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Budgets for Lovers

Originally posted on ASeriousGirl.com
BUDGETS FOR LOVERS

This weekend, for the first time in weeks, Mike and I found ourselves with a free afternoon. We used to have regularly scheduled budgeting sessions, much like our regularly scheduled dates, but since we moved across the country for the second time in four years, all that has fallen by the wayside. So how did we spend our free afternoon? We sat down with coffee and cookies and we drew up a budget.

I don’t know if you’re big on budgeting your expenses, but we definitely are. It’s a habit we got into when we wrote our pre-nup, and we’ve found that whenever we slip out of it, life starts to get really stressful. Money can be frustrating enough, but when you’re in the dark about how much is coming in and how much you’re spending and whether or not you can make the bills next week, it’s hard to focus on much else. Alternatively, when we’re staying on top of our finances, everything else seems to fall beautifully into place.

The first two years we lived in New York we didn’t have a budget. Sure, one had worked before, but I didn’t need that crutch anymore! I could just keep track of our finances in my head! Why waste time writing a budget? Budgets are for sissies! Ahhh… those were the years. The years of expensive restaurants, shopping sprees, and crushing guilt. The years we lived off frozen soybeans and microwave popcorn because we’d spent that week’s grocery money at a bar. The years our debt stacked higher no matter how much we paid on the balance each month. The wilted salad years.

When we were both laid off in 2008, I discovered Crazy Aunt Purl’s Budget Worksheet. It was serendipitous, if you ask me. We were in dire straights and one day, on a break from searching the Craigslist job ads, I got curious and clicked a link and there it was, in all its automatic built-in mathematic glory. I plugged our numbers into the appropriate cells and discovered that we were spending waaaaaaay more than we were earning, and had been for a long, long time. Which explained our credit card situation.

That was when we started getting hot and heavy with our finances. In 2009 we made less than half of what we’d made the year before, but because we were living by our budget, we felt like we had more income than we’d had in ages. Our budget included money for dates and personal spending, and when we stuck to it we had everything we wanted and more. That budget enabled us to get out from under our debt and save enough money to move home.

Then we moved and stopped paying attention to our finances all over again, so yesterday was a real eye-opener. But I’m glad we did it. It’s a huge weight off my shoulders, even if the news isn’t what I hoped it would be, to know what’s going out and what’s coming in, instead of ignoring the bankbook and crossing my fingers. And I swear, budgeting goes hand-in-hand with romance because when we’re not worrying about money we can do other things that are a lot more fun.

Whether you’re married or single, knowing exactly where your money goes every month can help you redirect your funds so you can live a life that’s congruent with your goals and dreams. And because I’m a giver, I’ve attached my version of Aunt Purl’s Budget Worksheet. It’s basically exactly the same as hers, except I added cells for things like Date Night and Savings and then I renamed it Budgets for Lovers. Click it! It’s downloadable!

Budgets for Lovers

If you’d rather download her Personal Budget Sheet, click here, then scroll down past Archives and past Categories, until you get to Knitting Recipes. You’ll find it there.

If you’ve downloaded Budgets for Lovers, you might be wondering where you’re supposed to come up with the numbers for the cells. That’s what this baby is for:

Weekly Budget Worksheet for Lovers

I drew that one up myself, so it’s not nearly as fancy and automatically mathey as Aunt Purl’s, but it does its job. At the end of every week I sit down with my checkbook and all the receipts from Mike’s and my wallet, and I plug in everything we spent and what it was spent on. Then at the end of the month I plug the totals from my weekly sheet into Budgets for Lovers and voila! An eye-opening glimpse into the real-life mysteries of an American couple’s spending habits.

How do you take care of your finances? Is it something you pay close attention to? Do you make lists and notations and use a calculator? Or do you fly by the seat of your pants and let things work out as they will? What helps you feel like your finances are under control?

A Testimony for Couples Counseling

Originally posted on ASeriousGirl.com

STILL GROWING

After Mike and I had been dating for a year, we started having disagreements that would go on for days at a time. I wouldn’t call them fights because we never threw punches or anything, but something would come up and one of us would get upset and then the other one would get upset and then things would be really awkward for a while. After a week or so we’d meet up for coffee and try to talk about it and things would be ok for a few weeks but then something would come up and we would get all weird again. After several months of being fine one minute and awkward the next, I started worrying that if we didn’t learn how to communicate effectively our relationship would fall apart.

I knew that I loved Michael and that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. I knew this because we had the same values and the same goals, we made each other laugh, we had common interests, we respected one another. But I couldn’t spend another week in awkward silence, so I suggested we try counseling.

“I would really like to go to couples counseling with you.”
“Why?”
“I think we need to learn how to communicate better.”
“We don’t need counseling.”

And that was that. For six months. Six months of dancing around topics we couldn’t talk about because if we did we’d end up in tears or screaming or breaking up.

Then, one beautiful spring morning, Mike looked at me over coffee and said the three little words I’d been longing to hear: “Let’s start counseling.”

We had our first appointment the following Thursday. Within a few weeks, Thursday’s had become our favorite day of the week. They were our day. A day we devoted to spending quality time together and getting to know one another. Every Thursday I’d leave work early and drive to Sherman Oaks where Michael would be waiting for me with my favorite Starbucks latte. We’d walk arm-in-arm to our therapist’s office and no matter how the session ended, regardless of if we were weeping or glowing, we’d go to In N’ Out for dinner and talk about what came up during the session. And every Thursday, even if we’d started dinner in tears, by the time we kissed goodbye we were holding hands again.

Talking honestly about one’s feelings can be very difficult, but it is a significant and important step towards learning how to communicate. We soon discovered that the thing we were refusing to talk about, the thing that had become the fat ugly beast hovering in the room, the thing causing all those weeks of awkward silences was Marriage. Mike had asked me to move in with him every month for the last six months and each time I’d said, “I won’t move in with you unless we’re engaged.” I wanted to marry him but I didn’t want to give the milk away for free. Mike fully intended to marry me, but he needed to know that we could live together without killing one another. His hesitance to propose wasn’t a reflection of his feelings for me and my refusal to move in wasn’t a reflection of my feelings for him. We both wanted to live together and we both wanted to get married, we’d just been too scared to talk about it.

A few months after our first counseling session Michael asked me to move in with him and I said yes. Two months later we were sitting at the top of the Ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier and his hands were shaking as he held out a tiny blue velvet box. The stars were flung over our heads, the night air was cool and filled with the scent of the sea, and somewhere someone was playing a guitar. It was the most romantic proposal in the history of all marriage proposals. I blame it on couples counseling.

A Serious Girl on Premarital Agreements

Originally posted on ASeriousGirl.com

PREFACE TO A PRENUP

Last week I mentioned how Mike and I have periodic romance-infused financial meetings, but I didn’t go into the how’s or why’s. We had our first financial meeting within a few weeks of getting engaged because we had to if were going to write a prenup.

The last time I told someone that Mike and I have a prenup, I promised myself I wouldn’t tell anyone ever again. But I’ve been thinking about it lately, especially after last week’s financial post, and the fact is that a prenup isn’t anything to be ashamed of. Our prenup is the reason we were debt-free less than a year after we married. Our prenup is the reason we have never had an argument about money. Our prenup is the reason I got to move with my husband to New York and live out one of my wildest fantasies. The last time I told someone we wrote a prenup that person grimaced as she said, “Why would you do that? Why would you marry someone you’re just going to divorce?”
“What?”
“Obviously if you need a prenup it’s because you know you’re just going to divorce the person.”
“What? No, it’s not. I don’t –”
“That’s awful, Tricia. That’s just awful. I’m really surprised.”

She was actually that appalled, I do not exaggerate. And she’s not alone in her feelings. Enough people have had that reaction that when she had it, I decided our prenup was something people just didn’t need to know about.

Except now I’m telling the entire Webisphere.

I’m working on learning how to stand up for myself. Today I’d like to announce that my husband and I wrote a prenup before we got married and contrary to what you might think it was not because we were rich or because we were planning on getting divorced. We had a lot of debt and our only assets were each other, but we sat down and we worked out the complications of our finances and in doing so, he learned how important it was for me to have the opportunity to run with my dreams. I learned how important it was for him to save money so that one day he could have an old sprawling house to fix up and build furniture for, with a treehouse in back for the grandkids and five big-headed dogs. And when I learned that, I knew I really did want to spend the rest of my life with this man, because no matter what happened between here and now, we had the same life goals.

Writing a prenup was a way to protect ourselves from divorce. Everyone has different feelings about money and no two people feel exactly the same way. Money is a tender, delicate thing that dances with pride and envy. It can be used to hurt just as easily as it can be used to help. A brilliant family lawyer once told me that money is the last thing couples talk about and the first thing they fight about. I was determined not to have a marriage that could be damaged because we never talked about money. You can’t write a prenup without talking about money, and so we used it as an opportunity to have a very honest and very real discussion that would go on to help us shape our lives. And it’s true, we could’ve just had the conversation without ever writing the contract, but the fun in writing the contract was including provisions like:

“Prior to filing for divorce, the parties must agree to a minimum of one hour of marriage counseling, once every week for twenty-four consecutive weeks. If, after twenty-four consecutive weeks of marriage counseling the parties still agree to divorce, either party may file the Petition without effect. If one party files for dissolution without completing the agreed upon counseling, that party agrees to pay the other party’s attorney fees and costs in full.”  (Except a lot fancier because it was translated into lawyer-speak.)

I really do believe that if both parties commit to marriage counseling for six months they won’t need a divorce. And if they really still want one, then maybe they do need it. However, if one person isn’t even willing to give counseling a shot, then they should pay the damn legal fees.