And now for something completely different.
- Jalan is my owner and dominant.
- I am currently the primary wage-earner, with a comfortable middle-class income.
- We both came to the marriage with a lot of debt.
- Given the debt, much of the time we’re living paycheck to paycheck.
- Jalan loathes maintaining finances — it tends to spin up her anxieties.
- I have problems with impulsive/compulsive spending.
- Spreadsheets are my friends.
- I do not want to know how she spends money on luxuries and treats for herself (whether large or small). That feels like power in the wrong hands and a recipe for resentment.
So the dilemma we faced was how to leave the decisions in Jalan’s hands (she is never the one who asks permission) and each have a little mad money, while I make sure the bills get paid.
We came up with a somewhat involved system of tracking and reporting that has met the needs well. I’m sharing it because I’m proud of it, it might be of assistance to others in similar situations, and because it has nothing to do with my health problems.
We also set up a separate account for Jalan at the same institution as our joint account. The online banking system gives us fairly fine control over sharing. From her login, she can see the joint accounts (balances and history) and transfer money in either direction. From the common login, I cannot see balances on her account, but can transfer to it (not from it).
Tracking is the easy part for me. I love dealing with the minutiae. At times, in fact, we’ve had to curb how much time I spend on it. But how to convey to Jalan the information she needs for the decision-making without overwhelming her?
First, the semi-flexible parts of the budget:
- We set a weekly target for spending on what I call “GGDLM” — gas, groceries, dining, luxuries, and miscellaneous. “Groceries” is broadly defined. “Miscellaneous” is a small category for small items. We’ve found that letting it be too broadly defined makes budgeting amounts impractical.
- I have a modest, weekly, use-it-or-lose it budget for luxuries. This encourages me to buy little treats for myself, such as single issues of comic books or inexpensive apps, if I still have some of this on Saturday. On weeks where cash is not especially tight, I have a supplemental amount that I can spend or roll over, at my discretion, though large luxury purchases still require permission. Hey, time for a spreadsheet!
- Most of the rest of our expenses that are not in the form of bills are labeled as “Discretionary” (e.g., clothing purchases), “Home/Car needs” (e.g., maintenance and repairs), and “Unbudgeted” (e.g. my son needing to buy Plan B for his girlfriend and asking me for money at 3am).
In a weekly report to Jalan (on rare occasions more often, usually because of a bad surprise expense), I summarize how much we spent on each category of GGDLM in the past week. I also include how we’re doing on our target on the basis of month-to-date (prorated), since a week-based amount has a lot of fluctuation. The reports also include informational numbers on month-to-date spending on Discretionary, Home/Car, and Unbudgeted.
The weekly update includes our cash availability: both immediate and projected to the day before the next paycheck, including known income and expenses. If credit limits are tight, I advise her which card is preferable to use for the week (also depending on cards that have variable reward schemes, such as Discover). Finally, I ask each week if the supplemental luxury budget is available to me and whether she wants me to transfer any money to her account, and how much (bearing in mind that I never know her balance or expenditures).
The big report is monthly. It includes the above and reports on all major income and expense categories for the past month (plus trends). I also give the best 3- and 6-month projections of availability that I can make, and updates on our cash, assets, and debts. I include a progress report on and offer any recommendations of modifications to our (mutually developed) debt-reduction plan. I ask Jalan if she has an amount in mind to use that month toward expenses we’ve been planning, whether home improvements, new furniture, pricey sex toys, or whatever. When she gives me an amount, I work up a few proposals based on a standing list of (again, mutually developed) priorities.
The last portion is for handling windfall cash. If the windfall is clearly hers, she keeps as much as she decides to in her account and adds the rest to the general budget. If it’s clearly mine, I add a percentage (50% of small to medium windfalls, decreasing percentages of larger ones at Jalan’s discretion) to my luxury balance and the rest goes to the general budget. Thus, the fall-ee gets some fun benefit from the windfall, but it also helps the general situation.
In sum, this balances many needs: progress on debt, keeping the bills paid, and keeping Jalan updated on our finances, without overwhelming her with updates. We each get luxury money appropriate to the current status, and it curbs my impulsive spending.