Every Dollar: Trying a Zero-Based Budget

It’s no secret that marriage is challenging and mine is no exception. For us, one of the biggest challenges is how we spend and think about money. We heard money was a big point of conflict in many marriages, and in the first years of our marriage we didn’t have any money conflicts, so we felt kind of smug. Then in the space of one year, we bought an SUV, a house, and had a baby. A few years later, we had another baby, and we reduced our two-family income to one. Suddenly, we weren’t feeling so smug anymore. It turns out we still have a lot to learn about managing our money. In this post, I’ll tell all about our latest attempt to get our finances in order by trying a zero-based budget using the free app, “Every Dollar.”

What is a zero-based budget?

A zero-based budget is a budget that accounts for every dollar of your income. It took me a minute to realize that doesn’t mean you spend every dollar. It means you tell your money where you want it to go this month, including to savings, retirement, and charity.

Why it works:

Because you are telling your money where to go, there’s no extra money to spend mindlessly. It requires you to keep track just like that ol’ envelope budgeting system did back in the dark ages. (By the way, we also tried the envelope budgeting system until we had a break-in and our entire monthly cash budget was stolen. Ouch. Can you imagine me beseeching the heavens after that one?)

The challenges of a zero-based budget:

Like many couples, we don’t agree on where our money should go each month. And, we also don’t enjoy all the things our money has to go toward. This month our biggest splurge was buying plants for our front yard. Borrrrrr-ing! We didn’t both agree that this would be a good way to spend the money. In fact, we had a few rounds in the ring about it. In those early days of marriage, I could never have guessed we’d be arguing about something so mundane, but there you have it. If this is also challenging for you, I have something to try. Read on!

Start with your values:

One thing that has helped us when we don’t agree about how to spend our money, is going back to our core values. When we listed our values, our top five were all the same. They may not have been prioritized in the same order, but that’s ok, we’ll go with it. When we did this, we saw that one of our top values is our home. Since our yard is a part of our home, then setting aside money for the yard renovation made sense because it connects to a shared value. I personally think a decorative rug would have been much more fun, and much less expensive, but alas, I set down my sword.

{You might like my post: A Life Of Value: 5 Steps to Define, Name and Claim What Matters}

How to track it with the every dollar app:

It’s all fine and good to set a zero-based budget but you’ll need to track it if you want it to be anything more than pie in the sky. Pie in the sky budgets have been our M.O. for the past few years. We love ourselves a budget on paper, but we don’t love ourselves a budget in life. In fact, when I think of the word budget, do you want to know what comes to mind? Corduroy pants. Ugly ones. Brown ones. The kind that have worn-out knees and a hole near the belt-loop. I’m sorry if I’ve offended someone by admitting that. I used to have a pair of these exact pants! Maybe if I was still wearing them, I wouldn’t be on a budget?

Enter the Every Dollar app. It’s free, and my budgeting role models swear by it. It starts with your expected income and then has you enter all your expenses, savings, investments, and giving in categories until you have allotted every penny of your income. If you want a certain amount of money to spend on eating out, coffee, clothes, you put that in as a budget item and give yourself a dollar amount to spend. As you spend, you can enter what you spent in every category on your app. It tells you how much left you have in each category, and where you have exceeded the budget.

Set Your Goals:

Last, but not least, you’ve gotta have goals, my friend. I’ve got mine, and my husband has his. We wrote them down, and now we’re trying to make them both happen. By telling our money to go toward our goals, it feels like they might just happen! What are your money goals? Quick, write them down! Post them on your mirror, or somewhere you’ll see them. Keep them top of mind. It will help when you’re feeling the pinch.

Share your tips!

Do you have a budgeting system or app that works for you? What are your biggest struggles when it comes to managing money in your marriage? Post you answers in the comments below.

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