How (and Why) To Do Budget Meetings

Guest post by Carrie of CarrieWillard.com

Last Sunday, at 6:30 A.M, hubby and I stumbled out of bed, trudged to the kitchen to start the coffee, then started our weekly budget meeting. Why would we choose to do this, of all the other activities we could be doing while the kids are sleeping (such as sleeping in ourselves!)?

Good question.

The answer? Because budget meetings make our marriage and our family life, to say nothing of our finances, better.

Here’s why…

The Benefits of Budget Meeting

My husband and I began weekly budget meetings four years ago, after attending Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University classes. At first, we really didn’t know what we were doing. We just knew that “Dave said” we should do this. We made a budget, made a list of debt (very painful for my husband to face), and began developing a plan for our money.

Those first budget meetings weren’t easy. While we never got into a fight during one — which is very common — there were definitely tense moments. Talking about money forces you to address your deeply held beliefs. It makes you confront issues in your marriage. And it really helped us get to know one another more deeply.

We quickly learned about one another’s values, fears, and dreams in a way that may have taken years to discern otherwise. Talking about our money is like a lamp that lights up the path to good communication. It makes it easier to really work together more to meet goals.

On a practical level, budget meetings have provided instant feedback into our financial health. We get to celebrate together each time a debt is paid, or when our income jumps. We find places where we can save.

Example: Determined to lower our “fixed” monthly expenses, we recently negotiated with our internet provider to lower our bill from $70 to $30. That’s $480 a year for one phone call!

After tallying up the grocery spending for last month, we found that we spent $120 less in that category. At first I scratched my head to figure out why. Then I remembered that I created a menu plan based on what I had in my freezer and pantry. That explained the savings, and motivated me to do that each month!

In preparation for this article, I asked my husband what he appreciated most about budget meetings. He said, “It really helps me to know where our money is going. I feel more in control of things. Since I’m the free spirit, I’m not as likely to take time to do this. But since we do budget meeting, the organization is happening in my life, and that gives me a feeling of contentment and ease.”

Budget meeting has become an important priority to us. We see so much value in it that we’re willing to forgo Sunday morning snoozing to hold it at a time when we won’t be interrupted.

How To Do Budget Meeting

My husband and I, like many couples, have different money styles. He’s good at earning money and is the primary income earner… and the free spirit.

I’m definitely the nerd! I love tracking things, creating documents, and crunching numbers. We’ve learned to leverage our strengths to make budget meeting work.

5 Tips For Holding Budget Meetings

1. Create a quiet environment.

While we have held plenty of money discussions around the kids (we feel it’s good to be somewhat open about these things so the kids will learn good lessons, both about money and about healthy communication), we generally hold budget meeting at a time when we won’t be interrupted.

2. Set a definite time.

If you leave it for “whenever it’s convenient”, it’s not as likely to happen. If you set a specific time and day of the week or month, you’ll stick to it more. If you’re working towards an important goal such as getting out of debt, you may want to meet weekly to keep each other informed and encouraged.

3. Come prepared.

When we meet, my husband gives me the totals he’s tabulated for his income and his spending so we can update our records. It’s also good to have your statements and bills handy. We also have “homework” assignments that we’ve completed.

4. Be organized.

Have one place where you store what you need for budget meeting. We use the box that came with our Financial Peace University supplies. Inside the box are the forms we use for our budget, a notebook, pencil (so we don’t have to hunt these things down each time), and other materials related to finances.

5. Create a new budget every month.

This is one thing that we didn’t figure out until we had been doing budget meetings for a very long time, and it would have saved us so much frustration if we had understood this principle of budgeting from the get-go.

Each month brings about different needs. In August, you’ll have back-to-school shopping. In summer, you may have vacation. In April, taxes need to be paid. And your income likely changes a little each month, as well. Your budget is a tool that serves you, not the other way around!

Do you do budget meetings with your spouse? What benefits have you enjoyed?

Carrie Willard is a blogger, writer, wife and homeschooling mom of seven curious kiddos. You can find her writing about books, self-publishing, happiness and money at CarrieWillard.com 

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Comments

  1. Susan says

    Crystal, I’ll chime in from the perspective of a single mother with no spouse to meet with …

    I do something similar, only by myself. The same principles apply: Be deliberate, set aside a specific time to work on it and do so consistently, and keep your finances organized and accessible, regardless of whether you use a computerized system or paper.

    I review my finances on my lunch hour every other Thursday, which corresponds to my paydays. If I have a meeting or some other unavoidable conflict, then I do it on the Friday after. All of the information I need is on my computer, but for years I did it more the old-fashioned way with my paper bills, receipts, and such. I’m fortunate to now have an office where I can close my door and focus on my personal finances uninterrupted, but for many years I did not have that luxury, so I would leave my workplace and work in my car or a nearby sandwich shop.

    • says

      Susan that’s awesome. A lot of single people neglect this because they don’t have anyone else with input into their money. Very smart of you to leverage the benefits of singlehood to get ahead financially!

    • Amanda says

      I’m so glad you wrote this. It inspires me to do the same. As a single, working mother (with no father in the picture at all), it is incredibly difficult to do things like this (among all the other duties we have!) Thanks for the idea :)

  2. says

    We use Mint.com and usually have a meeting at the very beginning of the month to talk about how the last month went and make any necessary changes to the new budget. It definitely helps to have a budget meeting regularly because it keeps you focused. We also have a notepad to write down new goals and do our calculations. It has made a huge difference and kept our finances healthy. Great article!

  3. Jill says

    I love the idea of a budget meeting. If only I can get my husband into it. He is all for saving money and budgeting but I find myself doing most of the work and then getting burnt out from it and loose my focus and let things go. I then read an article such as this one which picks up my interest again but I feel like this is a cycle I can not see to break.

    • says

      Jill, I can empathize. I’ve had similar feelings in the past. It took my husband years after FPU to “get” it. I just kept praying and talking about it, and made sure we focused on the WHY part- our dreams and goals that couldn’t materialize until AFTER debt was gone.

      Stay the course. You can carve a mountain with drops of water :-)

  4. Stacey says

    I read this part, and went ‘THAT’S US!”

    “My husband and I, like many couples, have different money styles. He’s good at earning money and is the primary income earner… and the free spirit.

    I’m definitely the nerd! I love tracking things, creating documents, and crunching numbers. We’ve learned to leverage our strengths to make budget meeting work.”

    My husband is a SERIOUS impulse buyer. I mean, it’s bad. All kinds of little drinks and such, usually. So, we figured out all our spending one month, and it really opened our eyes. However, I think it is important to do this weekly budget meeting so he can get more involved and see what’s going on, so that he is more aware, and he can be a part of it all, too :)

    I plan to have him read this and see if he’s on board. Hoping so!

    • says

      My husband is an impulse buyer too! I give him $20 per week and he can spend it on whatever he wants whenever he wants but when it is gone it is gone! This cuts down my stress worrying what he will swipe the debit card for and gives him freedom to buy what he wants.

      • says

        Sometimes seeing the numbers brings about change. My husband committed to brown-bagging lunch once he *saw* the ridiculous amount he was spending on fast food.

  5. Heather says

    We really should do meetings, but ours are kind of “on the fly”. I am also the number cruncher, bill payer, primary shopper yet my hubby is the sole income earner. We pay off our credit card, if used, each month and I will “announce” once paid to him: “CC paid off” on a text or in person. Also, my hubby doesn’t like carrying a lot of cash on his person at his work, so he uses the debit card for occasional coffees, lunches out, etc, but I have already budgeted it, but if we are getting close I just say something like: “you may want to join us at home this week for coffee/lunch honey :)” Then he usually plays along and watches it. Lastly, when it comes to our cash envelops and how much we have left, I will just tell him…”we have $20 bucks til Friday, let’s see if we can save $5 for next week!” We make it a game! I like the idea of the solid time for the mtg, but it is a lot of fun to call or text him too on payday that we have $XXXX built up in the savings account after all the bills are paid! ;)

    • Katie T. says

      My husband and I communicate “on the fly” as well, and it works well for us! I’m the budgeter, bill-payer, etc., but my hubby is also a saver, too, so that helps. He likes to stay “in-the-know” with the finances, but he lets me do the bill paying, budgeting, etc, which I LOVE doing. We find the biggest thing that helps us stay on the same page is communication – and for us, that happens in the form of texts, e-mails, and dinner conversations (we don’t have any kiddos, so that makes it a little easier to do over dinner).

    • Barbie says

      My husband and I hold meetings also and it has saved us from some serious fights!! Before we were on the Dave Ramsey plan we fought about money all the time. He wondered where it all went but never wanted to participate in the bill paying or debt repaying. But since him getting on board with paying off debt and realizing how important a budget really is our money fights have disappeared!! We can actually discuss and truly listen to each other. It has been such a blessing.
      And it’s been really funny how people respond when they hear us talk about it. They can’t believe we sit down together. But we are on the Dave Ramsey plan so we apparently don’t seem normal to most people!
      We have also made these budget meetings into “marriage meetings.” Things that have been bothering us, happy things, kid stuff, to do lists for each other, etc. With 3 boys ages 3 and under we needed this designated time to address any marriage things that just didn’t get a chance to come out bc of life being so chaotic. And we’re in listening mode already so a fight is less likely to occur. And it’s also “menu planning” meeting. There is alot that goes on every other Friday night!!

      • says

        We have “couples meeting” occasionally in addition to budget meeting. But yes, budget meeting does tend to lend itself to communicating about other areas of life. It’s awesome isn’t it?

  6. says

    What a fantastic idea. We’re big Dave Ramsey fans and have learned so much from him, but have never done weekly budget meetings. Since I’m also the numbers nerd, I tend to work on the budget but my husband usually only weighs in at the beginning of the month. Making sure we stick to it usually ends up on my plate, but these meetings would be so helpful so I don’t feel overwhelmed and we can trouble shoot together. Thanks for sharing!! :-)

  7. says

    Instead of re-evaluating our budget each month depending on that month’s expenses I instead created a spreadsheet of “annual expenses” such as workboots and tools for my husband’s mechanic job, car insurance, renters insurance, life insurance, car repairs, oil changes, misc. gifts, the annual trip to see my family… and I totaled it up and divided by 52 and each week on my husband’s payday (he gets paid each Friday) I have our bank account set to automatically put that much into a separate savings account that we only touch to pay those expenses!

    this is a lot of work every 6 months or so to re-evaluate but in the long run it is so much easier to know that on a weekly basis I a preparing for all of the quarterly/semi-annual/annual expenses that roll our way! I’ve been doing this for about a year and it has greatly helped me!

    • Heather says

      Yes, we also budget for the year, and then readjust as needed. I do all the bill paying, receipt entering, etc. on my own, and once a month or so, we both look over the Excel spreadsheet to see how we’re doing.

      I’m impressed that you can get a free spirit to sit down and do this once a week. Maybe for others with reluctant spouses, you could try once a month to start.

  8. says

    My husband and I are Dave Ramsey fans as well. Going through Financial Peace University classes was life changing for us. Creating a budget every month and talking about it with your spouse is so important. It really clarifies things and gets us on the same page. Great tip about making a new budget every month. We do this too and it’s so logical, since every month has different nuances.

  9. says

    Thank you for this! Having a weekly meeting to discuss finances and other issues is one of my goals for the year, and we haven’t been as good at it as we should. I love all the practical tips and I’ll definitely be implementing them!

  10. says

    I love budget meetings. We started having them a while ago and it was tough at first. At first it was almost like a “hey, let’s sit at the table and pick something to argue about… and then something else to argue about… and then something else” meeting. Then we got the hang of it and it made the rest of the month much, much better. And then we (READ: I) got a lot better at not taking everything so personal and the budget meetings got a lot better and easier. Love this post and hope everyone starts!

    • says

      HAHAHA! I think men do tend to take things personally when it comes to money. If a wife is all stressed by the debts, he hears “I’m inadequate and not taking care of you”, when that’s not what she’s saying at all. She’s saying “let’s work together to fight this”.

      Thanks for your perspective!

    • Jennifer Knox says

      Dear “terrible husband”… may I now dub thee, “normal, just like everyone else’s husband”? My husband went through the same thing you wrote about when we started doing this. Like you, he loves his family and loooooooves being the provider. He saw our financial issues as being his fault or a sign that he was not taking care of his family. The fact that it can be so stressful is a sign that you really care about your God-given responsibilities. Don’t be too hard on yourself! :)

  11. Michelle says

    I think my big question is….how do you have weekly meetings without it being an additional source of stress? Any time we try to talk money, I just sit there and nod, because the technical details overwhelm me and I stress about it, to the point that I can’t sleep at night. I finally gave up on trying to work out a budget. My husband’s recent project was HE had to do the budget, and then, we would talk about it. When he showed me the finished product, I immediately started putting in all the lines he had left out. He thinks the small things are immaterial, but they add up quickly! I can’t make him understand that without him tuning me out. And when he starts talking, he’s talking about adding more expenses, which stresses me out. How do you handle it?

    • says

      It sounds like you need to show him how the small expenses add up. Start keeping track of everything you spend money on – every stamp, coffee, pair of socks, etc. After a few months you should have a good idea of those expenses. Make sure you add in irregular expense, too like car insurance or a/c (high in summer only, for ex.) Then you have a better picture of how much you need each month..

    • says

      Michelle it’s definitely a process! It took me years to get my husband to understand my feelings about certain money issues. (Example: paying quarterly taxes when you’re self-employed. We came from two very different backgrounds, and it took a very long time for my husband to understand that he was shooting himself in the foot by not taking care of this.)

      Be patient and keep showing them the information. If he’s a mature person he’ll eventually come around. (Assuming you’re right. LOL)

  12. Tara says

    Haven’t read all the comments, so this may have been mentioned already. If you have children, I think it’s a good idea to include them in some of the budgeting conversations as they are older/old enough. It gives them an idea of what things actually cost, how to prioritize where money is spent and the importance of having a plan. My oldest (17) works part-time and is very intentional about how and where she spends her money. She is even more intentional about saving. I think hearing it talked about makes it second nature to some extent. (My children are 13 and 17.)

    • T says

      We do a quick mtg every week and keep a printable calendar with bills and expenses for the month. I use a savvy cents envelope wallet for groceries and fun money. We have paid off $45,000. To get hubby on board, I asked him to go to a live Dave Ramsey event and we did FPU at home.

    • says

      “I think it’s a good idea to include them in some of the budgeting conversations as they are older/old enough”

      Yes! I mentioned this in the article. Sometimes budget meeting happens with our kids around, but we do try to start it when we’re alone so we can focus. (7 kids can interrupt a lot!)

  13. Ace1234 says

    Create a new budget every month.
    I remember how eye opening that was for me, too. Somehow I expected that we would set up one standard budget and just follow that every month.

    • Sherri says

      I guess it just depends on your personality and circumstances. The last “major” overhaul of our budget was 20 months ago, when my husband got a very substantial raise. Otherwise, I just do minor tweaks when taxes or insurance withholding changes. We already factor in the annual expenses like insurance premiums, so they are “paid” to that budget category each month throughout the year. I like that I don’t have to look at things every month, and we live considerably below our means, so that’s probably a large part of why we don’t have to.

  14. kristi says

    ummmm….does anybody know why the email link isn’t working? I wan to send this to my husband but when I click the link to email the post is comes back “page not found”

  15. says

    It’s funny, my husband and I were just talking about this last night. We are debt free (except our house) and like using cash. However, we haven’t really talked about it lately. And we need too. We have some saving issues that need to be addressed (ex: saving for the future). Thanks for the post. It got me thinking and planning how we can (and should) have meetings.

  16. says

    If monthly works for you, great. I’ve often found that weekly budget meetings work better for most people, as in 10-15 minutes you can cover what’s really happened with your spending for the past week, and remember what transactions were while items were still fresh. At the end of the month, it can be harder to remember what that purchase at Amazon was for at the beginning of the month. It also clues you in to when you get off track, so corrections can be made more quickly. Just a thought!

    For those that have trouble getting their spouses/partners into it, I have one thing to say that I often say to clients. It’s from Stephen Covey: “No involvement, no commitment”. There’s always one member who is more into the tracking of things than the other, but the less involved one has to participate in the process and conversations.

  17. Jennifer Knox says

    My husband and I just started doing the same thing after 4 years of marriage and two kids in high school… we are a blended family. It can be painful, but what joy to see the debt go down and the savings go up! We are in this together, whether we like it or not. We were both in previous marriages where spouses were not working together to achieve financial goals and be better stewards. Though that is not why our marriages failed, it was definitely a symptom of a greater problem. It takes two to come together and be on the same page. We’ve grown even closer through this. I encourage you spouses who are frustrated with your better half: pray, pray, pray! It’s amazing what silent prayers for my husband have done for our marriage and family. We also pray together for our financial issues and before we have our weekly budget meeting.

  18. says

    I am not married, so I don’t have a spouse to do a budget meeting with. I have a budget meeting with myself every week..once I know what my hours are for the week at work, I sit down and figure out the estimated paycheck in relation to when certain bills have to be paid. I always overestimate just a little bit for taxes so that I don’t go over-budget…and so far it has worked.

    I’m trying to track every day spending to see where I can save there…and also to help prepare for a 3-month emergency savings plan…at the minimum should I ever lose my job.

    Thanks for a great article. Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather ;)

  19. Leonie says

    Agree with all of the above. Imperative to a happy marriage. We also involve our two 16 year old daughters. They get to forecast their needs for the incoming month too, and see how wants and needs are separated within the budget, and how we need to prioritize. We also try to add fun food. (last time it was chicken tenders night. Next budget meeting we are doing pizza (home made! :))

  20. Carrie says

    My husband and I have started doing this. We talk about the monthly bills at his pay at the “end” of the previous month and pay what needs to be payed. My husband’s next pay we pay what needs to be payed, look at our expenses and make sure everything is in check and on track. We do not have a ton to put in savings, yet. This will be the only way, us sitting down and conquering our bills together.