How to avoid those “surprise” purchases

I know many people who come home to their spouse and say “Hey look, I bought you an iPhone!”  or “Hey honey, I just bought a new car, come look at it!”

It’s these surprise purchases that can cause much tension in relationships.  While the former example may have been exciting, things may come to a head when the next bill comes and that added iPhone money makes the budget extremely tight.  Or you buy a new car, and your spouse or child gets sick and now you’re in trouble because the hospital bill is added on to your car payment, house payment, cell phone payment, etc.

This is a huge reason why budgeting makes sense to do.  While it can be fun to surprise your spouse with a purchase, it can also cause relational issues.  Even small purchases can add up.  Let’s say you and your spouse don’t budget, and your spouse just went out and bought 300 bucks worth of Starbucks lattes over the month.  Now you have much less to spend on groceries, or even soccer shoes for your kid.

My husband and I split purchases into categories as we budget, so we know how much is in each category for the month.  For example, we put a certain amount of clothing money for the month, if I decide to go over that (i.e. to buy another pair of shoes I don’t need) I know the rest must come out of my “discretionary” category.  Discretionary is basically our allowance for the month, the amount we can spend on anything we want.  My husband tends to save his over the months to make a big purchase, while I tend to make smaller purchases every month.  Once we are out of discretionary, then we can’t buy that Woot shirt or headphones until the next month unless we both agree to take it out of another category.

This has helped us greatly, that way we aren’t surprised or shocked when the other makes purchases.  As long as we agree to stay within our budgeted amount, we can each have that amount to spend in whichever way we desire.   Sometimes, if I want to make a bigger purchase, I’ll discuss it with my husband, and I’ll either sell something on eBay or he’ll give me some of his discretionary especially if we plan on sharing the purchase, whether it be a bike or a Nintendo 3DS.

The overarching idea is communication.  Making sure each person in the relationship knows how much to spend on groceries, clothing, entertainment etc, so that way one person doesn’t use all the money for one thing and leaves the other person out to skimp along the rest of the month.  We use a program called YNAB (you need a budget), which has computer program plus apps that all sync up together.  So, if I’m at the store, I can look and see how much I have to spend in each category.  Every single weekend, we go through our receipts and enter our purchases in (you can enter in the purchases on the go as well with the app) and evaluate each week how much left to spend.  Sometimes, we’ll spend more in groceries than usual because of a party, but maybe less in restaurants, so we’ll make the proper adjustments.

Having a plan on finances lessen arguments and tension in the household.  Having budgeting program is essential, and get help from a friend or family if you aren’t tech savvy.  Communicate each week on how the budget is faring, and if adjustments are needed.  Give each person in the family an allotted amount to spend each month, and don’t judge them if they decide to buy 10 star wars t-shirts with it or save up for LED water fountain speakers.  These tips should help prevent those surprise purchases and the small ones that add up so quickly.

Communicate.  Budget weekly.  Give allowance to each other.