My Achilles’ heal in financial management: discretionary money
Do you ever get sick and tired of your own flaws? When it comes to money management, I am so tired of having to confess my very poor record with my discretionary fund. DH and I decided in 2012 that we would each get an “allowance”, to cover needs that involve personal taste and a broad price range – like clothing and shampoo – and also to cover wants like gifts, gym memberships, snowboarding, blog expenses, and meals or snacks out. When I tell you what we each get for our allowance, you’re going to be surprised at how much it is. So I’m a bit hesitant, but here we go: $600. Each.
Maybe you’re not so surprised. Maybe you’re thinking, Well, if I add up the meals I eat out and the odd coffee and muffin that I pick up on my way home from work – and if I add to that gifts, clothes, books, hygiene products, my gym membership, and my get-away weekends, I go way over $600 per month. Likely though, you’re more frugal than that, and you’re thinking, How can she not manage with SO much?! And I’m with you.
DH’s discretionary money management vs. mine
DH does so much better than I do. He always maintains a balance of several hundred in his discretionary account – if not a thousand or two. This past winter, he was able to get away with his snowboarding buddy for two different weekends at a resort. He enjoys the odd meal or snack out – often treating me or our youngest daughter (who still lives at home) when he does. You wouldn’t get the sense that he is in any way deprived of “fun money”, but he says that there are lots of things he doesn’t do that he’d like to do. He maintains an awareness, and he chooses what and when to spend with a disciplined mindfulness.
I, on the other hand, have tended to look upon my discretionary fund as my Whooo-hoo! opportunity to kick off everything that has allowed us to make great progress in paying down our debt over the last four years ($148,000 down and $109,000 to go), and to be
foolish carefree with money like I used to be. If I get a burst of generosity, I’ll treat someone to coffee and a snack. If I go shopping for clothes, it’s with an overly flexible budget and a high likelihood of succumbing to temptation. If someone says, “Let’s get together at a restaurant,” I want to be there! If I have an idea for how much I’d like to spend on a gift, I blow it – and put it down to being just so darned nice. And if I get hungry while I’m away from the house . . . My purchases of food, my careless shopping, and even my desire to give – impulsive as it often is – all combine to drain that $600. Each month. In fact, I usually run out before the month is over.
The biggest problem about my bad management of this discretionary fund is that when something comes up that I’d REALLY like to do, I so often can’t. Earlier this month, for instance, my sister who lives on the west coast came to town to visit. While I did get to see her, I did not join the rest of my family at the restaurant where we’ve all eaten on many memorable occasions over the past few decades. In a way, it’s good that I showed discipline and restraint. But I would much rather have been in a position to go!
And earlier this week, a friend of mine from church e-mailed me to ask if I’d like to join her on a women’s week-end get-away at the end of April. There would be a group of women from our church going, and the event would include great guest speakers and singers. I would LOVE to get away for a week-end with my friends! The total cost would be somewhere around $150 – but I didn’t have it. “Let me get back to you,” I replied.
I talked with DH about the possibility of an extra allowance – just so that I could take advantage of this opportunity. After all, we did that once for him. DH went out west to snowboard at Whistler shortly after Christmas a couple of years ago, and we gave ourselves an extra few hundred each. (We keep it even. So although we were motivated to splurge because of his trip, I got the same extra amount.) But the two situations weren’t the same, DH said. We had a lot of extra money for the first one – since DH, who is self-employed, had just earned a lot from the Christmas rush. We don’t right now. “You should be able to afford this without anything extra,” he said. “This should motivate you to manage your money better.”
For a second, I felt hurt. For a moment, I let myself think, OK! So when it’s about what you want, we have the extra money, but when it’s about what I want, we don’t. But it passed, and I knew he was right. It was simple. I’d messed up, and I was experiencing the consequences of messing up. “I’m sorry,” I e-mailed my friend the next day, “I won’t be able to go this time around. I hope to next year though.”
Where’s the “Silver Lining”? (See title & image.)
So where’s the silver lining in all of this? It’s in that bit about my not holding onto any hurt or anger towards DH. This week, Hannah from Unplanned Finance wrote a post entitled “Money isn’t the problem. Marriage and money fights.” Hannah and her husband Rob, who have just welcomed their second child into the world, got in a spat over money recently, but as Hannah soon recognized, “The money fight, it turns out, wasn’t a money fight at all. Instead, it was an attack that revealed my insecurities and character flaws.”
There’s a smoke and mirrors effect when it comes to money fights. A slim bit of reality gets mixed in with character flaws, unresolved issues, and confused interpretations of past events to produce conflict that has little to no basis in any actual event. DH and I have experienced these smoke and mirror fights many, many times. But we didn’t this week. And we could have! I think I can safely say we would have – three years, maybe even one year ago under the same circumstances.
The difference? Although I show no signs of improvement in managing my discretionary fund, I am becoming more self-aware. And although I’m sensitive to criticism, I have learned how to agree with it when I know it’s true. DH wasn’t being harsh when he said, “This should motivate you to manage your money better.” He was being hopeful. Stubborn habits are only broken through a wake-up call – one that involves discomfort or pain. He wouldn’t want to “rescue” me from such a blessing.
Is this my discretionary money wake-up? I hope so! I can’t know for sure at this point. What I do know is that the smoke in my relationship with DH is clearing. And instead of disorienting reflections from mirrors, I’m seeing reality for what it is. And not only does that bode well for the future, it’s proof that a lot of good has already happened.
Do you budget for “discretionary money”? Do any of your old bad money habits (assuming you had some) still have an influence? Have you ever had “smoke and mirrors” money fights? Your comments are welcome.
- Image courtesy of Sarunas Burdulis