If you came to my house and sat down in the kitchen (which, at least in my experience, is where everyone tends to congregate anyway!), you would spy a simple sheet of paper hanging on the refrigerator. We call it our Budget Tracker.
It’s nothing fancy and may seem a bit out of place on the refrigerator next to pictures of our friends and family, our children’s artwork, and my weekly goals. But this little piece of paper has helped our marriage.
I’m not sure about you, my husband and I can often have different ideas about money. It is easy to let money become a source of tension and argument or something that you avoid discussing altogether. The Budget Tracker helps us avoid either extreme.
How a Piece of Paper Helps My Marriage
We have a written budget in our house. Some items in budget are nonnegotiable and paid on a monthly basis: our rent, utilities, insurance, etc. But there are other items that we purchase weekly and that can be variable: groceries, gas, fun items, etc.
Those variable items used to be a source of stress to me, which could lead to tension in our marriage. As a natural saver (and someone who is too frugal for her own good at times!), I wondered why my husband was buying a certain item and if we could afford it. Likewise, he wondered if I was keeping our grocery shopping trips within our monthly grocery allowance.
Enter the Budget Tracker.
The Budget Tracker is a simple spreadsheet that lists our variable expenses. We have columns for each of the expenses as well as the amount that we can spend per week on those items.
For example, one column is marked Groceries ($75). I know that I can spend $75 per week on groceries. I try to do one major shopping trip each Saturday. When I come home, I record the amount that I spent in that column. If I forgot something (or if we run out of milk midweek, as always seems to happen in our family!) and go to the grocery store again that week, I will simply add the amounts together.
Because we display the Budget Tracker prominently where we can both see and record our expenditures, there are no questions and no tension. Here is a sample of our Budget Tracker:
|Miscellaneous ($30)||Amount Over/Under for Week|
|August 13-August 19||$70 (Saturday)
$4.50 (Wednes. )
|$16 (socks and underwear for kids)
|$10 (field trip money)
$10 (guys’ night)
$8 (birthday supplies)
As you can see, we went over or under in most of our categories by small amounts. These tend to balance each other out so that we end up on track or slightly ahead most weeks. However, we were right around our allotted amount for each category, which kept us on track.
There are several advantages of having a Budget Tracker:
1. Know Where Your Money is Going
We know where each penny that we spend is going, and it has a place in our budget. We don’t have to worry about having more month than money.
2. Increase Communication
The Budget Tracker has proved a vehicle for communication in our house. We can both look at the expenses that the other has logged and have a profitable, calm discussion about finances.
3. Freedom to Spend
This may seem counterintuitive, but I now feel less worried when I spend money. I know that I have “permission” to buy a certain item because I can see how much room we have in that category. If I decide to go out for coffee with friends, I can check the Miscellaneous category and see how much money is left for the week. That way I know that the money I spend was already planned for, and I don’t feel guilty!
4. Model Stewardship
I hadn’t realized that my (then) five-year-old son had any idea about the Budget Tracker until one day after a shopping trip he said, “Mommy, aren’t you going to write down what we spent?” I was taken aback by how much he had been watching us. I was then able to use the opportunity to explain to him why we use the Budget Tracker and the basics of budgeting. Not a bad education for a five-year-old!
Now, I realize that every family is different and has different financial needs. I do not believe that our categories (or the amount budgeted in each) are appropriate for all families. However, I do believe that a written budget can greatly help all families gain control of their finances, increase communication and trust between spouses, and teach financial responsibility to children.
Do you have any tools that you have used to help you stay on budget?