Flipping the switch to a proactive savings approach

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Janel Tresvant had been married more than 15 years, but had never once sat down with her husband to make a family budget. Both of them worked—she with a steady job and paycheck, he as a barber who co-owned a shop with a partner—and mostly minded their own cash flow. “If I wanted to go out and buy something, I would, and if he wanted to go out and buy something, he would,” she says. “We weren’t really accountable to each other.”

Weathering the storm

The couple figured that system mostly worked for them, though Janel would cautiously add to her savings account, knowing life’s curveballs are inevitable. “If we hit a big bill or his work got slow, I could always pull a rabbit out of a hat, because I’m always saving for a rainy day,” she says.

But in 2015, the couple faced a financial thunderstorm bigger than any they’d ever weathered before: One morning, her husband walked into the barbershop to find that his partner and two employees had cleared out their equipment. Unable to afford the lease on his own, he had to close the shop. The loss of income left the couple reeling financially.

“At first we were really focused on him setting up a one-man shop, but even after that happened it was clear the income wasn’t the same,” says Janel. “That’s when we realized we needed a 360-degree view of our finances. How could we budget as a family to make it through this? And what about the next crisis? We have friends who have had medical crises, or where one partner has passed away and the family wasn’t prepared financially. What if that happened to us?”

Making—and sticking to—a plan

Janel and her husband didn’t want to live in fear of “what if.” They wanted to feel like they were prepared for whatever unfolded. So, they sat down together and figured out a financial plan for the first time. Her husband got a side job to supplement the family’s immediate income, build up long-term emergency savings and secure health benefits. Then they talked through a family budget, cutting back on things like cable TV and dining out for lunch, and moved that money into a savings account instead.

“When we got rid of our cable service, my 9-year-old was upset, but I told him, ‘You’ll live, I promise,’” she laughs. “We were paying $180 a month, and we didn’t watch half of those channels anyway.” Knowing that a super-strict lunch budget might backfire, Janel committed to brown bagging it every day but Fridays, and her husband vowed to pack lunch three times a week. “That’s another $200 a month that we used to throw away out of habit, that now we’re saving,” she says.

Watching their shared savings grow fuels the couple’s motivation to stick with their new budget plan. But it also brings peace of mind that they’re more prepared for any future financial curveballs. “We went through a really hard two years, but it was a blessing in disguise,” Janel says. “We were living with blinders on, and now we’re looking at the bigger picture and we’re doing it together.”

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