You work hard for your money. You ought to put some thought into how you spend it, rather than letting it mindlessly slip through your fingers one debit-card swipe at a time.
Budgeting doesn’t have to be something you dread. Think of all the different ways your budget can serve you. Saving up for a big purchase? Need to get a better handle on bills to reduce financial stress? Want to free up money to spend on something you really love? A budget can help with all of that.
But it’s not enough for you to get excited about managing your finances if no one else in your household is on board — especially if they’re inadvertently sabotaging your financial progress. The solution: Hold regular budget meetings to get everyone on the same page about the best money moves for your family to make.
10 Steps to Planning a Successful Family Budget Meeting
1. Gather all relevant stakeholders.
At a minimum, your budget meeting should include you and your spouse or partner. But you may want to open it up to other members of the family, like your teen who has a part-time job and contributes to your shared cell phone plan. You might even want to involve your younger children so they have a better understanding of why Mom and Dad shoot down their requests to buy them something during every Target run.
2. Decide how often you should have budget meetings.
Monthly meetings are common, because many bills are due once a month. Set weekly meetings if you want to keep close tabs on where every dollar is going. Couples who manage money together like a well-oiled machine might decide to just hold quarterly budget meetings to check in about progress toward shared financial goals.
3. Be consistent about your meeting time.
Make money discussions a habit by meeting at the same time each week or month. Set it on your calendar so your other plans won’t overlap. After a while, it’ll become part of your routine and you’ll feel off track if you don’t check in about the budget.
4. Stick to a set time period.
No one wants to spend hours on a Saturday discussing money management. About 30 minutes should be all you need.
5. Remove stress from the equation.
Talking about money can be tough enough as it is, especially if it’s not something you do regularly. Don’t schedule your budget meeting right after a long day at work or when you’re rushing to get somewhere afterward. A glass of wine and some snacks can transform your budget talk into something you look forward to.
Also, make sure to eliminate distractions. Turn off the TV and silence your cell phones. If you’ve got little ones running afoot, use naptime to your advantage or call a babysitter and head out to your favorite cafe.
6. Gather all the documents and tools you’ll need: a calculator, a calendar, bank statements and bills.
You’ll likely be able to pull up everything on your smartphone or computer. Have your Excel chart or other budget spreadsheet ready, or pull up the budgeting app where you track your income and expenses.
7. Create a quick budget meeting agenda.
Note which topics are of top priority and how much time you’ll spend on each. Assign someone as time keeper so you don’t spend the whole meeting going back and forth about your debt repayment strategy when you also need to make a savings plan for an upcoming vacation. The other partner can be the recorder, taking notes about decisions made and discussions that need to be tabled.
8. Cover the past, present and future.
Reflect on how your spending projections for the past week, month or quarter matched up to reality. Set spending limits for the new month, accounting for current needs and wants. Schedule bill payments and account transfers. Discuss long-term goals and progress toward paying off debt, increasing savings and improving credit scores.
9. Be courteous.
Budget meetings aren’t about dwelling on problems or placing blame. If there’s a disagreement about a money decision, allow your partner the chance to explain their side and try to work together to come to a compromise. You may decide having more autonomy over spending and not having joint accounts works better for your relationship.
10. Acknowledge wins.
Celebrate reaching your goals — and the progress you make to get there. Recognizing your achievements will motivate you to stick with your budgeting journey.
Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.