Your Complete Guide to the Family Budget Meeting
One of the most important things you can do as a family is create a monthly budget. Seriously. Yet money conversations often make people embarrassed, uncomfortable or even angry—so they just avoid the issue altogether.
Why? Why aren’t we having rational, regular conversations about something so important? It’s obvious that we must. Couples polled in a Ramsey Solutions research study who call their marriage “great” are about twice as likely to talk about money on the reg than those who say their marriage is “okay” or “in crisis.” And 87% of those “great” marriages also say they work together to set financial goals.
Setting money goals, talking about finances, creating a budget—these things improve marriages and set the example for the next generation to make good money decisions.
That’s why meeting together as a family to create a budget is a must. It creates a time and space to do this essential money planning in an atmosphere of clear and kind communication.
Well, then how do you set up your own family budget meetings? That’s an excellent question. We’ve got excellent answers.
What is the goal of a family budget meeting?
Communication, community, accountability, action and kindness. These should be top priorities in every family budget meeting. Let’s go through them all.
You want to get away from the idea that talking about money is taboo. You want to teach your children the value of discussing financial issues instead of letting the problem heat to a boiling point.
Community and Accountability
A family budget will never work unless everyone’s in it together—that’s community and accountability. You’ve got to be one unit that speaks openly about not only goals, but also about the nitty-gritty of spending habits and whatever debt the family is facing down.
You also need action—you have to actually build a budget! We’ll tell you how in just a minute.
But there’s one more action to take, and that’s creating clear goals as a family. Use the Baby Steps to help you navigate your family’s financial journey. Follow this proven path to break up your money goals into manageable and achievable pieces that will set you up for financial success.
Finally, never forget to do all of this in kindness. A family budget meeting isn’t the time to berate your spouse about their spending. You’re a team. Work together as a team to build goals, craft your budget, and keep your spending in line.
Who should be involved?
The entire family should be involved—to some degree. That degree, though, can be based on your comfort level.
Your children need to know money doesn’t grow on trees or flow freely from an ATM. They need to understand the bank isn’t a free money store and that the debit card you’re swiping is taking actual cash out of your bank account, not just making purchases appear out of thin air. We don’t live in a magical fairy world—we live in the financial real world. The sooner you’re able to teach that life lesson, the more grateful and hardworking your children will be.
At the very least, you should explain the basic setup of a budget. Show your children that you work for an income, and that income covers all the family’s expenses. Depending on their age, you can talk about the different bills you pay each month.
This is where your comfort level comes in. Some families believe in giving their children a full view of how much they make and pay for everything. Some hold back, sharing just the budget lines that involve the kids. Either way, you’re talking about the realities of money and the concepts of budgeting. That’s a major win! (Not one that comes with a budgeting trophy, sadly, though it really should.)
When should you have a family budget meeting?
We kind of already spoiled that punch line: monthly. Because you should budget every month, you should also meet up every month.
With the EveryDollar budgeting tool, the setup part is easy. You can make your first budget in minutes. And after that, you just copy the previous month over and tweak the spots that need tweaking.
Why tweak? If you have an irregular income, you already know your money flow changes from month to month. But even with a steady, set paycheck, your expenses will vary. Some things stay the same, like rent. Some change based on usage, like groceries or your electric bill. And some expenses come once a year, like school pictures or your wedding anniversary. Don’t forget these important things (especially your wedding anniversary, or you’ll be budgeting twice as much to make up for it next month).
What should you do in your family budget meeting?
1. Mark your calendar.
Be intentional. Create a spot on your calendar for this meeting, just like you would with a meeting at work. Allow 30 minutes and come prepared—just like you would at work! Hey, all these “work” connections make sense. You work hard for your money, and this budget meeting is all about making your money work hard for you.
2. Limit distractions.
Put the tiny children to bed. If they can’t really talk, they’re not ready for budget meetings. Turn off the television. Finish any chores that might be calling out to come clean me while you’re meeting. Create an atmosphere where you can focus on the task at hand.
3. Bring snacks.
Weddings, birthday parties, new homes—every important life event has food. Your monthly budget meetings aren’t as large scale as these things, but they are still super important. So, bring snacks!
4. Talk about the difference between needs and wants.
We know caramel cupcake cappuccinos are a want rather than a need. But other lines can blur—and children often don’t know the difference. Be sure to explain to your kids at an early age that needs must be met first. This means you’re budgeting for housing, utilities, food and transportation before family vacations or memberships to the local tightrope walkers troupe.
You’ll also need to talk about priorities. You can’t do everything every month. For example, if the kids want to be involved in extracurriculars, talk about how these things cost money. One thing per kid per season is plenty for their time and for your family’s budget. Create a budget line for each kid’s activities so it’s all accounted for.
5. Make a plan for your money—actually build the budget.
Identify your income.
The first step to budgeting is to list your income. This is all the money you plan to bring in this month.
Identify your expenses.
If this is your first budget, you’ll start with your fixed expenses, like your mortgage or rent, utilities, food and transportation. Then list common monthly expenses, such as restaurants, entertainment and clothing. You can check your bank statements to get an idea of how much you typically spend.
If it’s not your first budget rodeo, then you’re already saddled up—you just need to think about what differences this month will bring, as we mentioned before. Get those month-specific expenses in your budget, and you’ll be ready to ride.
Budget to zero.
Before you ride out into the budgeting sunset, make sure you’re using what we call the zero-based budget method. In other words, all your income minus all your expenses should equal zero. Because if you have extra money left out of your budget, it will to get lost in the spending shuffle. Put all your money to work—give all those dollars a job do. Then you will be the one in charge of every dollar, every day.
6. Be respectful.
Remember to bring fairness and kindness to the table. Sometimes we want to spend money on different things. You may have to talk through goals, expectations and desires. But do it all with respect for your short-term and long-term goals—and for each other!
7. Don’t lose sight of your goals.
One of the best ways to keep from arguing about the little things in each month’s budget is by keeping your eye on the big things—those Baby Steps! These help you set up and focus on a true, better-life standard, one that goes beyond the immediate wants of this month and toward what really matters.
You’re the one making a real difference with your money—for you, your kids, your grandkids, and generations to come. The family budget meeting isn’t just about this month—it’s about a legacy of communication, gratitude and wise money decisions. It’s totally worth every 30-minute monthly meeting and every monthly sacrifice.
What are some practical family budget tools?
So, you know you need to budget every month. You know you need to have family budget meetings. But with so many ways to budget out there, how do you pick a method you’ll actually use?
Insert EveryDollar. It’s practical. It’s mobile. It’s free. From your desktop or phone, EveryDollar goes where you go so you can—and will—show your money who’s in charge.