Although I talk in earlier money planning series posts (1, 2, and 3) about our monthly budget and how we think about our expenses and income as monthly, I don’t personally look at our budget that often anymore. I used to do it religiously every month, particularly when my husband and I were engaged and living together. I would collect all of our receipts, sort each purchase into a category, figure out who paid for what, and then determine how much money one of us owed the other so everything shared was split 50/50. I’m pretty confident my husband thought it was a bit overboard, but we didn’t yet have merged finances and I didn’t want him to feel I was taking advantage of him. Plus, I was establishing baseline data of our spending and saving.
Now though, after over ten years of tracking our money, I look at our budget in detail every quarter. I may look more frequently if we want to make a big purchase and we need to determine if we have the finances available. Otherwise, once a quarter does it. Our spending is pretty predictable, so looking at our budget every month wasn’t changing our spending for the future. It just didn’t become worth my time to budget monthly.
You may be thinking, “But, Stephanie, don’t you have monthly bills? When do you pay those?”
I automate as much as I can: utility bills, credit card bills, cell phone, school lunch expenses, the kids’ 529 plan contributions, HOA dues, etc. Our paychecks are directly deposited in our bank accounts. Our 401K contributions are automatically withdrawn from our gross pay so we act like it doesn’t exist in our budget. In our minds, there’s no option to ever spend that money before retirement.
If I can, I put the bills on my credit card for the cash back rewards. If I can’t do that, then I have the money taken directly out of a checking account. Sure, I look at bills when they are sent to us to make sure I don’t see anything funny (purchases we didn’t make, unusually high or unusually low transactions, purchases in unexpected locations, etc.), but I’m no longer pouring through charges and receipts like I did in the early days of our marriage. Someone will contact me if my auto payment doesn’t go through, I’m sure.
Now, when I do review our budget, we tend to make financial moves afterward. We may determine to scale back house projects, make a charitable contribution, invest more, or set limits for ourselves on Christmas spending.
I think the trick here is to find a system that works for you. Create space in your life to look at the money coming in and going out at an interval that works for your family. Perhaps you want to look at your finances after every paycheck, before the first of the month, or every quarter. You do you. This quarterly financial review works for us, and that’s what counts.