We have a super fun date night at the beginning of every month around here.
Just kidding, it’s the worst. But we’re usually alone, usually spending a decent amount of time talking, and it usually involves alcohol.
Kind of sounds date-like, right?
We’ve been doing a monthly budget since we first got engaged, so for around the past 5 1/2 years. I wish I could say we’ve paid off the entirety of our debt in that amount of time, but alas, we’re still knee deep in student loans. HOWEVER, we have paid off a huge chunk of it, and we’ve honed a handful of best practices in our financial behavior that seem to be working well for our family.
Mostly we’re big Dave Ramsey aficionados, but we also keep doing (stupid?) crazy things like international travel/moves (when the opportunities arise) and, alas, our shared love language is drinking alcohol at a 40% markup in somebody else’s dining area. So. We’ve got some work to do yet, and we’re not the hardcore beans n’ rice cookers that we could be.
Oops. Italy was expensive. And delicious.
Still, we’ve made huge progress in this area of our lives, and I’ve gotten a handful of questions lately about budgeting soooooooo I thought I’d break up the thrill of endless postings about Advent practices and share some of what we do with you.
I’m very very much the opposite of a financial expert. So take this all with a salt lick or something.
I am, however, almost a diamond-level Target shopper, and I’m a devoted radio listener of Mr. Ramsey. I’m also a thrifty mom who loves expensive leather. It somehow all holds together, and I could never tell you how…
But the budget. Of all the tricks in our relationship bag, this one is probably the most useful and the most necessary, apart from our shared faith and practice of NFP. Because conversations. Over and over again. And continual circling back and reevaluation of goals. It’s amazing what that will do for a marriage.
The nitty gritty.
Every month close to the 1st, we sit down with our little Xcel spreadsheet and do a zero balance line item budget. That’s where we list out the total income for the month and then assign every single dollar of it to an outgoing debt/expense until we’re left with a balanced zero budget at the end. It’s a very simple Xcel spreadsheet with a list of all our expenses on the left, and we just go down the list and fill in what we’re spending in each category. It’s repetitive, but you’d be amazed how much difference there is month to month. For example, hundreds of dollars of stimulating dental work for yours truly this month. Ahem. So list it out like so: tithe, rent, groceries, energy, doctor’s co-pays, etc.
We’re trying to get back to using a cash envelope system for groceries/gas/babysitting/clothing/home goods, but I have to confess I’ve become notoriously lazy in this arena. I 100% believe that cash is more effective at protecting against overspending, but I also have 3 little kids and I hate going into the bank. Or the gas station. Womp womp. So, mostly we use our debit cards and track our spending daily on our bank’s mobile app.
We don’t use credit cards. Ever. We don’t even have them, because at one point we did, and the temptation of the very thing’s mere existence is just too much. So, reward points be damned. We don’t use ’em.
We’re not saving anything for retirement or college yet. That looks terrifying on paper, but the truth is, aside from what our employer’s contribute to our 401Ks, nothing is going in. Why? Because we’re still in debt. So we’d essentially be borrowing to invest, which is ridiculous. As soon as we send that last check off to Great Lakes (aka Great Satan) and are free and clear of our own student loans, the saving will commence. For now, we’re in payoff mode.
We are not homeowners yet. Believe me, this one is by far the hardest…but when the furnace goes out, the master bath springs a $15,000 plumbing leak and the carpets are getting, well, used by small children…I’m a little bit relieved. Even though the rental market in Denver is appallingly steep, we’re so thankful to have found a reasonably priced, comfortably sized house to rent while we finish paying off our debt/save out down payment. As much as it pains me to be approaching 32 and not yet in a home of our own, I know that the pain is temporary, and that the reward of entering home ownership with zero debt (and a healthy down payment) will make our mid 30’s and beyond so much sweeter. Renting is a little embarrassing, but being house poor seems like a much bigger problem than my ego.
We’ve put a temporary freeze on eating out/travel. This has been the hardest part by FAR. We both love to go out, we love to travel, and we love happy hour. But at the beginning of Advent we had a little come to Jesus moment over the sobering (ha) reality that all those little date nights might be adding up to additional months not living in our dream home, so we’ve ripped off the final band aid. The only exceptions are previously standing commitments and birthdays. (And mine is coming up this weekend, cheers!)
We take pretty much all the freelance work that comes our way. I say we because even though I’m really the only one with flex time in my life to be able to take on extra projects, Dave’s support and help with the kids in the evenings that makes it possible. I use a mother’s helper each week to help keep me sane, and I write 2-3 freelance pieces each month to pay for her. Anything beyond what she costs goes into the larger money pot.
We do a debt snowball. We knock out our debts from smallest to largest, regardless of the interest rate, and we attack them. There’s a list on the fridge, and every time I get to cross off another line I feel like partying. I won’t list actual numbers, but it’s really gratifying to see that when we started marrying out budget together we had 4 student loans (including grad school), 2 car payments, a tax bill, a credit card debt, the cost of our international move, and a year of preschool tuition. All we have left on the list are 2 student loans…WOO.
So that’s the bird’s eye view. I’m always listening to the Dave Ramsey show when I’m in the car between noon and 3, and if I’m home, I stream it on my computer and have it playing in the background. My kids know his theme song by heart, haha. I need the motivation because I’m a hard-headed idiot who has to hear the same thing over and over and over again before it really sinks in. Hence it taking us 5 flipping years to give up eating out. C’est la doggie bag, though.
Anniversary trip to the mountains last month. Our last travel for … um, ever?
So how about your family? Are you trying to pay off debt? Do you even have any debt? Does talking money make you feel icky? I love hearing other people’s get out of debt stories – they’re almost as addicting as birth stories.