Monthly Archives: September 2010

Sep 30

Dr. Gary Chapman on Great Sex, Cohabitation, Marriage Preparation and Much More!

By Dustin | Marriage Preparation

Things I Wish I'd Known Before We Got MarriedI recently had the great privilege of interviewing Dr. Gary Chapman and gaining his insight into a variety of important issues impacting dating, engaged and married couples.  As expected, his wisdom was very impressive and exceptionally practical (and you know I like that!).

Most people know Dr. Chapman as the author of more than 30 books on the topics of family and marriage relationships.  His best-known book, The Five Love Languages, tops my list of recommended reading for couples.  If you haven’t read it, you need to.

Dr. Chapman recently published Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married as a down-to-earth advice guide for dating and engaged couples.  Once again, he’s produced a book that will likely top the bestseller list and help many couples.

Here are some examples of the topics covered during our nearly 30-minute conversation:

  • The vital importance of marriage preparation
  • How couples should deal with major personality differences
  • The pros and cons of living together before marriage
  • What to do when you don’t feel “in love” anymore
  • Advice for a satisfying sex life
  • The Apology Love Language
  • How to deal with a Love Language that changes over time or isn’t identifiable

This is one interview that you won’t want to miss!  Just click the play button below and take notes…

[audio:http://www.engagedmarriage.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Dr-Gary-Chapman-Interview.mp3]

It would mean a lot to me if you shared a link to this post with all of your friends via email, Facebook and Twitter.  I want to be sure everyone has a chance to gain from Dr. Chapman’s wisdom!

Sep 27

Married Money Management Step 4: Pay Off Your Debt (Damn It!)

By Dustin | Finances & Careers

Pay Off Your Debts, Damn It! (here's how)Do you want to be debt free?

Seriously, do you really want to have freedom from monthly payments, calls from creditors and the feeling of being a slave to your lenders?

Well, I can tell you it’s absolutely worth the effort, but for most couples the journey toward debt freedom will be a difficult one.  It simply requires a lot of hard work and sacrifice, and you have to be fired up and passionate to make it happen.

If you can say, “I want to pay off my debts” and you don’t yet feel the urge to follow by screaming “DAMN IT!” then you may not be ready yet to make it happen.

If you think you have the burning desire required to kill your debts without mercy, then read on.

Why I Care So (Damn) Much

There are few topics that get me fired up as much as the idea of helping other couples experience the freedom and power of a debt-free marriage.  Bethany and I have been right where you are, and we may have been in worse shape.

Several years back, we found ourselves over $54,000 in non-mortgage debt and pregnant with our first child.

We were scared.  But we were also fired up and ready to make major changes for the good of our family.  I’d encourage you to read our entire debt-free story, but here’s the main points that you need to understand if you want to follow our path:

It takes passion, energy and commitment to pay off a large amount of debt.  And it takes a lot of hard work.  There’s really no substitute for effort if you want to make a major change in your financial future and live a debt-free marriage.

For us, this meant a firm commitment to incurring no additional debt and a new mindset focused first-and-foremost on paying off our stupid debts.  Practically speaking, the real key for us was building and strictly following a family budget that reduced our spending on things like shopping and eating out at restaurants.  We didn’t take vacations and we kept our entertainment on the simple side.  In a word, we got frugal.

I also worked a LOT, and we used any small amount of money we could come up with to pay off the next debt in our debt snowball (see below for details).  There weren’t many big moments of major progress.  Instead, it was all about being consistent and maintaining our intensity over the course of several years.

Now you know the basic strategy we used to get debt-free over a long and trying 3 1/2 year period.  Let’s dig a little deeper into why you want to accomplish the same.

5 Fantastic Benefits of a Debt-Free Marriage

1. Contentment

A funny thing happens when you get control of your money – you cling to it less.  With financial freedom comes a renewed focus on the things that really matter in life.  And when your values are in the right place, you depend much less on “stuff” and the false happiness that comes with it.

2. Communication

If you are married and you want to make substantial changes to your financial situation, you will need to talk…a lot.  The process of getting out of debt will require a real intimacy with your spouse and a deepening of the trust between you.  The spirit of teamwork you develop on your financial journey together carries over to other areas of your marriage as well.

3. Courage

If you have a lot of debt to pay off and/or you are already on a tight budget, achieving debt freedom will be a significant accomplishment.  When you meet a major goal, it fuels your faith in yourself and your ability to work alongside your spouse.  And it fills your relationship with the courage to face any challenge.

4. Change (for your whole family)

When you decide to shed your payments, you are breaking a cycle that most of us have witnessed throughout our lives, and you are setting a new example for your own kids.  With a solid financial plan, you’ll actually have resources available to help with your children’s future, retire with dignity and have the freedom of time to spend more with your family.

Personally, the best benefit that we’ve experienced since paying off our consumer debt is an increased ability and desire to give.  When we are generous with the gifts we’ve been given, we can change not only our own family tree but a little piece of the world as well.

5. Comfort

I will be the first to say that money doesn’t solve all of your problems, and no one should expect that debt freedom somehow brings instant happiness.  However, we certainly do sleep a little better at night knowing that we owe no one (other than our mortgage company :) ) and we have a healthy emergency fund in the bank.  This feeling of security and comfort is what financial peace is all about.

I’m Ready to Kick Some Debt-Ass…Tell Me How!

The bottom line to paying off debt is you need to live on less than you make and use the extra money to pay off your existing debts.  Wait, that’s not real exciting, huh?

Well, the somewhat sexier answer that we used to get out of debt is a little system known as the Debt Snowball.

Although my opinions vary in some cases from those of Dave Ramsey, I think he is spot-on in his advice for paying off all non-mortgage debts.  In his famous Baby Steps, he places the Debt Snowball as the second step along the journey.

While I’ve placed it at #4 in our Married Money Management series, I think his recommended system for getting debt-free is great.

To complete your debt snowball, you simply do the following:

  1. List all of your non-mortgage debts in order from smallest to largest.
  2. Pay minimum payments on all debts except the smallest one.
  3. Crank down your expenses and ramp up your income, throwing all extra money each month at your smallest debt.
  4. Once you kill your first debt, you take that extra money plus the old minimum payment and you kill your next smallest debt.
  5. You continue down your list and the “snowball” grows in size and picks up in its speed at killing debts.
  6. Keep it up until all of your non-mortgage debts are eliminated.
  7. Yell as loud as you possibly can, I’M DEBT FREE! (we actually did this live on Dave’s radio show to celebrate)

The process is easy, but the implementation is certainly not!  Again, the real key to making this happen is that old hard work and passionate sacrifice thing.

The reason I prefer Dave’s Debt Snowball approach to the many other options out there is its focus on motivation.

Mathematically speaking, the smallest-to-largest payoff loses out to an approach that attacks the debts with the highest interest rates first.  However, as Dave likes to say, if you were so good at doing math you wouldn’t be in this mess to begin with!

As an engineer, I resisted this idea for a while as we “played with” our debt payoff by putting a little extra toward our high-interest balances, while also saving some money, investing in retirement and maintaining an inflated lifestyle.  Well, it didn’t work.

Our real progress came when we put the math aside and went “all in” with intensity, focus and (frankly) anger at our debts and stupid mistakes of the past.

This is why we do Married Money Management step #3 before we pay off our debts and #5 (investing) after our non-mortgage debts are eliminated.  You need to focus on this Debt Snowball with all of your financial energies and let your momentum continue to motivate you as you kill your first debt and follow it up with larger and larger payoffs.

Can YOU Really Do This?

Hell Yes!

The real question for you is, “How bad to you want it?

Any other questions? 🙂

Please share your own debt-payment struggles and successes in the comments below as we break this vital issue wide open within our community!

Here’s a rundown of all the posts available to you in the Marriage Money Management series:

(photo source)

Sep 23

How Triathlon Training is Like Marriage

By Dustin | Time Management

This guest post from Eric at Better Husbands and Fathers is one of my favorites, and I can totally relate to his message. I hope it resonates with you as well.  Don’ t forget to leave a comment below with your thoughts!

Swimming. Biking. Running.  About a month ago I competed in a triathlon.

Today, as I ponder this experience, I realize that my preparation and participation in the triathlon is analogous in many ways to achieving lasting happiness in marriage.

Let me explain.

I registered for my triathlon about 2 months prior to race day and knew I had some work to do to get ready for the big day. Those who have participated in such a race know that training for this 3-sport event takes hard-work, planning, and dedication (not to mention a patient and understanding wife!).

As the race approached I trained 5 days per week.  I purchased some additional equipment and supplies so I could perform my best on race day.  I learned the routes and trained on them.  I read all the material in the information packet provided.  I was ready.

Due to my preparation, I had a great race.  I still finished in the middle of the pack, but I had a successful race, I felt good physically, and it was a lot of fun!

Since race day, I have stopped training; I have only exercised twice, put on a few pounds, and am in much worse shape than I was on race-day.  I let other demands in life take priority over my physical health and well-being.

Did you stop trying after the honeymoon?

Before you married your wife, you made sure to do your best to impress her, to woo her.  Much like my dedication to getting in shape for the triathlon, undoubtedly, you were dedicated to building this relationship. If you were like me, you wrote love letters, went on dates multiple times per week, and were 100% committed to each other.

Then comes the big day.  You were so in love and had been preparing for this day for a long time. You had a beautiful wedding and your cheeks even hurt from smiling so much!

You went on your honeymoon and your love had never been stronger.  However, when you returned to reality, did you stop trying in your relationship?

Did you stop putting in the effort to “exercise” and nourish your relationship? Did you let other demands on your time take priority over your spouse?  Whether it takes 6 months or 6 years, this happens to most marriages.

Here’s how you can avoid (and combat) this tendency:

  • Perspective: While it’s important to have short-term goals, we also need to keep a long-term perspective. In addition to my short-term triathlon goal, I should have established a long-term goal to live a healthy active lifestyle.  Similarly, we should have a long-term perspective on marriage. When you marry someone you are making a very long-term commitment. Having this perspective helps you keep your spouse your #2 priority (behind God).
  • Exercise: As I prepared for my triathlon, I was careful about how, when, and where I exercised. For marriage, your exercise is dating your spouse.  Make it a priority to spend time with your spouse weekly. Enjoy each other’s company, have meaningful conversation, and continuously get to know each other.  As you flex your marriage muscle by dating your spouse, it will only strengthen the bond between you.
  • Personal Trainer: A personal trainer provides extra help and motivation.  They will work with you to establish goals, and walk you down the path to a healthy and active lifestyle.  In marriage, you often need similar help.  Professional counselors are personal trainers for your marriage. At any stage of your marriage, counselors can help you establish healthy habits in your marriage.  It can be very beneficial to have a third party perspective to help you make needed changes in your relationship.

Whether you’ve grown apart or not, having a long-term perspective, dating your spouse, and potentially seeking professional counseling can help you achieve and/or maintain a happy and healthy marriage.

What other ideas do you have to share for keeping your marriage fit and healthy?

(photo source)

__________________________________

Eric has been married for 4.5 years and is a father to a 2.5 yr old boy (and has another boy on the way!).  He lives in the Seattle area and runs the Better Husbands and Fathers blog, which is designed to create dialogue among men who want to be “better.” You can also follow him on twitter @BetterHusbands .

Sep 20

Married Money Management Step 3: Build A Starter Emergency Fund

By Dustin | Finances & Careers

Why You Need a Starter Emergency Fund - and How to Get itWelcome to Step 3 in our journey to financial success in your marriage!  Today’s lesson is pretty basic and extremely important.

We are ready to start increasing our net worth directly while putting our budget into practice to extract every last penny that we can to apply to our first major goal.  It’s time to build a starter emergency fund.

In most cases, your starter emergency fund should consist of $1,000 in a local savings or checking account that you can access quickly if you need it.  If you make over $100,000 in your household annually or you feel particularly vulnerable financially (such as having a single income or uncertainty with your career), then I’d suggest bumping this up to $2,000.

The idea is to have just enough money on-hand so that you can draw a line in the sand and stop depending on debt to deal with your “emergencies” once and for all.

If you aren’t willing to quit borrowing money, then I’d suggest you stop reading the Married Money Management series at this point because the rest of our plan for financial success simply won’t apply to those who want to live the rest of their lives in debt.

For those of you who are ready to kill your debts and live the rest of your lives free of that bondage, you’re gonna love this program! 🙂

Why $1,000 and Why Now?

When I first started following Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps, I wondered why a starter emergency fund was placed before attacking high-interest debt, which is costing you tons of money each month to carry.  I also questioned the sense of only having $1,000 on-hand for the long journey (for us) toward debt freedom.

Well, the starter emergency fund is vital because it allows you to break your dependency on credit cards or lines of credit every time an unexpected expense comes up.  With $1,000 in the bank, you don’t have to panic when the starter goes out on your car or your child has to go to the doctor.  It’s enough to cover the “little emergencies” that will surely come up from time-to-time.

If you use any of your starter fund, you simply pause your debt snowball (which we’ll cover next week) and rebuild it back to the $1,000 or $2,000 level before moving forward.

So, why not be even more secure and save up $10,000 at this point?  For one, you don’t want to delay your debt pay-off too long and the beauty of this system is that we focus on one major goal at a time, and this allows us to get the starter emergency fund in place and then move on pretty quickly.

However, the biggest reason is that you don’t want to be too comfortable while you’re paying off your debts in the next step.  When you know there’s only $1,000 of cushion available, it increases your urgency in killing your debts and it ensures you don’t get too soft in your focus in meeting that major goal.

Easy Enough, Right?

It doesn’t get much more simple than saving up $1,000 in your local bank.  For some of you, this will take a few months and require sacrifice.  For others, you may have more than this already saved up.  Well, stay tuned because you’ll be asked to withdraw any “extra” savings next week so we can jump-start our efforts at getting you a debt-free marriage!

I can’t wait to share my favorite step with you:  Kill Your Debts (Damn It)!

Here’s a rundown of all the posts available to you in the Marriage Money Management series:

(photo source)

Sep 16

Dating for the Wrong Reasons: Misery Loves Company

By Dustin | Marriage Preparation

This is a guest post from E. Umana from Christian Marriage Works.  I hope you enjoy his interesting take on a current trend toward dating to avoid loneliness rather than to find a marriage partner.

We’re in the midst of a raging recession with global reach, and many economists are speculating about the possibility of a “double dip” recession. People have lost jobs, homes, cars, and other property, and marriages are strained under the weight of mounting debts and other economic problems.

But there is one “industry” that is defying the economic gloom and doom.  According to a report from Fox News, some online matchmaking services are reporting double-digit increases in the number of new members.  They describe the pace at which people are trying to find a new partner as being frenzied.

It seems that, despite the sometimes high monthly cost, people want to reach out to one another and be together.  In other words, they don’t want to go through this economic downturn alone.

Dating for All the Wrong Reasons?

Unfortunately, many of these people (not all) are lonely and not seeking a partner from a Godly standpoint,as in seeking their lifelong soul mate, partner, fellow worshiper, lover and co- parent of any future children. In fact, I believe many of these people are simply looking for someone to “hook up with.”  Some of them will marry after many years of getting to KNOW each other in the biblical sense, prior to marriage.

People are social creatures, and they need to interact with other people. When interviewed in the Fox News story, several people stated the need to connect and not face all this uncertainty by themselves.

However, they also mention the advantage of having an almost unlimited number of potential partners to interact with and weed out the incompatible (the golddigger, the psycho, etc.).  As a bonus, they have more basic information on the potential mate than they otherwise would meeting someone at work or from a chance encounter at the laundromat.

One can sympathize as these are lonely people who want companionship and perhaps the ability to share expenses in these difficult times. However, in my opinion, it is better to be alone than to be with the wrong person. No matter how bad the economy is a relationship started out of loneliness, desperation or a desire to share expenses will not last in the long run.

Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife (or husband). Proverbs 21 verse 9 (NIV)

What do you think?  Do you agree with the guest author’s view that dating out of loneliness or economic despair is outside of God’s intentions?

____________________________________

E.Umana is an article author and blog owner, and his various articles on marriage and internet marketing are posted and republished in various places all over the internet. His blog is a christian blog called Christian Marriage Works at askme7.com where you can download his e-book 12 Marriage Killers, which explains how to spot the behaviors that can create conflict and destroy a marriage.

Sep. 20-Oct. 4, 2010
Sep 13

Married Money Management Step 2: Take Inventory and Get Current

By Dustin | Finances & Careers

How to do a Money Inventory and Get CurrentIn Step One, we looked at the importance of making a budget as the critical first action to achieving financial success in your marriage.

Today, we’ll take a look at the next “baby step” on your journey to meeting your goals with money.  If you find that you are beyond these early milestones, please share your success in the comments below and stay tuned as we’ll catch up with you soon.

After your budget is in place, it’s time to stare into the face of your financial reality.  For many of us, this can be a scary proposition as we’ve conveniently put aside any real thought about our money management and the current status of our accounts, bills and debts.

It’s time to figure out exactly where we stand in our family finances.

Take a Financial Inventory

If you haven’t paid much attention to where you stand, I know it can be intimidating, especially if you have significant debt.  Fortunately, Bethany and I were never behind with our bills or late on any accounts.

However, I still remember the day I totaled up our outstanding consumer debts (debts other than a mortgage) and had a short panic attack when the calculator showed more than $54,500!

How did this happen?  We were doing well financially…except in reality we were not.  When we added up our miscellaneous debts such as car loans, student loans, furniture loans, small credit card balances and even a 401k loan (gasp!), it hit us hard.

We had A LOT of debt over our heads, and we were expecting our first child at the time.  Big Time Eye Opener!

If you haven’t already done so, make a list of your outstanding debts and get current balances on each.  This list will be very important in a few weeks as we begin to attack every debt and KILL IT permanently.  But for now, our focus is on getting a solid handle on where we stand.

It’s time to take a full financial inventory to get a clear picture of the following:

  • Non-Mortgage Debts
  • Mortgage Debts
  • Savings Accounts
  • Checking Accounts
  • Savings Bonds
  • Cash Savings
  • Insurance Policies
  • Retirement Accounts
  • Estimated Value of Your Assets
  • Monthly Income & Monthly Expenses (this should have been done with your budget)

This is also an excellent time to pull a copy of your credit report to check it for errors.  Your credit report will also give you a full listing of your outstanding loans.  You can get a free credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies once per year at AnnualCreditReport.com

Once you have a tally of your assets and your liabilities (debts), you can calculate your current net worth.  This is the best measure of your financial progress over time since it reflects both the reduction in your debt load and the increase in your savings and investment values.  I really like this net worth calculator from Bankrate to guide you through the details.

Be sure to write down your current net worth and today’s date so you can look back at this number and celebrate your achievements as we move forward!

Get Current On Your Bills

Before we move forward increasing our savings and paying down our debts, though, it’s important that we first get current with all of our creditors.  If you are behind on any bills, it’s time to get caught up and start making the required minimum monthly payments.

In the case of very old debts that haven’t been paid in a long time, there’s a chance that the creditor will settle the account for much less than the total outstanding balance (especially when interest and penalties are included) since they’ll be happy to simply get paid anything.  If you are facing this situation, it’s important that you call each creditor individually and strike a deal before moving onto the next.  You don’t want to “reawaken” a bunch of creditors at the same time!

Although it can be tempting to turn away from the mess of past due bills and let someone else take care of it, the reality is that debt consolidation companies are not all that they advertise to be.  If you are seriously behind, I’d encourage you to read more about the truth behind these companies and seek a financial counselor to help you get current.

What Do You Think of Your Net Worth?

If this is the first time you’ve calculated your net worth, you may be wondering whether it’s good or bad.  You can check out the typical net worth of Americans in your age range and salary level at this website to get a relative idea of your current standing.

However, the really important measure of your net worth is how much it increases over time.  And we’ll be starting to work on that in Step 3!

Here’s a rundown of all the posts available to you in the Marriage Money Management series:

(photo source)

Sep 09

Catholic Leaders Are Proactively Supporting Marriage, Are You?

By Dustin | Spirituality

This is a guest post from Lori Lowe at Life Gems.  I hope you find it as encouraging as I did in the battle for stronger marriages. It’s up to us to support and defend the institution of marriage.

“What have you done for your marriage today?”

That’s the question posed by Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory on downtown Atlanta billboards. In fact, the question is a key message of the U.S. Catholic Bishop’s National Pastoral Initiative for Marriage.

TV, radio and billboard ads are broadcasting PSAs from the Catholic Church, and a web site offers ideas and tips for strong marriages. The media push is part of a larger public service campaign—aimed not just at Catholics but at the larger community—to encourage couples to remember the little things—the everyday expressions of affection, respect and love.

Archbishop Gregory was recently featured on his local news advocating for “healthy, loving, giving, life-giving marriages” and offering support for couples undergoing rocky times. It is encouraging to see the Church stand up publicly for strong marriages.

We as lay people also have important roles in promoting lifelong sacramental marriages. After all, when our Church families are fractured (and almost half of them are), our Church is fractured. If our children don’t experience successful marriages and families, why would they choose that path?

Here are some ways you can be a marriage-builder right where you are—in your home, church and community:

  • Model a genuinely loving marriage and family to those around you. Generation X grew up during a doubling of the divorce rate. Many in that generation and younger have not had many positive marriage role models.
  • Work to improve your marriage skills. Marriages, just like cars, need regular maintenance. The site www.foryourmarriage.org offers tips on managing finances, careers, prayer and more (sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops).
  • Help teach children and adolescents about the value of marital sex and lifelong marriage. Explain why this is God’s plan and how it leads to joy.
  • Be a positive voice for marriage in our culture.
  • Pray for marriages and for families in jeopardy, and offer support to those you know.
  • Provide support and mentoring for young married couples, three-fourths of whom leave the Church until they are expecting their first child.
  • Set aside prayer time with your spouse. Praying as a couple has been shown in research to improve relationships.
  • Be aware of resources to help local marriage ministries, such as the Association of Marriage and Family Ministries.

So, what will you do to help build marriages within your sphere of influence?

________________________________

Lori Lowe is an author and marriage advocate who writes research-based marriage tips at www.lifegems4marriage.com. She and her husband, Ming, and their two children live in Indianapolis.

Sep 06

Married Money Management Step 1: Make a Budget

By Dustin | Finances & Careers

Welcome to the first installment of the Married Money Management series here at Engaged Marriage where we take a look at the keys to financial success for married couples.

How to Make a Budget that Works!The first and most important step to achieving financial success in your marriage is to make a budget.

Put simply, a budget allows you to tell your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.

Some couples are reluctant to create a budget for their household finances because they think it’s too difficult, too confining or they honestly just don’t want to know how poorly they’ve been handling their money.

While I can definitely relate to these feelings, the fact remains that creating a budget and living with a plan are absolutely essential.

Our First Big Mistake!

In the first few years of our marriage, we thought we could live just fine without a budget.  Believe it or not, I actually read Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace right after we got married when a co-worker suggested I give it a look.

Well, I loved the book and thought Dave’s advice was excellent.  We decided we’d try some of his strategies…but we thought we could do it without bothering with a budget.

We’ll get much deeper into our own story as this series progresses, but suffice it to say that doing things our way resulted in the accumulation of more than $54,000 in debt and years of unnecessary financial stress.  Knowing what we know now, this is really frustrating.

In hindsight, it’s very easy to see where we went astray.  We skipped the most critical step in the journey to financial peace. We were too stupid and stubborn to create a budget for our household.

Please don’t repeat our mistake.  If you desire more financial success, you must have a budget!

Budgeting Basics

Based on the reactions I’ve heard from both close friends and Engaged Marriage readers, I know that some couples are intimidated by the idea of a budget and feel that it’s too complicated or cumbersome for them to take on.

Please know that a budget can be as thorough or basic as you decide to make it.

Basically, a budget is a summary of your financial “ins and outs” during a given month.  You just write down all of your income for the month and all of your expenses and you have a record for that month.

When you use that information to plan ahead for the next month, you’ve got yourself a budget!

This can literally be as simple as writing down your income and expenses on a sheet of paper.  The key is to track your expenses for a few months so that you can accurately project your needs for the next month.

The most basic way to do this is to keep receipts for all of your expenses for two months.  You can then use this information to establish a baseline in your spending habits.

Take a look at these habits and decide if and where you need to make cuts to meet your goals or if you need more income.  Put the revised spending and/or earning amounts down on paper to plan for the next month, and your budget is all set.

A budget does not have to be complicated or overly detailed. 

It must account for every dollar you earn and spend, and it must be agreed upon as a couple.  Aside from those two basic rules, it can take any form that you desire.  And please note that it will likely take several months of trial and error before you zero in on an accurate budget.

Bethany and I used homemade Excel budget spreadsheets and manual tracking of our receipts for several years.  It worked just fine, and it provided the information and motivation that we needed to attack our debt and live within our means.

We have since “graduated” from those manual efforts and realized the power and (awesome) simplicity of using budgeting software.   I’m now convinced that this is the best solution for most couples, and it makes things SO much easier that I feel it’s a no-brainer to invest a few dollars to get started with a solid budget software.

Budgeting Tools Are Your Friend

There came a time after we became debt-free that we found ourselves slipping back into old habits and getting sloppy with our budget. It was then that I decided it was time to look into options beyond our Excel spreadsheet and keeping a receipt for every purchase we made to track our spending.

Frankly, we had become so busy and bored with this approach that we would sometimes get a month or two behind in tallying up our spending and fail to even plan ahead, which defeats much of the purpose of budgeting.

Even though we used these manual methods of budgeting to get out of debt and meet other financial goals, we decided it was time to use technology to our advantage and make our efforts more sustainable.  I tried out most of the popular options for budgeting software and wrote a review based our experiences.

I encourage you to read my budgeting software reviews and see which option fits your family’s needs.  Any of these options (free or premium) make it so much easier and less time consuming to get your budget working versus doing it on your own.

After a lot of research and trials, we found that the best budgeting tool for our family is a software called You Need A Budget.  I can’t say enough good things about YNAB, and they now have iPhone and Android Apps available to make it even easier to track and plan.  Plus, when you use this link, you’ll save $6!

If you think that budget software would be helpful in your situation, please take a moment to read my full review of You Need A Budget based on our experiences.

If you decide to give YNAB a try, you’ll be able to get started on your budget today by importing your electronic transactions from the past two months to know where you’ve been with your spending.  As a couple, you can then decide what needs to change, quickly set up a plan for next month and then start following it.

You could literally have your budget ready to go in a matter of a few hours using this technology.  While premium software like this is not free, we’ve found that it’s money well spent.

In most cases, you’ll save much more than the software cost simply by getting started and tracking your spending, earning and saving habits.  Plus, using this link, you will save $6.

Budgeting Benefits for Your Marriage

The benefits of budgeting within marriage actually go way beyond laying the foundation for financial success.  Budgeting your money can actually be an awesome way to enhance the communication and trust in your relationship.

Build Communication

If you are married, both spouses should have input in the budgeting process.   This is really a critical component of any budget that is actually going to work, which means that it is respected and followed by the entire family.

After all, why would you follow a plan that you may not agree with or that you feel has been forced upon you?

This is why communication is key to the budgeting process.  You and your spouse need to sit down together and discuss your financial goals and decide in advance how you want to use your money.

This doesn’t mean that you have to combine all areas of your financial life or change the way you spend money.  While there may certainly be value in doing so, you can build your budget to accommodate joint or separate bank accounts, cash or credit card spending, and frugal or extravagant spending habits.

After all, this is your budget designed for your particular family’s situation.  You are in control…together.

It’s also totally fine if the “nerdier” spouse wants to create the draft budget and then get input from the other.  But there must be input and “buy-in” from both husband and wife that the final budget is a spending plan that they agree to stick to.

Again, this could be a plan to spend beyond your means and rack up crazy amounts of debt.  I hope it’s not, and most couples don’t plan to go deeply in debt, but the point is that you will communicate about your goals and decide together how to use your family’s financial resources.

That is the real beauty of building a budget for your own family and your own situation.

Build Trust

After you’ve sat down together and figured out your spending plan for the coming month, it’s time to put your money where your mouth was and spend as you have both agreed.

When a budget is in place, you can feel good about spending as you have planned.  However, you’ll have accountability to deal with when you are tempted to go astray.

Think back to the last time you spent a lot of money on something impulsively without talking to your spouse first.

Was it part of your overall financial plan?  Did you have a bit of buyer’s remorse afterward?  How did your spouse react when they found out about your big purchase?

You and your spouse create the budget and you control what it says.  However, once you agree to it and you commit to each other that you’ll stick with the spending plan, you have an ongoing promise to your spouse to uphold.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t buy something that’s not part of the budget.  However, it does mean that you need to give your husband or wife a call to make sure they agree there’s good reason to change your mutual financial plan to accommodate it.

And the two of you can decide on the limit where the other needs to be consulted when a “spending audible” gets called.

Simply put, it means that you must trust your spouse to be financially responsible, and you must hold up your end of the agreement to them as well.

Communication builds a budget and trust makes it work.

Go Take The First Step Today: Build a Budget!

Regardless of whether you decide to start with a pen and paper or a software tool, the most important takeaway from this post is that you must have a budget.  It’s vital for your financial success, and it’s a valuable marriage-building practice as well.

If you already have a budget, that’s fantastic.  Take some time to review it together and decide whether it still meets your needs and financial goals.

If you don’t have a budget yet, please do your marriage a favor and go get one!

After all, it’s the first step to effective Married Money Management.

Here’s a rundown of all the posts available to you in the Marriage Money Management series:

(photo source)

Sep 02

Announcing Married Money Management: 9 Steps to Financial Success

By Dustin | Finances & Careers

Marriage and MoneyIn the early years of our marriage, money was not a fun subject as we struggled with a lot of debt and only a little understanding of the importance of financial harmony in our life together.  We had no plan and just followed the (really, really poor) example of money management we witnessed among our friends and in our culture as a whole.

Fortunately, we learned a lot along the way and now enjoy a great deal of freedom in the financial area of our marriage.  We’re debt-free and honestly never argue about money.

I want to share our journey and give you the guidance that I wish we would have had before we were married nine years ago. Like our own path, this journey will generally follow the advice of Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps, but it will include our personal experiences and specific advice for engaged, newlywed and not-so-newlywed couples.

To give this important topic the attention it deserves, I plan to break it all down into (at least) nine different posts.  I’ll begin sharing this series on Monday, and we’ll look at a new step along our financial journey each week for the next two months or so.

There are three things you should know before we get started:

  • I am not a financial counselor or professional, and you should view this information only as input from a friend who has “walked a mile in your shoes.”  I take no responsibility for your application of the information.  OK, end disclaimer. 🙂
  • If this interests you, I’d strongly suggest you sign up to receive free updates when new posts are published.  You can do so via an RSS reader or have them sent right to your email.  This is the best way to ensure you don’t miss a post.
  • If you know of an engaged or married friend that could benefit from this series, please share this post with them so they can get signed up for the series.  You can email them a link or use the Facebook or Twitter buttons below to spread the word.

I’m super excited to write a meaningful series that I really hope you’ll enjoy.  I’ll see you on Monday for our first step along the journey.

In the meantime, please take a minute to share any specific financial questions that you would like addressed in the comments below.  Or just share you thoughts on whether you think this series is a good idea.  Thanks!

(photo source)