Though we both lean more toward saving, my husband and I each flirt with spending.
I’m moody with my money, vacillating between wanting to save every extra penny versus saying, “You know what, we can’t take our money with us when we go, so let’s just enjoy life and do whatever we want!”
So, if I’m walking the aisles of Target and happen to see a few (dozen) things that catch my eye, I might justify a purchase or two, forgetting all about my ambitious plans to pay off our mortgage early.
Then there’s my husband. He stresses over having the good bones of finances—especially retirement savings and college savings—but also wants the latest in (expensive!) smart-home technology.
So how do we keep our spending urges in check without completely depriving ourselves? We put the important stuff first, then intentionally plan how we’ll spend anything extra. I’ve laid out our financial strategy below.
Start with Saving Strategies: Secure Your Financial Future
Not everyone feels this way, but I feel super accomplished when saving money for the future. Sure, it’s not as glamorous as enjoying girls’ weekends in exotic locations (I feel wistful when looking at my friends’ Instagram accounts, too) or building an extravagant backyard pool, but I love to imagine little old me and my hubby relaxing after years of being in the rat race. I also enjoy the idea of not having extra financial stress when our little ones go to college. Here’s how we plan for that:
Retirement accounts. Saving for retirement is our first priority when it comes to long-term financial planning. We make sure our retirement fund gets the attention it deserves by setting up automatic monthly deposits which we adjust up and down depending on our income and other expenses. And if we need to cut back on our savings plan sometimes, we try not to make those cuts here.
College savings accounts. This is our second long-term priority, so each month we funnel automatic transfers from our paychecks into our kids’ college accounts. About once a year, we re-evaluate the amount of our automatic deposits based on our income and expected expenses. Another bonus: Whenever our playroom gets out of control, we ask our families to get only one small gift and then donate to our kids’ college accounts in lieu of multiple toys for holidays and birthdays. Each time someone does so, we add their name to a special list that we plan to include in our kids’ high school graduation gifts, so they’ll know who to thank for helping to pay for their education.
Emergency fund. Luckily for us, we’ve saved our desired amount, but putting money here was a priority until we reached our goal. Now that we have, we don’t even look at our emergency savings. The account gives us peace of mind for whatever might come up, and we don’t want to mess with that.
Second: Save—and Spend—For Now
Once you have a solid money-saving strategies in place, you deserve a little treat—or a big vacation—every now and then. After all, you don’t want to experience savings burnout and blow it all on something you’ll regret. We try to enjoy ourselves now by spending our money wisely on things that really fulfill us. This my favorite strategy of our financial plan — probably because it’s the most fun:
Fun money. This is what we call our splurge account. We only divert funds to it after we’ve covered our expenses and put money toward our savings plan. Every quarter, we transfer any extra money from our main checking accounts into our splurge account. The key is that we use this money very intentionally. By putting it into a separate account, we keep it safe from our checking account (i.e., frivolous spending) and, as it adds up, we plan how to spend it: Maybe a family vacation, a large upgrade to our home, or feel-good donations.
Productive spending. At the end of each year, we do something even more exciting (albeit a touch nerdy). We look at what’s left in our fun-money account and, after earmarking any funds we’ll need for pre-planned events like a vacation, we take whatever chunk we can to do something super responsible, like putting it toward our mortgage. This may look like spending, but we think of it as saving. If we pay down our debt more quickly, then we’ll save money on interest down the road and have more financial freedom to enjoy.
You really can enjoy the present while also being smart about saving money for the future. It’s all about balance.