Communicating about Budgets

We're gearing up for the first home budget meeting of the year. We're trying to get back into the habit of a weekly family meeting, but this first meeting will be going over last year's budget and planning at a high level for the new year. In the past, we stopped doing weekly or monthly budget meetings because our communication and budget styles are different enough that they were really ​stressful for us. So now we're starting up again, and I'm trying to figure out good communication strategies to make this more successful.

Background: We've been married about 10 years. My husband was diagnosed with ADHD about 3 years ago. At his diagnosis, his doctor exclaimed, "This is one of the most severe cases I've seen! I'm surprised you managed to hold down a job!" (OK, I wasn't there, but that's how he described it to me.) However, he does have a great job, is very successful, we've got a reasonably healthy savings account, we've never had to worry about bankruptcy or impromptu trips to Las Vegas, or anything else that I sometimes read about on this site. I know how lucky that makes us. But. ​We dropped down to a single income a couple of years ago (partly due to managing young kids and family health issues, including the ADHD), and that is making budgeting really, really hard for us.

So now I have to go into this family budget meeting and figure out how to say "We overspent our budget by more than 25% last year, we're rapidly going through our savings, and we need a better strategy for next year." Without making him defensive. Or triggering "Oh, right! I'll stop getting coffee every morning. Next problem?"

I've been thinking a lot about how we could address it, and here's what I want-- I just need to figure out a good ADHD-friendly way to talk about it:

  1. Split his business expenses onto a separate bank account/credit card. He's bad about expense reports, and I'm pretty sure we're carrying thousands of dollars of expenses per year because he charges them to a personal credit card, and forgets to get reimbursed. 
  2. All budgeted household spending out of the joint household account, and enough money direct-deposited there every month to cover the budget, plus a calculated emergency cushion. Right now, a few bills are paid out of each of our personal accounts, and there isn't enough money regularly transferred to the joint account to cover expenses-- it stays in his personal account instead. I think this caused a lot of our budget overrun last year. Also a lot of stress to me, as I now manage all of our bill-paying and budgeting that isn't set to auto-pay. 
  3. Discretionary money directly deposited into each of our personal accounts for non-budgeted expenses. (Right now, I get super stressed out when he spends a couple hundred a month at the coffee shop or Walmart or whatever, because it takes away from, say, the grocery budget. I want a black box account for him, where I don't have to care what he spends on, so I don't get mad when he does it.)
  4. If we can't fit our budget into our income, I want that to be explicit, so we have a plan of "We'll use $x per month from savings between now and when our youngest is in kindergarten in 18 months" or "We'll use $x per month from savings, but we need to be a two income family again by June" or whatever. In the past, we had one set of savings commingled with the joint account, so it was too easy to burn through it on everyday expenses.

Things that make this hard:

  1. ​DINK: I think he's having a hard time mentally adjusting from "dual income no kids" to "two kids one income"-- he's used to being able to go out to eat, buy a new iPhone regularly, do spur of the moment house projects, etc.
  2. I don't want to micromanage: We've really cut down some parts of our budget over the last year, reducing our eating out and grocery bills by at least 50%. It's reasonably easy for me to reduce the budget on parts that I control, but it's hard for me to worry over whether I should buy a chicken at the grocery store or have rice and beans instead, then see him spend $25 at the coffee shop that week. But I don't want to micromanage his spending. (Thus the request for personal discretionary funds. But I think he's going to really object to having only a set discretionary fund transferred regularly, instead of keeping 1/3 of his paycheck for personal use-- the same as when we both had jobs.)
  3. ​Different budget/communication styles: We've been using online budgeting/tracking software, which has really helped me keep track of the budget. But whenever we have a budget meeting, he hovers behind me, rewriting everything into a spreadsheet, and sorting it into a way that is sometimes impossible to follow through ("No coffee! Ever again!") and sometimes just misses big categories of spending ("Wait, where's the preschool tuition entry?"). Then we get annoyed at each other, and the meeting goes downhill.

Our old ADHD-specialist marriage counselor suggested only asking for "three things at once" so I'm trying to figure out how to talk about this in a really straightforward way that won't stress him out. Or me. I've already told him that I'm prepping the budget this week, and that I can send him a short list of ideas ahead of time so he knows what the meeting will be about. But when I mention it, I can see him start to get really stressed and anxious and start arguing... and that makes me want to just not talk about it at all.

Help!

wow

I really admire what you have set out to do, and it seems like you have hit the most important priorities... and  you have included a way for him to "spend" without having to decide in advance what he will keep or what he will cut.  My guy can't seem to hold several things in his head at once (i.e., he can mentally add up his spending and it's usually about 50% less than reality).  You could ask him what particular part of the conversation he is most dreading... Usually just saying it and you acknowledging it removes the dread... Ask HIM what short list of topics he thinks are important.  You could let him "chair" the meeting-- When we have annual planning meetings (we start with the fun things we want to do, then figure out how to get there) I always let my guy do the paper and colored markers (yes we really use big paper and markers!)  It keeps him engaged, he gets to put things down in his own words... but he has to do it so I can see and we have to agree on the final wording...  We always have a beer or wine and some snacks and do it someplace not "business like" -- the patio (we do our meetings in June) or this time of year we might light a fire and spread out on the coffee table.  Not a desk or dining table.  For my guy to be comfortable it needs to feel like a "fun" activity not a chore.  This our life together, not another "job"!  :)  I have to do all this planning and setup, or we would never have the meeting.  And once he's agreed its time to do it, he wants to put it off.  I usually just give him about 15 minutes notice that we're going to do it.  We've done this for three years now and he's no more enthusiastic initially than he ever was, but he always agrees afterward it was a good thing to do.  If you can get him to agree to the broad strokes, and the mechanics to get it done, i.e., the personal card can never be used for business, try not to overwhelm him with too many details.  When you're reviewing the fixed budget, group as much as you can into fewer numbers.  For example you might list "utilities" as one number, then underneath say this includes gas, electric, water, cable, phone, but not individual amounts for each.  Fewer bigger numbers will be easier to take in AND will make a bigger impression.  Ask him if there is any part he would like to take over, or develop a solution, that would make it easier for him to be consistent.  You sometimes get very imaginative (i.e., sounds impractical to us) ideas that make a great deal of sense to ADHDer.  You can say "Okay, let's try it like that for ___ days and see how it works out."   Unless your guy LOVES spreadsheets and details and numbers, etc.  That stuff is a source of stress for my guy, but maybe not yours.  And include one thing in the budget plan that feels like a reward or treat for doing and sticking to the financial plan.  The whole thing can't be a downer or there is no point... for either of you!

Good luck!  

I LOVE family budget meetings!!

Unfortunately I am the nonADDer in our house and I never have really gotten my husband to fall in love with them LOL 

After quite a few years I think I have finally gotten him to stop dreading them which I consider a major victory :)  We have also been married 10 years and live mostly on 1 income.  No kids but we are self employed (he does most of the actual work and I do most of the paperwork), so we have the extra stresses of making sure he saves the receipts that we need to claim for taxes also.

My husband was single living on his own and making a pretty good salary for a while and he had NOTHING except electronics (and no debt which was a requirement for me)  to show for it when we got married.  It was nothing to him to blow the majority of his paycheck on games once the bills were paid and if he had to eat rice and beans till the next payday....oh well!   I couldn't be LESS like this.  He has come to see this as a good thing, though for a while it was really hard for him to rein in those desires.  He never has acted on the going out and blowing a load of money since our marriage, but the desire was always there and when you are dealing with ADD, anytime they can't meet these desires they have it can be hard to feel like they are happy/content.  And the reality of "there are almost no people in the world who can just buy whatever they want whenever they want" doesn't necessary affect their desires.  The lack of reality associated with the desires is probably my very least favorite thing about ADD.

One of the things that has really helped him is to see the real value of having savings.........vehicle engine blew up and we were able to pay cash for another one.   He, his mom, and his sister are all ADD (he is the only one medicated) and his mom has a husband who reins her in and they do well.  He has me to help rein him in, and we do well.  His sister and BIL both spend like there is no tomorrow and it has caught up to them with bills in collections and she lost her job so they are really struggling.  He has said over and over how appreciative he is that he didn't marry some one who enabled that kind of selfish behavior.......but in the moment it can be hard on us both.

With my husband, he could understand the logic..........we have X to spend after expenses.  But the reality of "I want to buy this but can't because it isn't in the budget" made him hate the budget.  I have tried to handle this in many ways, but the worst thing I ever did was give up on the meetings cause they were just too hard and miserable.  Then the finances just go downhill cause there is no check on them.

A few things we have learned from trial and error:

1.  The work credit card is a great thing, but if your husband is at all like mine it will take him months and months to switch over and it may well never be completely all work expenses all on one card.  Such an easy concept, but new routines for ppl with ADD can be a real challenge.  If you are at all like me this will drive you to distraction before you just decide it isn't worth it.

2. I agree budgetted expenses should all come out of a joint acct........we don't even have any accounts other than Business, Joint Household, and Savings. 

3. We just use our "blow money" out of the joint acct.  I think it is a good idea for him to have his "blow money" set aside into his own acct, but if it is less than he is used to and he is not good about keeping his acct balanced (to this day my husband never ever has balanced an acct) then you may have problems with him overspending this acct.  You will need to take steps to prevent this.........perhaps by balancing it with him weekly.

4.  I'd never be ok with our budget not fitting into our income, but if you think that could happen, then I agree that it needs to be done on purpose and agreed do for a limited amount of time.  ADDers often tend to think of savings and limitless and it just means you can buy whatever you want now cause there is money there.......as long as there is money there, why deny yourself?

My husband can't remember what he is trying to do financially without some kind of reminder on a weekly basis.  I keep our budget in a spreadsheet and give him a heads up every week on the status of our categories.

 

Your difficulties also sound familiar.  If he ever had a time where he could spend what he wanted and then comes a time when he can't, that will be a hard adjustment.  Somehow the act of buying things gives some ppl a happy little zing.....my husband likes to do the grocery shopping even cause he really likes the act of buying even if it isn't for fun.......and he is fabulous about sticking to a budget and getting everything on the list......is like a fun challenge to him. Which is great cause I hate grocery shopping :) 

 

Anyway he is going to have to face the reality of the amount he has to spend....and you might have to help him manage this a bit in the beginning like really helping him know what he spends a week.  Otherwise I see his acct being overdrawn.

As far as the different budget/communication styles, my husband basically had none, so we just go with mine LOL  I use spreadsheets and you put the budgetted amount at the top of each category and when you subtract something out of that category it refigures for you at the top what is left.  Works good for us........maybe you just need to find a system you can both use so that it doesnt get so confusing.

 

Best wishes to you!!  You are doing a fabulous job!!

ETA:  I forgot to condense it into 3 things--I got my ADD husband's suggestions on this too.

1.  New credit card for work expenses--this could save you thousands in reimbursements and needs to be done ASAP

2.  Discretionary budgetto be moved into personal accounts with the rest left in for Household expenses.  Since you will have last year's budget there.......I would be prepared not only with "we overspent by 25%" but also "I used X in discretionary and you used X in discretionary last year, so where do we cull this 25% from for next year?"  This will lead naturally into deciding the amount to put in discretionary.......and agreement to follow up with eachother weekly on these amounts so neither of you go over....since it is tracked by you and you are doing most of this one, I don't see a big problem with it having an A and P part.   He'll only have to work on staying within the discretionary budget you two decide on

3.  Big picture decision with regard to how and when you are going to stop using your savings as your overrun slush fund. 

I might try words like "Would you decide to take money for savings to go toward fast food?" (this is my husband's weakness while it sounds like your husband's is coffee).  He will always always always say NO WAY to this.  Also, I might mention something he wants........like "you'd like a new motherboard to be in the budget for next month.  Do you realize you spent almost as much in fast food lunches as it would cost to buy one?  It has helped him see that overspending a category has consequences.

Usually these budget issues are a result of not having parents who taught him about money and /or not having a good understanding of consequences.  It sounds like your husband is on board with modifying his behavior albeit going too far the other way "No coffee ever again!" won't last long for a coffee addict LOL, but that willingness can be channeled into useful behavioral changes. 

 

ALso be prepared for lets try this for X amt of time and discuss how it works and what needs tweaking