My husband and I don’t see eye-to-eye on finances. Oh, when it comes to the big picture, we do. He knows that if he unexpectedly comes home with a new Playstation, vehicle, or ATV, he’s in trouble. Similarly, I know that I can’t go on a shopping spree to buy endless amounts of clothes for our two children, no matter how much I may be “saving” because of great after-Christmas sales.
But the way we approach finances is vastly different.
His economics degree means that he has a wealth of knowledge and experience on the finer points of money matters, whereas my background in English means I can wax eloquent on Jane Austen a lot more easily than I can talk about asset allocation.
He has sophisticated spreadsheets to distribute ingoing and outgoing funds, while my portion of the budget is spelled out on a bare-bones, pared-down version.
He keeps meticulous care of all of his receipts, whereas mine always seem to get lost in the depths of my purse somewhere between boxes of raisins and baby wipes.
So a couple of years ago, we decided that we needed to get on the same page in terms of budgeting and overall financial goals. As a result, we went through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University (http://www.daveramsey.com/fpu), and for us, it has made all the difference. His course is certainly not the only source of good financial information out there, it just happens to be the one we chose to do. But I can honestly say that as a result, I find that we save more and spend less. As a result, we also worry less.
Here are a few key lessons we learned that have helped reinvigorate our family finances:
Work together as a team to develop your budget and financial goals. Studies show time and again that money ranks high in the top reasons why couples divorce. In fact, a 2009 study by Jeffrey Dew of Utah State University found that couples who disagreed over finances once a week were more than 30 percent more likely to get a divorce than those who disagreed a few times a month. Too often, we approach budgets the same way we do diets: mess up once and we think it’s not worth continuing to follow. But with food and finance, it’s important to give yourself a little wiggle room for error. For instance, Dave Ramsey recommends incorporating a “blow” category in the budget that covers things like an extra dinner out that’s not normally in your budget or a pair of must-have shoes beyond the normal clothing allotment. Having a category for these unlooked-for, unspecified purchases takes the guilt out of the equation.
Seek outside help if you need it. Some people have the discipline to figure out their finances on their own, others (like me) do not. Don’t be afraid to seek out expert help if you need it; I like to think of financial planners as doctors of finance. Yes, I could probably “self-diagnose” myself if I spent enough time studying and researching, but wouldn’t it be more expedient to seek out someone who specializes in my problem and has the knowledge and experience to back their findings?
Be smart about debt. In a recent study co-authored by Lucia Dunn, economics professor at Ohio State University, she noted that although the total number of credit cards issued and balances carried has decreased since 2007, that’s not the case for young adults between the ages of 18-30. Based on estimates, many young adults who continue to take on credit card debt will carry balances throughout their lives and die in debt. A big factor in that statistic is rising student loan debt, but another top reason is our unwillingness to delay gratification for something until we’re more financially stable.
Teach money skills to your children. As a parent, I consider teaching my children how to cook as a basic skill that will help them achieve later in life. I have high hopes that they won’t survive on Pop Tarts and cereal like I did in my college years. Yet in many households, basic economic skills are often neglected: More than 30 percent of parents surveyed in a study done by T. Rowe Price admitted to avoiding having conversations about finances with their own children. It can simply be a matter of providing your children with the information, then following up later. For Christmas one year, my dad put a $20 bill in a financial book. The hook was, I had to read the book and report to him about it before I could spend the money. There are also tons of online resources committed to helping parents teach their children good money habits (i.e. threejars.com); Sesame Street even has a series of videos and printables available online (http://www.sesamestreet.org/parents/topicsandactivities/toolkits/save). With a little planning and foresight, you can help change your family’s financial future.