I've told my Board and my clients that I love budgets. And I do. When they're used well, they're great tools for making the stated priorities of a business or nonprofit tangible.
I believe budgets can do that for families, too. Given that belief, it's been feeling wrong for a long time that our family hasn't implemented family budget.
Now we have. Whew.
But it's taken about seven or eight years. Yep, I made my first stab at this as a single person long ago and far away. And we've had several rounds of false starts as married folks and since we became parents. Here's the scoop:
What we did: Created and used a budget for our family. (It's been two months so far. Writing this will be extra motivation to stick to it.)
How long I thought it would take us: Hmmm. Which time? The first time I tried, I figured it would stick after a month of prep.
How long it actually took: Well, that was at least seven years ago.
Which one of us worked on it: The first time: me. And then us together (not so good). And then me again until it was sort of halfway done. And then my husband until it was really close to done. And then me a whole lot to finally finish it and get it into the software. And now he's better about tracking it, but I do the reconciling and any tweaks in the set-up.
When I worked on it: In the past attempts, I don't know. They were a long time ago. But this time around, I took about 3 hours early one morning and then about 3 hours off from work one day to bang it out. It takes some maintenance, but that's usually in 10 minute spurts here and there.
What was hard about it taking so long: The guilt, mostly. Knowing that we needed to be taking better care of our finances--especially after we had a child. Knowing that we weren't making financial choices that aligned with our priorities. Also, we kept losing the thread. It was hard to pick it up again after months (or years!) went by.
What was awesome about it taking so long: We got to be in denial longer. (I'm kind of joking. And kind of not.) But really, it proved something to us yet again: We can do difficult things together, and stop and start and still eventually get there. That's a good thing to be reminded of in a marriage, I think.
Could we have done it faster? Lord, yes. But we didn't.
My biggest how-to-do-a-slow-project takeaways from creating and implementing the family budget:
1: Sometimes the right tool can make all the difference--even if you have to pay for it.
I tried a lot of tools to get to a family budget. The Flylady "Face Your Finances" method, the Mint software, the Dave Ramsey system. And finally, we found You Need A Budget after it came across our radars too many times to ignore.
The way it's set up makes sense to me. I like that I can take out my phone at the grocery store and immediately know how much we have left in our grocery budget for the month. I like that I can watch the "Life Insurance" category go up a tiny bit every month and know that when that bill comes due next year, the money will already be there just especially for that.
We were ready to pay the $60 annual fee for YNAB, but then we discovered that students get it for free, and my husband is in grad school part-time. (By the way, I'm not getting a commission or a fee or anything for recommending YNAB.)
2: At some point, you just press go.
This is kind of the opposite of one of the things I mentioned about creating one broken teapot. For that, I had to hold firm and wait until I felt ready. But with this, we pressed go last month when we knew some things were kind of wonky. We didn't have all the right numbers yet. I hadn't taken all the free e-lessons they offer on the site. I didn't fully understand the best way to account for our Medical Flexible Spending dollars.
Usually, that kind of stuff would have me holding off. But I read this, and I went for it. And I'm so glad I did. Because we're on our way.
3: Say no to other things.
Alrighty, here are the things I have said (and am saying) no to on this:
+ No, I will not let my distress at not having had a family budget for all these years keep me from doing it now.
+ No, I will not work on some fun thing I want to write. I will get this budget in this software, dammit.
+ No, we won't go out to eat tonight. Because we're planning to order in on Sunday night, and I like the feeling of knowing that we have the money set aside for that.
This budgeting thing has been a long time coming for our family, and I've been through about 70 flavors of emotions about it since we pressed go--not all of them pleasant. But in my heart, I think it's worth it--for our family and for our marriage and for our individual stress levels. It's decluttering, of a pretty important sort.
There's much more I could write about this, my experience of it at this time in my life, and how it relates to simplicity. Would that be helpful?