Now that my family and I have been living under our new monthly budget for a few weeks now, we’re starting to get in the swing of things. I’ve got sending me all the text and email alerts I can handle (I could probably change my account settings to get fewer alerts, but at this early stage of budgeting, I find them oddly comforting, if somewhat annoying), letting me know when I’m about to go – or have already gone – over budget.

During that time, I’ve had the chance to talk about our new budget to a few of my family members and close friends. It’s amazing what you can learn about budgeting from being open about it with those close to you. For example, it wasn’t until I talked to my best friend, Jeni, that I realized I’d completely forgotten to include our family dog in our budget. Since my dog eats, requires monthly grooming (she’s a bichon; I can’t handle all that hair on my own), and needs a monthly heartworm pill, this was a pretty big oversight; I’ve added $60/month to my budget to compensate.

But it was my conversation with my mom and dad about the budget that proved to be a real eye-opener.

My Parents’ Monthly Budget

My mom and dad, to my knowledge, have never adhered to a monthly budget. It’s kind of ironic, because everything I remember about learning to budget came from them; yet, they never made their own budget public knowledge – at least to me.

That’s not to say my parents didn’t have budgeting priorities. There were certain things they really cared about, and other things that fell to the wayside. For example, my mom has never been a big fan of cooking; her idea of meal planning involves picking up a menu at a restaurant downtown. On top of that, my mom and dad have decidedly different ideas of what constitutes a tasty meal. Eating out a few nights of a week, I honestly believe, has kept my parents’ marriage alive and well for nearly 38 years.

This is just one quirk of my parents’ budget, but it’s not the only one. And the more my parents and I talked about making a budget that I realized the apple hadn’t fallen all that far from the tree.

Like Mother, Like Daughter

Like my mom, I’m not a fan of cooking; I buy a lot of prepared meals from the ready-made section of the grocery store, as well as a lot of simple foods that can be easily assembled at mealtime. While eating out 4-5 days a week like my parents isn’t really feasible for our budget right now, taking the kids to a restaurant once a week is a lifeline for me; it honestly keeps me sane.

But there are other ways where our financial tendencies overlap.

When I made our monthly budget, I only put $50 a month aside for clothes for our entire family. That means I’m spending $600 a year on clothes for the four of us, including two kids who seem to grow out of their wardrobes every other week. My husband and I continue to wear clothes we’ve had since college; I actually still wear a few dresses I’ve had since high school. If you were to take a look in my mother’s closet, you’d see a sparse array of simple clothing; she buys classic pieces and wears them for years. My dad is much the same way. Their clothing budget is basically nonexistent.

My parents also make an annual vacation a priority. They don’t budget for it – at this point in their lives, they’ve got enough disposable income that spending $2,000 a year on a trip isn’t a lot of money (ha! I wish!). But each year, you know they’re going to take a trip somewhere. Their vacations are rarely lavish or exotic; my dad – a meat and potatoes type of diner – is also a fairly simple vacationer. You’ll typically find them at the beach, taking a road trip across the U.S., or visiting a holiday mecca like Disney World, where they’ll be heading this year. My husband and I also plan for a family vacation every year; last year, we went to Disney World, and this year, we’ll be heading to one of our favorite beaches.

Having a Budget Role Model

I never really realized growing up how much I was learning about budgeting from my parents – like I said, they didn’t really talk about having a budget in the first place. Yet, I ultimately adopted a lot of their rituals and habits about spending their money on the types of ancillary expenses that sometimes get left out of a budget.

There are pros and cons to having a budget role model. If they’ve managed their money effectively – as I believe my parents have – then you are learning a positive example from those closest to you. Of course, if you’re surrounded by spendthrifts and other unseemly role models, you may learn what not to do with your money.

Did you have a budget role model? Was that person a positive or negative example?

Libby Balke

Libby Balke