CHAPTER 3
The Family Budget Meeting

The intercom crackled as the grocery store cashier picked up the receiver to speak into it. My eyes grew wide; it was too late to stop her. Her voice reverberated throughout the store: “Customer needs assistance with a WIC check.”

I wished at that moment that the floor would open up and swallow me whole.

I tried to do all the “right” things to prepare for motherhood financially. I used my business income to save a large baby fund. I made sure I had enough freelance writing clients so I could support our family. We lived frugally and saved as much as possible because my husband was a student and I was new to being self‐employed.

But, the expense of my twins' NICU bills, a huge cross‐country move, and the difficulty of working from home with two newborns meant our savings started to dwindle at a rapid pace.

When our twins needed an expensive, specialty formula, our pediatrician suggested we could get help paying for it by applying for assistance at a WIC (short for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) office. WIC is a government program that helps low‐income mothers and babies get the nutrition they need. If you qualify, you get checks that you can bring to the grocery store to use for formula and food. (Even if you've never used a check yourself, you might have noticed the letters WIC next to certain food on the grocery store shelves.)

Although I was very grateful for the help, the way people treated me when I used them made me feel like a failure. That day, the first time I handed over a WIC check to the cashier to pay, she stared at the checks, confused. She asked me what they were, and I felt my cheeks flush as I explained. Then, she told me that no one ever used those checks at that store and she had no idea how to put them into the computer. That's when she picked up the intercom.

At that point, a dad behind me in line with two young sons got exasperated from having to wait for the manager to come and help. So, he let out a huge sigh, left all his groceries behind mine on the belt, and stomped out of the store.

I was standing there with my own two kids, rocking their double stroller back and forth to try to keep them happy while we waited. I'll never forget looking at the back of that dad's head as he dragged his own two kids out of the store, hopping mad that we had delayed him buying his own groceries.

When I eventually, mercifully, checked out and made my way to the car with the formula, both babies were crying. I joined them, tears streaming down my face all the way home.

The weight of the moment seemed to pile on all at once. I already felt like a failure at breastfeeding because I never produced enough for both babies. I was trying to do it all—breastfeeding for a few minutes then pumping to try to increase my supply and then still having to supplement with formula. I felt like I was always attached to the pump, always tending to babies, never being enough for anyone.

I felt like I wasn't able to give either of them enough time individually or enough milk. At the same time, I wasn't able to give my business much time or attention either. Then, due to issues with being preemies, the babies rejected regular formula and developed severe reflux, so we needed to try a type that was double the cost.

So, standing there in the grocery store that day, I was already raw. I was already exhausted. I was already 1,300 miles away from all four of my kids' grandparents and all of our siblings. I was in a brand‐new city trying to use the WIC checks to try out this new formula, hoping that it would help, hoping the babies would keep it down.

When the cashier had to use the intercom to get assistance using the WIC checks, I felt like she was announcing to the entire grocery store, “Hey we have a mom here who can't care for her kids. Can we get a manager, please?” And when she said no one uses those checks here I felt like she was saying only people who can afford their own formula shop here.

Even writing this story six years after it happened makes tears stream down my face remembering what that felt like. But, in many ways, looking back, I'm grateful for that experience in the grocery store. It gave me immense perspective and empathy for new moms. I know firsthand that, sometimes, hard‐working people go through difficult times. I also know that you can save a large baby fund, announce it to the entire Internet, and use it so quickly, you need extra help. But you know what? It's perfectly fine to ask for help when you need it. That's what programs like WIC are there for. So, if you need to use it, use it, and I hope if you do, your cashier knows how to put them into the computer.

It took a while, but I eventually found my way, and working on my business got easier the older my twins got. I brought in more clients over time, which allowed me to hire a mother's helper so I could get a little work done uninterrupted during the day. I raised my freelance rates, got more press mentions, and eventually made more lucrative business partnerships.

By the time my twins turned three, I was earning six figures from my business, but I didn't forget how I felt the day that dad left all his groceries on the belt behind me. One of my not‐so‐secret dreams is to be behind a twin mom in the grocery store checkout line who has piles of diapers and formula in her cart and offer to pay for the whole thing for her. I'm always on the lookout.

Managing household spending and budgeting for items for your kids isn't an easy task for millennial mothers. For many, it's challenging to pay for childcare, housing, and food while also paying down debt from student loans, medical debt, or credit card debt. If you add in a car payment and then an unexpected emergency, that doesn't leave a lot of room for taking a family vacation or doing something nice for yourself. It also doesn't leave a lot of room for investing in your future, which is perhaps the most important money goal of all.

This crunch, this feeling of not being able to get ahead (while really wanting to) is all a part of the stress and emotional labor I described in the first chapter of this book.

When you feel like you're living paycheck‐to‐paycheck, when you want to give your kids things that you can't, when you want to get your nails done but you feel guilty about doing it, that's when you make money decisions from a place of scarcity or lack. It's easy to have a negative money mindset when you're trying to budget and you feel like there's just simply not enough. I get it. I was there that day in the grocery store, and I know how terrible it feels.

But, I learned a good way to get in control of your money is to improve the earning part of your money equation and perhaps more importantly, have regular household budget meetings. While I know a budget meeting sounds about as much fun as a root canal, over time the feeling of having a plan and being in control of your money far outweighs any discomfort you might feel during the meeting itself.

Think about it this way: it's hard to stick to a budget, but it's harder to feel broke all the time. It's hard to force yourself to make dinner at home when you're exhausted instead of ordering out, but it's harder to be in credit card debt. It's hard to save money when all you really want to do is spend it on something fun for your family. But, it's harder to have your A/C unit break and not have the money available to fix it.

It's going to be hard either way, but you get to choose your hard. It's either going to be hard now or hard later. Why not just face it now so you're prepared when you need to be?

In this chapter, I'll give you some structure for how to start a family budget meeting. I'll give you some questions to ask, some tips for it to go smoothly (wine helps too), and how to stay motivated to keep talking about money with your family even if it's stressful, even if you want to give up.

THE FAMILY BUDGET MEETING

Family budget meetings are a good idea regardless of what your family looks like or whether or not you share your life with someone. You can have a family budget meeting as a single mom and include your teenager. You can have one with your fiancé or your boyfriend. Perhaps you're a widow and you're overwhelmed. In that case, you can invite a close friend or a sibling to sit down with you as you make a monthly plan for your money.

It also doesn't matter if you keep your money in a separate account from family members or if you share every dime you make. Family budget meetings are more about goals than they are about the dollars. At least, that's what you, with the boss mindset, should convey at the start of every meeting.

If you've never done this before, holding a family budget meeting might feel awkward. Most people don't think a budget meeting sounds like a good time. Truthfully, it might not be at first, but once you get used to it, you might find you actually look forward to them because they're motivating and bring you together with your family.

To put it another way, if you don't have a family budget meeting, how are you going to solidify your financial goals as a family? How will you set aside a time to discuss how much you want to save for retirement? If you never talk about it, you won't have an idea of where you're heading or where you want to head. If you sweep your problems under the rug, they will magnify. If you don't speak your goals, it's possible they might never come to fruition.

Just think of all of your family money questions and concerns like tiny little Lego pieces. Every time you pass up an opportunity to talk about them, it's like they get stuck under the couch. They fester there and grow. Suddenly, one day, you decide to move the couch and realize you have enough Lego pieces to construct an entire Minecraft village.

Don't wait until you can build a Minecraft village. Tackle financial decisions as they come up. Don't hide them under the couch. They never really go away; you've just pushed them out of view.

Using the same Mincecraft Lego analogy (because that seems to be my life lately), what if every time you had a budget meeting, it was like you were carefully building a Lego city? Every meeting, the city gets more detailed. You start to see it come together brick by brick. You start to envision what could be. Instead of the Legos festering and growing under the couch all haphazardly, you instead take charge of them and give them a plan.

One thing that helps is to first establish a joint family goal. What do you hope to accomplish together as a family? What do you want your legacy to be? What do you want your grandchildren to say about you? What are you going to do to ensure you get personal freedom?

Many of us walk around our daily lives thinking we are free. You likely picked out what you wanted for breakfast. Maybe you selected your favorite pair of earrings to go with your outfit. Perhaps you brought your child to an activity you researched and chose. While it's great to have the freedom to make those choices on a daily basis, they're not exactly representative of true personal freedom. When you have overarching, indisputable personal freedom, it means no one else tells you what to do or how to live your life. In order to have that, you have to have financial freedom first.

So, allow yourself to dream about what that might be like. Make big, audacious goals. When you come up with that set of goals, erase them and write down new ones that are even bigger. Keep going until you can barely write the goals down because they seem so big, so life‐changing. When you do that, when you allow your mind to delve into your true heart's desires, something changes.

Write down every single big goal you have, even if it makes you feel guilty, even if it makes you want to hide your list so no one sees it. Then, have your family members do the same. Talk about why those goals are important and what they mean to you even before you ever pull out a calculator to add up some budget numbers. Don't be afraid to talk about hard things. As a couple or as a family, discuss what's holding you back. What's stopping you, right now, today, from getting there?

Here are some of my own very personal top goals. Keep in mind I write these goals in the present tense as though they've already happened. This list is not all true today, but it will be someday. Every time I write these goals down, I take one more step into becoming the boss mom I am meant to be.

Cat's Dream Goals (written in the present tense)

  • We are 100% debt free, including our mortgage.
  • We fully funded our children's college education.
  • We're generous with our children and travel with them often.
  • We fly first class everywhere we go.
  • Our children know the value of money and understand how to earn it and invest it.
  • We donate large portions of our wealth.
  • Because of us, the goals we set for our family, and the lessons we teach, our family will be wealthy and generous for generations to come.
  • Because of our hard work, financial discipline, and generosity, our family makes the world a better place.

These are goals that, a few years ago, I never would have shared with anyone. You're going to read them and initially, you're going to think some of them just seem like too much or too fancy or perhaps even impossible.

Again, I have to remind you that I have not achieved all of the goals on my personal list yet, but I still write them in the present tense as though I have. I like to write them in the present tense because it feels more concrete, as though the result I want has already happened, like I've already become the boss mom I want to be sometime in the future. Now, I just need to take certain steps to get there.

I'd love for you to do the same thing because it's a really powerful exercise. You can even do this jointly as a family with your kids or partner if you have one. My husband and I each have our own goal list, but about half of them are the same. They're things we want for our kids and future grandkids and life together.

So, go ahead and write down your goals. Write them in the present tense, as if they are true right now. Remember, there's the person who you are today and the boss mama you want to become. A great way to start stepping into her shoes is to think and talk as though you already are her.

Think about what future you would say and do on a daily basis. Use your goal list as your guide. This step alone can help you to make dozens of positive financial decisions on a daily basis. Suddenly, instead of worrying about spending $5 on coffee, your focus shifts to the overall impact you want to have on your family tree. The little expenses aren't nearly as important as going for your biggest goals.

I'm not saying it will be easy to create an entire new legacy that will carry on for generations, but the time will pass anyway, so we might as well try. If anything, it's good to move the needle forward, to show your kids that it's possible to improve the position you're in right at this very moment.

I look at my list of goals often. I let them seep into my mind, into my fibers. These goals are a big reason that I don't feel much of a need to keep up with the Joneses. It's why I'm not really tempted to buy products on online ads or why I could care less what the other moms in the school pickup line are driving. It's not because I have superhuman strength or discipline to avoid those things. It's because I have the list! I have goals and dreams for my family, things that are far more important than day‐to‐day temptations. There is no Earthly want in my life that is bigger or more impactful than the list I just shared with you.

If you can spend time with your family and talk about what you want for your future, that is quite possibly the best way for a budget meeting to start. I realize that these are huge conversations that will require both quiet contemplation and group discussion. So, don't be surprised if your goals list takes a couple of different conversations to create. In fact, talking about your biggest, most audacious life and financial goals shouldn't be a one‐time conversation that kicks off your monthly budget series. It should be at the forefront of your mind, something you discuss regularly, something that nudges you and pulls at you when you're trying to make other financial decisions.

Once you do the hard work of creating a list like this, suddenly all your decisions become quite straightforward. The reason is, you can ask yourself, “Does this decision/purchase/idea/trip fit in with my legacy goals? Will making this choice or spending this money help me to get there?” And, if the answer is no, well then, the list made the choice for you. If you've always struggled with spending discipline, this is the most straightforward way I know of to improve it.

You can even write your biggest goal on a sticky note and wrap it around the debit card or credit card you use most. If you're out shopping and you have a big cart full of things you don't need, having to pull off a sticky note that says “Buy a House” so you can buy the clothes in your cart is going to make an impact on you. Again, money is more about your mind than the numbers. It's about knowing your triggers and finding clever ways to beat yourself at your own game.

Now that you have your goals at the forefront of your mind, it's time to create your actual budget with spending categories. If you completed the net worth exercise in Chapter 2, you already have some practice with facing your numbers. But now, instead of looking at the big picture like you did with your net worth, it's time to zoom in. It means taking a hard look at your day‐to‐day spending over the past few months before you create your budget.

When it comes to some spending categories, you'll be proud of yourself. Maybe you're amazing at scoring deals or perhaps, unlike me, you're a master of meal planning and it shows in your low grocery spending. But, when you get to other numbers, your tendency will be to judge yourself and feel badly about past financial choices.

Instead of getting caught up on what you wish you would have done differently the past few months (or years), I want to encourage you to celebrate the fact that you're taking the time to go over the numbers now. I want you to feel empowered and to remind yourself of all the other hard things you've done in your life.

Remember, budgeting is a skill like anything else. You'd never expect to be perfectly fluent in a language the first month you start learning it. Similarly, you can't expect to be a master budgeter and have incredible discipline right when you get started on this budgeting journey. So, give yourself a little bit of grace and go back to the first chapter if you need a little help on how to replace some of the negative thoughts surrounding money with ones that are more empowering and strong.

Remember that a good leader faces challenges head‐on even if they're painful. Someone who is strong sees a problem and decides to work toward a solution, even if it means a complete change of direction or a massive mindset shift.

Most importantly, you raise humans. You can do a budget. I can promise you that.

Here's how to start. First, review last month's spending. This is easiest if you use a debit card or a credit card for your transactions. You can use budgeting software to keep track of your spending and see where most of your money goes, or a good, old‐fashioned pen and paper works great too.

The purpose of reviewing your previous month's transactions is to take notice of your spending tendencies and patterns. You might be surprised to learn that your fast food spending is much higher than you expected. Or, you might realize that most of your purchases come from one store late at night.

It's great to notice this so you can be aware of your own habits and start to change them for the better. Remember, this part of the budget meeting isn't to feel shame or beat yourself up about buying things last month. It's simply to make you aware of your tendencies so that if you want to reach one of your money goals faster, you know where to start making small tweaks to get there.

Comb through your prior month's spending to see where your money went and complete these three steps:

  1. Write down all your bills and responsibilities.
  2. Write down what you expect your monthly income to be and when you get paid.
  3. Write down your current debts.

The next step is to create a list of spending categories to incorporate into your budget. Here is a list of some common budget categories in no particular order. Your budget may have more than this or less, depending on what comes up when you review your numbers:

  • Mortgage/Rent
  • Home maintenance
  • Childcare (daycare, babysitter, after school care)
  • Children's college fund
  • Water
  • Electricity
  • Natural gas
  • Cable/Internet/Streaming services
  • Cell phone bill
  • Car payment
  • Car maintenance
  • Gas
  • Pets
  • Groceries
  • Restaurants
  • Student loan payment
  • Credit card payment
  • Personal care
  • Gifts
  • Clothing
  • Household items
  • Homeowners insurance
  • Car insurance
  • Term life insurance
  • Health insurance
  • Healthcare
  • Entertainment
  • Giving
  • Savings
  • Investing

Once you've customized your budget categories to your own needs, write down your take‐home income, the exact amount that gets deposited into your checking account.

It's good to base your budget on your take‐home income rather than your gross income. Your gross income is the amount of money your employer agreed to pay you. But, if you've ever taken a peek at your paycheck, you know that lots of expenses get deducted from your gross income before your paycheck hits your checking account. These deductions might include retirement contributions, health insurance, and taxes. So, it's important to know your net income because that's the real numbers you have to work with when it comes to your budget categories.

If you're self‐employed, as I am, it's even more important to know your net income. Self‐employed people are often responsible for making quarterly tax payments, providing their own healthcare, and saving for retirement on their own. You have to know how much you have left over after all of that to truly know how much of your income you have to allocate to your personal bills.

If you have a variable income, whether you're self‐employed, working part‐time, receiving an hourly wage, or working a commission‐based job, it's still possible to budget for your monthly expenses. It took a while for me to do this myself, but in a variable income situation, a great goal is to build a savings account to draw from to give yourself even monthly payments. If you have an incredible month, take a portion of that and save it for the months that aren't as profitable. The more consistent you can make your monthly income, the better you'll be able to budget and get into the habit of managing your money like a boss.

Once you know all your expenses and bills and you know exactly how much money you have coming in every month, it's time to put those numbers together. Take your income and divide it among all the categories you have listed.

So, take a piece of your net income and put it next to your rent/mortgage category. Take another piece and put it in the grocery category. And, keep going until you've allocated your income to all your bills and expenses.

When you do this two things can happen:

  1. You have some money left over after allocating your income to your expenses.
  2. You don't have enough income to cover your expenses.

If you have money left over after allocating your income to expenses, you are in a great situation. This means you have money left over to save for your future. In this situation, I'm a big advocate for having a plan for any leftover money. Don't just take it as a lump sum and put it in a savings account without knowing what it's for. Instead, be very intentional about where you want your savings to go.

So, perhaps you decide to increase your retirement contributions. Or, maybe you open up a high‐yield savings account and make that your holiday spending account. Maybe you set it aside in a car fund so that when it's time to purchase your next vehicle perhaps you're able to do it in cash and live life without a car loan. Either way, start to get obsessed with planning. Dream big and make it a game. Every dollar you're able to save means funding a future goal.

If you've just created your first budget and you don't have enough income to cover your expenses, please know that you're not alone. This is extremely common, especially for people who are budgeting for the very first time. Most people decide to start budgeting because they are living paycheck‐to‐paycheck or because they feel like they can't get ahead. So, it makes sense that if you would put all your numbers on a page you might not have enough to cover everything with room to spare.

But, fear not. This is the beginning of the rest of your financial life. This is the moment you decide to make a change and begin a new habit. Ultimately, there are two ways to solve this money problem and the stress of living a paycheck‐to‐paycheck lifestyle. You can spend less or you can earn more. I'll talk more about this and freeing up cash flow in the next chapter.

The last part of budgeting I want to mention, before giving you a sample budget, is sinking funds. In a perfect world, your budget will go just as planned without any surprise expenses or issues throughout the month. But, as you know, we don't live in a perfect world. There's going to be something that breaks, whether it's your kid's arm because they fell out of a tree or your hot water heater because it's more than 10 years old. There's also going to be that last‐minute birthday invitation that you weren't expecting or a flat tire because you drove through a construction site on your way to work. That, unfortunately, is the reality of life.

In order to prevent these unexpected events from derailing your entire budgeting plan or ruining your day, consider implementing something called sinking funds.

Sinking funds are savings dedicated to things you need to save for over time or use for unexpected expenses. I keep my sinking funds in a separate savings account but some people like to withdraw them as cash and keep them in cash envelopes.

Your sinking funds can include financial goals like a Christmas fund, a car repair fund, a birthday party fund, vacation fund, or anything else you want to save for. Every month, you put the sinking funds as line items in your budget. You save them every month until inevitably, you'll need them. So, if you have an older car, you might want to put $100–$200 in a sinking fund for car repairs every single month. Then, when something breaks, instead of putting a car repair on your credit card, you simply go to your sinking fund and transfer the money into your account or use the cash you've saved in a cash envelope.

You might wonder where you'll get an extra $100–$200 a month to start sinking funds, but don't forget all the lessons you've already learned about spending awareness. Over time, you can make this happen if you continue to work on developing budgeting as a skill and keep track of what you spend. This will inevitably help you find money you didn't even know you had just by simply adjusting some of your daily financial habits.

Having sinking funds has saved me many, many times from completely ruining my budget. My favorite sinking fund is my Christmas fund. I save all year long for Christmas so that when we get to the holiday season, I don't feel stressed. I have everything I need to purchase the gifts I want to buy as well as be generous to others.

I also love saving for vacations ahead of time. There's no better feeling than traveling somewhere with my family knowing I won't have a surprise credit card bill I regret when I get home.

The first time I used a vacation sinking fund was on my babymoon with my husband. We didn't do anything elaborate. We just took a road trip and stayed at a hotel for the weekend. But, I remember we allocated money to go to the movies together. I sat very happily in a big, plush chair in the movie theater with my pregnant belly, buttered popcorn, and candy, not feeling one bit guilty about buying overpriced movie theater food. That's the gift of a sinking fund. It gives you a bit of mental peace and lets you actually enjoy your life, guilt‐free.

Here's an example of what a family budget might look like when it has sinking funds as categories.

In this sample budget, the Smith family set up sinking funds to prepare for both expected and unexpected events in the future. Every month, they add to their emergency savings, Christmas savings fund, birthday, and family vacation fund. They're also saving ahead of time for a big property tax bill so the bill doesn't catch them by surprise and drain their accounts when it comes. Like many millennial families, they also have their children in different extracurricular activities.

Since they have over $300/month extra each month provided they are able to keep their spending within the confines of this budget, I'd recommend they take that $330 and use it to pay off their high‐interest credit card debt. Once they accomplish that, I'd recommend they pay off their cars. Paying off those loans completely would free up more than $1,000 a month. Think of what big financial goals they could hit with that type of money available to them. They could save for their kids' college education, go on an extra family trip, or open an investment account to save for their future outside of work‐sponsored retirement accounts.

Not only that, but freeing up money in the budget and saving extra for an emergency would insulate them in case one parent loses their job or has a medical issue.

According to the Social Security Administration, the national average wage index for 2018 was $52,145.1 This measures the amount of money individual people earn from jobs (vs. investment income). The average household income had a median of $68,703 in 2019, according to the United States Census Bureau.2

So, your household income may be more or less than the Smith family. Either way, try not to get caught up in the details of what the Smith family does with their money. Instead, use this as an example of how to write out a budget. There are no two budgets that will be alike. Families have different priorities, different spending goals, different job benefits, and different incomes. Use your own numbers in your budget and plan and adjust accordingly.

I know many of you read the Smith Family budget and thought things like, “I'd never be able to have a mortgage payment that low in New York/California/etc.” or “Why is their grocery spending so high?” or “Why is their grocery spending so low?” So again, try not to worry too much about the Smiths and instead use their template to create your own monthly spending plan.

If you have debt, especially credit card debt, use budget meetings to make a plan for how you're going to pay it off quickly. Take a hard look at your spending and see what you can change so you can allocate as much money as possible to destroying it.

When it comes to paying off your credit card debt, you have to have some passion. You have to start to hate your credit card debt because every single day, the bank charges you interest and tries to steal your dreams for the future. On average, your credit card interest rate can be anywhere from 15% to nearly 21% depending on the type of card you have, and that's just the average as reported in October 2020.3 So, anytime you aren't able to pay your balance in full, you get charged that huge amount of interest. Anytime you're late, there is usually an interest rate penalty, meaning it goes up.

In order to break free from your credit card debt, the first step is to stop using your credit cards. Don't close your accounts, because that can negatively affect your credit score, but for sure cut them up into tiny pieces and say goodbye. That doesn't mean you can't learn to be a responsible credit card user someday in the future, but while you're crushing debt, they're too tempting to keep around.

In some cases you may be able to do a credit card balance transfer where you move your credit card balance to another credit card that has a 0% introductory rate for a period of time. Then you can make more headway when you make payments because all your payment will go toward the principal, not interest.

Sometimes, though, a balance transfer is not possible, especially if you have a lower credit score. It can even slow down your process and make you feel lax because you're not accruing interest during the introductory rate offer period. Plus, there's usually a fee to transfer a balance, like 3% or 5% of your balance, which can be pretty high depending on how much credit card debt you have. Ultimately, moving debt around might feel like progress, but you'll only make a true dent in it when you start paying more than the minimums—hopefully a lot more!

Once you finish paying off your credit cards and you're ready to tackle your other debts, use what I call the Debt Incineration Method (thanks to my Instagram community for helping me name it!) With this method, the next debt you pay off is the one that makes you the most angry or the most ashamed. There are plenty of debt repayment methods, like the Snowball Method and the Avalanche Method, but I like my Debt Incineration Method because it prioritizes your mental health.

I know there are some debts you have that make you feel ashamed. Maybe it's a student loan from a college you dropped out of. Or maybe it's a loan for a car you deeply regret buying. It could be a debt to a family member, an old personal loan you took out to go on a trip with an ex‐boyfriend, or something else. If there's a debt in there that makes you cringe every single time you think about it, get rid of that one first. I believe our emotions are powerful and our mental health is the most important aspect of any wealth‐building journey.

So, don't leave the debt you hate the most until last just because of the interest rate or the amount. Incinerate it first. Stop letting it torture you. Tell it that you are the boss, not it.

In order to incinerate debt, do whatever you can. Get your family involved. Purge your basement. Deliver food. Take on a weekend side job. Go crazy on it until it's gone. You won't have to work every weekend or evening forever, just until you pay it off.

Debt will kill those dreams and goals you wrote down. High‐interest debt especially makes it so hard to climb out of a debt hole. I would love for you to be striding toward investments and reading more and more money books, not contemplating bankruptcy and looking up phone numbers for bankruptcy attorneys. You can do this. You've been focused before. You've been fierce before. You can make your kid stop doing something with just one look and no words. You're a powerful mama. So, use some of that power on your debt.

If this is motivating for you, good. That zest and excitement early in your budgeting journey is necessary for you to have a great start. But, if you start noticing that your enthusiasm wanes after a few months, you're not alone.

Maybe you get tired of sticking to a budget. Perhaps you don't see as much progress as you want to see month after month. Or, if you're budgeting with a partner, maybe trying to budget together creates a lot of stress and arguments.

Every time this happens, every time you want to give up, look back at that big list of goals I asked you to create earlier in this chapter. Those goals, your whys, have to be more powerful than any minor daily want. You have to keep going back to your list of goals and keep reminding yourself what's at stake. Your desire to achieve whatever you want for your family has to be more powerful than any Instagram ad trying to make you buy new clothes.

What I want out of my own financial journey, what I want for my family, what I want to create for many generations after me, is more powerful than anything else. It's greater than any temporary want. That is how I stay motivated and unconcerned with what other people are driving or wearing.

I don't count how many moms in the school pickup line are carrying designer handbags or get into cars newer and fancier than mine.

None of that is more important than the big, audacious goals I have for my family, the ones I (with much trepidation) shared with you. There is no material possession and no fancy dinner out that is better than my long‐term goals. And, if you don't have something like that, something so powerful and so big that it drives you to be better every day, then I encourage you to take some time to think about it. Dig into those goals on your list and find one that speaks to you and moves you in a way nothing else has.

Put the list of goals somewhere you can see it regularly. Look at the goals every day to help you stay focused. Only when you have these ideas in place can you start to manage your spending, pay off debt, earn more, and build a life others can only dream of. When things get really hard, it's those thoughts and beliefs that you can fall back on.

If you feel discouraged, I want you to know, I get it and that's normal. The entire process seems incredibly overwhelming. But, you'd be surprised at how much progress you can make in just a short amount of time. The key is to get started, to take control, and not to let anyone (not even the rude guy behind you in the grocery store line) make you feel like you don't deserve a brighter future.

If you need to have little treats along the way to keep you motivated like booking a weekend trip once you've paid off all your credit card debt or booking a facial when you get a raise at work, that's fine. But, the longer you stay committed with your eyes on the prize, the greater the reward when you finally achieve the goals on your list.

If you experience conflict during a budget meeting with your other half, that's normal too. Once, my husband and I had an argument about how much he spent on hair products. (Yes, him, not me.) Admittedly, he has absolutely gorgeous, swoopy McDreamy type of hair. But, come on! We laugh about it now, but early in our journey of budgeting together, we had to learn how to work together. That involved him thinking more about his purchases, but it also involved me learning how to not micromanage him, which I admit, isn't an easy feat.

Stressful conversations, or outright arguments, with your partner might make you not want to have budget meetings again. But, if you keep trying and keep working toward your goals together, I think you'll find you'll start having more successful meetings than stressful ones.

Some tips for keeping budget meetings productive and civil when you're having one with someone else include:

  • Allowing each person to talk and share their opinions without being interrupted. (Is it just me or is getting interrupted the worst?)
  • Starting the meeting by going over your goals, especially your joint goals, so you remind each other you're on the same team.
  • Considering implementing an allowance policy, where each person gets a certain amount of money they can spend each month, no questions asked. We did this after “the hair incident” and it's made us a lot happier. (I share more details about this in the next chapter.)

For the record, my husband and I still disagree about money sometimes. But these days, we have a lot more respect for each other's purchases and far less judgment. After years of budgeting together, we trust each other's opinions and know we're on the same team. But it's taken years for us to get there and tons of open conversations about money to get comfortable talking about it.

Whether you budget with someone or not, I encourage you to keep working at it. Get an accountability partner if you're a single mom. Implement those sinking funds and see how great it feels to slowly fill them up over time. I want to emphasize that budgeting is not something I'm trying to encourage you to do to make your life harder. I'm not trying to prevent you from buying the things you like.

Rather, I'm trying to gift you the tools to create incredible peace of mind. With practice, you'll learn how to spend money on the things you love and eliminate the rest. Remember, the goal is to get clear on your goals and free up cash flow so you can pay off debt, save, and invest in your future. That will help you to create real, true wealth for your family and children.

In the next chapter, I'll discuss exactly how to free up cash flow and improve your budget, especially when your expenses are more than your income. I'll also share my favorite budgeting technique for giving yourself great peace of mind. At the end of the day, that's what I want to give you—mental peace when it comes to money. So, let's keep going.

NOTES

  1. 1.  National Average Wage Index, Social Security Administration, www.ssa.gov/OACT/COLA/AWI.html.
  2. 2.  Jessica Smega, Melissa Kollar, Emily A. Shrider, and John Creamer, “Income and Poverty in the United States: 2019,” Report P60‐270, U.S. Census Bureau, www.census.gov/library/publications/2020/demo/p60-270.html.
  3. 3.  Joe Resendiz, “Average Credit Card Interest Rates (APR)—October 2020,” ValuePenguin, www.valuepenguin.com/average-credit-card-interest-rates.
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