With skyrocketing prices everywhere you turn these days, it’s more important than ever to take control of your money by making and sticking to a monthly budget. And I’m a big believer that every married couple should have a monthly budget meeting because it’s so important that you both have a say in the household finances.
But as a natural spender, I have to admit that budgeting is not always my favorite thing. The good news is there’s no rule that says the meeting can’t be fun. So here are my tips for having the most fun and productive budget meeting ever. (To all my single friends out there, you can and should still make a monthly budget. Find a trusted friend or family member to hold you accountable and cheer you on, and you’ll be well on your way to crushing your own financial goals.)
1. Put it on your calendar
In our busy household, if we don’t actually schedule something, it’s not going to happen. Give your budget meeting a date and time just like you’d schedule a doctor’s appointment. If something comes up and you need to move it, that’s okay, but keep in mind that it should be at the very beginning of the month (or right before a new month starts) so you have a clear plan going in.
2. Create the right environment
Limit the distractions. Turn the TV off, put the kids to bed or hire a babysitter for the night, play some quiet music in the background, and do whatever else you can to make this a stress-free experience. And don’t forget the snacks — because budgeting is 10 times better with pizza.
3. Prep your tools
Before you start your meeting, get all the materials you’ll need to make your budget. That could mean the classic pen and paper, a geeky Excel spreadsheet, or a budgeting app like EveryDollar (this is our go-to because you don’t have to do nearly as much math).
Another important tool is a timer. This doesn’t need to be a long, drawn-out meeting — just 30 minutes should be perfect. And if you find you’re going longer than that and getting frustrated, take a break and come back to it later or even the next day. It can take a while to get the hang of budgeting, especially when you’re new to it.
4. Dream together
One of the first things you should do when you sit down with your spouse to budget is remind each other why you’re budgeting in the first place. What are the things you hope to do with money in the future? Whether it’s getting out of debt, saving money for your kids’ college fund, vacationing in Aruba, or being able to give away thousands of dollars to people in need, those things will propel you forward and keep you motivated as you budget.
5. Make a zero-based budget
When you do a zero-based budget, your income minus your expenses equals zero. To make your budget, list all the income you’ll be taking home that month, then list all your expenses for the month in order of importance (for example — giving, necessities, debt payments, saving and fun money). Then give every single dollar of your income a job before you spend it by assigning it to a budget category. Make any adjustments you need to make until you can subtract your expenses from your income and get zero.
6. Stick to the plan
Once you have your budget all mapped out, make a pact with your spouse to stick to the plan. This means no extra spontaneous purchases at the grocery store or borrowing from next month’s budget so you can get a new couch this month.
To help you avoid overspending, keep track of your transactions throughout the month. You can do this by using the EveryDollar app or by using what I call the cash envelope system. That’s where you withdraw the exact amount of cash you’ll need for each budget category and keep it all in labeled envelopes so you always know exactly how much you have left.
7. Stay positive
Help each other stay encouraged throughout this process. Once you’re in the habit of having those budget meetings every month and sticking to the vision you’ve built together, I promise it will get a whole lot easier. You guys can do this!
For more tips on stress-free budgeting, including budgeting on an inconsistent income, check out this article.
Rachel Cruze is a two-time No.1 national best-selling author, financial expert and host of The Rachel Cruze Show. She has appeared on Good Morning America, TODAY Show and Live! With Kelly and Ryan, among others. Since 2010, Rachel has served at Ramsey Solutions, where she teaches people to avoid debt, save money, budget and how to win with money at any stage in life.