The Virtues of Blow Money

When we initially developed our budget, we built it tight.  Every penny was accounted for and had a place to go.  I was so proud.

Money, money

Money, money

Unfortunately, there were some problems with habitual–even compulsive–shopping in our house.   The change from “whatever we wanted” to “it’s not budgeted” was too much, too fast.

After a few months of arguments, we agreed to set up a “blow money” line item in the budget.   That’s money that is absolutely unaccountable. When a purchase comes out of that fund, no questions are allowed.   Whether it’s a new pair of shoes for her, or a new book for me, nobody gets to fight over it.   Sometimes, it’s a nice dinner out, other times it’s another gadget for the entertainment center.   It’s never a problem.

This provides two major benefits.

First, it balances the feeling of sacrifice.   If my wife never gets to buy anything, while at the same time, she’s watching our friends and neighbors flaunt their rampant consumerism, it makes her feel like she is giving up the good life.   We aren’t lacking for anything, but the trappings of middle-class “success” can be expensive.    Having an opportunity to participate in that horrible rat-race lessens the feeling that we are missing out.    Rationally, we know that the right thing is not to spend that money, but emotionally, it’s a necessity.

Second, it’s a safety valve.   Our finances are under tight control, which can cause pressure.   Finances are, after all, one of the leading causes of divorce.   Having a way to release that pressure makes everyone happier.    Habitual shoppers experience shopping the same way drug addicts experience their “high”.  That includes withdrawal.   The safety valve turns this from a “cold turkey” method of quitting to a weaning of the addiction.

Another minor benefit is that the blow money can serve as an opportunity fund to bridge the gap between the discretionary budget and a desired purchase. Last week, we ran across a curio cabinet that exactly matches our living room, but we didn’t have it budgeted.   Out comes the blow money, which, combined a portion of the discretionary budget and some negotiating, made the new cabinet affordable, without busting the budget.

This isn’t a system that works for everybody, but it keeps us on track.

How do you handle the stresses of a household budget?

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    1. We have individual fun money accounts in ING for our blow money. We each get $75 a month into those accounts plus 10% of any “extra” money we make from hobby jobs (hubby’s sports officiating and my blog).

      Hubby mostly spends his fun money on Curling, Magic: The Gathering, and games. I spend mine on Shirt Woot shirts and random stuff I want (a Weird Science DVD last week or going to a comedy club with friends).

      You’re right, having the little pressure release valves makes a budget run smoother…

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