DH = dear husband
It was 3:12 am one early morning last week, and I’d woken up. By 3:40, it was clear that sleep just wasn’t going to happen any time soon. I reached over in the dark to pick up the novel I had almost finished reading, and I walked out of the room as quietly as possible – not wanting to disturb DH’s sound slumber.
When I turned on the lamp by the guest room bed, I realized I’d brought the wrong book. Instead of The High Mountains of Portugal by Jann Martel, I had Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover in my hands. It’s the book that gave us the wake-up call, the inspiration, and the steps that DH and I needed to get ourselves out of chronic debt. We had both listened to the CD version and read the print version in May of 2012, and now that we were approaching total debt-freedom in September of 2018, I had taken the book out again – a sort of “This is how it all started” looking back thing – and clearly left it beside my novel.
Would I go back and get the right book? I decided not to. I continued re-reading Ramsey’s book from where I’d left off.
“Most people concentrate on the urgent in our culture,” I read in chapter 4. “We worry about our health and focus on our money only after they’re gone … John Maxwell has the best quote on budgeting I have ever heard … ‘A budget is people telling their money where to go instead of wondering where it went.’ You have to make your money behave, and a written plan is the whip and chair for the money tamer.”
And then from one of the featured testimonials towards the end of the chapter, “We have made budgeting and planning our future together enjoyable and fun. It’s like dating again!”
Time to go back to the basics
I don’t know what time it was when I turned off the lamp and sleep finally came to me, but I do know that before drifting off, I recognized that I hadn’t reached for the “wrong book” after all. Ironically, with our total debt-freedom only weeks away, DH and I were off our game. Was it a case of summer vacation sending our money-smarts on vacation too? Or were we getting sloppy and complacent because the finish line was just around the corner? We needed to get back to basics.
Sure enough, in the days to come, DH made reference to the abysmal state of our finances. Ugh! This was all too familiar – the speechless incredulity at how much money was leaving our account and how little was left. As if we were bystanders to it all and not the ones in control of it! Hadn’t we been dealing with this very issue for the past 6+ years? Why the resurgence of what we absolutely didn’t want? “A budget is people telling money where to go instead of wondering where it went.” What were we doing “wondering where it went”?
Our history of “budget date” fails
I think that at some unspoken level, DH and I figured we had “graduated” out of the need to budget. But clearly we hadn’t. Clearly, we still needed the “whip and chair” of a written plan – a “money tamer” vigilance.
“I want us to meet tonight,” I said to DH Thursday afternoon. “We need a budget date. What time works for you?” DH accepted, and 8:30 was to be our time. A bit of a stiff interaction, but “budget date” was probably a trigger for us both – because we’d never managed to make the “date” part happen.
In 2015, 3 years into our journey out of debt, I wrote a post about my frustration with our “budget dates”: “We knew this was going to be a ‘clean up the mess’ budget meeting. And it ended up being – well – messy. I won’t go into details, but at a particularly low point, I said, ‘Now you’re just being an a**hole.’ As soon as we had finished with the budget, I marched upstairs in stony silence to get ready for church (the irony does not escape me), and when DH came up to do the same, we just looked at each other and laughed. When will we get this budget meeting thing right?!”
Getting it right
Thursday evening, I wanted things to be different. Budget dates of the past had always involved us huddling over a computer spreadsheet in DH’s office space. This time, there would be no computer, and we would meet in our living room. I poured two drinks. I dimmed the lights and lit a candle. DH chuckled when he saw it all, but he sat down like a good sport … and we stared at each other awkwardly.
With a pointed effort to reach that essential balance between civility and transparency, I said that I first wanted to discuss the long-term. We’d been following a plan, and we were close to enjoying the culminating success of it – with our September mortgage payoff only weeks away – and we needed a new plan for the next chapter. We laid out our priorities:
- continued investment for retirement
- filling up our emergency fund (depleted from the recent demise of our ’99 Dodge Caravan and subsequent purchase of a new-to-us vehicle)
- a full-on sale-prep-reno plan for our home over the next few years
- more generous giving
- more discretionary money for us
We decided upon the basics of our budget moving forward on all counts. It was good to give dollar-amount definition to everything!
Next, we faced our current mess. What would we do to deal with it? A mortifying thing, but we got it figured out. Throughout our discussions, I remained on the look-out for rising tensions, and when they surfaced, I very intentionally avoided reaction – instead choosing to respond with both respect and strength. DH must have done the same – because neither of us gave way to irritation, and we capped it all off with a toast to our future.
That’s verging on romantic, isn’t it? Is it possible that we’ve finally got it right? And that included in the future we toasted will be bona fide budget dates?
Do you keep a written budget? Have you ever thought you had “graduated” from the need to keep a budget? Have you ever tried a budget date? Your comments are welcome.
Image courtesy of The Blue Diamond Gallery