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.