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American Family Budget: It’s Catchy

MintLife American Family Budget: It's Catchy

My children and I recently attended an annual family barbecue. I happened to walk into the house while the food was being delivered, and I witnessed my aunt pulling out a small accordion file filled with…cash envelopes!

She had created an envelope system!

When I asked her about it, she told me that she and her partner were inspired by the transition that my husband and I started last fall. They took a look at their own spending habits and now they feel much better because they know where their money is going, as opposed to their old way of simply spending money because they had it.

I’m overjoyed for them. Budgeting and household finance management aren’t exactly exciting topics, but when you’ve been on both sides of the problem, you know how awesome it is to be on the positive one!

This isn’t the first story I’ve heard from a friend or relative about how my family’s budget project has inspired their own, and it makes me more excited about telling our story.

At first, I was shy about it. It’s one thing to write with brutal honesty for an audience of strangers, but another to talk about it among people in your own community. Nobody wants to look like a cheapskate. But once I let go of how I would look and focused on what responsible, honest spending means for me, I was much more comfortable admitting that I couldn’t afford to attend that dinner out, or even withholding an explanation altogether. I don’t owe anyone an excuse.

And I quickly found that I was happier knowing where our money goes, even if we sometimes don’t seem to have enough. At least I know where I can cut to make up the shortfalls. That new peace of mind was something I wanted to share. 

Turns out, there were plenty of people who were fascinated by our budget. When I declined an invitation to dine out and suggest a (free) hike instead, something that originally embarrassed me, the friend asked how my budget project was going, and say she’d like to try it.

A neighbor recently expressed that her computer and a coffee table had broken in her house, and she grimaced because replacements for those items were “not in the budget.” Another friend started paying down her family’s credit card debt, working toward operating in cash.

Maybe these people were already on their way to a budgeting lifestyle. I’m certainly not trying to take credit for this positive change in their lives. But the fact that we’re talking about it is huge. It helps to know we’re not in this alone, that others face the same struggles and temptations.

One of my favorite success stories that goes above and beyond our own is the couple who used to live near us, who worried about money and their debt. My husband and I told them about our budget project and shared our methods, and they used that information as a springboard to get their own finances on track. Now they live in Central America with their children, fulfilling a lifelong dream to live abroad.

We are not aiming for anything so exotic. We simply wish to be confident about our spending, without the worry that we will be surprised when the credit card bill comes, or unable to pay for emergencies. We want to model responsible spending and saving for our children, starting with the savings we set aside for their futures.

To that end, I recently opened up a business bank account for the first time in my career. As I sat with the sales manager filling out forms, he made friendly chatter and asked me about what I do. I told him about this column, among other things.

Two weeks later he called to check up on me. But this wasn’t just an ordinary customer satisfaction call. He wanted to tell me that he had read some of the articles here, and picked up the same books and materials I had used to get started.

“And now my wife and I are working on our very first zero-based monthly budget,” my banker said. “So, thank you.”

It’s a ripple effect, people. Don’t be shy about being a budgeter. You never know how your success can help someone else.

Kim Tracy Prince is a Los Angeles-based writer who has a husband, two little boys, and an obsession with spreadsheets.