So last year was really rough for us. Besides getting through life in general, which threw us some curve balls late 2010 and through 2011, we were working on some issues between us. The D word wasn't mentioned, except to ensure in the beginning of our discussions that that wasn't what either of us wanted. Having established that we didn't want to be with anybody else, just wanted a better us, we moved forward with a plan.
I liken the experience to going through hurricane season. We had a strong foundation, and the house itself was intact after the initial blows, but we needed to replace part of the roof, our patio furniture blew away, etc. If more hurricanes come along, we wanted to make sure we have every defense in place to beat the storm with zero damage.
I am sharing this with you in case anybody else is going through similar issues. It is easy to blogwash and paint the perfect picture of life at home, but what you see on the surface may hide a flooded basement underneath. I have had many good "real life" discussions about this process, so please feel free to share your experiences, if not here you can email me at thefeltmouseATgmailDOTcom.
The first step was undertaken before any relationship issues were brought out in the open. It was prompted by the fact that my husband's bonus -- the one we rely on to pay our large tax burden and complete a major home improvement project each year -- was cut in half. BT, who is coincidentally an accountant, set to work developing a budget. This wasn't just a pie in the sky budget, but based on real spending from the year prior. Some areas were absolutes (although later managed to re-finance the mortgage, etc. to bring down our house payment), but others had room for improvement. Can you believe our food bill was $1,600 a month?? This included groceries and eating out. Way too high for 2 1/2 people. Our food budget is still high compared to people I talk to, but I find it reasonable for the types of meals we choose to eat (mostly organic, minimal processed food). We use mint.com for tracking our expenditures by budget category, debts, and our recently positive net worth (yeah! We are worth more than we owe!)
A budget was a new idea for both of us. In some ways we are opposites, but spending money we are exactly the same. We love stuff, and instant gratification. Now, if we had been going on trips during the first 9 years of wedded bliss, or buying nice furniture, I think we could have lived with ourselves. But no -- we had as much to show from our spendy ways as we would have if we flushed cash down the toilet. We also had a decent amount of credit card debt to pay off. Not a ton, but more than we should have on our salaries and, again, without having anything tangible to point to to account for the debt. Trip to Australia? I would be ok paying off some debt. A little here, a little for trips to Target, JoAnn, misc. electronics stores? Not so easy to stomach.
In the beginning, upholding the budget was a total nightmare. BT, the number cruncher who will spend hours to account for discrepancies less than $1 at his job, was bringing the same principles home. He would quibble over $5 extra spent on the food budget, despite seeing remarkable improvements in other categories. I was resentful, and he was frustrated. The eye of the storm was looming on the horizon, and penny pinching wasn't going to be enough to make it by.