“Budget the Luxuries First!”

Chelsea and Sean's wedding

photo by Kate MacQuarrie

We attended a wedding recently, and one of the things that always happens at wedding receptions is the inevitable offering of advice to the newlyweds; whether it’s in the form of a toast by the Best Man, or somebody running around with a video camera at the reception asking people to say a few words, or the goofy uncle who wanders over to the couple and puts in his two cents, it’s going to happen.

I’m usually the goofy uncle offering the unsolicited advice, and what I usually say is this: “Budget the luxuries first.” I stole it from Robert A. Heinlein, and it’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard. It’s sound fiscal policy for a couple or family, and here’s why.

The number one thing that couples fight about, and the thing most likely to lead to divorce, is the subject of money. Along those lines, my friend Greg Hatcher (and if you like pop culture, you really ought to be reading his column) made the pithy observation that since the thing that breaks up marriages is money troubles, “let’s go ahead and kneecap the happy couple with big expensive wedding bills.” (By the way, if you’re planning a wedding, Pinterest can be an invaluable resource in avoiding a lot of those bills.) So there it is; money is going to be a source of conflict and contention in the home. Let’s assume that as a young couple starting their life together, the peak earning years are still ahead, and money is going to need to be budgeted. If you budget the luxuries last, there will most likely not be enough money for them; it’s really hard to stretch your dollars to cover things you don’t need. If you don’t budget them at all, you will spend money on them anyway, blow the budget, and create stress. But if you budget the luxuries first, you can limit them to a reasonable amount, and still stretch the remaining money to cover the necessities.

You don’t have to budget a lot. $10 a week is enough to go to the bargain movie theater or pick up a couple of used DVDs at the Goodwill or have a drink at a less-than-four-star establishment or grab a cheeseburger off the value menu at Jack in the Box or buy an armload of paperback books at the used book store. And of course we’ve talked before about things to do for free or cheap.

The important part is that you need some entertainment; grinding away day after day without a break makes you snippy and short-tempered and depressed. On the other hand, looking at bills you can’t pay because you blew too much on an indulgence will also make you snippy, short-tempered and depressed. Using your credit card to pay for luxuries is worse; as Heinliein said, “interest charges not only eat up a household budget; awareness of debt eats up domestic felicity.” If you save your modest entertainment budget for a couple of months, you can spend it on a big night out or a show or some such, but paying for that big night out with plastic and then only making the minimum payment means you will continue to pay for it for years to come and end up spending three or four times as much in the long run. But that’s for another post.

You’re going to spend money on fun stuff; if you plan for it, you won’t fight about it, you won’t have guilt or recriminations about it, and you’ll have a happier marriage.

My second-favorite bit of advice is “own an ice cream maker.” You don’t have to be miserable if you can make ice cream.

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  1. quiltzyx/sue

    Good advice Goofy Uncle!

  2. Emily

    Perfect advice. I could definitely use some work in this area. Maybe if I perfect it now I’ll be a total pro at it by the time I settle down ๐Ÿ˜€

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