A budgeting wake-up call

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Budgeting wasn't exactly dinner-table conversation for Allison McQuade's family when she was growing up. Sure, Allison and her sister earned an allowance by doing chores, but that was the extent of their financial literacy. And once Allison graduated from college and started earning a real paycheck, the lack of money-management skills began to show in her spending habits.

"I kind of understood enough to budget to some extent, but I didn't budget to the extent where I noticed what was coming in and what was going out," Allison says. And so at the beginning of each pay cycle, Allison would treat her friends to dinner or splurge on cosmetics, only to realize by month’s end that there wasn't enough left in her account to pay all the bills. So … she’d borrow money from her parents. 

"That’s when it became very apparent to me that something wasn’t okay," she says. "You shouldn’t have to be borrowing money like this—not at this age."

Love, marriage and … transparent finances

Allison grew up and went to college in Tallahassee, Florida but suddenly wanted a change. When she made the self-admittedly impulsive decision to move to Atlanta without having a job lined up, it meant using up what little savings she’d managed to put aside. Her real breaking point came, though, when she got married and merged her financial life with her husband's.

"It was about the embarrassment of not being able to manage my money appropriately," she says. "I was going to my husband and saying 'I need to borrow this…'”

Allison decided it was time to learn those money lessons she'd missed, and enrolled in classes offered by her employer that taught her budgeting basics and money management skills. The curriculum included all of the budgeting basics, as well as how to talk about money—a skill many people (and couples) lack. 

As part of the program, Allison was encouraged to have financial conversations with her husband. Instead of waiting until she was in crisis mode to speak up about a late payment or a looming bill, she learned to proactively talk through a plan. It became a virtuous cycle, she says: the more they communicated, the less anxiety she had around her finances, which made it even easier to talk about them. "Going through the program with my husband and having to talk about money early on in a way that was easy and comforting…really did help us," she says.

Mindful spending leads to confidence

In fact, the couple has now resolved to spend their money more mindfully. For instance, instead of stopping by the grocery store every night on the way home to pick something up for dinner like they used to, they now plan ahead before grocery store visits and stick to a monthly food budget. Allison has also added a savings line item into their budget, to rebuild her financial cushion.

Now when she thinks about her finances, Allison has more peace of mind, which is especially important since she and her husband recently welcomed a baby girl. "I definitely feel more comfortable,” she says. “If something happened to my car or my daughter, we have a cushion to fall back on. I can't imagine not being able to do that as a mother. I think it’s about the security I have now and the awareness so I don’t fall back on those ways."

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