Have you ever played Monopoly? My family banned the game from our house years ago; it seems to bring out the worst in all of us, and negotiations soon go from the usual trades to people issuing threats sugared with real -- not Monopoly -- money. I actually don’t think we ever finished a game, though my dad was a Monopoly champion in his youth. Whenever you add money to an equation, tempers rise, negotiations harden, and the fun tends to drain from each interaction.
This is why I started to laugh when my husband suggested we use Monopoly money to figure out our financial obligations years ago. Here's what that looked like:
For those of you who have had a bi-weekly paycheque, you’ll be familiar with the Three Paycheque Month. I don’t know about you, but I await this month with anticipation because it’s “extra” money for us to toss down on debt, put into savings, or (to some degree) spend frivolously.
Mint.com has given us an excellent tool with which to visualize our budget, but I’m still a hands-on, cash-based entity. Mint is limited in how much it can tell me because I work in different ways.
That’s one of the hardest parts of a budget: communication. Money is so often imbued with emotion that it’s difficult to take a logical stance and maintain that objectivity in conversations. “I want” and “I need” are hard to define and tricky to express in a way that supports continued discussion, whether you’re working through a budget with yourself, with a financial counsellor, or with a partner.
When it comes to a Three Paycheque Month getting priorities straight is important, especially when you’re tempted to stray from your regular path of responsible financing and go the route of excess and adventure.
We decided to have it all and opted for wants, needs, excess, and adventure…through Monopoly money.
Let the Game Begin!
My husband pulled out the Monopoly board we have in the house (it’s actually Monopoly City, as regular Monopoly is banned…the City version is a loophole we have yet to close). This board features money in denominations we don’t possess, with the smallest bill being “10K,” so we ignored the K and worked with our options. We counted out money equivalent to all of our paycheques for the month, both the ones we received and the ones we’re expecting (we also had Mint.com on our computer up at the same time), and put the money in a pile. From there we removed our regular bills: mortgage, debts, groceries, etc.
This left us with a much diminished pile, but thanks to Three Paycheque Month and a bit of overtime there was a significant amount left. Usually our money would all be gone at this point and the conversation would be over.
Let’s talk for a moment about excess and adventure. For a few months now we’ve been planning a trip to Disney World with family. We have a budget of $2600 for the entire trip, with all the park passes, dog sitting, hotels, transportation, etc. included. Was this a priority over repaying our suffocating debt?
In our case, yes.
Having the Monopoly money in hand and seeing how much we could pay off if we chose to spend that money on debt instead of gallivanting through Disney World made that decision more clear: the delay of debt freedom versus a family vacation. This isn’t a decision anyone could make for another person and comes down to what is more important to you—your values.
And let's face it: Disney's Always Been a Priority for Me
Values change, which is why conversations about budget is an ongoing, ever-changing dialogue. Budgets require constant check-ups, check-ins, revamps, and sometimes even Monopoly money. Whatever your system, giving yourself a means to articulate your needs is an essential, constant practice.
Right now, we value one family fun trip over debt repayment that would get us out of debt two months sooner. I honesty, I actually found a bit surprising considering my consuming obsession with paying debt and getting out from under our $45,000+ point Beast. In the long run, though, those memories are more important to us than the few months we could have shaved off our debt repayment, and having that money in hand helped crystalize that for us. Besides, we would still make our regular debt payments for the month and we would still be on track.
That's important: staying on track. We're not putting ourselves into a worse situation, which is key here.
Whatever your budgeting technique, try to have a few options for communication available to you when you discuss your finances. What follows is a list of ideas we’ve used and loved (or hated) at various times in our ongoing financial dialogue. Each of these items will be covered in more detail in future posts:
- A financial counsellor! Even the most avid budgeters and money-conscious people can learn a lot by having a professional financial planner look through their finances with a fresh pair of eyes and a new pair of ears
- List of every item you’d ever want to buy with prices
- Drawing and writing out immediate financial goals, medium-term ones, long-term ones
- Visualizing the life you want to live
- Making use of Monopoly money to have your monthly cash in hand (or using the cash itself if you can)
- Creating a visual debt beast (mine had hit points a la video game culture and is slowly dwindling with little opportunity to heal itself)
- Spreadsheets (Google free budget spreadsheet)
- Mint.com (athough it is really a bookkeeping system as it doesn’t allow you to budget for future months)
- Gold star chart for achievements (or smelly sticker chart…because who doesn’t love smelly stickers?)
- Maintain an updated list of goals with all items listed on it (both those involving money and those that are free)
- Create a budgeting group with a few of your close friends who can help keep you on track, provide support/ ideas, and celebrate your accomplishments with you
Squirrel and Nest offers one-on-one and small group financial counseling services that aim to give individuals the knowledge and independence they need to get their financial lives in great shape.