The Allowance

Years ago, before Chef and I were on the same page about budgeting and becoming debt-free, I was an obviously stressed-out saver and he was a less-obviously stressed-out spender.  We had completely different theories about how to spend and save.  While he would see a material need and purchase the item to fulfill that need, I was constantly forgoing things I needed because I feared another overdraft charge or a shortage of money when it was time to buy groceries.  I want to make it clear that Chef wasn’t necessarily being frivolous with our money.  It’s just that if he saw that we needed a new trash can, or batteries, or dish towels — whatever — he would buy it.  And sometimes he’d buy fun stuff, too — a beer when he was out with the guys, a lunch at a fast food place, a movie rental.  Meanwhile, I was wearing stained shirts and holey underwear in the fear of that bank envelope in the mailbox, telling us we’d overextended ourselves yet again.

So I asked if we could institute an allowance.  Each time I got paid (which was every two weeks), I’d pull out $20 for each of us.  We could spend that money however we wanted to.  And when that money was gone, we had to wait until the next pay period to buy more fun stuff.  Chef agreed.

This new system really helped my state of mind.  It wasn’t a complete fix, because we didn’t have a serious plan and we still had overdrafts from spending too much on eating out or car repairs or toiletries.  But I knew that if he wanted to go out with the guys, Chef was spending his money and not our money.

In May of 2009 when we became devoted disciples of Dave Ramsey, we started seriously budgeting.  We would determine on paper where every dollar was going to be spent, and we stuck to it.  We still do this, every pay period.  And part of our budget is the allowance.  (Dave calls it Blow Money.)  We think it is still important, when budgeting and getting out of debt, to have a little bit of money to play with.  It helps us to feel that even though we are sacrificing, we’re not giving up everything.  It’s kind of like being on a diet.  If you can’t ever have a cookie, you start to go crazy until you finally eat an entire package of Oreos at one sitting.  But if you allow yourself two cookies a week, then your craving for the sweet stuff is satiated and you can still achieve your goal.  For us, if we never had any money to spend on ourselves, we would probably get really frustrated and might just chuck the whole budgeting plan.  But with our $20 every two weeks, we have just enough to play with to stay satisfied.

Interestingly, though, our spender/saver styles still come out in how we treat our allowance, even though we come to an agreement on everything else in the budget.  By the time the two weeks are up, Chef has almost always spent his allowance.  I hoard mine, not knowing for sure what I’m saving it for, but knowing that I’ll have the money for it once I decide.  I just looked in the super-secret drawer in which I save my allowance and found that I must have not spent anything for at least the last six weeks.  Nice!  And, because I’m still completely practical, I’m thinking not of going out for margaritas with the girls, but of buying new work pants, or some yarn to finish my Christmas presents.

But the great thing is, I can buy these things without worrying about an overdraft.

And maybe I’ll get a margarita, too.


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