I have watched many couples engage in more productive financial conversations after they simplify the documents. Complex spreadsheets are usually too complex. Conversations are more focused when expenses and income are listed on just one or two pages. Whether you are organizing your data for the first time, or pulling data from Quicken, YNAB or Mint, it is well worth the effort to initially simplify your data on paper. Here is the two-page SNAPSHOT of Income & Expenses that I’ve been using with clients for over a decade.
Household expenses fall into four basic groups: fixed, variable, periodic and debt payments. Each group has about a half dozen categories. If you have decided you want to reduce your household spending to increase your savings, you can cut a small amount from many categories; or/and you can make major cuts in just three or four categories. Communicating effectively about these necessary decisions will require both partners to speak clearly and listen with compassion.
Reducing household expenses is a three-step process: get clear on current spending in every category; decide which categories will be reduced; then monitor progress. Food is usually a top candidate (groceries, restaurants and alcohol). These spending reductions will need to be monitored on a weekly basis. Vacations, entertainment, recreation and clothing are also common targets for reductions. They will need to be monitored over a longer timeframe. I find it is best to have specific goals for each category. Then when the goals are achieved over three-month or six-month timeframes, celebrate the success.
Focusing on monthly finances may sound like drudgery or life in a penal colony. Do not despair. After you get clarity on your current expenses and make the necessary decisions for your future, there are streamlined programs for tracking household finances. Making smart decisions and achieving financial goals actually increases the intimacy in a partnership. Believe me...and find out for yourselves.
Brian H. Farr is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Portland who specializes in Financial Therapy: www.brianhfarr.com