The thought of creating a budget may make you stressed. Add a spouse or partner and possibly children into the mix and you may want to go running for the hills.
Yet it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, budgeting could help eliminate some anxiety in your life — both financial and otherwise.
“Money causes a lot of stress and a lot of fighting with couples sometimes,” said certified financial planner Misty Lynch, director of financial planning at Dedham, Massachusetts-based Beck Bode.
“Having a budget, even if it is not dollar for dollar … can be really helpful and eliminate some stress when either money is tight or when there is maybe some additional money coming in — to know what to do with it ahead of time.”
Essentially, a budget keeps track of money going out of your bank account, or expenses, and money coming in.
Without one, it is hard to make financial decisions, said CFP Abbey Henderson, CEO of Concord, Massachusetts-based Abaris Financial Group.
Once you have the information, you can decide where you want to make changes.
It also helps you align your money with your personal values and priorities.
“It’s not for me to tell you not to spend lots of money on theater treats if that’s what you love and you want to eat peanut butter and jelly to fund that,” Henderson said.
Here are four strategies to create and maintain a family budget.
Make a list of all your expenses and your income to get a sense of where you stand.
Simplicity and automation are key, Henderson said.
She suggests signing up for a budgeting app, like Quicken or Mint, which can help assess your spending and even organize it into categories so you can see where you can possibly cut back.
Have a conversation with your spouse or partner, but don’t make it feel like a punishment, said Lynch. Instead, ensure everyone’s thoughts and ideas are valued.
“Start by looking at what do you both really want to do, what do you really care about the most,” she said.
That can be a home, vacation, education or dining out, for example.
It is also important to realize that people have different histories with money, which might be impacting their underlying behavior.
“Once you understand that, it is easier to have some empathy where the other person is coming from if you don’t agree with their perspective,” Henderson said.
If you have children, get on the same page about spending on them. Plan ahead for birthday and holiday budgets.
Look at the balances and interest rates on your credit cards and mortgages. Also check what you have on automatic payments, like streaming subscriptions, to see what you don’t use anymore, Lynch suggested.
You can also potentially save money by shopping around for car or home insurance, instead of just automatically renewing it every year.
4. Track it
It’s important to stay on top of your budget and understand that it can be fluid.
“It is a living, breathing thing,” Henderson said. “It is going to evolve and change.”
Budgeting apps can help you track your spending by linking up with your credit cards and bank accounts.
“Once you have your system established, then you actually need to review it at least quarterly and just see if you are on track,” she said.
“You want to check on it frequently enough that you can course correct, but not so frequently that you are obsessed with it.”