Sitting in front of the roaring fire, a large picture window showcasing the snow covered trees outside, Tim and I huddled together on the couch. We had finished dinner on this weekend alone at a friend’s cabin and instead of cuddling up with good books or whispering sweet nothings in each other’s ears, we were making a budget.
Eight months into our marriage and our money philosophy up to that point had been pretty simple – don’t spend more than you earn. Other than tithing and necessities, we spent our money on whatever we wanted. If we had any funds left over, I would pay more than the minimum on Tim’s student loans. So on that cozy evening, in that lovely cabin all by ourselves, my husband and I were having a money date.
Talking about finances is not the most romantic thing to do with your spouse, but it is a wonderful thing to do for the health of your marriage and your family.
After our little money date was over (and we could get to those good books and sweet nothings), we both looked at each other and asked why we hadn’t done this earlier. Even though our finances weren’t in perfect shape, having a clear and accurate picture of our financial reality brought peace and motivation moving forward.
Taking control of your money is far less daunting than it seems. The first step is just getting over the mental dread of it all. Then, I would suggest these two simple steps:
1. Create a money philosophy.
It doesn’t matter if you’re single or married, lay out some financial goals and priorities. This will help inform your budget.
Tim and I have always wanted to use the monetary resources God has given to us with wisdom and intention. So, our main goal was to get out of debt (student loans and one credit card balance) in order to save for the future and give generously to others.
2. Create a budget.
With our above priorities in mind, we designed a budget that covered necessities and applied all extra funds to our debts using the debt snowball method. Once we paid off our debt, we reallocated the extra funds to savings and giving. The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey was a helpful resource as we redid our budget for 2016 with a house purchase and college funds in mind.
We’ve been using Mint to create and track our budget for three years and it has helped us to stay on track with our financial goals. Mint is a personal finance application that allows you to see all of your financial information in one place. Mint isn’t perfect, but it’s far better to have something rather than nothing when it comes to a budget. If you’re new to budgeting or looking for a change, start with Mint.
Pros of Mint:
It’s free! Most people who keep a budget are trying to be intentional about or cut back their spending; so it’s nice to have a budgeting program that doesn’t take away any hard earned cash. Mint’s capabilities may not be as expansive as other programs, but it won’t put a strain on your bottom line.
Syncs to multiple devices. This isn’t a unique feature, but I love that both my husband and I can access our Mint account on our phones, iPad, and laptops. (The Mint app is available for both Android and iOS.)
Gives a financial big picture. Our checking and savings account are with a different bank than our credit card. With Mint, I can view our balances on every account all in one place. This gives me a more holistic view of our finances. You can also track your progress on a mortgage, or another large loan. This feature was helpful when we were paying off my husband’s student loans.
Cons of Mint:
You can’t pick a start date for a budget. Tim and I just did a budget overhaul in preparation for 2016. This new budget is going into effect starting January 1st. But because Mint won’t let you pick a start date for your budget, all the changes I made – new categories, new amounts, new settings – automatically applied to our past and current purchases. It’s a logistical challenge (and just irritating) to manually create a blank slate for a new budget.
Mint puts limits on the number of budget categories you can create. If you’re making a really precise budget, you may need to create more specific categories than Mint has curated. (Example: Gas, electric, water as individual line items instead of a “Utilities” catchall.) Mint allows you to create new categories, but I quickly realized there was a limit when our budget spending amount wasn’t decreasing. We had to get creative with labeling to make all of our desired categories fit into Mint’s prefab options.
As you get more familiar with managing your finances, you may find a different program or method that works better for you and your family, but the most important thing is acting on the desire to be more intentional about your resources.
Tips for Using Mint:
- Mint stays free by allowing banks and other financial companies to advertise specific investment accounts on their site. They also broker various types of insurance. Both of these are very unobtrusive and don’t cost the user any money, but I would be cautious about signing up for any of those things straight from Mint’s website. Do some research on each company’s website to make sure what their offering is a good fit.
- If you’re a visual person, explore the Trends tab in your Mint account. You’ll be able to see graphs of your spending, net worth, and debts. These help supply that holistic financial picture I love about Mint.
- Setting up a savings goal will help you track progress for a specific item like a vacation, an emergency fund, or car, that you haven’t written into your budget. (Beware, goals are one of those areas where Mint will recommend sponsored accounts. I would always use an existing savings account or check with a personal banker about a certain type of account before you open one.)
- Alerts help you manage your finances in a timely manner. Mint will send you text or email alerts for things like a low balance, credit card fee, or a bill reminder. All of which are customizable – you can have as many or as little alerts as you’d like. Same goes for the smartphone app. Mint will send you push notifications about your goals and your spending.