Tales from the Wallet: Controlling Your Spending

how to control your spendingHow do you bring yourself back when you’re consistently over budget — what changes do you make, on either a small or large scale, to control your spending? We’ve talked about how to set a budget, as well as how to live within your means, but we haven’t talked about that thing that everyone needs to do from time to time:  rein yourself in when you’re spending more than you want to. There are two sides of this coin, I suppose.  First, maybe you’re spending too much and sending yourself into the red — credit card debt is climbing, other bills are going unpaid, etc. Second, maybe you’re still spending within your means, but you just feel like you’re out of control — maybe you were raised with a more limited budget, or maybe you just know you can save a lot more than you are right now.  Either way, the question is the same: how do you stop spending? (Pictured: Moyna Dollar Sign Pouch, available at ShopBop for $40.80 (on sale from $51).

I’ve done a number of things through the years, including:

  • Really scrutinizing my credit card bill, maybe even categorizing my spending into categories — doing it by hand makes me appreciate it more than just seeing it on Mint.
  • Getting rid of charges — particularly recurring ones — that I think I need but really am not using (particularly if I can sign up again without fuss).  I was amazed when I returned to Netflix after a two year hiatus to find that my queue was still in tact.
  • Getting rid of “lazy” expenses.  In my law firm days, I took a cab to work almost every day because I didn’t want to spend the extra 20 minutes it took to take the subway.
  • Focusing on a daily budget.  For example, if I’ve said I don’t want to spend more than $X each day, and I know I’m already slated to meet friends for dinner or otherwise spend money that day, I may defer my online purchases to the next day.
  • Trying to find other outlets beyond my credit card.  I tend to be a bit of a stress spender, and sometimes going for a run or getting an extra hour of sleep is what I need more than that new blouse or that Starbucks latte.  Sometimes you may need to do a bit of self analysis (or, hey, therapy) to figure out why you’ve lost control.  (We’ve talked about ways to relax before, as well as how to control hormone-related stress.)

Readers, what have you done to try to control you spending?  How do you rein yourself in? 


  1. I don’t do a very good job at controlling my spending. I do tell myself I’ll only spend money on food once a day and that works pretty well. As far as shopping.. I probably have a problem but there’s no urgency to fix it. I’m not in the red and I have enough money for other things. But I need to save more. I’ve been slightly better about curving impulse buys and I’m slowly figuring out what I like. I’m 24 and I feel my sense of style is developing and evolving. I need to scrutinize my credit card bills better. I’m on Mint.com which is all well and good but I do a lot of online shopping and I return around half of what I buy. Mint doesnt properly account for the returns so it says I spent $800 on clothes last month but I returned maybe $400 of it. Sigh.

    • I am in the exact same situation–online impulse buys + returns + sometimes regrets…

      I spend an inordinate amount of time on Mint, splitting purchases so that I can mark the $40 for a returned sweater as “reimbursed” or “returned” or something (so it doesn’t show up in clothing) and keep the rest of the purchase in my clothing budget….it makes me feel marginally better about my spending!

    • Emily, I’d recommend that you change the category of the return credit that shows up on your statement (and therefore in Mint) to “Clothing” (or however you categorize your shopping purchases) so that it will then properly calculate your spending. This is what I do and it works great.

    • Lady Harriet :

      You can set it up so that Mint factors returns into your clothing budget. When the return credit shows up in your transactions, categorize it as “Clothing” (or whatever your original purchase was categorized as) instead of “Returns.” The amount should be subtracted from your monthly clothing spending.

      • Lady Harriet :

        Whoops, I guess I was slow posting, and everyone else had the same advice!

      • locomotive :

        Is there a good way of fixing it if you buy something in this month (say May), but return it in June? can you mark that return as not only clothing but May clothing?

        • I usually just change the date of the return to the last day of the correct month (here May)

        • Anonymous :

          I change the date of the return on Mint for situations like this. Technically, the return was in June, but to me the “transaction” has only one date, so I mark both the original purchase and the return with the same date as the purchase.

        • Jenna Rink :

          You can manually change the date of the transaction back to May.

          • Question about Mint…..if you purchase something with a credit card, and then you use a checking account to pay off that credit card, how do you categorize both the purchase and then the paying off the credit card on Mint? You don’t want to double count an item, so would you just exclude one of the transactions from Mint?

          • @ E, I think I categorize these as “credit card payment” and “bank transfer.” This way it doesn’t look like I’m spending the whole amount twice. I’ve had to train Mint to do this, though; when you first start it tried to categorize them differently and I about had a heart attack at how much money it said I had spent.

  2. Sydney Bristow :

    Keeping track of my spending manually helps me a lot. I use You Need A Budget for this.

    My current strategy is that I have a list of specific items that I need to replace because they no longer fit and I wore them constantly last year (white jacket for the summer, casual black skirt, etc) and if I buy something that isn’t on that list then I have to pay that same amount as an extra payment towards my student loans. I can’t get something if I can’t afford double the price, but if I can afford double the price then at least I’m getting what I want and helping myself out by paying off my loans a little faster.

    • This is a really good idea. I should start doing this.

    • Thanks for suggesting YNAB! I downloaded the trial, and I’m in love already. I’m likely going to get the full thing when my trial is over. I thought I was doing ok with my spending, but it looks like I’m overspending a bit, and this will help me rein things in!

  3. This couldn’t have come at a better time, I was actually going to pose a similar question today. My husband and I are both big firm lawyers so we’re making a relatively large amount of money. I feel that we’re doing a great job with savings (saving for a house) but over the past month or so I’ve had to dip into our savings just to pay myself back (i.e., I will buy something with a credit card and then not have the cash in my checking account to pay it back so I dipped into savings to pay off the credit card).

    Mint doesn’t seem helpful to me. It miscategorizes so many things so that it seems like a waste of time to even use it (although I do use it and have all of my accounts set up there). I really love getting sales, so I feel like I just waste money getting sales b/c I think I’m saving money in the long run but maybe it’s not even something I even need. Would love to hear others’ thoughts on saving money and stop the spending!!

  4. darjeeling :

    So far I’ve auto-routed all store/shopping emails to a separate folder but if I really wanted to make a dent I would unsubscribe altogether. Also, blogs (like this one! Which I won’t give up!) are very effective at showing me things to want that I never would have known about otherwise and generally recalibrating upward my sense of what’s an appropriate amount to spend for various things.

    So in short: stay off the internet. ;)

    • Meg Murry :

      Unroll.me puts them all into a separate folder/tag and then gives you a “daily digest”. I had already started with filtering to a separate folder, but having it all go into the unroll me once a day email makes my inbox so much more managable. I also have a separate junk mail email that I only check once a month for places I don’t shop at often and don’t want to get hook on.

      Also, unsubscribing from Flash sale sites and Groupon, etc really made a difference for me in cutting down on impulse shopping buys.

      • darjeeling :

        Thanks for the tip! Definitely true on the flash sites also.

      • SoCalAtty :

        Thank you to you and eveyone else that suggested Unroll me! It has been really, really helpful for me!

  5. Diana Barry :

    When I am trying not to spend money, I stay off the internet: no shopping sites (except thissite), no shopping emails, etc. I also recycle my catalogs right away (without looking at them) and don’t go into any stores. I use the time I would normally spend browsing (bc I like to do it!) on epicurious instead, and do menu planning, so that way I spend less money on takeout etc.

    • Houston Attny :

      Similar to your catalog solution, I have all e-mails related to stores and sales sent to a separate gmail address, so I can look if I want to look but can avoid if I want to avoid.

      • Diana Barry :

        Yup, I do this too – they go in a “coupon” folder and I never look at them unless I already want to buy something.

  6. TO Lawyer :

    I guess I’m firmly in camp 2 – all my expenses are paid so my shopping lately may have been out of control but I’m not in the red.

    I posted a similar question last week and a commenter helped – I’m an emotional shopper so when I feel lonely or down, I try to fill my closet so I think the key is to figure out why your shopping or expenses have gotten out of control and trying to fix the root problem.

    I know for myself, when I’m busy with friends and family, I’m less likely to go out of control shopping.

    • I’m also an emotional shopper… in addition to trying to be social with others, I also try to channel that energy into using things I already have differently. That may be cooking a new recipe with pantry goods, or trying to remix my closet into 2-3 new outfit combinations. Or taking crafting supplies and actually crafting with them, instead of buying more. It’s hard but I try to keep the mantra of “using what I have” top of mind.

  7. recent grad :

    My fiance and I are going to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida in two weeks. We’ll be there for 5 nights, 6 full days. Any recommendations? We’ve both been before, but it’s been awhile so I’d be happy to hear about some delicious restaurants, dinner cruises, anything really! Thanks.

  8. TimRiggins :

    I started doing monthly budgets, a la Dave Ramsay, about 6 months ago.

    At the beginning of the month, I calculate my income (the same most months because of The Salary), and my expected savings and expenses. A lot of stuff is very predictable (rent and cell phone) or pretty predictable (utilities, gasoline) or aspirational (food money). Then there are the months where I have a salon appointment, or a doctor’s appointment. Those things go it too.

    It’s been interesting because I’ve never gone over budget so far in this experiment, but I’m not having any fun with shopping any more. I assign every dollar a purpose at the beginning of the month, but I’ve gotten a little too strict at times. I budget in “fun” stuff, but it’s just not the same.

    But it’s definitely been eye-opening in terms of how much I used to over spend – man!

    Once I hit my savings goals in the next couple of months, I am going to open up a bit more of the monthly spending (by saving a little bit less each month).

  9. phillygirlruns :

    grateful for this post, and will be stalking the comments. i’ve been separated from my now-XH for close to a year now, and am still getting a feel for cash flow with my sole income and expenses. when we were married, and particularly in the last couple years, i hadn’t realized the extent to which i had been funding our joint expenses – it’s been much easier to save and manage my finances individually, and i’m hardly hurting for anything, but i still can’t help but think my savings should be looking better than they are.

    i know we’ve discussed this before, but while i like the concept of mint.com, the idea of plugging in my account and CC numbers makes me a bit paranoid – probably irrationally so, given that i have no issue with online shopping and storing my CC number on, say, amazon.

  10. NLMJ, Esq. :

    I found that Mint really wasn’t helping me understand *how* I was going to use my money. Rather, it was letting me know how I was spending it.

    A co-worker suggested a different software: You Need A Budget (YNAB – http://www.youneedabudget.com/) and it’s been a much better tool for me to know what I’m spending. It doesn’t connect with your bank, so you have to enter everything manually – which helps me. However, it has flexible budgets for each month that let me adjust for emergencies, or just for eating out more than buying groceries from month to month. I highly recommend it!

  11. Famouscait :

    My hubby and I (DINKs) have been through cushy years and lean times, so I’ve built up both a budgeting muscle and a spending habit. We’re currently in year one of a 5 year PhD program, so this qualifies as “lean times” and I’ve had to get back to budgeting.

    I’ve had good success managing our household budget (in Mint.com) like this:

    Food, utilities, gas, eating out, and entertainment (plus a few others) all get set budgets based on our historical spending and how much we prioritize them (i.e. we like to eat out more than we like to go to concerts, so the Entertainment budget is less than Eating Out). I’ve been able to cut back on our spending in each of these categories with this tactic. Groceries was a challenge, but I found a way to do that without couponing (hello Aldi! Love ya.)

    Where I can’t seem to move the needle is in what Mint.com (and now I) call the Everything Else budget line. Hubby needs a haircut. Dog needs a visit to the vet with shots. My car needs an oil change. These aren’t things that I can anticipate very well (they don’t happen every month) so it’s difficult to budget for them. We can’t not take the dog to the vet, but all of a sudden the Everything Else budget line is way out of whack, and it’s only the first week of the month….

    If anyone has any tips or tricks for how to deal with these things, I’d surely appreciate it. While Mint.com isn’t perfect, it’s the best tool I’ve found – are there any others people would suggest?

    • TimRiggins :

      I’m a monthly budgeter. I try to anticipate what’s coming in the month, but there’s always that stuff that you can’t predict. So I try to build as much buffer in as possible – I have a “misc” category that goes for unpredicted stuff. I also round up my predictable stuff like rent or insurance, and then take that rounding out to be reapplied to the un-predicted expense. Last ditch effort is to reduce savings by the amount needed for the budget.

    • I’m a Mint user, and have the exact same issue!

      I’ve developed a “work-around” but have only been doing it for a couple weeks, so I don’t know how it will go…..

      What I did was set a budget for an item (the first was “Gifts”) and I picked “Every Few Months” instead of monthly. Then you can select if it will be every 2, 3, 4 months, etc. and put in a dollar amount. I determined the budgets I would set by looking at the sub-categories under “Everything Else” and picking the few biggest ones. I’m going to try it for a while and see how it works.

      • Famouscait :

        Worth a shot! Thanks for the idea – I will try it that way.

        It’s strangely encouraging to know that the Everything Else line gets the better of other people, too….. I’d kinda like to rename it the “Sh*t Happpens” budget. =)

        • This is the one that kills me too. DH and I get $X of spending money each paycheck, from which comes haircuts, oil changes, gifts, most clothing, drugstore runs, small medical copays, eating out. Bigger things – car maintenance like brakes, wedding gifts, bar dues, come out of savings. We have rules about what can come out of savings – never ever entertainment or eating out, sometimes travel, usually car maintenance and big medical bills. We talk every single time we take money out of savings, so it turns out to not be very often.

          Maybe setting a savings goal can help against the creep of the unexpected? Like, no matter what happens we will get to saving $X/year. Also the thing about a budget is that you can’t make it and forget about it – you have to reevaluate every few months.

    • Jenna Rink :

      One option is to tell Mint that the budget rolls over for particular expenses, which might help you chip away at those “everything else” items. For example, I have a budget of $100 for pets that rolls over every month. Some of that gets used monthly toward food and upkeep, and some carries forward for those out of the blue vet bills. That of course doesn’t mean that the money is sitting there in your checking account waiting to be spent, but at least you’re taking that expectation into account when you budget each month.

      • Anonymous :

        This. I spent a lot of time thinking of all of those expenses — haircuts/color & manicures, vet bills, auto repair, etc. that certainly arise sporadically throughout the year, but not every month. Then I did what Jenna Rink did — tried to figure out what the annualized cost would be, divided by twelve, made it a line item, but used the roll over function, so I can see that I still have $700 in the budget for my vet bills when they come up in August and October. I also try to put these monthly amounts aside in savings each month so the money will be available. It would be even better if I had a separate savings account set up for such things — budgeted items that are irregular. Maybe next year.

    • Sydney Bristow :

      I highly recommend You Need A Budget for this. I’m a huge evangelist of their software because I’ve found it so helpful for me. There is a philosophy behind the way that the YNAB system works and if you follow it completely then you don’t even need separate accounts to save up for things but can do it within the software itself. I personally don’t do this because I find separate accounts easier for me.

      For things like gifts, vacations, bar dues/CLE credits, etc I have separate budgeted amounts for each that I’ve broken down a year long goal into 12 monthly amounts. I actually move these amounts into ING accounts set up for the specific purpose instead of just using the software to keep track.

      The other thing you can do is budget each line individually each month and set it up to roll over or not. This way if you go over in 1 category, you can decrease another one manually so overall you’re still within budget. I regularly find myself doing that with my eating out budget and if I overspend in 1 category then I’ll deduct that amount from the eating out category. It’s very simple to do within the software, and like I said above I find it incredibly useful to do it all manually. You’ve got to learn what works best for you though.

  12. I update my budget every payday (so every 2 weeks for me plus twice a month for spouse), so I’m never more than 2 weeks out of date on the numbers. That makes it pretty easy to spot a problem sooner rather than later. I’ve already cut the expenses I wasn’t getting anything out of (cancelled the gym membership that I didn’t use for 6 weeks straight and couldn’t foresee using in the next year, figured out an optimized commute to balance time and tolls, etc.), but that’s a good first step if you haven’t.

    I look at where I’m overspending – is it unexpected expenses (mine this summer is having to replace some windows sooner than I’d hoped), or just buying more than I should (“there was a great deal on this jacket, and these pants, and…”), and that determines the course of action.

    If it’s discretionary where I’m going overboard, I cut myself off until I’ve caught up with my budget (avoid the mall, don’t read the sale emails, and delete my credit card info from any sites I buy from – the extra step of entering it is often enough to deter me from finalizing the sale). If it’s food then I make a menu for the next month and do a cooking binge to fill the freezer, and try to host friends rather than going out for dinner. Basically, try to overcorrect the behaviour that got me into trouble.

    I keep a (high interest) savings account for the unexpected necessities – major car and house repairs mostly (with a long-term goal of major kitchen renovations). If I have to dip into my line of credit to cover something, that becomes the priority (after credit card payments) and the rest of the budget gets adjusted to get it paid off ASAP (everything listed in the previous paragraph).

    Any windfall money (tax refunds, profit sharing, and anything else that isn’t guaranteed in the annual budget) gets split evenly between the savings account and “something fun now” (vacation, pinball machine, dinner out, spiffing new clothes, etc.). The savings account also gets a small weekly deposit to make sure it keeps going up, and it isn’t included in the budget as “available money”.

    (I use parentheses too much)

  13. My situation is different to a lot of yours, because I’m still a student at university in the UK.

    I split my monthly money into weekly allowances, and I have a separate current account that I transfer my weekly money into every week. I also keep a pocket-size notebook in my wallet that I’ve set up as a cashbook, and I use that to track absolutely everything I spend. To work out my weekly amount, I divide (my monthly amount – monthly outgoings) by five, and then subtract a bit. So my parents transfer £380 into my account every month, and I give myself £65-70 a week, which allows me money for spending – my phone bill is only £7.50 so I I just factor that into my weekly amounts. (I have a sim-only deal from Giffgaff because I have a thing about phone contracts given how much my life can change month to month and how much it will definitely change in two years – I’m saving about £20 a month at least for an iPhone)

  14. I usually just put a giant chunk of my paycheck, as soon as I get it, into savings or student loans, so that I can’t spend it. But I’m starting to feel like I should let myself spend a little more–it is sort of a miserable existence fretting over every dollar you spend.

    Somewhat related TJ–how do you manage finances with your partner if one of you is spendier? I’m obviously the tightfisted one in the partnership, though my DH isn’t irresponsible with money. We’re getting married soon and I need to find a compromise that will be comfortable for both of us.

    • HappyHoya :

      Money is the biggest issue my husband and I disagree on. I thought I was cheap (I am extremely responsible, save a lot, don’t like “stuff” so don’t really shop, etc.) but my husband is obsessed with savings. He would rather see the balance on our savings account go up than go on vacation *ever* or enjoy time with friends (I think it stems from his salary being fixed whereas I have opportunities to earn more, when I need to). We used to fight about it a lot. We’ve recently learned that when we start to discuss money, we remind ourselves and each other (out loud) of non-financial priorities, and assess how we’re doing on those points first. For example, if we’re talking about a night out with friends that’s a little nicer than we’d normally do ourselves, we realistically assess how many splurgy nights out we’ve had recently, and talk about when we’ve last spent time with these friends. It helps me a lot that the whole conversation is not about money ruling our lives, and it helps him know that we’re not just spending money for the heck of it. We’re honest with ourselves about making the judgment call as to whether or not it’s worth it, and even when we disagree on that issue, it takes a lot of heat out of the conversation. It also helps reinforce that our other priorities are the same (for example, it’s important for us to see family periodically and for us to travel together before we have kids) which reminds us that our differences about finances do not doom our marriage.

      • That is helpful, thanks!

        • HappyHoya :

          You’re welcome. Congrats on your upcoming marriage!

        • ExcelNinja :

          I’m spendier than my husband, but I also make more (used to make about 2x, but right now I’m the sole earner in our houeshold). What fixed it for us was to pool our money into one. We used to have separate accounts, with one joint account for bills, but it was so frustrating when I wanted to have a nice night out with friends but he couldn’t afford it. I would usually end up spotting him anyway. When we pooled our resources, we both felt like we had more money.

          The way it works for us, is that we know our fixed expenses (car payment, cell phone, car insurance, housing, etc). We add up all of that each month and mentally set that aside. Then the remainder of our income is devoted to variable expenses like groceries, random household stuff (last month we had to buy a ladder), etc. We know we only have $X per week to spend on that stuff and it’s always at the top of our minds, which means that sometimes I’ll wait a little bit longer for a hair appt, or we’ll have lunch at a nice restaurant instead of dinner – small stuff that really adds up.

          Savings automagically come out of my paycheque before I even see it so that’s not really a factor for us.

          And of course, there is no one-size-fits-all, so this might not work for anyone else except us!

    • One great tip I heard before I got married was to have a “cap” on what either you or your husband could spend without consulting the other. This amount will vary from couple to couple. Once your “cap” is set, if you want to spend above it (or your husband does) you have to consult the other person. If the amount in question is lower than the set “cap” then you can spend it without worry. I thought this was a great idea.

      Also, consider maintaining separate accounts as well as starting a joint account. Set a percentage that each of you will contribute to the joint account. Whatever is left in your individual accounts you can spend as you want.

    • Anonymous :

      We have a spending imbalance, and the way we worked it out is as follows:

      We have a joint checking and a joint savings account. Joint checking is for standing monthly “musts,” like rent and utilities. Joint savings is our “house/emergency fund” (basically, it’s our down payment fund, plus extra to cover crises like medical bills, job loss, etc.). Based on each of our salaries, we figured out what we should each be paying towards the monthly “musts”, and we set up automatic deposits from our personal accounts to the joint account to cover those expenses. From there, we each agreed to a set amount we’d each contribute to the savings account each month, based on a variety of factors (salary, standing bills, spending habits), and have that run on an automatic withdrawal as well. The rest of our money, we keep separate. We also keep “individual” bills (personal credit cards, car payments since we each have one, cell phones, etc.) separate, so the spendier spouse doesn’t needlessly aggravate the thriftier spouse and we don’t have to have stupid arguments over how many MBs of data we need and whether an iPhone is really necessary and whatever else we’d likely spar over if we combined all of our money and expenses all of the time.

      It took a little work to set the system up, but now that it’s in place, it runs really smoothly. The only way I could foresee it becoming more of a challenge is if/when one of us steps away from full-time work, since the system is basically predicated on each of us making enough to be able to contribute to the joint accounts and to still have money left over to cover both personal bills and voluntary spending.

      • I like that idea. Where do joint “fun” activities fit into that? Currently, because he makes a lot more money than I do, he always pays for us to eat out. This means that I feel guilty when we eat out, but also that we actually do go out occasionally because he isn’t as anxious about money as I am. I was thinking that this might be easier if we combined everything into one account and called it “our” money, but maybe not…

        • Anonymous :

          I buy groceries out of my personal money, he pays for all of our “fun” activities – the expenditures in each category are roughly even, for the most part, and our salaries are roughly even as well, so right now it works.

          My salary’s about to double (job change! yay!) so I’m thinking I’ll probably just pick up a greater proportion of our “musts” to account for the fact that he prefers to be the one to pay when we go out. Technically, he’ll still be paying for all of our joint “fun,” but I’ll be covering significantly more of our monthly expenses (which aren’t increasing at all with the job change), so he’ll have more “personal” money to spend on the joint fun stuff, so it all comes out in the wash.

          The key with our approach is that we don’t bean-count – we agree to a distribution of expenses that feels fair, and then we stick to it, with no guilt (since, even though it doesn’t look “fair” if you look at only one category, we know it’s “fair” overall). If anyone feels like they’re paying too much in a particular category, we talk about it and adjust where needed.

          In your example, if he’s always paying when you eat out, let him. Just take on a little more of the monthly expenses (so if your salaries are 70-30, maybe contribute to the bills 60-40) and let “joint fun stuff” be the area where he makes a proportionally larger contribution to account for the fact that he’s bringing in proportionally more of the household income. Or, if you spend a relatively set amount per month on fun stuff, contribute an additional amount (in whatever proportion you’ve already agreed to) to the joint checking account to cover that amount, and take “fun” money back out of joint checking when you’re out.

      • Spouse is the spendier one in my house, but he also makes nearly twice what I do. We keep separate bank accounts for our paycheques, a primary credit card attached to his and a secondary credit card attached to mine, and a joint account that is linked to both of our primary accounts that we use for transferring money back and forth and for the “buffer” since our cashflow is pretty irregular over the year (March is expensive, September is cheap).

        Individual bills (car, phone, etc.) go to the individual. Individual savings (RRSPs, rainy day, big fun expenditures like pinball machines or vacations) come from the individual according and are split by individual priorities. Household expenses go to his account (mortgage, property taxes, utilities). Daycare comes from my account (because it’s explicitly a cost for me to be working). My personal spending goes to my credit card, but everything else goes to his (better rewards). This works out so that he’s generally in the red between income and payments, so he spends less (because he thinks he’s broke – he spends any money he has, but doesn’t overspend if he thinks he doesn’t have the space).

        Each pay I update the budget with each of our current balances, and we discuss where to put the excess in my account (credit card, joint account, or split between my savings and the joint account to go to his savings).

        • I doubt anyone’s reading this at this point, and I don’t mean to jump on you for this, but how is daycare a cost of YOU working and not a cost of BOTH of you working? Kids are a joint responsibility–I just get really upset when women assume that their working results in daycare expenses when it’s equally true of their husbands’ decision to work.

          That is all!

          • I agree – kids are a joint responsibility. Spouse contributes equally around the house (he does a little more housework, I do a little more direct supervision of the wee ones, but hour-for-hour, it’s even). He doesn’t call it “babysitting” when he’s on kid-duty (and neither do I).

            In principle, I also agree with you that daycare is a cost for either of us to work. In practice, we could get by on just his salary with few sacrifices. We couldn’t get by on just mine. Spouse would like it if one of us could stay home with the kids, but after #1 was born we discovered that I wasn’t well-suited to full-time parenting. So, we agreed that I’d go back to work, since mental health is more important than a gut-feel preference for child care arrangements.

            When I returned to work after #2 was born (and therefore had 2 kids in daycare), my take-home income covered transportation to & from work and daycare, with nothing left over unless I worked overtime. This is the same reason that he didn’t take any parental leave beyond vacation time – the drop in income for him to switch to EI for a few months was just too much, but for me it was manageable (note: we’re in Canada and get government-funded parental leave of up to $435/week for up to a year, combinable between parents).

            I work for a lot of reasons: mental health, I like my job, I think I’m a better role model as an engineer than as a SAHM, and because dropping out of the workforce even for just a few years has huge long-term implications; he works because he likes his job and he likes the standard of living it affords us (and probably mental health for him as well, but he doesn’t have the practical experience of being a SAHD for more than one full day).

        • This – discuss! No matter how you split it you have to have a discussion every so often, to catch problems early on.

    • We set up joint accounts for shared expenses- housing, groceries, and yes, vacations, and then individual accounts with allowances for individual spending- eating out, clothes, haircuts, electronics, etc. And presents, so we can keep those secret. All the money goes in the main pool, and then we each get our allowances to spend however we want. The joint budget also has a joint entertainment line, although we can also treat each other out of our individual accounts.

      Another strategy might be to budget how much you want to save rather than how much you want to spend- that way, you’re not spending money you don’t want to spend, but you can spend the rest of it however you want without worrying.

      I would love to know how people do joint retirement planning- since access to tax protected retirement savings is super related to your employment status/ job type, ours is super uneven and probably will be for the forseeable future- any clever ideas out there?

      • Anonymous :

        I’m wondering why the unevenness matters. Either you stay married, and when you retire you cover expenses proportionally based on what you “earn” from your respective retirement account payouts, or one spouse survives the other, in which case the widowed spouse gets all the retirement savings regardless of whose name it was in (since widowed spouse inherits other spouse’s assets, including retirement accounts), or you divorce and divide the assets (including retirement accounts) fairly and then it STILL doesn’t matter whose name the savings were originally saved in, right?

  15. replying to bookmark

  16. Anonymous :

    Like a lot of other posters, we’ve been through lean times and great times. Right now my husband is in year 2 of his MBA, so we’re in lean mode. My biggest struggle is with clothes, especially work attire. To compensate for not having a lot of discretionary income, I have a “Clothes Savings Account.” Every time I use a coupon anywhere ($0.35 at the grocery store to $35 online coupon code from retailmenot), I add the $$ amount to this account. It feels strange to transfer $0.85 from one account to another, but it really does adds up eventually. I also use shopping sites like Memolink.com and MyPoints.com and transfer all those rewards to this account. That way, I can save up for my clothing purchases and then enjoy picking out something special.

  17. Anonymous :

    I track all of our household finances down to the last penny (actual & planned future spending) in a customized spreadsheet. We also don’t have credit cards (amazingly enough, it’s dang near impossible to build up credit card debt when you don’t have any credit cards). I only carry cash if I can afford to spend it.

    • I think this is good, simple and absolutely the way to go for a family who want to keep a hold on their costs.

  18. Like several others, DH and I have had leaner years (usually where just one of the two of us is salaried) and fatter years, where it’s been okay for us to be less vigilant. Things that have been helpful in the leaner times:
    1. Formally limiting eating out to 2X month (usually for special events)
    2. Meal planning (vs. just getting delivery again).
    3. Pantry weeks — where we make a much bigger effort to use up/eat/cook what’s already in the pantry and fridge vs. grocery shopping on autopilot.
    4. Coupons at Safeway — I do this even now, in less lean times, because it’s easy. They are all online, and even if I didn’t bother to click on the coupons I want that week, I still get the “Club” prices, which are far better, just by swiping the Club Card itself (or entering my phone number) at checkout.
    5. Coupons at Walgreens and CVS — Ditto. I don’t do the extreme couponing, but just swipe the card, and get a $5 off every few weeks.
    5. Keeping track of mileage on one airline and using points for trips rather than upgrades.
    6. Unsubscribed from Shop It to Me and all Groupon-like sites.
    7. Use the library! Ours is great — you can request books/CDs/DVDs and have them delivered to your local branch for pickup; can renew online; and can sign out e-books for the Kindle.
    8. Swapping books and DVDs with friends.
    9. Clothing purchase moratorium for a month or three months. (Many on thissite have mentioned this on other threads.)
    10. Haircuts at Supercuts and no waxing. I will still do the occasional pedicure out (~$25 all in) for morale, however!

  19. Thanks for posting this, Kat. I’m definitely in the latter camp (living within my means but knowing I still spend too much), and this was perfect timing since I’m about to go back to graduate school and I’ll definitely need to rein myself in. A lot.

    • Yes, thanks to KAT. I figured out along time ago that I was NOT the best person to be in charge of money. I know how to make money, and also how to spend alot of it. Because of this, I have a probelem saveing.

      To fix the probelem, I have my dad manage all of my finanence’s for me! He write’s all of the check’s, pay’s all of the bill’s and tell’s me what I can and cannot buy each month.

      Since haveing Dad manage my saveing’s I have save’d alot! Now he is ready to turn me over to my new husband, if I can find one, to manage me. YAY!

  20. SoCalAtty :

    We have the same problems. Our biggest problem is that my salary is fixed, so my cash flow never fluctuates. DH is a business owner, so his does. This can be great or really, really bad. The problem comes when we are going into a “lean” period – my husband never tells me work is slow until all of a sudden the credit cards are maxed out and we don’t have money for bills. Hence, currently we’re heading another lean period with big balances and 0 savings!

    So I’m posting to keep track of the comments here…my solution so far is to hand over the business books to a CPA / accounting firm. Husband is GREAT at sales and at his work, but he also is really bad at realizing when a customer is going to be a “slow pay” or when things are going to slow down, causing big cash flow issues. I’m actually convinced that he can’t add. I’ll ask, “what do you have coming in?” and he will tell me, “oh, about $20k.” When I dig down and discover $10k of that is material and $5k is payroll and he is only left with $5k, it all makes sense, but he doesn’t see the accounts that way. Makes for big trouble!

    I think I’ve come to the realization that my husband just can’t be allowed to handled the books. Really, he doesn’t need to be working a full day and coming home and doing back office stuff anyway.

    • Anonymous :

      Yes you probably need to have someone else take care of the books. A lot of people who own their own business are great at what they do, but they aren’t great at running a business. Maybe you could stop using credit cards so they don’t get maxed out. I mean it’s bad to keep dumping out your savings all the time. Or if I were you I would keep better track of the credit card balances online so you know when you have to stop spending.

      • SoCalAtty :

        Agreed! The only card we now use is an AMEX that must be paid in full at the end of the month. Unfortunately, every time I get things close to paid off, (other credit lines / emergency credit lines) or paid down to a reasonable amount, the cycle starts again – the spending outstrips the earning for about 3 months before I’m ever aware of it. To pay bills, we’re then forced to use credit cards or not pay the bills. Really aggregating.

        It isn’t that things get put on credit cards I don’t know about, it is that our income can be x amount for 8-9 months, and then all of a sudden we have a 3-4 month “lean” period that I never know about, and I continue to pay off debt and try to put money into the 401k when really, husband was short on HIS bills and I end up having to drain savings or find other ways to pay his half.

        It is kind of a relaxation of control on my part. My bills and salary are set, so I know I only have X amount of fun money per month. Anything over that, I go to husband – who has no idea what his books look like, or is being optimistic, and he says “sure, I can cover it!” and then can’t.

        Now that I know, really know, about this, and we’ve done this cycle 3-4 times over the past 8 or so years, I’m putting a stop to it. We had a serious talk and really are turning the books over to an accountant, and I already am in charge of the “household” books so that’s easy. We sat down and used a combination of Mint and an excel spreadsheet, and our bills are high, but doable on what we are making now, even in “lean” months. If we can just get his business / cash flow issue under control, we would be good. So we’re getting there.

  21. This is what works for DH & I. We have a spreadsheet that lists our semi-monthly income and the expenses that are paid in each half of the month based on due date. This includes utilities, rent, etc. I get a set amount for spending each paycheque to be used for clothes, supporting my sewing and reading habits, etc. Dh doesn’t get a set amount for spending, but he’s not much of a spender so it doesn’t have a big impact on our monthly budget. We’ve determined what a good ‘leftover’ amount to be used for food, gas, etc. is, and the difference goes to savings. Small non-recurring expenses are paid out of our chequing account (like one of our ds’s needs a new pair of jeans). Larger non-recurring (or maybe less frequently recurring) expenses (like all three boys needing 2 pairs of jeans each – thank goodness for Old Navy!) are put on a credit card (to get the cash back credit) and then we decide how it’s going to be paid – out of chequing or savings. We keep a close eye on our savings each month to make sure it is growing at the rate we want it to be. If we find we’re running out of cash at the end of the pay period we know we need to slow down our spending. If we find we have extra at the end of each paycheque, we up the amount that is transferred to savings each pay period.

    So, we have a loose budget, but not a super strict budget, and it works well for us. We have discovered over the years that we have a tendency to spend the money that’s available in our chequing account, so by transferring what we don’t think we’ll need, or that we shouldn’t need, right after getting paid works well for us.

  22. This thread was particularly timely for me, as I’ve been feeling more spendy than I should be comfortable with for a while now. I was living with a boyfriend, split up, moved back home for a couple months, and used the rent free time to seriously, seriously indulge in retail therapy. Now I’m back in my own place, and trying to buckle down again. I’m a Mint user, but I’m also a compulsive list maker so I have a separate Google doc spreadsheet where I calendar any major expenses on the horizon (e.g., a wedding a few months away) so I can make sure I’m setting aside some discretionary funds in the run up to the event to cover gifts and travel.
    I also used the multiple moves to do a wardrobe edit and identify gaps to fill, and recently added a tab to my budget doc spreadsheet with a shopping list, organized by category and color coded by priority because I’m a supernerd. So, when I get the urge to shop or a great sale email (ps thanks for the unroll.me tip, I’m amazed already), I’ll check my list first so at least when I do spend, I’m buying things I need rather than a 5th pink cardigan, just because it was on sale. So far it’s working pretty well.
    Lastly, I’m a Pinterest fan and have a board for things I want to buy – I’ll pin something so I don’t lose track of it, and if I’m still really wanting it a while later I can find it again easily. Oftentimes going on a shoe pinning spree is almost as satisfying as buying a new pair.

  23. I am in the latter camp, and have used a lot of different tracking mechanisms over the years. At the monent I love CashTrails, which I use as an iPhone app. I enter every thing I spend into it…I love that I can have as many accounts as I want, so while most of my day-to-day money is just in one account, in CashTrails I can split it into “savings,” “spending,” “committed money” (for bills I know I’m going to have to pay later in the month), and even short-term savings “accounts” for things I know I want to buy. It’s also GREAT if you regularly earn/spend in multiple currencies…I enter expenses in several different European currencies and everything automatically gets converted to the proper currency for the “account” in question. It cost, but not too much iirc.

  24. Can someone explain briefly how to keep track of spending in a spreadsheeet? I’ve tried the You Need a Budget and others but it’s too complicated for me to keep up with. Thanks!

  25. Houston Texas Consulting is creating dynamic and innovative ways to market and promote our clients brand. By having exclusive contracts with our clients, we are able to find the solutions that they need to achieve success.

  26. I am a shopoholic and have managed to rack up a huge debt. My biggest issue seems to be buying from amazon. It is so easy to go online at any moment and get the next whim. Even if I cut up my cards, they are all stored on the site. Does anyone have any ideas on how to curb that?