Reader Question: My Husband Won’t Stick to a Budget

Reader Question of the Week

It’s time for our Reader Question of the Week feature! I post a question that a reader has sent in and give some broad ideas of how I’d tackle it. Since we’re at the beginning of the New Year, and so many of you are trying to get new starts in all kinds of different areas, I thought I’d tackle a budgeting question: what do you do when your husband spends too much money? We had a great guest post last week on how to make Money Resolutions you can keep, and so I thought this question fit right in:

My husband is a natural spender and I am a natural saver. We both work and we make enough to pay for the basics that our household needs. We have no savings, and we have a lot of medical debt, student loans, and some past bill debts from when we weren’t making enough to live off of. He brings home about double what I do. His spending habits have improved since we got married. When he wants something I hate telling him no because I know how hard he works, but often times the things he feels are needs really aren’t needs and as a result he buys things for himself throughout the year. He also has a video game addiction that he puts of his extra money into.

I put things I really need on the back burner and I am starting to feel resentful toward him and I want to change that. I feel resentment when the soles of my work shoes are coming undone yet he just bought a new game. I feel resentful when my child’s school uniforms look horrible and I have to take the money from our $60 a week grocery budget to go to the thrift store to find him a pair of pants. I beat myself up right now because I am pregnant and extremely high risk and the medication I need costs $140. I cry every time thinking about what debt I could have paid off or what need I could meet with our house when I buy the medication or travel to the 2 hours one way to the doctor. Then when his cell phone (which he does need for work) goes out on him, instead of finding an affordable replacement he is insisting on spending 150 for a nicer one. While the cost of the nicer one is actually a good deal, He took the extra money from what we had budgeted out of the money set aside for us to use while we were at the hospital delivering our second child.

How do I open up our financial lines of communication and find a middle ground for us? How can I meet his need to spend with my need to feel like we aren’t drowning in debt and meet all of our household needs as well. How do I get him to understand the importance of a having a savings, and why we should pay off these medical bills, and past debts?

That’s a really big problem, and one that I know many readers have. So I thought today I’d give some broad thoughts on how to get on the same page financially.

When your husband spends too much money: How to Stick to a Budget Together

There’s several negative dynamics going on here, and so I’d like to give some general guidelines and some ideas for going forward.

Don’t Focus on the Small Things

When we start having disagreements like this, we tend to focus on the most recent infraction. This rarely works.

The issue is not that he bought a game and she didn’t have money for children’s clothes; the issue is that they don’t have a budget that works.

Arguing about the game is completely fruitless. You will end up frustrated and he will end up frustrated. Yet when someone doesn’t stick to a budget and makes a purchase that we think is frivolous and irresponsible, that tends to be what we do. “How could you have spent $75 on a game when we’re in debt?” He ends up defending the game, you fight the game, and you’re missing the bigger picture.

Often there’s a “straw that breaks the camel’s back”, something that he buys that sends you over the edge. Resist the impulse to blow up at that one thing. Take a step back and discuss the REAL issue, which is the budget.

Get the Big Financial Picture in Mind–Together

The real issue is that they do not have a shared plan for getting out of debt or a shared understanding and vision of where their family is going. She is trying to rein everything in while he feels no need to at all. And because of that they’re going to be constantly at loggerheads. She will feel like he’s undermining her, and he will feel like she is a spoilsport and is disrespecting him.

So you have to have a conversation where you focus on the big picture, not on the little things. If you know WHY you have a budget–ie. you sit down and say, “we need to have $x saved up for our retirement by this particular year in the future, and that means that we need to be working towards clearing debts and saving $X a year”, then it’s easier to stick to it.

When you’re not upset, sit down with a calculator, a pen and paper, and a list of your bills and assets, and ask if you can talk through things.

1. Ask him, where would you like to be in 10 years? In 15 years? Would you like to own a house? Would you like to be able to take vacations? Make a list of what you would like.

2. Now talk about where you are right now. What is your net worth? Add up what you own, and then add up what you owe, and subtract what you owe from what you own.

3. Now plot where you will be if you do nothing differently for the next five years. If you keep going like this, what will happen? Will your credit cards max out? Will you be unable to pay for anything? Compare that to your goals in #1.


4. Talk together about how to move forward differently. A great resource is Dave Ramsey’s program Financial Peace, which so many of my Facebook fans recommended. If you make a plan to read through that together over the next few weeks, he’ll help you, step by step, figure out a budget and a savings plan and a debt repayment plan.

One other step that a few Facebook commenters suggested is to show the difference between paying things off and not paying things off. How much money are you spending in interest every month? Every year? Now, how many video games would that money buy? What kind of vacations would that buy? If you can be diligent for a few years, then you won’t be throwing that money away anymore and you can have more room for fun purchases.

Beware of the Over-Compensating Downward Spiral–Your husband spends too much money, so you become a miser

Overcompensating when your husband spends too much money--stop the downward spiral!A few other tips. Quite often when we’re approaching a problem differently we tend to overcompensate. We do this in parenting, too; if he’s a strict disciplinarian, and you like to hug and kiss and build relationship, then you’re going to think he’s an ogre. And whenever he comes down hard on the kids, you’ll let them have things easy for a while. When he sees you letting them off the hook, he’ll become even firmer. In the end, you both don’t even resemble what you want to be. You’re far too lax for your own liking, and he’s far too strict, but that’s what you’ve become as you’ve compensated for one another.

The same thing happens with money. When your husband spends too much, you feel like you can’t spend anything. So you stop spending entirely. You become a miser. When he sees you not spending anything, he feels like you both need more fun in your life, so he spends even more. You become even more a saver than you naturally are, and he becomes even more a spender.

I see that happening here. She’s afraid to even spend money on medicine which she needs for her child. When you feel yourself over-compensating, talk about it. Don’t let this spiral start.

Give Yourselves Disposable Income

For a budget to work, you have to have disposable income. The goal is not to spend $0. The goal is to slowly but surely get out of debt and build your net worth. Make sure, then, that when you do budget, you budget in some money for him to spend on himself, and some for you to spend on yourself. And then do spend it! It’s not a good example to your children if you deprive yourself of absolutely everything and lose yourself because you want to give them a better life. You need balance.

How do you stick to only spending what you’ve budgeted? If impulse spending is a problem, then the best way is to set up a cash system. At the beginning of the week, give each of you your disposable income, in cash. Leave the credit cards at home. Tell your husband he can spend that money on anything, but if he wants something big, he’ll have to save it up over the course of several weeks. If you make a habit of only spending cash, those rash purchases don’t tend to happen.

Consider Setting Up Separate Finances

Finally, I don’t recommend this very often, but there are times when it’s best to separate finances. I’m a huge believer in couples having one bank account, and having it be “our” money, not “his” and “hers”. My husband and I have always shared finances, and we never label any money as belonging to him or belonging to me. What’s ours is ours, no matter who earned it. That, I think, should be the model for marriage.

However, if your husband is consistently driving you into debt, and is endangering the family’s financial health, then talking to a third party about it and asking to sit down and talk about altogether is likely warranted. And then setting up a separate bank account is probably a good idea. When the pay is deposited, you take out the money that you need for the family and you put it in a separate account so that you can pay off debt and buy groceries. With the help of a counselor or pastor, cancel credit cards if you need to. Let him keep some disposable income, but don’t give him access to the grocery money.

Again, I don’t think this step should be taken unless you first talk to a third party, and unless things are really desperate. I don’t think this is a healthy model for marriage. But there are times when a guy is gambling money away, or when he’s spending so frivolously that you’re in danger of losing your house, and in that case you have little choice.


I don’t think you can fix a money issue like this without talking about the big picture, and without agreeing on a plan going forward. And I have found that the best way to agree on a plan is to read some of the financial planning books that are available. Dave Ramsey is really easy to read and really easily accessible, and he lays out a step-by-step system for developing a plan. Here are a few of his resources:

The Financial Peace Planner: A Step-by-Step Guide to Restoring your Family’s Financial Health ($11.90)
The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness ($16.48)
Total Money Makeover Workbook ($15.99)
Deluxe Executive Envelope System ($16.47) To help you move to a cash system!

That’s my advice for today! Have you ever had to get out of debt? How did you and your husband get on the same page? Let me know in the comments!

Money Resolutions You Can Actually Keep

Today guest poster Leanne Seel encourages us to make and keep our financial resolutions.

Money Resolutions You Can Actually KeepHow long do your resolutions last?  Or have you given up on the idea of resolutions all together?  Change is hard – even when we want it with all our hearts.  I used to make resolutions each year.  Some lasted longer than others.   I’ve noticed over the years that the ones that have stuck follow two basic principles.

So here are the two basic principles to help you keep money resolutions:

1)      Positive goals

I resolve to work towards something rather than trying to move away from or stop doing something else.   For example, I succeed a lot more often when I resolve to buy only what is on my list when I’m in the grocery store instead of resolving to stop buying chocolate-covered almonds.  As soon as I think about chocolate-covered almonds, I want some.

2)      Small, manageable steps

Instead of trying to jump all the way to where I want to be all at once, I break it down into manageable chunks.   When I quit drinking Diet Coke about 12 years ago, I first had to switch to the caffeine-free version.  Once I broke the caffeine addiction, then I focused on the habit.  It worked.  I went from carrying a case of pop in my trunk to drinking only water.

When it comes to money, the same principles can apply.  We can resolve to take small, manageable steps toward the positive goals that we have set out.  I would like to challenge you to take positive action in each area of your finances in 2014.

Exception:  If you are in dire straits and you are about to lose your house or have your power shut off, you don’t have the luxury of making small changes over a period of time.  You need help now, so please find a financial counsellor who can work with you on an individual basis.

Assuming you’re not in need of drastic help, here are four areas of financial management, starting with the most important area:

Area 1 – Giving

As Christians, giving should be at the top of our financial priorities.  Our culture flips the priority order around and puts giving at the bottom.  This is completely wrong.  God should come first.  In practical terms in our family, we tithe at least 10% of our gross income to our local church.  Our donations to other organizations and almsgiving are over and above this amount.  Some think this is excessive.  Opponents to tithing often say that Malachi 3:8-11 is Old Testament law and therefore we are not obligated to follow it.  That may or may not be true.  Personally, I would rather err on the side of giving God too much (as if that’s even possible!).  Everything that we have belongs to Him (Psalm 24:1), so really 10% is a bargain.

Where are you at right now?  If you know that God would have you give more, start stepping out in faith and obedience to Him.  Take your usual monthly amount and add a bit to it, or even double it if you’re starting low.  Keep increasing until you reach the level God wants you to be at.

You may look at your numbers right now and think it’s impossible, but there’s a strange phenomenon that I’ve noticed with tithing.  The math doesn’t usually look like it will work, but then somehow it does.  When I was a university student, the savings I had built up in high school were running really low by my third year of a four year program.  I projected what I needed and what I anticipated making at my part-time job and it wasn’t enough.  In faith, I still tithed on any money that came in, and I stayed the course being responsible with my spending.  Then, not so coincidentally, I got extra hours at my job.  I found a cheaper place to park my car.  The things I needed at the grocery store were on sale.  God provided.  The same pattern has repeated itself in different ways many times since.

Area 2 – Debt repayment

The next priority is getting out of debt.  If you have consumer debt (debt for something other than a house, car, or education), then you need to get rid of it.  It’s not easy, but it’s necessary.  I wrote a 4-part series called Take this debt and SACK it on my blog last fall.  The four steps to this process are taking Stock of where you are (S), Allocating your repayments strategically (A), Cutting your expenses (C), and Keeping track (K) of what you’re doing.   If you have consumer debt, I would encourage you to read these 4 posts over the next 4 weeks (one post per week) and take the related actions.  Find the freedom that comes from being debt free!

Area 3 – Saving

Retirement, emergencies, future education… the list for saving goes on.  Are you putting away enough for all these things?  Try adding just a little to what you’re currently saving.  Once you adjust your spending downwards to what you have left over, save a bit more.  Keep going until you’ve reached your monthly savings goal.

Area 4 – Spending

In this area, we need to spend better.  When we go into a store, I tell my kids that the store’s goal is to get us to spend as much as possible.  Our goal is to get what we need while spending the least amount we can.  It doesn’t mean that we have to be complete penny pinchers with everything, but it does mean that we have to sacrifice in some areas in order to be able to spend more in others.

When I’m looking for areas to reduce our family budget, I start with recurring items because the savings will repeat month after month.  I spend the energy once to figure out the least expensive option, and I keep saving money over and over again (think insurance, phone, cable, internet, etc).  By reducing what we spend on an on-going basis, we’re able to meet our savings goal and then use the rest for fun stuff like a family vacation fund.

In 2014, I challenge you to examine an area of your budget where you can spend better.  Once you see the increase in your bank account, it will be worth the effort!  You may even decide to tackle more than one this year.

What are your financial resolutions for 2014?  What strategies have you found to be the most helpful in actually keeping the resolutions that you make?

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Leanne Seel is a CPA, CA who lives in Ontario, Canada.  After spending many years as a partner in a CA firm, she now writes educational material while homeschooling her two children.  She is the author of The Emerging Entrepreneur:  Launching your part-time business in Canada and French Sing & Learn.  Her favorite place is the beach.  You can find more of Leanne’s money and tax tips at www.sensiblemoneysolutions.com.

The Now Generation

The Now Generation

Every Friday my column appears in a bunch of papers in Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week’s column dealt with things I said in my post on Tuesday, and so I thought I’d rerun one that I really like from back in 2005, about how expectations for quality of life have changed so much in the last decade. I thought it fit in well with this week’s themes about healthy and intentional living with the Ultimate Bundle Sale–86 ebooks, just $29.97! Don’t miss it (it’s only until tomorrow!).

I recently came across an old 1950s knitting pattern book telling women how to copy the latest fashions. In those days, many women just didn’t have the money to buy ready-made clothes, so when they saw something they liked, they knit it or they sewed it. Today, we think all that work means we’re failures. So instead we charge it.

This was brought home to me when I came across an article bemoaning the fact that a new professional graduate, making $35,000 a year, can’t survive, what with $1,500 for rent, $800 for food, and all the other expenses. When I read that chart it seemed to me that the problem was not with the salary; it was with the expenditures. Thrift used to be a virtue, but now we expect to have everything at once. If a single person is spending $800 on food a month, then they’re eating out far too much. It may not be easy, but most of us can live within our means.

It’s not our means that are the problem. Too often it’s the expectations we have for what our lives should be like.

I’m not sure where these expectations came from. We can blame the media and advertising, but they had the media and advertising back in the 1950s, too, and it seems like people were far more willing to live with garage sale items and hand-me-downs a few decades ago than we are now. Perhaps it’s the explosion in credit which makes things possible today that weren’t possible before. Or perhaps it’s always been like this and I’m just a fuddy-duddy. Increasingly I think the latter is probably true on most issues, but let me explore this one a little bit more anyway.

I have lived with a lot, and I have lived with very little, and there are pros and cons to both.

When we lived in a small rental apartment when the kids were young I had no pressure to make things coordinate. I didn’t need matching furniture, or pretty drapes, or dishes to entertain. As long as it was functional and could withstand two toddlers, I was happy.

I think that’s a great period every person should go through. It’s a lot less stress on a marriage when you don’t actually own very much, and you can concentrate on just yourselves. Besides, when you’re not aiming to do things big, little things can make you happy. Remember the joy you once felt at finding some old milk crates at the flea market? Hey, they’re amazing things! They can hold cleaning products under a sink, or they can be used as dressers, or they can hold up some boards and be an improptu bookshelf! And that amazing garage sale kitchen table and chairs we found for $25 served us well for seven years.

Now that we have a house I have become much more conscious about what it looks like because I own it. I have to buy matching furniture, I have to paint, and I have to decorate in ways I didn’t before. In many ways this is satisfying, but in others it adds more pressure. There’s always more I could be doing. Besides, now, when stuff breaks, it’s my problem. I can’t just call the superintendent. I still like owning my own home, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t happy before I had all of these outside trappings in my life.

We make a mistake when we believe we need stuff to make us happy.

Stuff breaks. Stuff can be stolen. Stuff needs to be cleaned. And stuff costs money, especially if you have to buy it on credit. Then, if anything bad happens, you could lose all that stuff you came to treasure.

Besides, on surveys of happiness, stuff plays a very small role. Satisfaction with one’s relationships, one’s jobs, even oneself is much more important. So living within one’s means when everyone else is charging it may not seem fair and it may not seem fun, but ultimately our lives will be a lot easier. Besides, we’re not saying no forever. We’re just saying not now. And there’s nothing at all wrong with that.

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10 Ways to Save Money

10 Best Ways to Save MoneySo many of the emails I get asking for help have to do with finances in marriage. You’re in debt, you’re not on the same page, and you don’t know what to do. So today I thought I’d write a post on the 10 best ways to save money! I asked you all for your best money-saving tip on my Facebook Page last week, and here they are, all consolidated.

When we hear the question “what’s your best money-saving tip”, though, we usually think about the regular purchases–groceries, clothing, entertainment. But the biggest parts of our budget are often our recurring expenses–our mortgage, car loan, credit card payments, utilities, etc. So the chance for the biggest savings is often in those big ticket items! I’m going to start with how to save money on those, and then move on to great tips on how to save money on our regular purchases.

Recurring Expenses–Bigger Ticket Items

1. Get Rid of Cable

Do you really need cable? My mother recently got rid of cable because it was costing her almost $70 a month for a basic plan, and all she really watched was the news. She can stream the news on the internet. Instead, she hooked up to Netflix and can now watch the British dramas she likes for less than $10 a month.

We haven’t had cable in 15 years, and we really don’t miss anything. It’s all on the internet anyway.

2. Shop Around for Loans, Insurance

If you need a new car, or you’re looking to renew your insurance, don’t just go with the bank because it’s easiest. Shop around for best deals on auto credit or on insurance. I often balk at doing this because I don’t have the time, but with a little internet research you can often get quotes quite quickly. Have a teen in your house? Pay them $20 to spend an hour getting you a ton of quotes. It’s worth it!

And if you don’t have great credit, auto credit express will help you out anyway. And many local mortgage dealers will as well. So if you need the car or the mortgage, look into it. But above all, start using the other tips so that your credit will improve!

3. Term Life Insurance is Good–every other life insurance policy? Probably not.

If you’re under 50, term life insurance is really pretty cheap, especially if you don’t smoke. Try to insure the main breadwinner in your family for at least $500,000, if you can, so that if the person were to suddenly die, you’d have a comfortable cushion.

But banks and other loan providers often try to “sneak” insurance in to other things, too. Mortgages often come with life insurance–if you die, your mortgage is paid off! It sounds great, but let’s say you owe $150,000 on the mortgage. I can pretty much guarantee you that if you went to an insurance company and took out an additional $150,000 in term life insurance it would be cheaper than the life insurance that goes with the mortgage. So opt out of that.

Opt out of credit card insurance schemes, too. Pay your credit card off in full, and you won’t need balance protection insurance in case of unemployment. And simply get enough term life insurance that these debts would be covered anyway without needing 5 or 6 different policies for each different loan you have.

The one type of insurance people don’t get enough of is disability insurance. If someone dies, it’s tragic, but it’s not nearly as expensive as if someone is in a horrific car accident or something and becomes disabled. And the latter is actually more likely than the former. When you’re disabled, you may have to remodel your house and bathroom and kitchen, you may need nursing care, and you may need other equipment. Don’t skimp here!

One of my regular readers, Leanne, has a great blog called Sensible Money Solutions! And she has some tips for saving money on house insurance, too.

4. Consolidate Your Loans

We often hear that statement, but do we know what it means? Basically, when you owe money in many different places, it’s hard to get a handle on how much you owe and on what you should pay off first. If you have multiple credit cards, and a car loan, and a personal loan, and a line of credit, that’s a lot of loans. Do you know which one has the highest interest rate? Do you know which one you should pay off first?

Often you can get a loan from a bank right now for about 6% interest depending on your credit rating, but many credit cards are charging three times that. Go to a bank and ask if they will help you pay off all of your loans by giving you a bigger loan at a lower interest rate.

One word of warning: often people prefer to have this consolidation loan in a line of credit, because then they have flexibility in paying it back. I don’t think that’s a good idea if you have a history of wracking up debt. It’s easy to not pay it back at all, or to only pay the interest. It’s better to get a fixed term loan–say five or ten years–so that you are making regular payments and shrinking that loan. It means you’ll have money coming out every month, but it also means that the loan will eventually get paid.

And one more tip: If you owe money on credit cards, don’t have money sitting in a savings account. Sure, it’s nice to feel like you have a buffer, but if you’re paying 15% interest on a credit card, it’s not wise to put money you do have in a savings account where it’s earning .25% interest. Put it against the card, even if you’re going to need that money in a month. It will end up saving you interest!

Save Money on Everyday Purchases

5. Pay with Cash

The biggest cause of debt is people spending without a real knowledge of how much money they have in their account. Now that my daughter is paying her own way in university she’s taking the cash approach. She has figured out how much money she has each week for food, entertainment, and general spending, and she’s taking that out in cash at the beginning of each week. When the money’s gone, it’s gone. And she won’t use her debit card.

I received an email recently from a woman who is a stay at home mom, and who does the finances in her family. Her husband works full-time, but he also spends beyond their budget.  She writes:

I ask my husband before he makes a big purchase to please talk to me so that we can see if it is doable or if there are other options. There have been several times where he just spends 200 to 300 dollars without saying anything. And I’m left thinking our account has been hacked or something. He gets mad at me when I ask him to communicate with me because he says it’s his money and I don’t work.

That’s a tough one, but I firmly believe that going to a cash system can help people figure this out! The root of most money problems in marriage is communication. There’s no magic way to get him to stick to a budget; you just have to sit down and talk about it. But if you do sit down, don’t say, “I think you’re overspending.” Say instead, “What do you think is the maximum that we can spend each week each?” And once you’ve both figured out that number, then suggest that from now on, you leave the debit and credit cards at home and you simply take out that cash at the beginning of each week.

I know this is a huge problem in many marriages, but you’ve got to talk about it! And switching to cash is often the best way to stop these impulse purchases. It also gets out of the “you need to check in with me” dynamic that many people don’t like.

6. Use What You Have

“Shop your cupboards first!”

The average family has an extra $300 of food in their cupboards at any one time. And that’s ALL households. If you were to look at only the households with kids, where we grocery shop a lot, I bet it would be more than that.

And here’s another scary thing: the average family throws out 40% of their food. Almost half of fruits and vegetables don’t even make it to your stomach, because they go bad before you eat them.

So eat up what’s in your cupboards, and then shop with a menu plan from now on so that you only buy what you need. It actually leads to a lot less waste, even if you do feel like your cupboards are bare!

Here’s a much longer article I’ve written on how to use what you have.

7. Don’t Buy Stuff You Would Throw Away

Don’t buy disposable stuff. Use tupperware instead of saran wrap or baggies. Use rags instead of paper towel. Use cloth diapers instead of disposable. (And if you’re not too grossed out by it, you can even make your own cloth sanitary pads, which are way cuter and more comfortable).

8. Stop Eating Out!

One of the biggest items on many families’ expense sheets is eating out. This adds up so much faster than you may think. A lunch costs $10, which may not seem like much. But do that twice a week and you’re at $80 a month, or $1000 a year. And dinners out when you have kids get expensive, too!

To stop the lure of eating out, cut down on activities that will leave you rushed at the dinner hour. Buy a few frozen meals (I normally don’t recommend this, but in this case it’s a good idea) that you will use only on nights when you’re too tired/sick/busy to cook, so that it keeps you from ordering pizza.

And what about those snacks that we buy when we’re out? Keep bottles of water with ice in them to take when you go out. Buy granola bars or other treats that you can keep in your car to munch on if everyone wants something sweet. It’s cheaper than ice creams all round, and easier on your pocketbook!

9. Menu Plan–and Then Shop Wisely

I’m not going to say much about this one because I have a whole post on how to save money at the grocery store. But in general, when we’ve planned what we’re going to eat, and we buy only that, we’ll find our expenditures shrinking.

10. Stop the “Buy Now” Messages from Coming Through!

Here’s a counterintuitive one: stay away from malls and stores. Seriously. Only go shopping when you actually need something. Don’t go to a mall just to hang out with a friend. Don’t go window shopping. Only go out with a list, when you need something.

And cancel the catalogs and try to stay away from TV commercials. Don’t fill your head with all the things you could be buying–fill it with more fun with your family instead!

Bonus: 11. Plan Your Big Purchases

Menu planning and making a list for your everyday purchases saves a ton. But so does planning your big purchases!

When most of us buy something big, like a car, a computer, or furniture, we pay for it AFTER we buy it. It’s forced savings, really. We purchase it, and then we pay the credit card or loan payment every month.

You save a ton if you do that savings BEFORE you purchase it.

So if you need a car every five years, then right after you get a car, start saving for the next one. We buy a new computer every three years, so we’re putting money aside every month for that before we need to. And we have a bank account just for that purpose.

And don’t buy a new car, either! Did you know that most new cars are purchased by the middle class, not the upper class? People with a high net worth buy used cars, because it makes no sense to buy a new car. If you do, you’re just paying for the depreciation. We try to buy cars with about 20,000 miles on them. They’re virtually new, and they look great, but they’re vastly cheaper, because cars lose a ton of value as soon as you drive them off of the lot.

We’ve made friends with a car dealer in our small town who sells and services used cars. Now, whenever we know we’re going to need a car soon, we’ll call him a few months ahead of time and tell him what we’re looking for, and he’ll keep his eyes out. It works out great!

So save first, and know when you’ll need to buy big things. That way you won’t have to take out large loans.

Okay, so that was 11 tips, not 10, but I thought of the last one after I named the post!

Now it’s your turn: what are your big tips for saving money? What one tip are you going to implement today? Let me know in the comments!

Reader Question: My Husband Is Lazy and Won’t Get a Job

What Do I Do When My Husband Isn't Motivated to Get a Job?Every Monday I like to put up a Reader Question and then take a stab at answering it. Here’s one that I often get variations of: “My husband won’t get a job”!

My husband, whom I love very much, recently quit his job to study to get his G.E.D. (high school equivalency diploma). I have been very supportive and gently reminding him that he needs to study. If he doesn’t study, he turns around and blames me, saying that it’s my responsibility to get him to study. He has no handicaps or learning disabilities. I’m really busy caring for children and aging relatives, and I’m finding this very stressful. If I bring it up he gets defensive. What do I do?

It’s similar to this email that I received:

Two years ago my husband was laid off. For the first two months he tried to find another job, but he’s since given up. He sits around and plays video games all day. We lost our house and we’re living in a friend’s basement right now with our three little kids. I can’t go to work because I’m nursing a baby, but he has no motivation to get up and find a job. He just says there aren’t any out there, but if I tell him about places that are hiring he huffs off and leaves the room.

This is a tough one, because we can’t force someone to do what we want them to do, but at the same time it sounds as if these men are not fulfilling a basic role that is agreed upon when you get married: I will work to make a life together.

So let me offer a few thoughts today for those of you who feel that your husband is lazy and isn’t helping the family.

What Do You Do if Your Husband Won't Get a Job? Some thoughts.Working (Having a Job) is Part of the Marriage Contract

Perhaps we don’t vow it in the same that we vow “forsaking all others”, but it’s implicitly understood in the marriage contract that we are a team that will now be independent and care for ourselves. This doesn’t mean that both of you will work outside the home; but it does mean that both of you will WORK: One of you may work a paid job, and the other may be home caring for children and the home, but in general, both of you are contributing to the family.

I really don’t think that anyone would disagree with that, unless they think that the government should be paying their way. We know that we each have responsibilities in marriage.

I imagine that if you talked to these two men they would likely agree in principle, too. They would simply tell you why for them that won’t work: there are no jobs out there for my skill level; I’m not a “school” kind of person so I can’t study; etc. etc. They know that in general people should work; they just can tell you a million reasons why for them that isn’t true. Is your husband just lazy? Maybe. But perhaps it’s also that they’re just depressed, or scared, or nervous, and they can’t deal with that so they do nothing at all.

Does He Need Help and Encouragement to Get a Job?

Have you ever had to do something and the thought just scared you so much you ran away from it? It just seemed like too big a task and you didn’t even know where to begin. I know I’m like that with some areas of my house. Right now my storage room is such a mess that the thought of even beginning to clean it is overwhelming.

I think some guys are like that when it comes to studying/getting a job, too. Where do you start? The resume? Trying to find interviews? Trying to find openings? It’s staggering. And how long will it take?

And because it’s all tied up in their idea of manhood, too, it’s really scary to think about. If they try and fail it’s almost worse than not trying at all.

Perhaps you can help by talking to him and breaking it down into bite sized pieces for him. For studying for the GED, for instance, maybe you could make a schedule about what to study when. Perhaps he doesn’t even know how to begin. What I do when I’m helping my girls study is take an endpoint and then work backwards. So pick a date when he’ll write the exam, and then figure out what he has to do between now and that date, and divide it up into tiny, bite sized chunks. So today he’ll study pages 20-30 out of the GED review book for math. And then figure out a reward: once you’re done studying, we’ll all go to the park, or I’ll make cookies, or something.

With jobs it could be the same thing. Maybe he feels his resume isn’t good enough but he doesn’t know where to start. Maybe he doesn’t even know what kind of job he’s looking for. Again, break it down into small chunks, and ask yourself: which of these chunks can I do for him? Perhaps you could say to him: you call these five people that we know who may know of job openings and arrange to meet them for coffee this week, and I’ll research how to write resumes and I’ll make you a top-notch one, and ask Mr. X from church, who runs human resources for a big company, to look at it and tell us if it’s a good resume or not.

So instead of nagging him, you’re coming alongside him and cheering him on and helping him–kind of like you’re in NASCAR and he’s the race car driver, but you’re the guys who work in the pits. So you’re the one making sure everything is well oiled and he has everything he needs. You could even talk to him like this and see if it helps.

Set Deadlines and Goals

If you’ve done this, and he still isn’t motivated to do anything, then speak to him about having a deadline which, if things don’t change, you will start changing them. For instance, you could say, “If you don’t have a job by December, then in January I’m going back to work and you’ll have to look after the kids.” You can’t live on people’s charity forever. It’s just not right. You can’t live in a friend’s basement; it’s not good to live in a parent’s house forever.

Now, there would be a caveat: if he genuinely is trying, and there just simply aren’t jobs in his field right now, but there are likely to be soon, then perhaps staying in a family home for a time really is the only thing you can do. In that case, it’s not that he isn’t engaged in trying to find a job; it’s that he genuinely can’t (and that very well may be true). In the above emails, though, the problem was more that he was doing nothing to move towards that goal, and that’s a problem.

If you are going to be the one going to work, then he needs to understand what it is that he will be expected to do with the kids. Lay out a daily schedule of what needs to be done so that he sees it in black and white.

Accept the Possibility That He May Be a Stay At Home Dad

Perhaps it could be that you need to go out and work, and he needs to stay and care for the kids. That may not be ideal, and it may not be what you wanted. Maybe you did always want to be a stay at home mom. But if you have skills right now where it’s easier for you to get a job than it is for him to get a job, or if he can only find a part-time job, so you need your income to supplement, then that may be what you need to do. You are a team, and you have to figure out a way to bring in some money.

If Your Husband Won’t Get a Job, He Still Has to Work

If you follow this route, though, it needs to be understood that you will not be carrying two loads. I have known women who have gone to work who have also had to  put their kids in day care because the husband wouldn’t/couldn’t look after them during the day. He found it too hard. You both need to work; one (or both) bring in money, and one (or both) care for the kids. Doing nothing should never be an option.

I have also known men who have carried two loads. They work full-time, and then they get home and she has done very little during the day except for making sure the kids were safe. The house is a mess. There is no dinner on. And that’s not fair, either. I’ve found that thinking of motherhood as a job description helps me tremendously. If he’s working, I should be, too, and vice versa. A husband shouldn’t be lazy, but neither should a wife. Staying at home with the kids is not an excuse to do nothing.

If He Doesn’t Agree, Get Outside Help

Finally, if he just doesn’t agree, or you can’t get him to put the video games down and work at something, I’d talk to a mentor couple, a pastor, or a counselor. As I wrote before, you are a spouse, you are not an enabler. If a man is refusing to do any work at all, and is acting like an adolescent, this isn’t something you can tolerate. It endangers the family; it endangers your relationship; but it also seriously endangers his own walk with God. He needs someone to come alongside him and tell him to “put up or shut up”. So read that post about how to get help if he just won’t do it.

I know this situation is tough, because so many of us are going through it. A lot of guys are really depressed in this economy, and they are feeling like they’re not worth much of anything, which can get them on a downward spiral of trying even less. It’s so hard to watch, but it’s also really hard when you’re bearing the brunt of it. As much as possible, keep working on your friendship so that you can talk about it. Express your faith in him (without babying him). But do make plans, and do set goals, and be on his team so he that he can see his way forward. Maybe he just needs someone cheering him on!

I hope that helps, and if anyone else has ever gone through this, please leave a comment and tell us how it ended up for you!


Wifey Wednesday: Waking Up

Christian Marriage AdviceIt’s Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you follow up either by commenting or by writing your own post and then linking up in the comments!  Today, guest author Holly Smith shares about some major groundwork God laid in her marriage.  It all began with a prayer.

I had been praying about it for a couple of months, and God answered in the most unusual, but faithful way. This is what I prayed, “Lord, please wake my Chris up—make him fully engaged in life again–for he is sleep-walking. Wake him up, Father.”

So God did. He sent a friend first of all. The friend offered a challenge and invitation for my Chris to participate in a mission trip to India—to design something, life-giving and life-saving for these people. That spoke Chris’ language. I saw the tears and I saw the awakening gradually begin.

That evening came another type of news from our mortgage company. We were behind in payments and if we did not get things in order, we would be on the road to foreclosure. Now let me say it plainly. Chris did not intentionally let us fall behind. He was not fully aware. But he also was not fully awake. And when we stop watching, guarding and being on the alert, we miss important choices. To fail to choose is to not choose.

He was fully awake that October day! We got back-to-back in the fight. I believe this is key in any marriage issue. We choose to be on the same team. We choose to fight against all forces together. We choose to forgive. We choose to love.

The overflow is that God took this awakening opportunity to raise up not only miraculous help that was beyond our ability, but also He awakened the giant in my husband—the one who fights for family, who is fully alert and who wants other families to not miss one opportunity.

It was a gift in disguise.

Today we are on the last month of paying the missed payments back. By month’s end, we will be fully out of debt, except for a very small mortgage payment. We will also be on the road to saving – for the first time in our marriage of 22 years! We have seen God’s provision and we are making Him known in the way we share our story—the good, the bad and the ugly.

Waking UpChris is now leading a men’s Bible study in our home. He’s sharing our testimony. He has been invited to serve as a deacon at our church. He is leading our family with eyes wide open. No more is he sleeping. He is in God’s Word, prayerful and watchful—our family’s point man. Every step he takes is purposeful and under the Holy Spirit’s leading. He is also watching over our finances in a way unlike he has ever watched before—he has learned and grown so much!

I, too, am fully awake. I have found freedom in forgiveness, in choosing to not say—it’s your fault. But what shall we do together now? For I know this is OUR problem and we shall face it together. “Two are better than one for if one falls down the other can help them up,” the Bible says in Ecclesiastes 4:9.

Most of us live like we have fallen asleep. We try to satiate the aching holes in our soul by feeding on mindless things. I am guilty of this for sure. To relax, I want to watch something that will not make me think–maybe laugh–but thinking is something that I try to turn off. I want to accomplish the things I have to, while doing something I like that somehow entertains me. As a nation, we rely on empty entertainment. Silence is a lost art.

Silence can be a springboard for waking up. For we use noise and entertainment to numb the pains of life. I know. For I have done it myself.

Recently my Chris traveled out of the country for the week with work. During that time, I made myself be silent rather than turning on the TV, radio or calling somebody. In the silences, I found a refuge of strength and healing in my spirit. I would be on the cusp of tears, as I missed my Chris so much. But also, I realized that some of our usual daily habits (staying up too late, falling into a mindless routine) were not happening. Perhaps as a couple–as a family even–we need to mix it up a little. We need to wake up!

For the groundwork we are laying in our families—it is of utmost importance. It may seem trivial now. But one day, we will find it was the means by which God did the most effective and active works we have ever seen. Those works will count throughout the generations—they will be told and re-told. And it all began with a prayer, obedience, watchfulness and silence. It all began with God, who invited us from the start.

About Holly Smith

Holly SmithHolly loves her job as wife to Chris and mom to Noah, Kylie, Tabor and Sydney. God has gifted Holly with a love of all things creative ~ from painting and wall papering to scrap-booking and design work. In addition to co-founding and managing A Martha Heart, she designs web pages (www.crownlaiddowndesigns.com) and marketing pieces. She also participates with a wonderful team of moms in writing at The M.O.M. Initiative. Holly and her family make their home within site of year ’round snow-capped mountains in Colorado. She can be reached by emailing Holly@amarthaheart.com or connect with her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HollyGorinSmith.  Read more from Holly’s heart at:  www.amarthaheart.com

Now, what about you?  Your spouse?  Is it time for doing some waking up in your home, too? Write your own Wifey Wednesday post that links back to here, and then leave the link of THAT POST in the comments. Thanks!

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Wifey Wednesday: Don’t Be in the Dark About Your Family’s Finances

Christian Marriage Advice

If tonight tragedy were to strike, and your husband were to be in a car accident, would you know where to find your insurance information? If a fire struck, would you know where your house content insurance policy is? Do you even know if you have one?

Or, when you go and take money out of the ATM, do you know how much is available? Are you short on cash, or is it okay to treat the kids to an ice cream while you’re out?

Too many women don’t know the answers to those questions.

My friend Holly tells her story:

My husband and I went through bankruptcy in March 2009, due to so many factors, like job loss, housing market crash, the economy and our own foolish choices. During that time, my husband took over all things financial to shield and cover me from the stress of it all. It was a good thing for a time. When we began to end our three years of bankruptcy, I (a business major) was ready to take the bills over again. For a whole year I asked him to hand them back over, and even had my prayer group praying, but he delayed.

Little did I know that he was doing his best, but was still very behind. Truly, he was shielding his bride still from the strain of what we owed and the discouragement of not having enough to pay it all. One day, a very timely day, we received notice of foreclosure unless we paid by a certain time. I was completely surprised! My husband said he was so sorry (and truly, he was). My choice then was to get back to back with him, as a team. We now are paying back extra on our mortgage with a plan that is hard-pressed, but do-able. AND we are doing the bills together every week. There’s a reason why two are better than one. If one falls down, the other can help him (or her) get back up again.

(you can read more of her story here).

Don't Be in the Dark about Your Family's Finances

A few weeks ago I posted a Reader Question which asked: Help! My Husband Doesn’t seem to care about the finances. Many couples have a financial mismatch. One person wants to know where the money is going, and the other prefers to have his or her head in the sand, believing that “everything will work out fine in the end”.

That is extremely irresponsible. And if your husband tells you that he has everything under control, but you have no idea how to locate anything financial, and you have no idea about your net worth, that is extremely irresponsible, too.

You are a team.

It’s fine if one person does the finances and pays the bills and figures out how much money you have. But the other person still needs to know what is going on. Saying, “well, he’s the head of the family, and he says he has it all under control, so I need to trust him” is just wrong. Let’s look at why:

1. Scenario A: He’s Being Perfectly Responsible with the Money, but Something Happens to Him

He’s paying the bills. He’s socking money away for retirement. He has good investments. All the insurance premiums are paid. And one day something happens to him.

Those life insurance policies don’t pay automatically. You have to claim them. You don’t have access to bank accounts you don’t know about. You can’t take money out of a bank account you’re not named on. You can’t pay off credit cards you don’t know about. If he’s responsible, but you don’t know where anything is or what you have, you could still end up in a huge mess. And if you’re grieving, do you really want to worry about all of that financial stuff, too?

I’ve even known couples where she didn’t have a bank card or a credit card; he gave her a cash “allowance” every week, and it worked fine. But then one day he ends up in the hospital and she has no access to any of their money. This isn’t responsible. It isn’t safe. And it’s treating her like a child, not like a spouse. Both spouses must have access to everything.

2. Scenario B: He’s Isn’t Being Responsible, But He Isn’t Cluing You In

Maybe he doesn’t understand how debt works. Maybe he’s embarrassed that his income isn’t covering your expenses. Maybe he just finds it stressful, and he’d prefer not to think about. So he’s letting some bills go unpaid.

And then one day he comes to you sheepishly and says he needs you to come down to the bank and refinance your mortgage together. They need your signature, and he’s gone so far into debt that he needs to take out a second mortgage. Or something happens to your house and only then do you find out you didn’t have contents insurance. (You really need both house insurance AND contents insurance. Don’t forget the latter, even if you rent. Get a  contents insurance quote here).

Of course other scenarios also play out: maybe you’re doing the finances and he doesn’t want to hear about it. Maybe he’s spending too much but he doesn’t want to stop. These things can drastically impact your marital harmony and your future.

So let me list a strategy to make dealing with finances as a team easier.

1. Whoever does the finances also prepares a “status update”

Whoever pays the bills emails or prints out a status update twice a month of how much is in the bank, how much you owe, and how much you have. It doesn’t have to be elaborate–just a snapshot so that you both know how tight money is–or isn’t.

As a commenter pointed out in that finances reader question, if the only time you ever talk about money is when there isn’t any and when you’re stressed, then it becomes difficult to talk about. It’s seen as an attack on his ability to provide. But if you consistently update each other every two weeks, then it’s not an attack. It’s just a “keeping you in the loop” so we can plan together and act as a team. That’s good!

2. Take Care of Must Haves first

Some things are negotiables. You don’t need satellite TV. You don’t need your kids in soccer. You don’t need to eat out, to hire a maid, or to buy new clothes.

But there are some things that are NOT negotiable. Every family needs them so that if something happens you’re prepared. Here are what I consider non-negotiables:

1. House Contents Insurance and House Insurance

We often think of house insurance, but do you have the contents insured? If you don’t have proper coverage, look up home insurance quotes. And make sure your home insurance/business insurance policy offers liability insurance, too. It is too risky not to have this kind of coverage.

2. Disability Insurance and Life Insurance

We all know life insurance is important, especially if you have one main breadwinner and one person who stays at home. If someone dies, you want to be able to continue to care for your family, not suddenly have to find a well-paying job at the same time as you’re grieving.

But did you know that disability insurance is even more important? It’s far more likely that a bread winner will be disabled for a time than actually die. And disabilities are also expensive. Please, don’t scrimp on this!

3. Health Insurance

Depending on what country you’re in, you need this. Make room in your budget, even if it’s tight.

4. Wills

If you have children, and you don’t have a will, and something happens to you, do you really want your friends and family members going to court over who gets the kids? What if you were hoping that your sister would raise them, but your husband’s mother really wants them? You need a will, or else the state will decide who raises your kids, not you.

5. Emergency Fund

Every family needs an emergency fund of about 3 months’ income to tide you over if something happens–job loss, injury, massive unexpected expense (need a new roof, new furnace, new car).

3. Budget Together

Once you have the must-haves taken care of, decide together where the rest of your money will go, and how you will pay off debt. If he’s the one doing the finances, that doesn’t let you off the hook in terms of budgeting. You need to do your share, too, and that includes sticking to what you’ve agreed is the right course of action. But it also means that you must have input into what that budget is. I have known so many women, like Holly, who thought their financial situation was fine, so they bought things they never would have purchased had they known how far into debt they are. So both of you go over this and decide together where your money will go and what your priorities will be.

It gets me so frustrated when I hear women talk about finances as if it’s a submission issue; I just need to get out of the way and let him pay the bills because he’s the man, and if he fails to pay the electricity bill for a few months and the lights get turned off, I still won’t say anything because I need to submit.

No, ladies, you’re a team! And maybe you’re the one who is more gifted at finances than he is! What you need to do is to have a conversation about this and talk about how you can be a team. Who is best equipped to handle the finances? Who wants to handle them? And then what procedures can we put in place to make sure that the spouse who ISN’T doing the finances still knows where the insurance statements are, where the wills are, where the bank statements are, and what we owe.

This is a fundamental part of marriage.

Sometimes we think of marriage too much in hierarchical terms and not enough in terms of a team. And finances are where you must be a team, or else you too easily could be working at cross-purposes and putting each other at risk.


If you’re really struggling with debt, or you just want to get a handle on how to budget and how to save, my favourite resources are:

Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover (only $13.49, and such a great resource)
Dave Ramsey’s Starter Kit: Includes Total Money Makeover, some DVDs, and starter Envelope system

And remember that one way to save money is to make sure you’re not paying too much for those non-negotiables! Buy software to prepare your own will. Shop around for a buildings insurance quote or health insurance quote.

But please, ladies, whatever you do, be a team. Don’t stay in the dark. Yes, finances can be scary. Yes, insurance can be complicated. But this is something you can’t afford to ignore. Talk about it, and make a plan to deal with it. Two are always better than one.

Now, what advice do you have for us today? Link up the URL of a marriage post in the linky below. And be sure to copy the code for the Wifey Wednesday button and link back to this page, so that other people can see the great marriage resources, too!

I was partially compensated for this post, but the thoughts are entirely my own.




Reader Question of the Week: He Won’t Take Our Finances Seriously!

'Questions?' photo (c) 2008, Valerie Everett - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Every weekend I like to post a question someone sends in and let you readers have a go at it. This week’s question comes from a reader, who would like her husband to be more involved in financial decisions:

I am hoping maybe I can get some feedback from you or maybe the readers of your blog on this; in my marriage I am the one that handles the finances and it’s because I like playing with the money ~ lol!

The problem is that when I do want to talk to my husband about money issues, questions or such he gets annoyed with me and wants to have nothing to do with the conversation. I know that the reason he does this is because our money problems, mostly the lack of money, really makes him feel like he isn’t providing for his family the way he should.

I have never made him feel like our financial situation is his fault, but I do feel that as the head of the household he should be somewhat involved and its nice to talk to him about these things because you can’t go to your BFF and discuss something as personal as money.

Can I get him to stop feeling like money problems are his fault or is this something that I’m just never going to be able to talk with him about?

 

What do you think?  How can she better involve her husband in talking about finances?

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Use What You Have! Saving Money in January

Use What You Have and Save!
The new year is wonderful for fresh starts, but unfortunately not everything can automatically be made new just because the calendar changes. And one of the things that follows us into the new year is those pesky credit card bills. January is an awfully tough month financially for many families. Huge bills are due, and the money just isn’t coming in.

But one thing that we often forget is how much money we already have tied up in stuff inside our four walls! So today I thought I’d write about ways to save money this month by Using What You Actually Have. I know that sounds revolutionary, but hear me out.

It used to be that people let nothing go to waste. I’m an avid knitter, and I remember reading about a pioneer woman who used to try out new cable stitches using the string that came tied around the butcher’s packages, because she couldn’t afford to waste yarn. So even string was valuable!

Today we often buy stuff and then it sits in a cupboard, forgotten.  If money is tight this month, maybe it’s time to figure out what’s inside those cupboards!

'Pantry Commentary 2010' photo (c) 2010, Julie Magro - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/1. Food

The average family has between $250-$400 of groceries inside their home at any one time. And I’m pretty sure that’s a low estimate if you include what’s in my freezer!

So this month, why not make it a challenge to actually use the cans that are in your cupboard, and the meat that is in your freezer? Don’t buy stuff at the store–even if it’s on sale. Use up what you actually have.

Those tins of cranberry? Use them. Those tins of tuna? Figure out how to make a casserole.

I’m guilty of hoarding lentils and dried beans. I keep thinking I’m actually going to cook with them, but then I rarely do. I think it’s time that I actually tried!

Recently I made chili with various miscellaneous dried beans and all kinds of hamburger and turkey patties left over from the summer that we never got around to barbecuing, but which probably wouldn’t taste that good if I left them until the next barbecuing season. When you mash them all up, they’re pretty indistinguishable from ground beef. And my freezer looks a lot better without all those boxes.

2. Medications

I’m prone to periodic bouts of eczema, or just really itchy rashes. So a while ago when it flared up I bought a tube of hydrocortisone cream. After I had used it I had to figure out where to put it, since it’s not a normal medication. When it occurred to me which drawer it would most naturally fit in, I opened up that drawer only to find–two other tubes of hydrocortisone cream. I don’t know if I’m getting forgetful in my forties or what, but no one needs three tubes of hydrocortisone cream to deal with the occasional flare-up.

The solution? Have a central place in the house where all medications are kept. I used to be really organized with my medicines, but I’ve found it a challenge now because my teenage girls have their own bathroom, and so they often stick medications in there, too. The solution I’ve come up with is to stop keeping medications in the bathrooms and start putting them in a central drawer in the kitchen. That way we won’t have three bottles of Advil floating around, or three tubes of hydrocortisone cream.

3. Toiletries

My oldest daughter likes to say that the way you can tell a girl’s bathroom from a boy’s bathroom is the amount of product on the counter. Girls, she says, are incapable of having just one of anything, because they have to try out different things!

Are you guilty of that? I know I can be. If I dig under my bathroom sink I’ll find half used cans of mousse, or conditioner, or foot cream. But honestly, most of those products are completely interchangeable, despite the brand.

'Hackpact #14' photo (c) 2009, Cormac Heron - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

My husband started consolidating things by taking all of our leftover sunscreen after the summer and pouring it into one bottle. I thought that was a good idea, so I’ve started doing it with moisturizer cream, too. Instead of lots of half-filled bottles, I’ve got one big one. And I won’t buy anything else until that big one is actually used!

If you have stuff under there that you bought at a Mary Kay party once or something, why not start using it? You’ll feel prettier, and you’ll get rid of clutter taking up space under your sink!

4. Gift Cards

Many of us receive different gift cards at Christmas. But do you necessarily need them all?

One neat thing Canadians can do with gift cards is to join CardSwap and then swap out your gift cards for things you really need. So if money is tight this month you may not need a gift card to Chapters (our equivalent of Barnes and Noble), but you may really need it for a drug store. So join CardSwap and consolidate your cards into one big one you’ll actually use. I hate having $10 left on one card for one store and $15 left on another. I’d rather just have one big gift card for one store that I go to frequently.

Before Christmas my daughter cashed in $110 worth of gift cards and received about $100 back to use on Christmas presents. Yes, they take a cut, but to her the cash was worth it, because she didn’t really NEED stuff from that store. So, Canadians, check out CardSwap!

I think it’s a great service. Do they have anything similar in the U.S. or the U.K. or Australia? Let us know in the comments!

5. Games

When you want something to do at night, what do you automatically turn to? The video store? Amazon movies on demand? Even your TV? Here’s a thought: why not save the $1 or $5 or whatever it would cost and instead play a board game? We’ve all got them stuffed in those cupboards, but they rarely come out. Let’s make it a habit to actually use what we buy, including our games, rather than turning to entertainment that doesn’t necessarily entertain–and that costs us money.

So I challenge you this month to use up what you actually have. It will save you money, but more than that, it makes us think differently about how we use our money. When we throw it away carelessly, buying stuff we don’t really need, then we’re not being responsible or grateful for what we have. Actually using what’s in our house teaches us more about what we should be spending money on, and teaches us what we don’t really need!

Have you ever tried to Use What You Have to get you through a tough financial period? Let me know in the comments!

Creating a Savings Strategy with your Husband

Creating a Savings Strategy with Your HusbandIs money tight for you right now?

Around this time of year, money tensions can easily rear their ugly heads in marriage. I spend a lot of time writing about sex, but money is the OTHER big thing that couples often have conflict over. What do you do if you’re a saver, and you’re married to a spender? Or maybe your husband is such a saver that he thinks basic necessities are luxuries (Kleenex? Who needs Kleenex? Toilet paper or paper towel works just as well!).

I also know many of my regular readers are currently dealing with unemployment, or with lower than expected earnings. And so life is especially tough.

My husband and I have lived through every sort of money issue: there were times we had hardly any income at all, and there have been times when we haven’t had to worry about money. We’ve budgeted every last penny, and we’ve splurged. So let’s look at three different money scenarios where conflict can occur.

1. You Have Enough Money to Meet Your Basic Necessities, but You Don’t Save Well

Let’s talk about the basic problem with money in this scenario:

When we have money, we tend to spend first, and then, after we’ve spent, asked ourselves where the money went. Savings usually comes after spending.

We may even do this when we’re budgeting. We figure out what we need for food, and rent, and utilities, and gas, and then we add that all up, and whatever is left over we save.

The savings always is calculated last.

But is savings really our last priority? What if you need to get out of debt in two years? Or what if you really, really want to be able to purchase a house, or renovate your kitchen, or pay for a child to go to school? What if you know you’re going to need a new car in two years?

Chances are that kitchen renovation and that new car (even if it’s a new used one! Those are the only kind we buy) are higher priorities than “entertainment” or other things on your budget list. So here’s what we started doing early in our marriage:

The tithing and the savings comes off FIRST. Before we did anything else.

As soon as we get the paycheque, money is moved into a savings account or an investment account right away, automatically. Even our tithing and giving is done that way; our church now has direct deposit, and the other charities we support are on automatic deductions. So these things are paid for first.

If the savings just sits in your regular account you’ll likely touch it, and it will be difficult to tell how much you have. So move it over! You can open a savings account of course, but in Canada we also have “tax free” savings accounts where you can stow away up to $5000 a year, and the investment income it earns is tax free. In the U.K. they also have individual savings accounts that operate the same way (I’m not sure about the United States or Australia; leave a comment and let me know)! These are great vehicles because the money is put aside, it’s still relatively liquid (meaning you can get it out quickly), but you don’t have to pay tax on the interest. I’m not talking about retirement savings accounts where the money earns income tax free; that’s something separate, and also important. But you shouldn’t use a retirement account for shorter-term savings, so you’re going to need something else.

I’ve heard it recommended that you ALWAYS save 10% of what you earn, and you ALWAYS tithe 10% of what you earn, so you ALWAYS live on 80%, no matter what your income bracket. That’s what I’m raising my kids to do, too–save and tithe off of the bat, and if it becomes a habit, then you just always do it. Of course, the 10% is a minimum; you can choose to give more and save more. But you must always do the minimum, no matter your income, and you’ll find that you don’t run out of money.

Now, if we know our savings is paid for, and we know our tithing is paid for, it really doesn’t matter where the rest of the money goes. If we spend too much on hair cuts this month, that’s okay. If I splurge on Starbucks, that’s okay. As long as I’m not running up a credit card bill, and I’m paying everything off in full, it really doesn’t matter what I spend in each category as long as my savings and givings objectives are met.

'Budget' photo (c) 2012, Tax Credits - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/I never could do that envelope thing, where you spend only a certain amount in each category. I always had too many categories! But what I realized was that if I did the savings first, then it didn’t matter.

This can also avoid a lot of marital fights over where the money is spent. “You bought what tool!?/!” “You stopped at Starbucks again?!?” If you both now your savings obligations are met, then if you each splurge it isn’t as big a deal.

The big caveat to make this work: spend cash. If you spend on credit card or even on debit you often don’t know how much is in the account, and it’s easy to wrack up bills. So I firmly believe in spending cash, I just don’t think that we have to divvy it all out into different categories if we’re already meeting our spending and giving goals.

2. You Don’t Have Enough Money to Meet Your Obligations

Of course, you still must have money in the bank to meet your mortgage obligations or your utilities. You could be going through a period where you just can’t even meet those “must meet” obligations because of unemployment or too much debt. If you’re in a position where you can’t pay the rent, and the mortgage, and the utilities, then you’re in a rough spot. If it’s only temporary, that’s one thing. But in the long run that’s untenable, and creates so much stress. You don’t want to always be paying off one credit card with another, because eventually that will come crashing down.

We all have images of where we want to be financially: we want a house, we want a car, we want certain furniture. Perhaps that just isn’t possible right now. There’s nothing wrong with living in an apartment for a few years to save for a house–even if it means selling your house now. Lots of people grew up in apartments (I did!) and they turned out okay.

I know people who have gotten into worse and worse situations because they just won’t sell their homes and downsize. To them it feels as if they’re failing their kids. Their kids need a big house, and so they can’t leave it.

What your kids really need, though, is stability and an example of responsibility. It isn’t failing to have to downsize. It’s just being responsible. And look at all those little homes that were built right after World War II. They’re tiny–many less than 1000 square feet. And yet lots of families raised 4 or 5 kids in them. That was normal a generation or two ago. It’s okay to go back to yesterday’s normal. Perhaps yesterday’s normal had something going for it–when the house is tiny, people tend to hang out in the living room, so there’s a lot more family time!

Then, when you’re downsized, you can start saving again for your goal of a bigger home. But there’s no shame in living within your means. You’re actually teaching your kids valuable lessons. I know there’s the added complications of moving out of school districts, or leaving friends, but please, don’t risk bankruptcy over maintaining an ideal of what your family should be. And if I could offer a suggestion that sounds radical: move to a smaller town if you have the kind of work that is transportable. Honestly, small towns are so much cheaper. If more people got out of the city perhaps they’d realize how high the cost of living is in many urban areas.

3. You Want to Save, but Your Husband Spends Too Much

The above two scenarios assume that you’re roughly on the same page, and can agree to a savings strategy. But what if you’re married to someone who spends a ton, and won’t agree to save?

This is a tough one and my advice would depend on how dire the situation is. If he is putting you into so much debt that the family’s future is in peril, seek help. Find a mentor couple to come alongside you. And–and I often don’t advise this, but it may be necessary in this case–get separate bank accounts. See if you can get him to agree to having the main family bank account in your name only so that he can’t touch it, and then give him an account where he can have control of some money, just not all. I am a big believer in joint bank accounts, but there is a time where it is not wise.

If he just won’t save, but he isn’t actually endangering the family, then how about talking to him like this, and suggesting, “Honey, how about we figure out what’s reasonable to spend on the household each month, on food, and medicine, and toiletries, and things like that, and then I get that money at the beginning of the month to do with as I please, as long as the house doesn’t run out of toilet paper. Good idea?” Then you have that money, and if you’re really frugal, you can stick what you don’t spend in a savings account. You can become a super shopper, knowing that every dollar you save at the grocery store goes towards your savings goals.

One last rule: like everything in marriage, communication is key. And communication around money is more difficult because we all have different attachments to it. So if you’re going through a difficult conflict about money, work on your friendship first. Try to laugh together. Take walks after dinner and talk. Keep doing fun things together. When there is a foundation of goodwill in the marriage it’s easier to tackle these things. When there’s only conflict, these things have the power to drive us apart.

I have a ton more I’d like to say, but this post is already really long, so I’m going to stop there. But why don’t you chime in–what do you do when you’re on different pages about money? What budgeting technique has worked best for you? Let me know!