutting something you like from the budget and ask if he'd like to contribute to the goal as well. Don't make this an ordeal or emotional fight; the goal here is to keep communication lines open and build good habits / rituals. No pressure, let him take a week to give it some thought, and the two of you will talk about it next week. Then go do whatever fun thing you want to tie to the ritual.

Next week, you repeat the process. Lay out where you stand, what's due between now and next paycheck (or longer if it's less than a week away). Mention your goal again ask if he supports it still / yet. If he claims he can't come up with anything, put out one of those ideas you came up with while planning this out. If you've successfully cut the expense you suggested you'd cut to help make, you could mention it, or hide it somewhere if you think he'd just spend it.

But man, what a hurtful act that would be for him to go out and spend money you spent all week saving!

I really don't know what else to say. You're not in a great position to just divorce people who make you feel bad inside when they're footing your bills. It'll take leadership, sacrifice and self control to execute this plan. If everything goes for the best, you'll have weekly budget rituals, eventually meet your goal and set a new one.
posted by pwnguin at 1:04 AM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do you know any Asian immigrants? Not being facetious...if you have any Asian friends/co-workers, they are experts at living frugally. And yes I know other people can be, too, but you're in a hurry here. Find someone who you know to be frugal or cheap and ask them to sit down with you and share their tips.

I am Asian. Here are my tips. However, I have never lived paycheck to paycheck. But I have ideas on how to turn your perspectives around.

First, check your bank balances each morning and send an email or text to you and your husband (and anyone else who spends your money). Hopefully this drills in how little you have. Maybe even post it each day on the refrigerator.

Do you know how to use Excel? Create a simple table with a budget - lines for your current balance, total your essential fixed expenses for the week/month to give you a big picture view of what's coming up.

You did not mention what type of stuff you and your husband like to spend money on. What was it?

Whatever it is, cut it out starting with whatever you need least. Nobody needs to watch a movie at night and eat fattening butter popcorn at the same time. You also don't need cable TV - you can watch most things with just an Internet connection now. I would keep the Internet over TV because you can also use it to research things like jobs and health care issues.

This may be too drastic for you guys, but perhaps stop using credit cards. Put only cash in your wallets for each day and budget an amount just for gas, groceries, the essentials. When you run out of cash, you cannot buy more stuff. Don't cancel your credit cards...just keep them out of your wallets.

What other "fancy" things do you have in your life - Manicure/pedicures? Designer clothes at retail prices? There are cheaper alternatives for almost all of the things you were previously buying. Buy clothes on ebay if you need them. Do your own manicures and gardening. Stop eating out - cook instead. Check the grocery store circulars each week and stock up on the "loss leaders" - big sale items.

You may want to start selling things you don't frequently use. could be fun since it has a nice color scheme and pie charts and bar graphs, but it is not going to change your spending habits. Also, you have to manually tag the type of purchases you make with your credit card. If using credit cards was part of the problem, Mint may even hamper your budgeting goals since Mint cannot track cash purchases unless you input them all manually. Mint also cannot access MANY financial institutions - only the major ones. So if you have a bunch of retirement accounts, credit union accounts, smaller regional banks, Mint cannot help you track them.

Unfortunately if your husband and you are both on the credit cards, loans, etc., your fate is tied to his willingness to change. But even worse, you don't have a job, so you have to rely on his income. There must be some reason your husband does not care that you are broke. Is it because he knows you would qualify for government assistance and that you already own your home outright or would have a place to live (maybe with relatives)?
posted by KimikoPi at 1:11 AM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are different cultures of money--you described your husbands' family's culture above, and here on MeFi you are a part of another culture. It's hard for you to accept your husband's culture, where being broke is a comfortable feeling and money is not something to be explicitly planned. Since your own culture is the same as the majority culture here at MeFi, most posters here agree that your husband's attitude is the problem and that he needs to be shown this or taught that. You can do this, and it will be a long and painful process to purge your husband of his native culture and bring him into the middle class. I suggest that instead you compromise and learn to value his culture as well, incorporating the best of both of your values into your new family culture of money.
posted by msittig at 3:19 AM on August 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The bit about how 'in theory you have enough to just get by"? Working out why the theory is different from reality is useful. When I switched from working part-time to full-time and came out with hardly any more money at the end of the month (even though in theory I should have been able to save more), I decided to find out what had happened.

Tracking my finances over the next month was fascinating and frightening. In particular, I could not believe how much I was spending on food between groceries, snacks and coffees, buying my lunch on work days and going out to eat. It was well beyond what I thought - and I really thought I had a good idea of what I was spending. I immediately started to work on cutting that down, and went through all the other budget categories to see where I could either cut down, or get a better deal on the same thing. But food really is a category where it is easy to spend a lot, but also quite easy to reduce.

I used the Pear Budget spreadsheet (free, there's a paid online service as well, he's a metafilter user too). First I used it just to track what was happening, and then set up a budget in it. I also added supplementary worksheets for some other things I wanted to track. I would enter spending as it happened, as well as spending that I was anticipating for the month, so I could see how much money I 'really' had left after covering all the bills.

I used to hate the idea of a budget because I didn't like the idea of restrictions. But now I see it as freedom because I know how much I can spend on 'whatever', and I know I am covering my priorities. However, my boyfriend still sees budgets as a restriction, rather than freedom and I haven't found a way to change his mind.
posted by AnnaRat at 4:06 AM on August 22, 2010 [6 favorites]

You've gotten some good advice. I'd like to expand on something AnnaRat mentions briefly at the end of her answer.

I strongly believe that part of living within your means is a mindset. The mindset is not popularly held, but it works. As an example, look at the words you use in your post:
- struggle to deny ourselves
- make sacrifices
- feeling the pain
- share in the sacrifices

It is a choice to see living within your means as a painful sacrifice. In addition to other things, you can work toward seeing it as a fruitful and meaningful way to do something for yourselves.
- Reframe your thoughts to see this as rewarding yourself with the gift of not staying up late at night worrying about only having $1.50.
- Get a little aggravated at marketing and a culture that insists your life isn't complete without the latest consumer/consumable goods.
- Make it a game to see if you can tune out all those messages so you can really win, at your game of financial security.
- Identify the real joys of living a simpler life.
posted by Houstonian at 4:59 AM on August 22, 2010 [15 favorites]

Others have covered the budgeting angle. Chiming in to ask if you expect your disability to last at least a year. If so, then it's worth another try at getting Social Security Disability (if that's what you've been aiming for). There is an entire section at the But You Don't Look Sick! forums (geared toward people with invisible llnesses), to guide people on getting disability. Sometimes you have to suck it up and get a lawyer but that step is usually worth every penny.

If you can get disability you'll still be on a tight leash - disability doesn't pay a lot - but it might give your family a bit more breathing room, as well as making it clear to your husband that you contribute and this is your money too.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:50 AM on August 22, 2010

Frugal living can be a source of pride, not discontent. It certainly is for us. If you treat it like a game -- "how little can I spend and still have a great life" -- "how can I detach my personal happiness and life fulfillment from spending money" -- you may find that treating the bank account as a HI SCORE carries benefits on many levels.

So: sit your partner down, explain how you feel, create a budget, and stop treating "spending money" as a reward for good behaviour and instead as a sign that you may have goofed somewhere in your frugality game.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:55 AM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

There's growing up poor where you simply don't earn much money, and there's growing up poor where you spend whatever comes in.

I come from a culture where the men traditionally brought home their wages in cash and received pocket money by their wives. Take away his plastic and give him a weekly allowance. Do the same for yourself, if that's necessary to get him on board. His challenge (and new ritual) is to have something left burning his pockets for the weekend.
posted by holgate at 7:08 AM on August 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Houstonian hit the nail on the head. When I was unemployed on two separate occasions in the last two years, that was it. I have no husband to keep paying the bills. So I really had to stretch my savings out as long as I possibly could, not knowing when I'd finally get a job again.

It's easy, when you make enough money, to get into a mindset where having fun means spending money and getting new stuff. But it doesn't have to be that way. Cutting back on your spending doesn't have to mean major sacrifices and hardship. It just means using your brain to find new, equally valid ways of having a good time.

I'm kind of a foodie, and I used to get takeout all the time (living in New York City it's way too easy to do that), but when I had no job I really got into learning how to make delicious, healthy meals for a low price. Rather than feeling like I was missing out on all the other stuff I used to eat, I found it to be really interesting and fun. I started going to the library and learning about other interesting stuff for free. Started studying different languages online. If there was something I reeeeeally wanted to buy but it wasn't really needed, I'd add it to a list of things I'd get sometime later, when I could buy it in good conscience.

I have to say, and this might be hard to believe, but once you accept that you don't need to buy all the things you want all the time, it's a liberating feeling to not feel tied up in all that. Once I did start working again and started having spending money, I found it hard to be interested in many products at all. My family will ask me what I want for holidays and birthdays, and I have no idea. What I have already is pretty good.

Honestly, I hate budgeting too. I've never budgeted myself, at least not on anything beyond a very basic level. It's amazing how little money you need to spend outside of bills, and basic needs like feeding yourself, once you get out of the mindset that having a good time means you need new stuff.

You've probably already thought about this, but I wonder if your husband might also be less willing to cut back when he's still working and doing what he's always done? Regarding the Starbucks, would he be willing to reconsider if he got a nice travel mug and you bought Starbucks coffee beans (or ground if you don't have a grinder) and made Starbucks coffee at home? If he's getting Starbucks every day, that alternative would quickly pay for itself, and to me it's actually better because a nice travel mug will keep the coffee hot for a long time.
posted by wondermouse at 7:57 AM on August 22, 2010

Another vote for the Pear Budget spreadsheet. It was a revelatory thing to enter the receipts for a month and see just how the money actually was spent. Several categories were waay higher than we had thought they'd be.

This ties in with your wanting to get your husband to see eye to eye on the need for budgeting. Even if he doesn't initially want to participate in the process, bringing him over to see the end result of a month's record keeping will open his eyes to what's being overspent and by how much.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 8:04 AM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

There's something I'm not quite getting here. You have a fixed amount of money to spend every month. Are you saying that you go over that amount? ie you tell your husband "we have $1.50" and he still goes out and buys a $3.00 latte - where is the other $1.50 coming from? Credit cards?
posted by media_itoku at 9:58 AM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't think Mint is all that useful. Software still keeps the harsh realities of money at a distance. It's still an abstraction.

Megan McArdle, over at Atlantic, wrote about Dave Ramsey about a year ago.
Yes, he's Christian. But if you can get past that, his advice is pretty straightforward. One budgeting tip he is is to put cash in envelopes for your weekly/monthly expenses. No debit cards, no credit cards. When the $$ are gone, they're gone, and it really makes you think about where Uncle Abe is going.

Here's her folo on the piece.

Can you sell stuff--books, DVDs, household junk? Can you earn any money doing anything?

Yes, it's painful, but so many worthwhile things are.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:17 AM on August 22, 2010

I also recommend Dave Ramsey. His advice is very common sense and relatable, and he is all about couples working together to fix their financial situation. The Tools section of his website has a lot of advice about budgets, including sample spreadsheets, and even has a section on relationships and money and what to do if your spouse isn't cooperating.
posted by apricot at 10:46 AM on August 22, 2010

I used the envelope method when I was on a super-strict budget. The thing I found most helpful in saving myself from my own whims was to only put small bills in the envelopes and only carry what I budgeted for the day when I left the house. I didn't cut up my credit cards, but I left them in a drawer at home. It's a lot easier to resist temptation if you only have $6 on you and no credit card. If your husband is using credit cards to buy Starbucks when you're down to $1.50 and refuses to stop, then I don't know how to address that.
posted by Mavri at 10:57 AM on August 22, 2010

You've gotten a lot of advice about different ways to budget and track expenses. I'll give you some totally off the wall things to think about:

For the Starbucks ritual - what if you do like wondermouse suggested and get the travel mug and beans, then beat your husband to Starbucks, meet him in the parking lot and "sell" him his cup of coffee?

For some of the other categories - what if you were to post here on AskMe the contents of your spending for a specific category, then let us go at to suggest comparable cheaper alternatives?

Not so off the wall - you can read some blogs that might help. Dave Ramsey has already been mentioned. I'll also point you to Get Rich Slowly and to The Simple Dollar. The specific links that I posted are to the specific category of relationships and marriage. There are all kinds of posts about how to talk to your spouse about money, how to set goals together, what to do when one spouse is not on board with the budget idea.
posted by CathyG at 11:19 AM on August 22, 2010

It just doesn't bother him. I know he gets his attitude from his parents, and he grew up poor, but his parents do things like go out and buy a brand new truck for no good reason on a whim. He says he grew up poor and is used to being broke. It makes me feel ill, but he just honestly isn't bothered.

Oh. You know the old saying about how couples always fight about money but it's almost never about money? Well, you two do have a money issue, you outlined it nicely. But you've got a non-money issue standing in the way.

He needs to understand that "being broke" is making you miserable. But you "just not worrying about it" is not on the table as an option, and that's a relationship issue. Of course, his feelings are important as well; there is undoubtedly aspects of budgeting that will make HIM miserable. So, find the place where the scale is pretty balanced, where you can feel secure enough, but he doesn't have to completely change how he makes financial decisions.

Things to take into account for negotiation would be the prioritization of expenses, actual amount of spending money, how decisions are made, and who does the accounting labor. Maybe the best you are going to get is for him to agree that the amount needed for mortgage/rent, utilities, and groceries gets withdrawn into a separate account from which you will take care of paying the bills and doing the food shopping. Even better would be that minimum, plus a certain amount for an emergency fund.
posted by desuetude at 12:21 PM on August 22, 2010 [5 favorites]

Some very good advice here. I once had to help a young man learn to budget when his money was gone (his father's method had been "call me if you need something.") He was terrified of the punitive pain and sacrifice he thought he faced. We started by tracking expenses and created a form with columns to record types of expenses. His part was to accurately record what he actually spent. The kicker was that the discretionary category was shown as many separate columns, headed to reflect his taste, and the essentials columns were pencilled with prorated amounts. After recording and discussing for a few weeks, he was willing to own it and suggest ways to bring it into line with his income. With him, the trick was to show right off the bat that he was entitled to decide on how he wanted to spend his money. He was surprised to see where his money actually went (part of his problem was he kept getting parking tickets and late fees). If your husband is opposed to budgeting at all, maybe he will participate in some similar exercise.

It's true about changing one's attitude. Someone once told me "The poor don't waste money because they don't have it and the rich don't waste money because they do. It's all of the of us in between who spend unnecessarily."
posted by Anitanola at 12:29 PM on August 22, 2010

To be quite honest, it's not hard to not spend money. Once you beat it through your skull (and your husband's skull) that you can't do that, it takes about a week before you forget what all the fuss is about.

The last impulse purchase I made was two months ago for about $15 to buy a bunch of Rock Band songs. When I'm not in "can't spend money" mode, I go through it like there's no tomorrow.

Now how you get your husband to realize that you two having a buck fifty in your bank account means he doesn't get Starbucks, I'm not quite sure. Unless you haven't told him that's what it means, in which case you need to tell him that you have no money so he cannot spend money. And tell yourself that, too, and stick to it, lest there be resentment that you get to spend money and he doesn't.

For me, and this isn't the way most people work, the only thing a budget is good for is figuring out if I have the money to take on a new monthly expense. (like Netflix or whatever) Beyond that, the mindset of "don't spend money" does the job because I don't spend money. I don't go places where I'll be tempted to spend money (book stores are a big no-no for me), and even when I do, I don't spend money there.

You're not denying yourself anything, you're not buying things you can't pay for. Oh, and put the effing credit cards in a drawer. A few $35 overdraft fees will get the message through pretty quick. It sucks overdrafting by five bucks and having to give the bank $40 to get back to zero. The message gets across rather quickly, even to poor folk like myself.
posted by wierdo at 12:35 PM on August 22, 2010

Best answer: Threeturtles, I'm so sorry you're in this position. It's a tough, tough row to hoe — not having money (especially in the midst of health complications) is the kind of situation where you need a partner who's encouraging and reinforcing the difficult choices you're having to make on a daily basis ... not counteracting them.

I made the PearBudget spreadsheet (and web app) that AnnaRat and HardcorePoser ref'd above. (Thanks guys, btw, for mentioning it; I'm glad it worked well for you.) I think about budgeting and cashflow a lot, and I'll put some thoughts here, but please feel free to MeFi Mail me if there's anything specific I can answer or help with. Also, while the PearBudget spreadsheet is free, I'd be happy to comp you a subscription to the PearBudget web app (it's not expensive, but I know every dollar counts) if you think it'd be useful. There's a free trial, so feel free to check it out and see if it might work with your needs / style.

One thing that I want to cover, since nobody ever really does it, is to define exactly what a budget is, and why you might want to do it. I mean, everyone assumes they know what it is, and why they'd do it, but unless you define it, people can end up with different expectations of what they're supposed to do (or not do), and why it'd be of use (or no use) to them. Apologies if I go overlong here.

What, exactly, does a budget do? Well ... to answer that, we have to look at another question: How do you spend money? There are three ways that you and your husband (and everyone else on the planet) spend your money. There's how you want to spend money; there's how you think you spend money; and there's how you actually spend money. The point of a budget is to bring these three ways of spending money into alignment.

(The above paragraph is the crux of this whole long post, so if you get bored and move on, make sure you've at least gotten that bit of it.)

For example, you might want to spend $100 on dining out each month (so that you can have money to put towards some other debt / savings goal). You might think you spend $140 dining out. But, in reality, you might actually be spending $220. It's not uncommon for people to have a 2x or 3x multiple of their expected spending be their actual spending.

Generally, each of us has some imbalance between those ways of spending money. When we're in a partnership where we both influence the income and outflow of dollars, there's an exponential growth in how complicated the money dynamics are. And when there are fights over money, it's almost always because there's a mismatch between one person's view of their money (and its imbalances) and the other person's view of their money (and its imbalances). That's exactly what you and your husband have here.

What I'd recommend you and your husband do is to have a conversation — not about the specifics of your money (that is, don't mention Starbucks), but about what your goals are. Do you have any shared goals? What is it that you value? Do you have some kind of a plan around achieving those goals? It sounds like your husband's goals at the moment are "maintain my quality of life, manifested in a daily coffee from Starbucks." It sounds like your immediate goals are more in the vein of "financial stability". Obviously, I'm more a fan of your goals, but the important thing here is that you talk about your goals and that you decide on shared goals. Once you've done that (and I don't mean to suggest that even that will be easy), you can then talk about how you can get to those goals, and what sacrifices you might need to make along the way. Hopefully, you'll both see that you have similar goals — after all, I'm sure you'd love for him to be able to have that daily Starbucks. Hopefully, he'll be able to see that if there's $1.50 in the bank, he can't do that for long.

As to the actual budget itself, there are three elements to a budget. There's reviewing what you recently spent (the past), planning what you think you'll spend (the future), and the actual tracking of your spending (the present). Usually, when people talk about "a budget", they simply mean the "planning what I think I'll spend" and neglect the other two parts of it. It's only when you look at all three parts together, though, that you have a unified view of your money, where it's gone, and whether it's going to the things you want it to go to. So make sure that you've got all three as a part of it.

Another aspect to the mechanics of budgeting: As with everything important that you want to change in your life, successfully budgeting needs a dedicated time, a dedicated place, and a dedicated process. I'd recommend, if you have a "show" that you watch together each week, that you set aside the 30 minutes beforehand to gather your receipts from the week, to enter them in to whatever system you end up using, and to glance at your bank balances, to make sure you know where they stand.

Ideefixe noted that Mint abstracts your spending. I'm obviously not impartial here, but I think she's absolutely correct. When we built PearBudget, we considered adding in bank importing, but we decided not to implement it, as that removes a key part of the budgeting process. Humans are great at pattern recognition. So if you have a goal of $100 towards a new car for the month, and you aren't hitting your goal, and yet you're entering in 5 or 6 receipts for Starbucks each week and three dining out receipts, you'll begin to see that there's a causal relationship at work, and that you are the key agent working against your own best interests. When you use software that automates everything for you, you adopt a much more passive role — it's easy to say "well ... this much was spent this week" as opposed to "I spent this much this week." Mint (or another automated system) might work for you, and it's far more important to me that you find a tool that works for you than that you end up using PearBudget, so, by all means, give it a shot. But recognize that just because there's a bit of pain involved in sitting down to enter your receipts, it's not something you should avoid. Like a diet, or working out, it's a part of the process of getting better. In terms of other budgeting software that I think is good, I'd check out You Need A Budget. And, of course, PearBudget. :)

As I said above, MeFi Mail me if I can be helpful. Best of luck with this.
posted by Alt F4 at 1:30 PM on August 22, 2010 [13 favorites]

Response by poster: Ok, so a sort of update. First of all, to answer a few questions: yes, I am still in the process of applying for disability and am very familiar with that process since I dealt with it professionally. I know how it works and I know that I'm not likely to get it without a long round of appeals and probably eventually hiring a lawyer. As for finding ways to make money, I'm on it. I have been selling things and have spent this morning getting ready to list another round of possessions on ebay. I also have a pseudo job doing some work for my mom that brings in a little money irregularly. And I'm looking into various ways to produce things to sell. But though I have made money in various amounts, it's irregular and I can't depend on it.

As for our financial situation in more detail, it's not actually as bad as some of you seem to think. We have typically been pretty responsible. We own our home outright and until the last few months had no credit card debt. Cutting up credit cards isn't going to work because that's our last resort for emergency expenses such as car repairs, medical bills, etc. In fact, there's a fewl hundred dollars on our cards now from car repairs I had to have two months ago. We're actually not crazy spenders and the kind of things some people mentioned to cut back on are things we've never spent money on: designer clothes, manicures, etc. The kind of things we spend money on for fun are books, dvds, cds, video games. We like travel, food, and going to cons. In other words, we're big, fat geeks. But we like to go out on a weekend and have lunch somewhere reasonable and go to Target or Half-Price Books or Hobby Lobby to check the clearance bins. Which is what we did this weekend and it turned out a check for our electric bill went through when I thought it had already gone through. And that's why we have $1.50. But I really don't know where all this pay periods money went, and I recognize that is my problem and I need to come up with a system to fix that.

As for my husband. I had a brief talk with him this morning on the lines of "Ok, we really need to have a serious talk and figure something out because I just can't live with this." And thankfully I caught him in the right mood because he accepted that. We briefly talked about what kinds of small changes we can make to find extra money. We tentatively agreed that he would give up the daily Starbucks if I gave up buying sodas at the grocery store and we would make coffee at home every morning for both of us. So that's awesome. And we talked about setting up another account for spending money separate from the bill-paying account. So, steps have been made.

I still want to find a good system, software, or site to help me keep track of a budget. I'll be looking in to the suggestions offered here. And then I'll figure out exactly where we stand and then sit down and show him. I do think that our current situation has made him realize something has to be done, if only because it makes me so stressed.

And no, divorce is not an option, for many reasons besides the financial. We are actually very happy together, but we're poorly prepared for the situation we find ourselves in and like everything else in marriage, it takes some work.

Sorry for all the lengthy rambles, but it's been very helpful to express my frustration here rather than throw it all at him. Thanks guys.
posted by threeturtles at 1:41 PM on August 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

I am a hard core money "watcher" who knows how every penny has been spent in the past 10 years. Mr. Murrey is not. Fortunately, we are not at the paycheck by paycheck predicament and have some flexibility. From a marital harmony standpoint, I do think it is important for each of you to have some autonomy to spend money as you wish. Be it $25 or $500 a month.

First, go back and read Master Gunner's guide above and get a commitment between you and your husband that you will strictly abide by that for 2 months.

Second, I would try to pay for everything with cash via the envelop option mentioned above. Paying with cash and taking credit cards off the table as a spending option really helps to stay within a budget because if there is no physical cash, there is no spending, period.

The only problem is that there are 2 of you. So I would also (if you can) take off the top a set amount of pocket $ for each of you to spend as you see fit. If he thinks $4 coffee drinks are worth it, fine. But it comes out of his share and not part of the necessary things like food and gas. I have found that this keeps arguments over his (and your unstated) "luxury" purchases from happening. I used to get nuts over what I thought were "unnecessary" purchases no matter how insignificant and found that this system helps me let go of it.
posted by murrey at 2:08 PM on August 22, 2010

I think Alt F4's right about the psychology here. Mint's going to be fine if what you need at the end of the month/year is a list of items for tax/expense purposes, but its passivity isn't really suited for hardcore budgeting. Spending can be near-intangible, like candy or junk food or lottery tickets. You have to make it tangible again.

So, on the budget side, recording your own transactions is like taking notes during class, which is better for recall and engaged thought about the topic, as opposed to receiving a printed handout from the professor; on the spending side, relying on cash allowances adds friction to the process, because it's coming from your wallet. But it also allows you to treat yourself when you've had a frugal month, and it'll feel like the treatiest of treats.

(You might also want to try a one-in, one-out rule for books, games and other media.)
posted by holgate at 2:55 PM on August 22, 2010

threeturtles: "I still want to find a good system, software, or site to help me keep track of a budget."

I use GNUcash. But it's maybe there's better alternatives for people who aren't Linux nerds. I like the fact that I can track expenses, income and assets. And that I can pull transaction histories from online. But perhaps Alt-F4 has a point; I spent the first year using GNUcash without that, and pulled in as much banking history as possible at the very beginning. And certainly, GNUcash isn't for everyone. I might point my parents at this Pear Budget spreadsheet.

What's useful is being able to look back on past expenses and project a budget going forward. I generally just use bank statements and pen & paper, but I have a monthly surplus so budgeting isn't I pay attention to regularly. I tried out the Pear Budget spreadsheet and you should do well using it to plan your budget. Living the plan's another story, but it sounds like you're off to a good start already.
posted by pwnguin at 5:51 PM on August 22, 2010

I really really recommend PearBudget. Don't let the "but I don't know what we spend on what" fear stop you from entering a GUESS for each category. Then use it basically as an expense tracker - you can see where your money is going. Within a few months, you'll know
a) how much money you thought you were spending in each category
b) how much money you ARE spending in each category
c) where you might be able to cut back

One trick to build savings is to enter "savings" as an expense. You can put $50 a month as a goal or something. That means that every month, you transfer $50 into your savings account, and you have $50 less to spend on random things (coffees, soda, hair cuts). Thus, your budget for those other things will change depending on how much you have left over.
posted by barnone at 7:46 PM on August 22, 2010

I'm currently on a severe budget, and have been living paycheck-to-paycheck for some points of the last year. It's hard- it's not my favorite thing on earth- but I found that, after assessing where my money went each month, I was able to focus in on things I needed to cut back.

The easiest way for me to cut back on things I really enjoy- good food, beer, coffee, etc- was to change the rituals and ways in which I consumed things. I don't just make my own coffee- I put it in a travel thermos, and usually take a ten-minute break mid-commute-to-work to sit down and enjoy it. I invite friends I normally dine out with over to my own home for dinner- the cost of two meals I cooked myself was still less than my own bill at a restaurant (especially since most houseguests bring alcohol with them for you both).

Pot-Luck picnics are my favorite routine-changer- all the joy of eating out, with so much less cost. Plus, you enjoy things your taxes already pay for so much more :-)

I've also found that, with patience, the library can get pretty much any book I may want. Inter-Library Loans are easy to file, and usually come in within a week. If your local library sucks, look around your area- my town's library has the ambiance of a mental institution (complete with screams, from the billion children constantly present... I hate children), but another 15 minute drive and I'm at a gorgeous, historic library that is quiet and really pleasant to browse. Most libraries have good DVD and CD selections these days, too- you can take them out, or, if you're a shameless pirate, take your computer and load up your iTunes with their CDs. If you can't find a library with good ambiance nearby, try "window-shopping" your bookstore, writing down what you'd like, if you had the money, then going to the library for a quick pick-up.

I use plain old excel to manage my expenses, and by changing my idea of what I want to do with my time- from activities that inherently involve spending money (eating out, going to the bookstore) to activities that involve a lot less cost (eating in, picnicking, going to the library) I resented my budget a lot less. I also got to know my local area a lot better, and use more of the public areas and services that are available to me than I ever did before.
posted by Cracky at 9:06 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nthing the making it into a game where possible.

When I took a drastic paycut during the recession, my SO and I devised little games to make it easier.

The one which was most fun was "Who can cook the cheapest meal". We actually competed against each other and calculated it by ingredient cost/number of portions produced. We got down to under £1 per portion pretty quickly, and made up some really great dishes to get there which we still make from time to time!

The best thing is, that little game is my prevailing memory of that paycut, not the fear and the insecurity of suddenly being very poor.
posted by greenish at 9:17 AM on August 23, 2010

I live frugally, sometimes out of need, sometimes out of habit. You can think of it as hardship, or you can think of the positives. The less stuff you buy, the lower your environemntal impact. The goal is to have control of your finances, and the peace of mind and freedom of reducing your debt. Those things are more valuable to me than most consumer goods.
posted by theora55 at 10:34 PM on August 23, 2010

Some time back, the thing that tipped my wife over -- after years of trying -- to the dire state of our finances was this: I sat down, calculated how much money we had left, how much was going out each month, and the date on which we would have to sell the house. Then I sat down with her and said "[this many weeks from now], we're broke and the house goes into foreclosure if we can't sell it."

That -- not the monthly, weekly or daily financial updates, not talking about needing to save, not trying to put both of us on an allowance -- was the wake-up call she finally needed, the thing that made her realize this whole money thing was real and not just me worrying too much or trying to control her.

We ended up, shortly thereafter, moving to a model where my income went into a separate account, and we transferred money from it into the account we paid bills and daily expenses out of. Watching the money go out bit by bit like this, day after day, really helped reinforce things. Note that this was coupled with setting up our account to bounce when the balance hit $0 instead of covering the expense, so that if she didn't account for the money in advance it would reject her card. There's no better way to reinforce "we have no money" quite like not having any money.

Good luck; I sincerely hope you two manage to work this out. Just don't be afraid to take a hard line with it -- after all, this isn't (or shouldn't be) about emotions or desires, it's about the fact of the amount of money you have versus the amount of money you need to live. It's very black and white.
posted by davejay at 11:18 AM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

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