My name is David Larsen. My wonderful wife and I live in California with several lovely children.
SpendLight exists to improve people's lives. That might sound a bit idealistic, but I truly believe that improving spending habits can make a major positive impact in people's lives. Money problems can cause a lot of heartache.
Allow me to tell you about how we improved our spending habits and how SpendLight was conceived.
Sticking to a budget has never been easy in our household. In the early years of our marriage, we were extremely sloppy with our spending. At that that time we had no kids, our fixed expenses were manageable, and we rarely encountered significant unexpected expenses. This was before the economy began to tighten up (around 2008).
Even though our spending wasn't excellent, we really weren't feeling much pain. Thankfully, I had a good job which covered over a great number of poor spending decisions.
If you would have asked us about the value of wise spending, we would have nodded our heads in agreement. But we were actually doing a pretty poor job. Intellectually, I knew that we ought to be more careful. I knew we could be saving more money. But I wasn't yet serious about improving our spending habits.
But as circumstances changed, our careless spending began to cause us more trouble. Not only did it strain our financial situation, but the whole issue became a sore subject in our marriage. We both knew trouble was brewing, but we frankly didn't want to talk about it.
Elsewhere I may tell you more about the problems our spending caused, but let me first describe our failed efforts at sticking to a budget.
I naturally approach problems analytically. I figured using a budget as a couple wasn't rocket science:
Easy, right? If you follow those five rules, then you win! No more spending problems.
That was essentially our plan for several years. It wasn't hard to figure out our monthly income. It wasn't hard to assign that money to appropriate categories. It all looked great on paper.
It seemed the plan was foolproof. Our written budget was evidence that we had enough money to cover our expenses. All we needed to do was stick to the plan.
Making a plan for our money was a necessary first step, but we had a lot of trouble sticking to the plan.
This wasn't going to be easy for us as a couple. We had good intentions, but we failed to limit our spending to the budgeted amount.
It was frustrating for us to fail at something that's conceptually so simple. For example, if you have $50 to spend on entertainment, it should not be very hard to stay within that limit. It seems like anyone with good intentions can stick to such a simple plan, right?
Our results varied. I don't mean that we had some good results and some bad results. We actually had a mix of mediocre results and horrible results. In fact, at one point several years into our marriage I calculated that we didn't have a single month where we stuck to our planned budget. Not once. It had literally never happened.
This was tremendously distressing. I would go over our written budget again and again. Was I doing the math wrong? Was the budget feasible? I'd make sure we had appropriate wiggle room where necessary. There was nothing at all wrong with our budget. It all penciled out nicely.
We found ourselves having to face some unpleasant, yet undeniable facts. There was enough money to cover our expenses, and the budget itself wasn't bad. The problem was us. We were bad at following a budget. We were bad at spending money.
We didn't need to fix our budget, we needed to fix our behavior.
How did that make us feel? Defeated? Depressed? Not really. We actually felt relieved.
By identifying the root cause, we finally had a chance at success. We realized that fussing with the numbers in our budget wasn't the key to success. We had to work on understanding our spending habits and create a realistic approach to getting our habits under control.
It was through this journey that I realized the best tool for us would focus on our behavior. Dividing up our income into a budget was easy, but learning to make wise decisions was an ongoing process. And as a couple, it was especially important to get on the same page about what deviations from the plan were good and bad.
SpendLight was created as a spending journal to help us record our spending decisions and evaluate our spending behavior. Using this shared spending journal has helped us tremendously.
In the past our spending mistakes would often incite conflict. Today, when we feel that one of us made a poor spending decision, we now just ask each other, "Could you please put that in SpendLight?" In other words, we don't make it personal. We allow each other to acknowledge what may have been less than ideal. And if we disagree upon what was wise or unwise, we can have a more fruitful discussion than if we had just launched into an annoyed line of questions.
If the idea of a spending journal seems a bit odd, you might think of the similarities to developing healthy habits relating to fitness or diet. Food journals and exercise journals can be a great help in reaching those goals. Our spending needed to go on a diet, and just like weight loss this wasn't just a one-time effort. We needed to develop habits that would stick.