7 Steps to Getting Your Spouse On Board: Step 4

If you’re just now jumping into our discussion, I’m sharing my husband’s strategy for getting me onboard with YNAB:

Okay, so you’ve been practicing letting go of control while your beloved practices operating a few categories – some long-term, some not. It’s going well, but you have bitten your tongue more times than you have cared to.

You’re probably ready for Step 4. Now, before I divulge Step 4, let me share an important word with you: FINESSE. You know, subtle, skillful, delicate. So here goes:

Step 4: Give options for success.

No anger, no pouting, no passive aggression, no giving up. Just…finesse – grace, skill, delicacy, subtlety, and artistry. 

Instead of:


Try this:

“Hey honey, groceries is dangerously close to zero, and it’s March 5. Are you sure we’re going to make it? The great thing about this budgeting program is that it doesn’t matter if you go over. You see they actually plan on you going over! Anyway, we have a few options:

1) we can just eat from the pantry as best we can the rest of the month (I don’t mind beans and cornbread),

2) we can take some money out of our trip category and do the trip later, or

3) we can have less next month to spend.

Which one do you think we should do?

Boom – Rule 3! See what we did there?

Options are a great way of creating a win-win situation. You’re not giving your spouse options that you can’t live with; that wouldn’t be fair. But you also haven’t communicated total disgust and disdain for her and her organic produce addiction. You’ve simply communicated, “Hey, let’s roll with the punches.

Sneaky, I know.

The beauty of Rule 3 in YNAB is that it lets you calm down. If you’re not calm about the unexpected, you don’t have your stuff together, so go back to Step 1! This alone will get your spouse on board with it. By this point you should be calm with yourself and bringing your spouse into the wonderful reality of options. Your spouse starts to think, ‘I should just pick an option before one picks me.’

7 Steps to Getting Your Spouse On Board: Step 3

 photo 56391730-e7cf-4c7c-81a4-2f0ef10f36d1_zps96b5077d.jpg So far I’ve shared the first two steps of my husband’s ingenious method that he used to get me onboard with YNAB:

So you’re trucking along. The formally uninterested spouse has started managing the category from Step 2 very well, consistently. You’re even noticing a little spark in his eye when he’s talking about ways in which he’s successfully managed his category.

That means it’s time to implement Step 3. In my crafty husband’s words:

Spouse owns a long-term category for something s/he cares about.

“Hey honey, you have been talking about going on a trip to Napa Valley. I think we should do it! What do you think, next July? Let’s see…that’ll take us $100 a month until then. Let’s set that aside in our “Trips” category! Cheapskate??? Who me??? I’m your lovable, fuzzball spouse who loves to make awesome things happen!

Ulterior motive: you’re teaching them Rule 2In our family, this has worked best with Christmas, birthdays, and vacations.

I remember the first time he told me this; it was about the Christmas category. You see, my husband knew me. He knew I hated having to cheap-out on gifts when my sisters-in-law went hog-wild on my kids’ presents.

Talk about embarrassing. My kids are opening presents, and I’m sitting there with my eggnog adding up how much these girls spent as the wrapping paper and ribbon fly through the air with wild abandon. Then their kids open the presents from me, and I see confused looks of, ‘Is there another box?’*

So in some January several years back, my husband asked me, “How much do you really want to spend on Christmas this coming year?” With the memory of Christmas Eve with the family fresh on my mind, I went a little overboard. He kindly obliged, and we started saving every month for Christmas.

With the money in the category already, I was so excited that I’d get to shop all year long for Christmas. Then October rolled around, and I was finished shopping. That. Was. No. Fun. At. All.

BUT I learned how to manage a long-term category on my own! I got a really good feel for what worked and what didn’t work. (For instance, I wait to shop until October now so that I have a better idea of what everyone wants.)

Having control over the long-term category gave me the freedom to make the choices for myself. I didn’t want my husband to control that category when he wasn’t the one buying all of the gifts. So I felt obligated to do well with it since he was surrendering a large sum of money to my control.

Something a lot of people do when they feel out of control is try to hold the reins even tighter. But this is so damaging because you create a power struggle and even a parent vs. rebellious teen relationship.

Our marriage counselor used to tell us:

The more you hold onto control, the less you have of it. But the more you surrender control, the more control you actually have.

This builds so much trust and puts you on the same team, which is what you want for a healthy relationship, financially and in every other area.

*(For the YNAB record, I’ve changed my tune on Christmas gifts, but that was my mindset at the time. I’ll get on my non-commercial Christmas soapbox later in the year.)

7 Steps to Getting Your Spouse On Board: Step 2

speech_bubbleIf you missed the two other posts, you can catch them here:

My very sneaky but very discerning husband must have the patience of Job. As I look at the steps that he took, I just think, ‘My gosh, am I some kind of kindergartener or something? I mean, get it together, Annie!’ (I have since then, thankfully.)

He seriously had to treat this whole “Operation: get my wife onboard with our finances” with kid-gloves. At any moment I could have spooked and started remodeling everything in sight.

So after he got overly-organized and had a plan in place, he began to implement Step 2 of the process. In his words:

The spouse owns a category.

“Hey honey, groceries is your category. How much do you need in it?”

What you are doing here is cleverly but deliberately teaching your spouse Rule 1 within his/her category.

When one spouse has all of the control over every single category, you’re just asking for conflict. Nay, begging for it. 

A YNAB relationship works best when each spouse owns certain categories and not others. But we’re doing baby-steps, right? So let’s just start with one.

And you, as responsible as you are, as organized and tidy with your finances as you are, can practice letting go of the reins just a little and give your spouse at least one category in which s/he has complete control.

“Hey, how’s your clothing budget? Have you been needing to go shopping lately?”

“Actually, yeah, I could use some new clothes.”

“Okay, let me know how much you need, and I’ll put that in your category.”

Next, bend over backwards to make it happen! Think long-term. This is an investment.

It’s not about having a perfect YNAB month. It’s about coming up with a workflow that works. Having your spouse onboard works

Okay, so how is this going to be tracked?

  • Cash in an envelope? That’s one idea (probably the safest bet). You could even tell them to take the amount out of the ATM so they don’t feel like their parent is giving them their allowance.
  • S/he vows to enter in the transactions at the moment of purchase into the smart phone? Maybe, but remember, they’re not into the habit yet, most likely.
  • S/he keeps the receipts and has the spouse enter them in? Maybe.
  • You watch the account like a hawk? That was my husband’s preferred method.

It doesn’t really matter at this point. I would let them decide. The tricky part is to avoid being the parent. The chance of your spouse going over in this category this month is very likely. And that’s okay!

The most powerful part of learning is a retrospective after a failure. 

“Okay, so I see we went over on this category. Should we have put more money in there? Do we need more in there next month or is this a one time thing to catch up on not having enough in there to begin with?”

See how non-threatening that is? You’re a team. You love him. You don’t want to control her. You want this to work, so you’ll lay aside the fact that you had to go without your lattes and happy hours this month so that your beloved could have some new clothes (that you’re most likely going to enjoy, too).

When my husband showed me that grace when I went over in my clothing category, it worked. I felt like his wife, not his child, like my opinion mattered, like my comfort mattered, like I had a choice and a say in how we spent our money.

It was a baby-step, and I pushed the envelope more times than I’m proud to admit, but he kept the faith.

Like my husband, you’re learning in this whole thing, too. So if this whole little experiment flames out in a blaze of glory, go easy on yourself. Pick up the pieces, and try again next month. It’s a long-term investment with big returns financially and relationally.

7 Steps to Getting Your Spouse On Board: Step 1

Screen Shot 2014-03-24 at 10.54.29 AMIf you’re familiar with Dave Ramsey at all, you’ll know that he talks about couples in terms of the nerd and the free-spirit. There is usually one of each in every couple. If you’re the exception and you’re both nerds, then you’re probably running your finances like a well-oiled machine. If you’re both free-spirits, well, God help you. But, since you’re reading this, something tells me that you’re probably not a free-spirit but rather a…well, you know. (Be proud, y’all – own it.) 

I mean, right? You care enough about your budget to read blogs about it, just sayin’. (And I think you’re absolutely right to do so!)

So in the beginning of our marriage, my husband was the nerd, and I was the free-spirit. Frustrated and resentful, he needed to get me on his team.

I told you about how he managed that in my last post, and after my husband read that post he said, “Well, you left out a few things.” He proceeded to divulge his secrets, making me feel so used but impressed with his shrewdness and skill at the same time.

Defeated and disheartened about being the only one that cared about the finances, my husband decided to use a 7 phase process to get me onboard. (He only realized after the fact that it was 7 phases; he’s not that nerdy.)

Okay, so without further ado, Step 1 (in my husband’s words):

Make sure you have your stuff together with the budget and that you reflect reality. Know the four rules. Keep your Budget Accounts current. Take the classes. Get on the forums. Read this blog.

Easy enough, right? It’s so important, though, because if you don’t have a strong system in place, your spouse won’t trust you or your silly, little budget.

Now, if you’re already doing this and you’re chompin’ at the bit to get to the next step, just hang on.

Write out everything that you’re doing to “have your stuff together”. Write out your plan for your finances – your debt-payoff goals, your savings goals, your plan to increase income, your plans for lifestyle simplification, etc.

Bring these things up in conversation, but don’t make your spouse feel like he/she has to act on what you’re saying. You’re just happy about what you’re doing.

“Hey honey, guess what I did today? I decided to start making my lunch during the week instead of going out so that I can use that money to save for an anniversary trip. Be thinking of a quaint B&B in the area that you’d like to go to.”


“Hey guess what? I decided to not buy that new bike so that I could pay the rest of the Capital One off and get that payment out of our lives!”


“Hey, look at this. It’s a thermometer that I’m going to color in as I pay more and more off of the house.”

Just build excitement and trust, and strengthen your knowledge. No bossy-bossing or squirreling away resentment. We can only really change ourselves! The rest is just building trust.

More phases to come, but be patient.

I resented my budget…until my husband tossed it to me like a hot potato.


Meet Annie, the last (but not least) of our new blog contributors.

I’m not gonna lie; I haven’t always loved budgeting. In fact, I hated it – a lot. I blame a poor introduction into this world of financial responsibility for my prior disdain.

As a teenager with my first real job and first real crappy car, my dad wrote a budget out for me on a yellow legal pad and told me that I needed to stick to that if I wanted to keep my car maintained, gas in it, and insurance for it. With the level of responsibility that he expected of me combined with my meager BBQ restaurant earnings, there was no money left for a teenager’s highest priorities – clothes, music, and going out.

(I know you’ve never done this, but…) I figured that if I just ignored the budget, then the realities of my responsibilities would just magically work themselves out as long as I bought everything that I wanted first, you know, so I’d have the money.

My dad’s heart was in the right place, but in his effort to teach and even protect me, he didn’t “teach me to fish.” (See what I did there?)

College continued pretty much like high school, and then when I got married we had no choice but to budget. We were $80k in debt as precious 23 year olds. Precious, credit card-abusing 23 year olds.

A few years into our marriage we started using YNAB and finished paying off our debt. My husband made the budget, showed it to me, maintained it, and then complained when I went over in my categories (and sometimes he didn’t even complain, so I didn’t know about it). I still felt the familiar frustration of not having enough money for what I wanted to do. The budget was very constraining for me.

I secretly resented it.

Finally, one January a couple of years ago, my very frustrated husband decided that February would be the month that I maintained YNAB. I would make the budget, pay the bills, import the transactions, and balance the budget as needed – for one whole month.

One long, excruciating month.

You see, why on earth did I have to worry about the budget before that February if my very smart, capable, computer-programming husband was there to do it for me? He was the one with the passion for it, so he’s more suited for that role, right?

Well, that February was the turning point, my friends. It wasn’t so much that I saw the error of my ways or felt sorry that I put my husband through all that work, but it was then that I saw the freedom in budgeting.

Instead of feeling that familiar sense of powerlessness, I felt in command of my household – a protector of it, even, no longer vulnerable but controlled and able.

For those of you with spouses that are merely an observer or even a saboteur of your budget, I encourage you to let them experience first-hand the freedom that it brings. It requires some letting go on your part, but it’ll be worth it in the end!

Today, I’m a YNABing force to be reckoned with, but it all started with my husband relinquishing some control in order for me to discover the freedom that was available to me.

I look forward to sharing more of my story with you in the weeks to come!

Three Ideas for Avoiding New Credit Card Balances this Holiday Season

gift-boxI’d guess “Christmas” is the second-most mentioned Rainy Day category in any discussion about the You Need A Budget (YNAB) philosophy of money management.

I’m afraid many families start the new year with a serious holiday hangover in the form of fresh credit card balances. Nothing quite like the horror of 15% to 25% interest to knock your holiday cheer down several notches.

With 13 days until Christmas, many of you have already finished your shopping. Others of us will be hitting it hard this weekend.

I wanted to pass along a few thoughts about how to minimize (eliminate?) new credit card debt from your holiday gift giving.

I’m treading lightly here, acknowledging the high emotions around gift giving and money. These are my own thoughts and feelings, not given as right or wrong – just shared to start a discussion.

1. Detach the dollar amount from the value of the gift.

Two Christmases ago I spent close to $1,000 on my wife’s Christmas gifts. Yes, it was a fun morning. But when we talk about gift ideas for her birthday/Christmas/anniversary, she always reminds me her favorite gifts have been the few handwritten letters I’ve given her over the years (pardon the personal mushiness).

Given our current struggle to free ourselves from debt, I bet my wife would have much preferred a letter to the stuff I got her that Christmas.

(Kate also tells me one of her best Christmas memories is of her dad making toys from wood to give to her brothers.)

2. Consider returning a few things.

If you’re finished (or close to finished) with your shopping, and you know you won’t be able to cover the full credit card balances when they’re due, consider taking some stuff back.

Sorry to be the ultimate scrooge, but I’ve never given my children a gift (for any occasion) that was so useful or exciting that it was worth carrying on a credit card at 25% interest.

If you’ve managed to follow my first bit of advice (detaching the dollar figure from the value of the gift), I’m sure you can find ways to give that more than make up for the “loss” of any item you return.

3. Do your own thing; don’t worry about how much your family or friends are spending.

My parents weren’t big spenders (thank goodness), so I’d usually go back to school after the holiday break and hear lists of gifts received that were much longer and more expensive than mine. Yes, I did feel envy. I’m sure I also wished my parents were “richer” – which in my friends’ parents’ cases likely meant “more willing to carry Christmas debt.”

But as an adult I’m grateful my parents didn’t make life about stuff. I didn’t follow many of their good financial examples, but they seem to have permanently innoculated me (and my siblings, now that I think about it) against addiction to stuff. I hope to pass the same along to my own kids.

There’s no shame or judgment here – just me encouraging you to take a step back, slow down a little, and think hard about the value of the gifts you give.

What are you doing to keep your holiday spending at comfortable levels?

Nobody Wants to Be the Budget Cop

speech_bubbleWe’ve talked before about different budgeting personalities in relationships.

In June’s post about working with an unsupportive spouse, I laid out a few possible personality traits for the partner in the relationship who isn’t the primary budget driver:

  • Supportive vs. Antagonistic
  • Interested vs. Apathetic
  • Tracker vs Non-Tracker

It would be tough, I said, to work with an antagonistic partner, but probably pretty easy if your partner were just supportive and apathetic.

But that might not be true. If one spouse is the budget driver, and the other is supportive and apathetic, I think it’s too easy for the budget-driver to fall into the role of Budget Cop.

Here’s an excerpt from an email I got from “Liz,” a self-described compulsive debtor (in recovery, thanks to her years participating in Debtors Anonymous). Liz and her husband have had an income increase, and she’s been sharing her plans to finally completely the transition from borrower to expense tracker to budgeter to saver.

She made one comment about sharing finances with her husband, who seems to generally stay out of the way, but has his own borrowing habits to contend with:

“Things have been so tight for so long that I’ve been the one to mete out extra spending money… it’s not fun for anyone having your spouse on “an allowance,” so to speak. Or denying yourself to pay the electric bill.

I’m tired of being the Party of No.”

I’m wondering if Liz is alone. Do any of you feel like the Budget Cop in the relationship, in spite of having a spouse who generally supports the budgeting habit? Do you find yourself making personal sacrifices for the sake of the family’s greater financial good, while your spouse goes about his/her normal routine?

In a relationship managed by a budget cop is that everybody loses. The cop always has to say “No,” and the non-cop always has to hear “No.” Sounds like a recipe for constant low-level tension with the occasional blowup. Not ideal.

Real budgeting bliss may require converting the supportive, apathetic partner to full-blown budgeter. The question is: How?

What if your spouse isn’t supportive of the budget?

Monday’s post (about how couples could run YNAB with some shared bills while keeping the rest of their finances separate) generated impassioned comments about the value of unified finances.

Personally, I agree. I can’t imagine a “my money” and “your money” situation in my marriage.

But it’s easy for me – my wife supports the budgeting habit. I’m the YNAB “driver” in the family, but she co-pilots like a champ: she happily participates in budget meeting, checks the budget before spending, and records her transactions in her phone.

It seems like most YNABing couples probably fit a similar profile: one spouse is the primary YNABer, while the other falls somewhere along the spectrum between “saboteur” and “budgeting evangelist.”

I came up with a short list of possible YNAB personality traits; I’m wondering where your spouse/partner fits in:

Supportive or Antagonistic

At a basic level, is your spouse in favor of budgeting? Or does the mere mention of a budget draw snark and sarcasm?

Interested or Apathetic

Does your partner get involved in budgeting? Or just take cues from you when it comes to spending and saving?

Tracker or…Not

Are you the only one who enters transactions? Is your spouse willing to enter transactions or bring you receipts? Or is your desire to stay on top of things a source of annoyance and contention?

We’re all some combination of the three personality types:

  • I’m lucky to be married to a Supportive-Interested-Tracker (mostly).
  • My heart goes out to those of you with Antagonistic-Apathetic-Non-Trackers in your life.
  • And I can see things going perfectly smoothly with a Supportive-Apathetic-Non-Tracker.

We’d probably all agree that – except in truly destructive situations – the relationship matters most. For those of you with less-than-passionate (when it comes to budgeting) spouses, how have you made YNAB work?

(By the way, I know Jesse has a podcast coming up on working with the unsupportive spouse, so you may want to subscribe.)


His & Her Money

Spurred by this discussion over on the YNAB Facebook page, I thought I’d elaborate on this His/Her money concept.

Why Have His & Her Money?

It gives each partner in the relationship some breathing room (see my podcast on slowly suffocating under a budget). You don’t need a lot.

When Julie and I first married, things were tight.  We didn’t have the his/her money concept going at all. I felt like I couldn’t buy anything.  It was awful. It made me want to not budget at all (this was before YNAB was YNAB. At that time, it was just “the budget” on our computer).

So I approached Julie, we decided to give each other $5 per month, and it saved the day.

The key is that there’s something, even just a little bit, that does not need to be answered for to your partner.

How Much Money Should We Allocate Toward His/Her Fun Money?

As much as needed.  You’ll see in that facebook discussion that the amounts vary. Julie and I do $50 each per month, other people do $400 each per month.  The kicker is…

What Spending Belongs in His/Her Money?

Whatever you decide. Julie and I use it for anything we want (as an individual) that isn’t budgeted for elsewhere. So if I want a new pair of shoes, and Shoes for Dad isn’t in the budget this month, then it’s coming out of my His money. If Julie wants a new ratchet set, and we didn’t budget for Julie’s Ratchet Set, then it’s coming out of the Her money.

So during our monthly budget meeting, we try and remember what we need. If Julie wants to budget for the Ratchet set under Home Repairs, and that fits in the budget, then we do that. If I need new shoes, we could budget for that under Clothing.

Many in the discussion don’t allow that. They have specific items that are part of the His/Her Universe. A common thread was eating out, but I also saw hair care, and clothing.

There is no category that is scrutinized as much as Julie’s Her category. She knows every outflow.  She watches it like a hawk. She always, always has more than I do. Bless her frugality.

How Do You Handle His/Her Money in YNAB?

Your call honestly. Julie and I leave it in the budget, and just categorize those purchases as His or Hers.  Other people take cash out of the bank and each has their own cash in purse/wallet to be used on whatever they like. That is one step further removed from accountability, and I like the simplicity of that.  We’ll likely stick with our way only because I treat cash in my wallet as pure slush.  It’s one of those things where I don’t know how it ended up in my wallet, and I won’t be able to tell you how it left either.

(We don’t track our cash in YNAB. It’s too small to be of consequence.)

His/Her Takeaways

In the end, do what works for you. Experiment. There’s no wrong way to implement this. The important points are that the other person does not have to answer for their spending of their money, and that it should be an amount that will make a difference.  It’s surprising what a difference just a small amount makes.

Life Insurance Movement

If there’s anything in the personal finance world as overlooked as a budget, it’s life insurance. Most of us understand the purpose of planning ahead and setting money aside for the unexpected. Unfortunately, we rarely go the extra step and think about how we won’t be around forever. Though it’s a grim thought, the best thing to do is make sure your family and loved ones are taken care of if you’re not around. That means educating yourself on life insurance, and deciding what’s best for you (it’s probably term *cough*).

Don’t know where to start? Check out my friend, Jeff Rose, (a financial advisor and all-around great guy) at GoodFinancialCents.com as he launches his Life Insurance Movement on Wednesday, August 22nd. You’ll find scads of information, links to helpful articles, and steps to choosing the best life insurance plan for you and your family.

Build awareness, make a plan, and gain peace of mind.

I’ll be contributing my own life insurance article on the 22nd to help the movement along.  Keep your eyes peeled!