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Why a Family Budget Is “Women’s Work”

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As part of its Thirty Days to a Better Man series, The Art of Manliness encouraged men to make a budget. And with good reason. As AoM points out, a budget puts you in control, reduces stress, and increases confidence.

But a man isn’t the one who ought to keep the budget. A home—and a marriage—runs more smoothly when a woman is in charge of the budget.

  • She spends most of the money. Even if a woman doesn’t spend all day shopping and getting her nails done, she’s likely to be the person making grocery purchases and keeping clothes on her family members’ backs. If she isn’t the one keeping track of the budget, it’s easy for even family-oriented spending to spin out of control.
  • Budgeting sets a tone of equality in the management of money. A 1942 home economics textbook advises future homemakers to understand credit terms and do the math to figure out the actual cost of interest-deferred payments. Even with a Master’s degree, I have no idea I have no idea how to read loan documents or calculate interest. Clearly something has been lost. Keeping the budget forces me to figure out complicated financial transactions and to stay intimately involved in our family’s finances. When I understand our family’s financial state, I respect myself more.
  • It creates an opportunity to discuss priorities as a family. I would be demeaning to say that men don’t like to talk about what’s important to them. But I think it’s fair to say that many men don’t know how to initiate “big” conversations. A woman in charge of the household budget is in an excellent position to have regular discussions with her family about what they value.

So how does a woman go about creating a family budget?:

  1. Make a list of the broad categories you spend money on. Things like housing, food, clothing, utilities, savings, charitable giving, etc.
  2. Sit down as a family with your list. Where are your priorities? If you have a chance to splurge, where should it be? How much do you want to save and how quickly? How much, if any, of your income do you want to share?
  3. Make a list of your fixed expenses, the money you have to spend each month—things like housing, utilities, car payments, and insurance. When you make your list of fixed expenses, take time to reevaluate your priorities. Maybe you hate living far away from work but spend fairly little of your income on housing. Maybe you find yourself spending more money than you’d like on food and throwing away leftovers.
  4. Set a reasonable goal of how much of your remaining income you’d like to spend on each variable expense. The expenses you have left—food, entertainment, gas, etc.—are your variable expenses. A classic budget division is 25% of your household income for housing and home maintenance, 25% for food, 10% for clothing, toiletries, 10% for utilities and gas, 10% for education and/or charity, and 10% for savings. Find what works for your family and priorities. Adam and I, for example, value living close to our jobs. We choose to spend more than 25% of our income on housing and less on other items in our budget so we can live where we want.
  5. Start keeping track of where you spend your money. Mint.com is the best way I have found to keep track of all our household expenses. It tracks your family’s bank accounts and credit cards, so you can subtract each purchase you and your husband make from the appropriate category of your overall monthly budget.
  6. Do a monthly reevaluation of your priorities and goals. Adam and I have learned that where we spend our money says a lot about what we value. We were surprised to see, for example, how much money we spent eating out when we first got married, even though we thought of ourselves as a family that eats mostly home-cooked meals. Reevaluating monthly is a great chance to talk about where you’re headed as a family and really helps keep spending in check.

For more vintage home economics advice, check out Home Economics: Vintage Advice and Practical Science for the 21st-Century Household.

What are your family’s secrets to keeping expenses under control?

2 responses »

  1. Our secret, so far: Keep Joie away from the budget! Anyone who believes in the money fairy will create havoc with family finances.

    Reply

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