Even though we have found our FIRE number and our FFLC date worked out, and we track our spending fairly closely, we still allow ourselves some freedom with money. Some call it “mad money”, “rainy day fund”, “allowance”, or whatever the term; it’s essentially money we can spend and don’t have to be accountable to the other person for.
In the SSC household, we use the allowance system. Each month we each get a set amount and can use it however we want. This was originally meant to be for purchases that would only benefit one of us, or for extravagant things that the other may not agree with. Using our allowance funds circumvents those “why did you buy this?” arguments, and makes it easier to stay on budget for FIRE, since the allowances are a category that is already built into our FIRE budget. It also allows us a buffer with our FIRE calculations, since it is a cost we can immediately cut out if needed. It wasn’t always like this though, as our allowances and what they cover have evolved quite dramatically over the past 7 years.
In the beginning our allowances were less, and were intended to cover things that would only benefit one of us. For instance, beer brewing supplies, video games, and fishing stuff for Mr. SSC. And then for Mrs. SSC, well, she would let hers grow and then invest it… Seriously. Then Mrs. SSC started shopping for work clothes, and shoes, and purses more often, and more often. It got to the point that she started feeling bad about the amount that was coming out of the household budget that she decided we should put clothes into the “allowance” category. I rarely bought new clothes, but if it was a little more $$ to spend each month, then sure, I’ll vote for that! Add one more thing to the allowance list.
After a year or so, Mrs. SSC decided we were going out to eat for lunch too often. Specifically, I was going out to eat too often. Usually, we would bring our lunches and eat out at the pavilion at our work campus, but with my new team and assignment, I had started going out once a week, sometimes twice a week! Gah!!! We were also eating out at restaurants at night a bit more during this time period, so after some back and forth discussion, restaurants were put into the “allowance” category. I of course argued for more money, because, well I always argued for more money if another item was put onto the allowance list.
Although looking back I realized I could have had double the allowance and would have still spent it all because my spending habits were pretty poor. Another item that got put into the “allowance” category was gifts. Birthday presents, and Christmas especially. I resisted this one pretty hard, but lost. Mostly, it’s because Mrs. SSC has a birthday close to Christmas so for most years initially, I was in debt to the SSC bank come January, and sometimes thru February. I told you, my spending habits suck.
I kept arguing that the allowances were getting out of hand because we were having to buy “everything” from our allowances. Not really, but it felt like that to me. Plus, just using the term “allowance” made me feel like a little kid whose Mommy watches over his money for him and doles out what she thinks is “appropriate”. That attitude didn’t help my thoughts that our allowances were a good idea. When I would mention them to people, the reactions were one of two: 1. That’s a great idea, we should do that in our relationship! 2. You get what?! An allowance?! What are you, 12?
Yeah, that did wonders to reinforce my negative attitude towards allowances. However, I’ve come to realize though that they are great on many levels.
First: Even though we track everything, I don’t feel hamstrung by our “frugality” and I feel like I have the freedom to buy frivolous things if I want. I can also go out to eat if I want, or take Mrs. SSC out to lunch/dinner. It works great, and avoids those arguments where one party tries to justify buying something ridiculous. Imagine yourself trying to justifying to your significant other, why a $2000 banjo is a good purchase for “the household”. That took a LOT of saving, but zero arguing.
Second: It now makes me question a lot of purchases prior to buying them. Instead of buying something just because I’m “bored”, I want some kind of return on my money. For instance, I just replaced my bike. Prior to doing that, I researched bikes online, went to a couple of stores for test rides and thought about it for a few weeks before I decided on which bike to get. I love my new bike and since we go on bike rides 3-5 times a week, it’s worth it to me to have a comfy, nice bike. I haven’t even looked at banjo’s lately or other music instruments because I just don’t feel the return on investment will be there, and I won’t get a new banjo before selling one.
Third: We have an extra buffer in our FIRE budget calculations. Sure, maybe this is a stretch, but when we quit working if things go south and our dividends aren’t doing well, or stocks have dropped, this is a “bill” that we can immediately eliminate. I mean, it’s more of a book-keeping thing, but it’s money accounted in our budget that is available for us to use, so it would be easy to cut out if it needed to go to something else for a bit.
For us, they work well and have for about 6 years now. It’s also something that we plan on keeping into our “post-work” life. Even though the “allowance” seems to have become a nebulous “everything comes from allowances” budgeting category, it is still easy to build up a surplus. That being said, due to some unforeseen purchases that came up, I admit, I think I’m currently at $0 or maybe even negative. Ooops…
In general though, I’m a fan of some sort of system like this. I’ve seen other bloggers that have this system, The Maroon’s for instance, use a similar allowance type of fund. I think it’s a nice way to not feel so tied down to always being frugal or feeling like you can’t spend money. I can spend it, I just have to save. That makes me buy less, scrutinize my purchases more, and ultimately be more frugal than if we didn’t have this system in place.
What about your family? Do you have a similar discretionary funds system?
Would referring to it as “allowance” make you feel like a kid again too?