Balance – A Healthy Way to Manage Family Finances

dads and finances banner 2012There is a universal concern among ordinary dads in our island in the sun. That concern is about our present or future financial situation.

Who is rich? The one who appreciates what he has.” – Rabbi Ben Zoma

The words of wisdom above sound simple enough, but here in Singapore, average dads are constantly inundated by messages like this, “Singapore is among the world’s most expensive cities”.

Of course, we might find it hard to appreciate living in that situation – ordinary dads, in an expensive city.

Signs that finances are a strain in a dad’s life are when concerns about money lead to arguments, weakening relationships with loved ones, and a sense of helplessness.

Finding your Family’s Financial Fulcrum

What you can try to do is to find your family’s financial fulcrum. This is the point where your effort to earn more money is in balance with your effort to improve your family and personal life.

It is different for each family, but it is important to be able to talk. Discuss this with your family and come to an agreement on what your financial situation is, and on the lifestyle you can sustainably live for each phase in life.

The idea might not be new to you, but it is useful to regularly take stock of financial matters as a dad, and ensure that you communicate about your financial situation and aspirations consistently with your wife and children.

How Do You Find the Right Balance in Your Situation?

Buddha has been quoted as saying that health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, and faithfulness the best relationship.

To find contentment in your financial situation, start with knowing yourself. Do this exercise as a family.

  • Make a list of the 10 most important and expensive things in your life that money has bought you.
  • Put a tick next to the top three to five items that make you the most happy.
  • Write down the reason why, next to these items.
  • Add to the list, three to five things that you are thankful for, that money cannot buy.

Finally, let’s call your consolidated list, your family’s current asset list.

Discuss this list with your family, and resolve to set aside the appropriate time and energy to maintaining and growing those assets in your list.

Most importantly, the sharing of values and alignment of everyone’s efforts enriches your family life. You will also gain an appreciation for how much choice you have in determining a lifestyle that is right for you. A family that is conscious about their lifestyle choices and living within their means will find it easier to be content.

Healthy Aspirations

Contentment and aspirations can co-exist in a healthy way.

For example, let’s say you want to be able to afford a major holiday in the next 24 months like a winter retreat to Hokkaido with your family of four.

Once you, as a family, have decided that going on this holiday is an important goal, and realise that you need to save up for it, here is one way to proceed:

  • Provide a dollar amount as a target for each member to contribute to a holiday fund.
  • Let each member propose how he or she will help to save and contribute for the holiday. (For example, forgo one or two ‘luxuries’ each month; work in a temporary or part-time position.)

When each member has provided realistic plans and is able to meet his or her savings target, it is a good indication that the entire family wants the holiday badly enough (so you have consensus and an aspiration) and everyone is willing to sacrifice something meaningful to make it happen (perspiration).

When aspiration matches perspiration, you know that you have found balance between your lifestyle and your willingness to do what it takes to afford it.

On the flip side of the coin, when perspiration does not match aspiration, for instance, when someone wants something that you cannot afford, and the family is unable to make the sacrifices necessary to meet the financial shortfall, then perhaps it would be helpful for the household to ask the following questions:

  • What makes this aspiration important to us all?
  • If it is important or necessary, what is the shortfall?

As a family, determine if a more long-term sacrifice (For example, taking a legal loan) is called for.

When you find balance and a way to be content as a household, and the financial situation is under control, your chances at a happy family life and healthy aspirations will be quite good.

About the Author: The Dads for Life Resource Team comprises local content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals, dedicated to developing useful resources for dads.

First published on 04-05-2012