Life would hit us, there would be expenses we hadn't counted on, and we'd pull some out of savings, to get to the next paycheck.
After a few years, I realized a few things:
#1 I didn't know much about personal finances. If I hadn't skipped bookkeeping classes to smoke cigarettes at the Little Store, and had gone to class, I might have been further ahead in this area. Oh, hindsight....
#2 I had too high of expectations, too low of budget amounts in groceries, etc. You can't live on a dream. Put money where you really need it. Food, shelter, heat the house, gas for the car, etc.
#3 I needed help. And I could learn.
So I went to the bookstore, bought books by Larry Burkett on budgeting, and read them. Front to back. With a highlighter. (Here's the one I used, still available today!)
Then I went to a woman who has been my life mentor in many areas. She knows who she is. She'd been in our shoes, living on not enough, making it stretch, and she'd figured it out. She gave me some general tips on budgeting, stretching money, etc. but one of the very best tips she gave me about personal finances was about 'purple shoe money'.
I'd grown up getting an allowance now and then; mostly I ironed my Daddy's post office shirts for 25 cents a piece, standing in the hallway of that hot Texas house, with the iron and a bottle of spray starch. Shirt after shirt I ironed, thankful to have a chore that paid. My brothers mowed grass and had paper routes, but nobody hired a 12 year old girl to do anything except babysit, and that paid 25 cents an hour too. It included bathing kids and wiping bottoms, and doing the dishes and folding laundry, so this new gig was a step up for me. As an adult I was familiar with the concept of an allowance. I just didn't realize you kept it up once you were grown.
My friend told me to take an amount - it didn't matter how much - and every time we got paid, to draw that money out, in cash. Give him his, take mine, and stash it away somewhere. It was our money, each of us, to spend on anything we wanted, that lived within the confines of our commitment to each other. Like purple shoes, it could be something that didn't make any sense to the other one, but we wanted it. It didn't have to be explained and justified. I can't remember how much we started with, but I'm sure it was small. We were raising kids, buying diapers, saving for college, making car payments, and paying 18% interest on our dinky little house in Nowhere, North Dakota. I'm guessing it might have been $25 a month, at best.
If it seemed like a small amount to hand back to him, after he'd given me his entire paycheck, he didn't say so. He trusted me. I wanted him to be able to say, about me: "The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. Proverbs 31:11". We started living within that budget. If I wanted a book (that's what I usually want, I'm not a shoe girl), I paid cash for it. If he wanted to go out for a beer with the guys, it was his cash allowance. I paid for oil painting classes, and the babysitter so I could go. We quickly learned we were overspending in many areas, and we both liked seeing our savings grow.
We quit going out to dinner and a movie any time we wanted; rather, we budgeted to go once a month. Every single month we'd hire a sitter, drive 40 miles into town and go have mexican food with a margarita, and see a movie. Going less often made it more special.
I began to see running our household as my 'job'. I used coupons, and a calculator at the grocery store. It was up to me to manage well what we had, to be a good steward, to be worthy of his trust. Like so many things in life, it's all about perspective. I called us 'Gibson, Inc.' and I was the CFO. He was the President.
To this day, retired 3+ years, we still use a printed budget. We review it twice a year, making adjustments as we go. We both still get an allowance, and 30ish years later it's $100 a month. He spends his on a private fishing club, plastic worms, and sometimes when it's grown to a bigger amount he buys us something. He's taken me to see Phantom of the Opera in Canada on his allowance; bought himself expensive fishing rods, guy stuff. Mine usually goes to technology, or classes, or surprising him with a trip or gift. We've both spent our allowances on bigger gifts for our kids - a kindle, a sewing machine, etc. Recently I spent all my saved allowance on a camera, and appreciate it more because I spent my money on it.
On a practical level, we quit balancing our checkbook over four years ago. Up til then it was balanced to the penny every single month. I switched to duplicate checks; we still use the budget I set up almost 30 years ago by Larry Burkett, with some Dave Ramsey tweaking. I heard about him 12 or so years ago and it revolutionalized our finances. We've been to hear him speak, sent our kids to hear him speak, and I've read almost every book he's written on finances. Not riveting, but helpful. I've also read some Ron Blue - mostly Christian financial guys. Kathy Peel is also good. All of them tell you to list debt, in amount owed, rather than percent interest you're paying; pay the first balance off as fast as you can, then when you've done that, start paying that amount to the next one, plus the minimum you were already paying on it. And get $1000 in your savings account ASAP. DO NOT draw it out unless your life depends on it. I tend to think get $2000, because one auto repair can wipe out your savings with today's costs being what they are, and you'll turn to a credit card to cover the repair. That's just me, and I haven't written the books on budgeting....
We also use a virtual budgeting tool called Mvelopes. It's virtual envelopes, and I don't look at our bank balance, but rather at what's in each virtual envelope. I know how much we have set aside for travel, escrow, insurance, medical, etc. Mvelopes has recently gone to free on the web, if you're interested. I use my iPhone app to pull up virtual envelope balances when needed.
After a few years of doing this, our savings began to grow, versus back in the day when we were lower at the end of the year than when we'd started. We learned to budget, delay gratification, and when our kids got older we taught them about personal finances. We were able to put our kids through college, buy them each a semi-junky car, and pay for their weddings, and retire early.
We're retired now, and don't have to budget to go out once a month; we've put in a few new line items, like books for Bev, separate fishing allowance for Don, but we still give ourselves allowances. Everybody needs a little money in their pocket, that is just theirs, to do with as they please. Thanks, Tris for all your wisdom back in the day when this woman was an ignorant newlywed, with more to learn than you could shake a stick at. I've taught all three of our kids how to budget, and several young women through a mentoring program at our church. It's something I feel really passionate about, so hopefully there will be a few of you out there who will take the plunge, order the book, get out your highlighter and read it. Then decide how much purple shoe money you can start with.
P.S. At 5'10" I'm not really into heels, and much prefer a comfy pair of tennis shoes most days.
P.S.S. I can still iron a shirt in less than three minutes, and love the smell of cotton and spray starch!