The Conflict-Free Family Budget: Introduction
My partner Jak and I have been together for eleven years now. We blended our money fairly early in our relationship — sometime late in the second year. Ever since then weâ€™ve had a single pool, into which all income goes, and from which all outflows are jointly approved.
Our financial outlooks and spending priorities have always been pretty similar — more alike than most couples, from what Iâ€™ve read — but still not identical. Also, theyâ€™ve been changing over time, for both of us. In general, Iâ€™ve been leading the way down the path of increased frugality, and Jak has willingly followed … about a step or two behind.
Which has made for occasional friction. Nothing major, nothing relationship-endangering, but still not any fun. I would grouse about individual purchases that didnâ€™t match my frugal standards; Jak would grumble that he felt micromanaged and constrained. I tried backing off, but then heâ€™d start coveting some expensive new electronic gadget and Iâ€™d get anxious.
I suggested we set category limits, like $30 per month on his coffee shop beverages; he agreed, but by the second month heâ€™d gone over, and he didnâ€™t even feel any less restricted. He tried to only buy things that I agreed to, but couldnâ€™t help resenting the lack of autonomy. At one point he suggested a monthly allowance that he could spend however he wanted, but I couldnâ€™t see that stopping me from fretting about whether we could afford whatever he was buying, or whether it was fair for him to splurge when I was sacrificing.
Last summer, after a lot of reading on behavioral economics and with our particular dynamics in mind, I hammered out a new approach for handling expenses. I made a little spreadsheet, calculated some numbers, and then proposed it to Jak.
He had a lot of questions, most of which I had ready answers for, but a couple required that I refine the model. We haggled over details. He was interested, but cautious; it was a pretty big change, and though the potential benefits were obvious, he wasnâ€™t confident that weâ€™d foreseen all the drawbacks. We agreed to try it for three months, after which he could request a renegotiation.
We implemented the new plan on July 1. The three-month mark came and went without notice. In fact, in the last six-and-a-half months we have not had a single negative interaction around spending. Not one.
I want to share this system here on Pocketmint, for two reasons: one, because it underlies or ties into a lot of other things in our lives that I want to talk about, and two, because I think that — perhaps with minor adjustments for individual circumstances — it could be a good approach for a lot of other families.
However, to explain the idea well enough that someone else could implement it, Iâ€™ll have to go into quite a bit of detail, which makes for a whole big pile of text. So Iâ€™m breaking it up into three sections. Tomorrow in Part One Iâ€™ll describe the plan as we implemented it. Then in Part Two, Iâ€™ll go over the results, both expected and unexpected. Finally in Part Three Iâ€™ll discuss general principles and ways to adapt the budget for other circumstances. Stay tuned!