Family Money Management: The Importance of Agreement

Douglas Hanna

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Are you having problems with debt? Are you afraid to answer the phone because it may be an angry creditor calling? Do you have problems getting from one paycheck to the next? The simple answer is that you need to budget. But for that budget to work, both you and your spouse need to be in total agreement.

If one of you loves to shop and doesn't worry much about credit card debt while the other hates spending money like death, you have a problem. You can create budgets till Honolulu freezes over, but it won't work and chances, are, you and your significant other will end up fighting constantly.

Even before you start to create a budget, the two of you must sit down and discuss your life objectives. Get out a piece of paper. Make a list of long-term objectives the two of you can agree on. One might be to get out of debt. Another might be to make monthly contributions to a college fund for the kids. A third could be to begin a retirement fund. Or you might decide it's important that one of your get some specialized training that would lead to a higher salary.

Once you agree on your objectives, the two of you can start work on a budget. Step one will be to decide how much you will need to save (or spend) monthly to meet your objectives. You should subtract this first from your monthly income so you can see how much you have left over to work with.

Next, subtract your “secured” debt. Typically, this would be your mortgage payment, car payments, and any other loan payments where an asset such as a boat or RV secures the loan. Then, take a hard look at your other expenses and debt – for example, your rent, food, membership dues, clothing or credit card debt - as these are the only areas where you can hope to make cuts.

It is important that you both agree as to where those cuts can be made. No matter how strongly you feel about drastically cutting a budget category such as clothing, if your spouse doesn't agree, you’re going to have problems. A better solution is to find a compromise – a number that gets you closer to where you think the spending should be but one that your spouse agrees is at least fair. Then, look for another category where you can make cuts to get your final budget number down to where it needs to be.

You should then sit down with your spouse twice a month to review where you are vs. your budgetary goals. You will most likely find that you're under in some categories and over in others. Don't worry about making adjustments at this time. Just make notes as to where you've over and where you're under.

After the first two months, you should know where you've been spending more than you budgeted and where you've spent less. The two of you can then discuss what adjustments you need to make. There should not be a lot of arguing because you have goals you've agreed on and a budget you created by working together.

The important thing is to keep the discussion from becoming accusatory. If one of you has been the “budget breaker, ” it's better to ask “it looks like we've got a problem here, what to you think we can we do to fix it?” then to say, “you really screwed up this time. ”

What can you do if you or your spouse just can't control his or her spending and keeps busting the budget, month after month?

Unfortunately that's an issue that probably needs the work of a good marriage counselor.

Have you heard about HD radio technology? It makes AM sound as good as FM and FM sound almost like you were listening to a CD . . . and its free! To learn more about this amazing new technology, just go my Web site, , to get all the buzz. Douglas Hanna is a retired marketing executive and the author of numerous articles on HD radio and family finances.


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