Sunday, August 5, 2012

newlywed budgeting.

When falling in love, the last thing that anyone really wants to think about are finances.  At least in my experience, this is just not a topic that comes up while courting a mate. When Mere and I started dating, there was nothing I thought about other than finding a way to spend the most amount of time with her.  I soon realized that this was going to be the girl I would marry and something started clicking in my head.  The end of my bachelor days were near and I would soon be responsible for someone other than myself.  It was a no brainer that I needed to start getting serious and make sure that some smart decisions were made and a plan put in place.  I will never claim to have been the best with my own accounting, and I am definitely not a genius now.  What I will say is that with a bit of research, some planning, and a lot of trust and communication with your partner, most anything is possible.

Before the pen even hits the paper to start a budget, it’s time to get humble.  Everyone knows the turn keeping up with the Joneses,” yet most of us have been guilty of doing it at some point.  This needs to be tossed out the window when starting a budget.  Thoughts like “how does so and so go on that many vacations” and “how does this person go eat here and there every night?”  In the age of Facebook and Twitter, we are bombarded constantly with what everyone else is doing and “checking in” to.  Since you have no idea what anyone’s financial situation is like, you cannot make this a benchmark on what you “should” be able to do with what you make.  Until you have your own numbers in front of you, there is no way to know what you are able to do.  Here are a few reasons why.

Personal finance facts:
-Approximately 40% of families live on 110% of their income.
-50% of Americans have less than 1 month of savings.
-57% of American households do not have a budget
-Americans spend 12-18% more when using a credit/debit card.
-30% of American workers have less than $1,000 saved for retirement.

In our opinion, if you are married, you count as one.  There is only one budget and one combined income. Meredith and I do realize that some married couples prefer to keep their finances separate and I'm sure that works wonderfully for a lot of people.  While most everyone has their own financial situation, the suggestions I found have been working out well for us.  Instead of finances being the base of arguments, it has brought us closer together and makes us feel like a team. Under most circumstances, these steps seem to be easily manageable as long as there is communication and acceptance of making some sacrifices together.  In our venture to make a budget, get rid of debt, build savings, and plan for our retirement, there were 3 phases to tackle.

1. Assessment

The first step is probably the most important.  This involves getting a true understanding of you and your partner’s financial situation while sitting down together. 
-How much is your total combined income? 
-What is the total of all necessary bills (i.e. cable, cell phone, car insurance, mortgage/rent, and all other scheduled monthly payments?)
-What is the total amount of debt (i.e. balance on a car note, student loans, credit card balances, unpaid medical bills) and at what interest rate? 
-What does a list of your true assets look like (i.e. investment accounts, savings accounts, owned automobiles, or real estate?)

Right these numbers down, create a GoogleDoc, make an Excel spreadsheet, or some other nerdy thing that I don’t even know about.  Just do it! 

2. Combine/Sacrifice

When you get married, there are many chances to cut back on monthly expenses.   Combining car insurance, cell phone plans, healthcare plans, and gym memberships are just some items off the top of my head.  Do not hesitate to explore any avenue, since the options are abundant.

Then comes the hard part, but I promise it is worth it to spend adequate time on this step.  It’s time to trim some fat from monthly expenses.  These could be habits from your single days when you were responsible for yourself.  Mere liked to go buy coffee every morning before work; I would eat lunch out of the office everyday with coworkers.  These things add up quickly, and they became sacrifices that we could deal with easily.  Mere started drinking coffee at work, and I started taking my lunch.  Problem solved.  It’s much easier to sit down and hash these out now.  If not, money wasting habits could easily lead to arguments down the road.  

3.  Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps

Mere’s Grandparents gave us Dave Ramsey’s “The Money AnswerBook” when we got married.  This really was one of the building blocks for our budget.  On his website and in the first chapter of this book, Dave lists out his Baby Steps for finding financial stability.  

These Baby Steps are:
       1. $1,000 in an Emergency Fund
       2. Pay off all debt (except a mortgage if applicable)
       3. Establish 3-6 months in savings for emergencies
       4. Invest 15 percent of your salary into pretax retirement plans and ROTH IRA, if eligible
       5. College Funding
       6. Pay off home early
       7.  Build wealth!

Now, while we might not have followed this to an exact T, we did take it pretty seriously.  Like I said, everyone’s situation is different.  We built the $1,000 emergency fund right away, while also contributing fully to Mere’s company matched 401(K).  Who could turn down free money?  Once the Emergency Fund was established, we started paying down all of our debt (credit card, some wedding debt, both of our cars, only holding back on a student loan) using Dave Ramsey’s “Debt Snowball” method.   While the most recommended way to pay down multiple debts is start with the highest interest rate debt first, sometimes it can create a mental barrier.  By starting with the smallest debt amount first, you can feel accomplishment and gain mental momentum.  Even though things were going well, I still did not feel comfortable with our Emergency Fund.  So, we set up an auto deposit with our paychecks to add to savings at the same time.  Once we had 3 months of savings built up, and a good chunk of debt paid off, I felt it important to start loading up our retirement accounts. 

Each paycheck, we put 15% of our salary straight into Mere’s 401(K) to maximize the company matching, and then the left over goes into a Scottrade Roth (IRA) that will be contributed to the maximum each year.  I chose to fill our Roth (IRA) with a group of strong dividend paying companies.  The reasoning is that Roth (IRA) accounts are funded with taxed money therefore will not get taxed on the growth of the funds when they are withdrawn during retirement.  In a perfect world, we will be lucky enough to continue this until retirement. 

Once this was established, the last item of debt was in our crosshairs.  Mere had a student loan that was on course to be paid off in 5 years.  This was way too long to be paying interest.  I updated our budget and found a plan of attack to get it knocked out in 5 months.  My awesome and willing wife agreed on the aggressive budget, and now we are currently half way through it.  In just two and a half months we will not have any debt other than our mortgage.  Since budgets are not static, I have already come up with a new budget once the student loan is paid off.  We have chosen not to start college funding (Baby Step #5) for our children, because there are no plans in starting a family for a few more years.  If we have a little one, the goal is to open some sort of 529 or ESA plan, but we can worry about that later.  Instead, we will go straight onto Baby Step #6 and start aggressively adding to our mortgage payment and savings.  We did end up getting a 30 year loan for our house for the flexibility, and the goal is to start paying it down like a 15 year. 
With interest rates so low these days, some people advise not to pay anything over the monthly mortgage amount.  While I understand the advice, I just rather get as close to owning the house as possible in the quickest amount of time.  Watching the housing bubble burst in the past left me with two mindsets, but I will get into that in another post that will talk about our first home purchase together.    

The Wrap Up

This might be a lot to take in; especially for someone that has never established a budget.  To give a CliffNote’s version, start with writing down your income and your monthly bills.  Then, get familiar with the phrase “Pay Yourself First”.  This means, if you only fund savings and retirement accounts after bills and discretionary spending, you will probably never get anywhere.  Without paying yourself first, it is also hard to know how to live within your means.  Once you have a clear picture, jump right in to the Baby Steps.  Trying to pay cash for things should also be way up there in priorities.  The importance of this has to deal with our changing relationship with money.  When you are constantly paying with debit cards or credit cards, it is much easier to forget its value.  No matter if you are buying a $1,500 couch, or a $3 cup of coffee, you are handing over the same piece of plastic.  When you purchase with cash, you see exactly what you are giving up.    

Although at times Mere and I wish we could do more, or not catch flack from our friends for being on a budget, we are content.  Debt is a weight that can be so heavy on the shoulders.  If it is not now, it will catch up with you eventually.  This post was created for all the inquiries we received about getting on track financially.  As mentioned, you need to take this all with a grain of salt.  These are the steps that have worked very well for us, but might not be for everyone.  Just remember to come to terms with your financial situation, and work together to become responsible.  Good luck!


Sweta (Blake knows me) said...

Great post Krauses, would love to hear more about your budgeting in future posts. Don't worry about what your friends think about your budget, afterall they aren't the ones paying your bills. I grew up in Westlake like you guys and it's always great to see others embracing frugality after so many years of experiencing the conspicuous consuption of my peers.

Anonymous said...

Please list what personal finance blogs/websites you visit if any. And please do more finance related posts. I really enjoyed this post. Remember the reason the Joneses are able to go on that many vacations and go out to eat all the time is they are probably in debt up to their eyeballs. Keep telling yourselves that over and over. As Dave Ramsay says, "the paid off mortgage is the new status symbol."

Sweta said...

Here are some pf blogs that I read. I hope you like them. (Fellow Austinites journey paying off 90K in student loans in 7 months.) He was even interviewed by Dave Ramsay. Also I follow you and Mere on twitter and it seems like you guys are missing the Bachelorette, if this is true the author of this blog is on a reality dating show on CBS called 3 that you might enjoy.



Anonymous said...

Solid article. We're currently figuring out where are money will go to grow, and how we will pay off our student debt. Ramsey's "Total Money Makeover" has been a great help thus far.

Charlene Z said...

It's always great hearing from other young couples that appreciate the importance of being debt free and living within your means! We tend to enjoy living a bit on the frugal side, and we don't exactly "fit in" with our acquaintances... but everyone's personal situation and life goals are different. I cannot stress enough the importance of an emergency savings, especially since most of us don't own a crystal ball to see into the future. We have survived layoffs, dealt with a terrible job market, and still had our children and purchased property while staying debt free by having a flexible budget and outlook, a "back up plan" for income and an emergency savings. I feel like we have made some fairly sizable sacrifices together to stay away from debt, but it's the action of the sacrifice itself that helps you grow together as a couple. Sure, a nice dinner and night out is fun, but saving money by working together on a remodel project instead of hiring a contractor helps to build a stronger relationship & great memories! I love that you addressed the fact that a budget needs to change over time. We've spoken with several people who don't understand why they can't get ahead because they made a budget and "stick to it". Whether your income changes or not, your allocation of funds needs to change or you're not doing it right.
Good luck, guys! Sounds like you're doing great!

Amy in Austin said...

A really great post! It was also nice to know that some of the things I'm doing already align with the baby steps. It's not easy, but I rest better knowing that I won't be living in a cardboard box when I'm old and gray.

Blake said...

Thanks for all of the comments. It's not easy to start being frugal, but it can be so rewarding. I do a lot of reading, but I don't follow too many blogs. The sites I visit are:
Dave Ramsey:

Feed The Pig:

Get Rich Slowly:

Especially like the "Dream Home, or Dream Life" post:

I could probably list my investment information sources all day long, but maybe that can be in another post.

Anonymous said...

Great post! Here are some questions I have maybe you can address them in a future post:

What is your grocery budget like? Any tips for saving money there?

Meredith, how do you manage to look so stylish on a budget. Please share your tips. Where do you like to shop for clothes/shoes. Also what brand of shoes are those in the header picture?

Meredith Paige said...

Great questions! To answer the one about our grocery budget, we try to stay around $100.00 a week for the two of us combined. Primarily we make meals based off of those groceries. However, if we want to eat out, we have to dip into our weekly budget (cash,) which we try to avoid.

To answer your other question, the shoes from the header are from Steve Madden. I got them a few years ago, however, I have seen several pairs that are very similar!

VERY sweet of you to say I'm stylish! I don't think I have ever been told that before but I really appreciate it. I honestly don't shop very often at all. If you see me posting about new things it's probably a gift ha! Other than that, as long as I stay within our budget, I can buy a top, a new lipstick, etc here and there but nothing too crazy. I love shopping at Buffalo Exchange (buy, sell trade vintage store,) Forever21, and Target because you can find some really adorable stuff that's in style at a great price. I also enjoy shopping at the Nordstrom teen section (BP.) The sizes are almost exactly the same as adult sizes for a third of the price :) Hope this helps!!

Thank you so much for the fun questions. Blake and I enjoy this so much.