by E.J. Smith, Guest Contributor
Five years ago, if someone had told me that I would one day write an article that had to do money, I would’ve told them they were delusional and should consider seeking professional help.
I’ve had such a horrible, desperate and unhealthy relationship with money—
that even as I write this article, I can feel my stomach starting to churn. Yeah, it really is that bad.
In its natural and untamed form, money management for me looks something like,
Make enough that you can pay all your bills and be busy enough so you don’t have enough time to spend what’s left over.
And for the better part of a decade, that’s exactly what I did. Essentially, I went the way of the ostrich. I stuck my head in the sand. Can you relate? Have you taken the ostrich method to money management?
I suppose it wasn’t the absolute worst method in the world…I didn’t have mountains of credit card debt on top of the mountain of student loan debt that I’d acquired. I wasn’t getting calls from bill collectors, but I also didn’t have a retirement plan other than to work until the day I dropped dead. In hindsight, that plan sounds exhausting.
I’m trusting that I’m not alone in my angst when it comes to money. And do not think for one second I have completely resolved my “emotional baggage” around the money issue either. It’s a process. But who says you need to be completely “over” your stuff in order to start behaving differently?
With this in mind, I wanted to share with you the strategy my family uses for money management that operates completely independently of my emotional hang-ups.
4 Money Management Tips from One Ostrich to Another
1. Lead, Follow or Get out of the Way…of the Budget
When I’m writing articles for couples or about marriage, I’m very much a proponent of egalitarian or equal relationships and tackling marital issues as a team.
When it comes to money and creating a budget however, if one partner is too anxious to sit down and actually address the issue—it might be better to give your blessing to the other to forge ahead alone with the actual number crunching and then come back to discuss an implementation strategy together.
This is the method that worked well for our family the first time we did a budget. My husband crunched the numbers and I agreed to adhere the plan. Once I had a road map, working within those constraints was pretty easy. Sometimes “not making a mess” is just as valuable as doing the clean up.
These days, when we need to reevaluate our strategy, I’m an active participant through most, if not all of the planning process.
2. Have at Least 2 Savings Accounts
Everyone needs a rainy day emergency fund…if for nothing else than the TDY trolls and deployment gnomes that magically break major appliances or your family car as soon as your service member leaves town.
When my husband and I first moved in together, we weren’t married and finding a decent job took a little longer than I’d hoped. Two people and a dog on single Marine BAH was not fun and yet we still forced ourselves to put something aside. It was $50 per pay period.
Once our financial situation improved—I found a job and we got married—we decided to maintain our standard of living (AKA not increase our spending) and we opened a second savings account.
This savings account was and still is for things that we knew we were going to need down the road: new tires for the car, the dog’s annual trip to the vet and other anticipated events. Christmas happens every year, don’tcha know!
3. Get Detailed to Reduce the Sting
When I say get detailed, I mean really really detailed. We divide our expenses in to monthly, quarterly, annual and long-term expenses.
- Monthly bills are standard for everyone and typically won’t change too much from one month to the next: rent/mortgage, utilities, groceries, cell phones, garbage/recycling, uniform dry cleaning, student loans, etc.
- Quarterly and annual expenses are things that might not come up regularly throughout the year: insurance premiums, property taxes and car maintenance.
- Finally we have those anticipatory expenses that I mentioned earlier, like the dogs’ (we now have two) trips to the vet plus medication, holidays, home improvements, uniform expenses, weddings or special events and investments.
For our family, budgeting for long-term expenses each month reduces the “sting” of the expense.
For example, last spring I knew that within a year or so, I was probably going to need new tires for my car. Doing my homework, I found that tires would cost about $500. Ouch!
However, the cost of the tires divided by the 12 months to pay for them was only $43. Since I typically do things in terms of “pay periods” (typically 2 per month), I calculated that we needed to save $21 out of each paycheck to buy the new tires.
Saving $21 a pay period is a lot easier for me to work with than $500.
Since my husband and I are pretty old school we track our budget on an Excel spreadsheet, however there are plenty of apps out there specifically designed to do just this sort of thing.
4. See Money as a Tool to Help Your Family. No More, No Less.
One of the best, and perhaps most healing lessons I’ve learned about money came from my husband. Through creating and living within our budget, I’ve learned that money is just tool— just like a spatula is for a baker or a weapon is for a warrior. When used properly, money unlocks opportunity and helps me to support my family. When kept and utilized in a balanced state, money is a pretty great thing.
On the flip side, our relationships with money can become extremely unhealthy. As a counselor who works frequently with survivors of domestic violence, I must point out that when utilized in an abusive manner, money can become a weapon for wielding or withholding power (financial abuse).
And when used in a scheme of self-medicating, money can be the shovel that we use to dig our financial graves. A quest for happiness fueled singularly by the almighty dollar is a quest ultimately destined for—at best— hollow reprieve.
It’s All About Balance
My hope for you—as someone who has struggled to unload the emotional baggage of money—is that you allow yourself the time and space to create a better relationship for yourself and your family with money. The stressors of financial upheaval can reap havoc on marriages, friendships and self-esteem.
Yet, with a plan and some support, I think that achieving a better sense of financial stability is well within reach.
What’s your method for money management?
E.J. Smith is a counselor, speaker, writer and Marine wife. She currently works as a counselor and certified advocate for sexual assault survivors at a local rape crisis center and serves on the Brazos County Sexual Assault Response Team (SART). Her philosophy is centered in empowering clients to find their individual purpose, and to create fulfilling, authentic lives and relationships from the inside out. Born in New Jersey, and currently living in Texas, this self-professed holistic health nut enjoys a wide variety of athletics, reading and cooking. You can follow EJ on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook.