Your comments add tremendous value to this site. In a very real way, this is a group project — we’re teaching each other what we need to know to escape debt, manage our money, and build wealth. For the next few Saturdays, I’ll highlight some of the best comments from the previous week.

On Tuesday I posted a survey regarding money and marriage. How can a frugal spouse cope with a spendthrift spouse? Stephen wrote:

I have been dealing with this very situation for almost 13 years now. I am a saver and my wife is a spender. Somehow we have managed to buy a house and keep our heads above water, but sometimes I wonder how.

When I try to discuss money with her, she views my efforts as a personal attack against her, and immediately goes on the defensive. When I tell her we can’t afford something she thinks we need, she tells me I’m being ‘pessimistic’. We tried a budget once, but we couldn’t agree on the purpose of a budget… she thought it was just to track how we spent our money, not how we should spend our money. We tried cash in envelopes for a while, but she liked to use her American Express card at Costco, and that shot things all to hell.

We actually were out of debt (except mortgage and car payment) about four years ago, with a reasonable savings account (which was quickly depleted by my wife’s maternity leave). We have made several ill-advised purchases since then, and have managed to wrack up more debt. We have gradually chipped away at that debt, and hope to have it all paid off by April of next year… if we can stick to our new ‘spending plan’.

About six months ago, my wife received news that she would be cut back to 2 days a week at work (she had been working 3 days a week). She had wanted to spend more time with the kids anyway, so we agreed to make it work. We were supposedly going to begin a gradual spending reduction to prepare for the actual cutback, but after viewing the July bank statement, I realized that we had not done so. We were still spending more than we were making and something had to be done.

Once more I attempted to have a financial discussion, but this time I repeatedly reinforced the fact that a budget was needed if we really wanted to accomplish our goal of having her home with the kids an extra day a week. She thought it would just be easier if she worked another day a week somewhere else, but I refused to give up so easily. I showed her the bank statements and she finally agreed that having the ‘debits’ column higher than the ‘credits’ column on every statement was not going to work. So, we implemented a budget (later called a ‘spending plan’ because it sounded better to my wife).

I made up a budget in Excel, complete with a breakdown of different spending categories. I started tracking our check register in Quicken because it was easier (and more accurate) than trying to use a hand-written register. I enter every debit and every credit at the end of the day… waiting until the following day to enter them only leads to financial irresponsibility, and I am determined to not let that happen again. If we need to go shopping (for anything) we check the budget to see how much is available to be spent. If it isn’t in the budget, we make do with what we have or we wait until the next month.

It took having our backs against the wall to come around. We always had enough disposable income in the past that we knew we would eventually pay for our over-expenditures. But that is no longer the case, so we have no choice but to change our ways. I am confident that once things are paid off, we will be able to save/invest/prepare for the future… but only if we both agree to stick to our ‘spending plan’.

Sometimes we have to play mental games with ourselves in order to overcome our bad money habits. Stephen’s wife needs to view a budget as a “spending plan” in order to accept it. I was unable to conquer credit card debt until I discovered the psychological power of the debt snowball. This is why it’s important to do what works for you — it’s better to start a budget, or to pay off your debt, at all, than to worry about getting the details exactly perfect.

In An Introduction to Homesteading, we discussed the relative values of time and money, and whether homesteaders valued their time appropriately. Jenna fsr44 wrote:

Value is not only measured in dollars and cents. A can of green beans is cheap. And they taste it. A (fully reusable) Mason jar of green beans you canned tastes so much better that it’s hard to believe they’re the same vegetable. If you don’t enjoy gardening and you don’t enjoy cooking, then the taste difference is probably of negligible value to you. That’s cool. But if you enjoy the time spent growing and canning your own food, that time adds to the value.

So rather than economic value, the worth of some of these practices is measured in lifestyle value. That will, of course, differ for each person. But there’s another value at work, too. Call it “values” value…if it’s important to me (for example) to diminish the size of the footprint I leave on this earth (through consumption of natural resources, production of pollution etc.) then growing food in an organically sustainable way is worth more to me than saving either time or money.

Saying someone could “find a better job” implies that time spent earning money is more valuable than time spent producing one’s basic needs. I don’t buy that. Take money out of the equation entirely for a moment. Money is a construct of man, not nature. What nature gives us is time, a finite lifetime, however long or short. It’s really the only valuable thing we have. We “sell” it by charging an hourly wage to do another’s bidding. Some of us may choose instead to spend that time on ourselves, producing what we need. And if we’re the kind of person who can fully live in the moment and enjoy that time spent growing and harvesting and cooking etc., then this lifestyle is at least as valid (and in my opinion, more valid) than a life spent exchanging hours for cash and cash for consumer goods.

All of our financial decisions are influenced by our values. What’s right for you may not be right for me. It’s important to recognize and encourage sound financial choices, even if they might not be the exact choices I would make.

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