Budget tames runaway spending

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Dear Debt Adviser,
My husband and I have $80,000 in credit card debt in addition to a mortgage of $136,000. We are paying our bills on time but I do not see a way out of this if we continue making the minimum payments.

He makes $80,000 and I make $20,000.  He refuses to make a budget because he knows we won’t stick to it.

What are our options? When is bankruptcy an option?  Please send me a response because I don’t get the “Personal Finance” channel.
— Angeline

Dear Angeline,
Your situation is out of control. Having a year’s salary in credit card debt and not wanting to stop spending is a recipe for disaster.

If the two of you won’t agree to make and stick to a budget or spending plan, I suggest you write to your credit card companies and close all your accounts. This will force you to live on what you earn and may provide an eye-opening lesson in how much money you are spending on nonessentials.

Having to peal off the old-fashioned green stuff (in Rhode Island we call it “scarole,” after the leafy green Italian vegetable escarole) for nonessentials may make more of an impression than swiping a seemingly bottomless card.

Given the credit crunch that’s going on and your debt-to-income ratio, I believe it may only be a matter of time before your lenders lower the credit line to your existing balance. Then, you will be one more charge away from penalties and default interest rates of 25 percent to 30 percent.

So don’t give up on budgeting. Invite your sweetie to join you in some time alone with a glass of whatever relaxes you while planning all the wonderful things you want to do in life together. Shared goals are a great way to build support for a spending plan.

Planning your way out of this situation and into the rest of your life will require discipline and teamwork, but based on your good income, I’m sure you can do it!

These are five benefits of using a budget or spending plan.

1. Reach financial goals. You have a better chance of realizing your goals if they are openly shared and agreed upon. Even Santa won’t bring you a present unless you tell him you want it.

2. Gain control of your money. Without some type of budget or plan, you are not fully in charge of where your money goes and you are more likely to spend on impulse.

3. Be prepared for the unexpected. If your husband was ever a Boy Scout, he’d understand the value of being prepared. A budget will allow you to include a monthly savings amount that is placed in an emergency savings account. This account is used to cover expenses such as major car repairs, loss of income from a layoff or medical bills. Your goal should be three to six months of living expenses in this account.

4. Get and stay out of debt. With the help of your budget, you will stop adding to your debt load and hopefully decrease balances by paying off debt.

5. Attain peace of mind. Financial stress can cause a multitude of problems — including marital tensions — that may be relieved when you take control of your finances with a budget.

I hope you both are able to agree that budgeting before you have no choice makes sense. To help with the budgeting and goal setting process, check out Bankrate’s Financial Literacy package on budgeting.

Finally, I don’t suggest bankruptcy as a first choice for you as you make above the median income and may only qualify for a Chapter 13 plan and five years of government-imposed budgeting. Besides, unless you get your spending under control, bankruptcy won’t help in the long run.