I’d just sat down at my work desk after lunch when I noticed a Skype message from my wife: “How was your Taco Del Mar lunch?”
“Good!” I responded, feeling a bit chaperoned.
You see, the moment I bought that Baja style burrito, her phone pinged and with a few swipes she filed away my purchase into the correct category in her budgeting app. For a moment, I’d forgotten about “our” new budgeting system. The reminder made it feel more like a surveillance system.
So I asked, tongue-in-cheek, “Can you at least pretend you don’t know about everything I buy?” In other words, help me enjoy the illusion of financial independence — for the sake of my pride and my independent spirit. Of course she obliged.
When I got married 10 years ago, I had no idea I was signing up for this level of financial transparency. I’m not a big spender, but tracking every penny is definitely out of character for my go-with-the-flow personality. And I’d rather not have anyone — not even my wife — know about my every indulgent purchase. There’s a reason I devour Lindor Lindt chocolate bars all alone (One at a time. On different days, just to be clear)!
But I’m learning to be OK with this approach to budgeting. After I got over myself and started to see the results, I learned to appreciate my wife more. It never was about controlling or policing my spending. She’s not a manipulative person. It’s always been about making progress together on our shared goals, and we both know she’s the more organized one, with the brain and personality to manage our money well. It has helped us not get too sidetracked by our wants in the moment and curbed many (but not all) of those urges to buy new clothes, eat out, or grab $4 Starbucks coffees.
[Editor’s note: if your spouse uses money to control or punish you, you may be experiencing covert abuse.]
Our work began to pay off (pun intended). We knocked off debt and began saving for our future. When Christmas came, there was money set aside for gifts, so we didn’t feel too irresponsible when we inevitably overspent. When the dishwasher died (for the very last time), there was money in the house maintenance fund to cover it. I used to tease her for having separate funds for so many things. But now I say, “Funds are fun!” Having money in place adds a bit of levity when we deal with obligatory expenses that arise. We now have more peace of mind knowing that unforeseen expenses or emergencies won’t automatically put us in the hole. We both feel a sense of accomplishment when the red on her spreadsheet gets replaced by more green, signifying more savings and less debt. As we see the fund for our next vacation grow, we grow closer as a couple, sharing together in the excitement and the progress.
I’m learning to have fun with this new system too. Like the time I spent $300 at a music store on new microphones for the charity at which I work. I knew I would get reimbursed, but she didn’t. Ha! For all she knew, maybe I’d just bought another guitar to add to my collection!
When I got home that evening I was ready when she inquired, “So honey, what did you spend $300 on today?”
I relished my long pause and my feigned sheepish grin. Then, to her relief, I told her what it was for and we had a good laugh. If my every expense is going to be tracked, I’m going to have a little fun with it.
The other day we were reflecting on this new system — how I’ve adjusted and the progress we’ve made for our family — and she aptly put her spin on Spock’s famous last line:
The needs of the many outweigh the pride of the one.
Budgeting together has its growing pains. It can be humbling. But it’s so worth it!