this is how we do it: BUDGET

SPOILER ALERT: You will not find nitty gritty stuff in this post. You will find no discussion of numbers, income, or expenses. Below is simply a collection of thoughts that has brought my husband and I together on a hot topic issue. Carry on!

Chris and I put our money together right around the time we got engaged, I think. The details are fuzzy, but I’m pretty sure we decided it made sense to learn how to manage our money together from the get-go. He had a little debt from his divorce and was in the process of getting out from underneath his house before it foreclosed. I was in nursing school and nannying for cash on the side. Since there wasn’t a lot of money to go around anyway, we just threw it all into one bank account. We had no savings. We had no credit cards. I hadn’t yet learned how to go into debt, nor had I learned the secret of being content. We were just a little bit broke and a whole lot in love.

Over the next several years, I managed the finances. I did so very, very poorly. I am great with details and schedules, but I was neck-deep in fear and panic. Chris is a peace-keeper by nature, but he had a hard time saying no and he avoided conflict at the time. So we struggled along for years before things came to a head. I dropped the ball at least once a month, and he gave me far too much grace. During a particularly rough season, we agreed that Chris should take over the finances and also that he should keep things to himself for a few months while he found his footing. Three years later, we are in a much better place. While both of our names are on everything, he handles the day-to-day details as well as an overall vision for where we’re headed. We connect at least once a week and touch base about the future, both goals and anticipated needs.

As a married couple, we’ve gotten into and out of debt several times. We’ve always had a mortgage. We’ve opened credit cards and paid them off. We’ve switched banks. We built a house, bought another house, used the first house for rental income, and then eventually sold it. We bought land adjacent to our current house.

We’ve taken out small cash loans for old cars and paid them off as fast as we could. We’ve learned how to save. We’ve learned how to get out of and stay out of debt, though I’m not sure we’ll ever be completely free of it. We’ve never filed for bankruptcy. We’ve wept over medical bills. We’ve contributed the maximum allowed to retirement funds. We’ve given a lot of money away. We’ve been on food stamps and Medicaid. We’ve enjoyed family vacations.

I get asked about money more than any other question I receive on the internet, which is understandable but difficult since neither of us are experts. However, I want to honor the questions by giving y’all a little glimpse of how we handle money around here. The ground rules will be particularly helpful for you on this one! There’s no way we all have the same amounts of money and income, or the same type of bills and expenses, or even the same beliefs about how to handle it all. Okay? Okay! Let’s get started.

Because my husband manages our money, it only felt right to ask him to contribute to this post. So recently I asked him, “If you were going to tell someone three things you do with finances that make you feel both secure and freed up, what would they be?” He answered fairly quickly, which is actually quite unusual for him. This must mean these are important nuggets. So listen up, and grab ’em while they’re hot.

Thoughts from Christopher:

Balance your checkbook. “This relieves stress because it leaves me with no surprises.”

He keeps a Microsoft Excel spread sheet (color-coded, of course) with all of our income and bills and expenses, divided up into categories that work for us. There are sections for regular monthly bills, budgeted areas like food and automotive and self-care, money coming in, giving and saving, etc. He says this took him about six months to nail down, and he works on it every day for about five minutes. During the months where he lets a week or two go by, he says it takes him several hours to catch up. Every morning, he pulls up the spreadsheet and compares it against our bank account. Sometimes he texts me or yells down the hall to talk about it, but most of the time it’s just a quick check-in that he handles by himself.

Prepare ahead of time. “I try to make arrangements when I see something coming down the pipe.”

Now that we don’t live in fear about what’s coming next and whether or not we’ll have enough, we’re able to look at the future with clear eyes. Now that we’ve learned how to say no and how to save, we don’t stress about the random school fees and unexpected car repairs. At the same time, though, we’re able to tighten things up if we know we’re headed into an expensive season. For example, we won’t eat out for two weeks if we know we’re traveling at the end of the month.

Get on the same team. “My no doesn’t crush you because it’s our no.”

We used to try to talk about finances, but it felt too hard and awkward and overwhelming and embarrassing and so we’d avoid it for months. Once we forged ahead and got through the hardest conversations, we got on the same page. We committed to staying on the same team, and we unified our goals and our language. To jump start, we did a spending freeze for one month while Chris learned how to track everything and got a rough version of a budget set up. We agreed on what felt most important, and how we wanted to attack things together. Things have been smooth(ish) sailing ever since. This means I might not ever get a new kitchen, but it also means that someday we might have enough cash to pay for three new kitchens, and that is just as powerful.

Thoughts from Rach:

We loosely follow the Dave Ramsey program. We attended Financial Peace University several years ago and we used his cash flow budget sheet as a starting place for our budget. I agree with his wisdom and cheer on the folks I know who subscribe to it explicitly, but we’ve found a better fit in taking some parts and leaving others.

I use cash for “blow money” and it’s literally changed my life. Every Sunday night, I get cash back from the store when we pay for our groceries. It’s mine to use on food, coffee, skincare, whatever I want for the week. It makes me feel empowered and not policed, and it keeps the swipe count down on our bank account so Chris doesn’t have to muddle through it all each day. Outside of that cash, I check in with him before I swipe the check card for anything. It felt awkward at first, but now it just feels right and honoring and freeing.

We recently quit my employer-sponsored health insurance plan and picked up a policy with Medishare. It has been an adjustment, but so far so good! And we’re saving money in premium costs, so that’s helpful.

I contribute the maximum allowed toward my retirement fund.

As Jesus followers, we believe that it’s important to resist. We resist what culture tells us to care about in regards to money. We refuse to idolize the American Dream, but we take it a step further. We also refuse to idolize financial freedom. We believe our salvation is secure regardless, and we want to focus more on the Kingdom of God than on anything else. This means we practice financial responsibility, but we do not give into that late-night, sleep-deprived obsession and worry that pretends like there isn’t a God out there who cares about his kids.

We have life insurance.

We recently decided to spend a certain amount of money of groceries and household items (like soap and toilet paper) per week, which leaves enough room for us to eat out once per week. This means we have to choose – either a date night or a meal out as a family or a couple of quick takeout runs. This has been a particularly helpful and fun part of the process.

We tithe. No matter what. Every month. As of right now, we tithe to our church every time we get paid, and then we give a little extra to other various charities and ministries. We are currently supporting Preemptive Love and Shama Women with a monthly subscription. Sometimes Chris hands a server our check card and tells them to pay for another person’s meal, or we’ll write a check to a friend’s church plant. It’s been so cool to watch him lead us in radical generosity.

We do not have it figured out. Some of this information will be outdated by next week. We are not experts in anything other than being needy children of God, trying to learn stewardship as we grow old together. I hope it helps a little! Hit me up with any life-changing tips you’ve got regarding finances!