Reader Question: Household Finances

Money is one of those super touchy subjects, which is why I rarely write about it. Plus, I’m utterly unqualified. I receive quite a lot of questions about it though (apparently you guys are all like me – secretly very curious about others, but not willing to divulge anything yourselves!), and so I decided to attempt another post. Here is the question, which I’ve received in various forms a few times, from the sweet M:

…can you please share what you are comfortable with for how you and Mr. Feather do your budgeting? Me and my husband feel like we’re always falling behind, and can’t keep track. Thanks…. 

I’ve mentioned before that in our home, I manage the money. It’s a task that I kind of loathe at most times, but that I also enjoy in some perverse way – kind of like making checklists and checking them off….ahhh! So satisfying.

Here are the absolute musts we follow when managing our own household – and of course as always, I’d love to hear yours too.


1. Find some way to track your spending/net at a macro level, and only if you have time/feel like it, at the micro. The macro is the important one – you should know on a rough level where you are in terms of debt, assets, long term savings, and any other “goals” you might be saving for. I know that this can be a drag (and after kids, depressing), but you have to do it! It’ll be worth it down the line and you’ll be so glad you did, when you’re cheering over mimosas during your retirement. I have a very basic excel sheet – it has all of our accounts listed, mortgages, etc, and each month I write down the updated numbers in a new column. This allows me not only to get a good handle on everything, but also to track trends over time.

On the micro level, like tracking how much you spent on lattes for the month – this is good too, and something which Mint is great for, but honestly if you have limited time I recommended focusing on the macro first. It doesn’t matter if you know you spent $30 less on Starbucks this month than last, if your overall spending is still increasing. Know which way your household is heading as a whole first, before getting into the nitty gritty.

2. At least one of you should be responsible for money management. One of you, both of you – as long as someone is on the ball. Things go awry when nobody is responsible. And both of you should agree on who it is…nobody should assume that the other person is tracking. There needs to be a house “accountant” at the very least, the person who knows whether something is in or out of budget, whether property taxes are due soon, etc.

3. Sync on a regular basis. My husband and I “check in” about once a quarter or so – we carve out time after baby has gone to bed, and we sit down at our dinner table (with big glasses of wine), and go through my little Excel sheet. It’s kind of a drag, and if we’ve both had tough weeks we can procrastinate, but every time we actually sit down and go through it, it’s such a helpful conversation. We feel way more aligned afterwards, more in sync on our goals, and happier. The most important things in life aren’t money, but knowing that you and your partner are on the same page about it? Such a freeing feeling, and lets you focus on all the more important things.

I’d love to hear about how you manage money in your household and stay on top of things!

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  • Elaine
    October 17, 2016 at 11:33 am

    Great post! I agree with you that tracking is the #1 and most important step. I track income statement (expense & income) and balance sheet (asset and liabilities) on a monthly basis. And to us, a healthy saving rate is our #1 goal.

  • Iris
    October 17, 2016 at 4:44 pm

    Great post! Agree with what you have shared! I also appreciate it when my significant other tells me that the moisturizer I got was too expensive and I should return it. I can’t always be rational so I appreciate the friendly reminder. We also learn from each other on things we do well. For example, I learned to better invest my idle $$. When I start investing my $$, the balance in the checking account goes lower, which helped me to spend less.

  • Mercy
    October 17, 2016 at 11:33 pm

    I find this really helpful, it’s me who’s handling the finance side so it’s me who gets stressed 🙂 Though I don’t have to tell hubby every micro expense, I need to let him know and make him agree when I purchase a designer bag 🙂 Thanks Katherine, I agree that we should both sit down and talk about it though it rarely happens in our case.

  • Sherry @ Save. Spend. Splurge.
    October 18, 2016 at 4:57 am

    Money is one of the major topics I am passionate about and I talk all about it on my blog: Save. Spend. Splurge.

    I also talk about style (mostly style if I am honest) and where I find most people struggle is with budgeting, I use a budgeting tool and then for women, it is investing, which I find very easy once you learn the basics.

    Anyway, great topic Katherine! I would love to hear more about how you budget for shopping and so on.

    I’m a real finance freak..

  • Ellen
    October 20, 2016 at 8:23 am

    Thanks Katherine! Do you have any recommendations for/examples of a good, basic excel sheet that can be used to track spending/net?

  • Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life
    October 21, 2016 at 1:15 pm

    Oh this is my absolute favorite thing to talk about. Obviously 😀

    I used Yodlee (waaay back in the day), and now Mint, but none of the automated aggregators *quite* does the job well.

    The best monthly net worth tracker for me is my own personal spreadsheet. I have it set up to show the changes from the previous month of all my accounts, broken down by cash, investments, and real estate. Then I also calculate the change from the beginning of the year so that every month I can see what our total change over time is.

    I don’t track daily expenses anymore but as the Family CFO, I do approve all larger (over $100) purchases for the household because I always know in the back of my mind how our big picture spending through the year has been and will be.

    We haven’t stressed over money in quite some time because I stay on top of our expenses, savings, and investing and it’s something I quite enjoy.