Learn how adding some wiggle room for personal spending can help you and your partner budget successfully for the long haul.
When it comes to handling money together, everyone needs a little bit of their own, a little bit of space.
When Julie and I first got married we were broke—BROKE—and our budget was super-tight; down to the penny, we would worry. Julie knew the cost of every single item at the grocery store that we purchased. I could say, “What do we pay for a can of corn?” and she would know. She was just on top of that. We knew every little penny going in and out.
It was tight. It was exhausting. EXHAUSTING.
Strict Budgeting Leads to a Breaking Point
I remember walking by in the student center at the university, where they had these really delicious, old-fashioned donuts. If you asked them to microwave one of these donuts for nine seconds, it would be a little warm and soft and you could enjoy this perfect old-fashioned donut. They cost 50 cents at the time—they probably cost seven dollars now, but at that time—50 cents. They were delicious, especially when you warmed them up for the nine seconds.
So, I distinctly remember walking by that place where you can buy the 50 cent old-fashioned donuts and recognizing that I could not buy one because it was not in the budget. And it was depressing.
And that went on for a little while, and we’d only been doing this budget for a little while—well, we’d only been married for three weeks at the time, and we’d been doing the budget for those three weeks. And I came home to Julie and, bless her heart; she’s much hardier than I am. I mean, she’s just… she’s strong, mentally buff, and can just do hard things for a long time. It’s admirable. (And she never reads this blog or listens to the podcast, so I can say stuff like this here.)
Ready to learn everything there is to know about managing money with your honey? Check out our comprehensive guide on Budgeting as a Couple.
A Little Breathing Room Goes a Long Way
But I came home to her and I said, “I’m breaking down. I feel like I can’t breathe, and I just think we each need a little bit of our own fun money, so that we don’t… I don’t have to say, ‘Hey, Julie, I bought the old-fashioned donut again.’ I can just buy it and enjoy it.” And she agreed.
So, we carved out ten dollars—five dollars each—and gave ourselves a little bit of breathing room. Now, all these years later, we have more than five dollars a month, of course, and that seems to be enough for us. Sometimes I’d like it to be more—I’m usually in the red on my side of things.
But it gives us breathing room. It allows us to not have every single purchase require a consensus from the other person.
Some fun money gives you exactly what you need, which is just a little bit of space. It is a play for the long haul. It’s a play you make so that you can stick to the budget long term and not go on some kind of crazy, fad, sprint of a diet budgeting-wise and then bail on Thursday, you know, after starting on Monday.
Sharing a life, and finances, with a partner requires honesty, flexibility, and ongoing commitment. Making room for something like an old-fashioned donut can bring a little extra sweetness to the life you’re trying to build together.
This post comes from Podcast #163: You Need Your Space, the one in which Jesse shares about how an old-fashioned donut inspired an important budgeting truth. For more on financial freedom and budgeting with a partner, sign up for our short but sweet Budgeting Together email series and get a free downloadable Financial Date Night planning worksheet.