Shortly after our second child was born, I resigned from my job to be both a caretaker for my parents and my children. As a result, our family's budget shrunk by more than half, meaning my husband and I needed to get creative about how we were going to make one income stretch over a family of four. What saved our bank account, and our sanity, were planned weekly meetings to discuss where each and every dollar was being spent.
Since we didn't have a lot of money, we needed to account for all of it. My husband (a math guy) created an Excel spread sheet to kick-start our budgeting. He input all of the different categories we would go through per month. Aside from the usual — think gas, mortgage, groceries, cell phones — we had to pencil in every little expense. Diapers, formula, new clothes for a growing baby, and more. The list grew long, but with the help of these weekly meetings, our spending stayed steady.
My husband is a planner by nature, so it worked for his brain if we had our weekly meeting on the same evening each week. Sure, once in a while we had to adjust it, but we typically tried to have them on Sunday evenings, just in time to kick-start our week. From here, we'd nuzzle into the couch together: me, my husband, and our archaic laptop. He'd flip it open, and we'd stare at the glow from the screen, going over each and every item on the list after we'd tucked both kids into bed.
Let's start with the groceries. We had a $100 budget on groceries per week, and we never, I mean never, went over it (not counting diapers and formula; those were in their own category). I made sure I planned our meals ahead of time so we stayed in budget and stuck to it. We also made sure to always shop at Aldi, even if it meant driving an extra 10 minutes out of our way, because we found we saved so much when shopping there.
Next, my husband would always ask, "So, what are the kids growing out of this week?" or "Do they need some new contraption?" When I couldn't get a hand-me-down from a friend, we'd need to spend money on shoes or other clothing. The one item I always had to buy brand-new were shoes for my son because his feet grew so fast and he has a double wide width — none of my friends' kids had that wide of feet. His feet were expensive (still are)! These types of items were what added up the most because, honestly, babies and toddlers always need something.
We also knew we needed to cut down on some of our monthly expenses, so we made some major changes. For starters, we kicked our cable to the curb, which was a giant savings. Next, my husband (bless his heart) got rid of his big-name phone company and started using a smaller, very interesting phone company that only cost him $12 per month with very spotty service. We also stopped going out to eat almost altogether. If I earned money from consigning, we'd use that to splurge on a night out and a babysitter, but other than that, we stayed in and ate from our Aldi groceries.
But one of the biggest perks (besides controlling our bank account) from this experience was that we were able to share it with our children. While they were a bit too young when we first started, our experience has shaped how we talk about money with our kids. No, they don't sit in on our finance meetings — I mean, they're kids, that would never work. But we do have open conversations with them about money, far beyond just saying, "Money doesn't grow on trees." We are honest with our children with what we can afford and why we make certain choices we do, like meal planning, using credit cards to earn points for hotels and airfare, and saying no to a lot of extras in our life. Our hope is that this will trickle into their money-making decisions once they get older and begin to navigate budgeting on their own.
As I quickly learned, when your budget is cut in half, you learn how to make a dollar stretch and how to work as a team with your partner. I'm positive that if my husband and I hadn't had these weekly meetings, our bank account would have been put into a hole. But somehow, we actually managed to save. Today, my husband has a much better-paying job and I'm back to work too, but we still make sure to communicate about our budget. No, we don't rely on our steady weekly meetings, but we're constantly checking in with one another and making sure we're both on track. Instead of forcing us apart, simply talking about our budget really helped make our relationship stronger — and is hopefully teaching our kids the importance of both budgeting and communication.