How to Make a Budget

Episode Details

Air date: December 16 , 2018

Guest: Joe Tierney

Runtime: 35 minutes, 18 seconds

Summary: In the third episode of Season 2 and the final episode of 2018, Jen invites her husband into the studio to talk about the best thing he’s ever made for her: their family budget! Joe explains why the budget was made in the first place, how it’s changed over time, and what it’s given to their family. Other topics include making family traditions for the holidays and the motivation behind making.

What I Made This Month

Getting these three sweaters made in time for the big reveal on Thanksgiving day was challenging to say the lease. I knit up all three in two weeks.

From the transcript: “And now I’d like to tell you about something I made this month. I started making it a few months ago and will keep on making it until June of 2019. And to be fair, it’s something that my husband and I are making together. We’re growing our family and having a third child! this makes our budgeting even more critical heading into 2019 as we move around numbers and figure out how to make room for a fifth member of our family. This means so big changes ahead for the Tierney family. And I’m so excited to have one more tiny person to share all of these inspiring and empowering stories with. Thank you for continuing to take this journey with me!”

Episode Transcript 


Hello, and welcome to “How to Make a Memory,” the show that explores the items we make for one another and how they impact our relationships. My name is Jen Tierney and today I have a very special guest in the studio. I see him every day but so far he’s been spared from having to sit down in front of my microphone as the subject on one of my episodes. 

Jen: I’m excited you’ve decided to sit down with me, because…

Joe: Thank you for having me!

Jen: (laughter) because it’s helpful and its exciting because I know you better than anyone alive on the planet. I feel like we could potentially have a very good conversation.

Joe: You probably know our kids better. 

Jen: Than I know you? That’s true. Because I’ve know them their whole lives.

Joe: And they don’t have very long lives.

Joe: That was me being judgmental.

Jen: Yes, that’s right. I do know them very well, that’s a really good point.

Jen: You’re being helpful, right? You’re helping – correcting me! On my own show. Thank you husband.

That’s right, my husband Joe is here to talk about the single greatest thing he’s ever made for me and our family.


Joe: I make spreadsheets.

I know, this sounds like we’re taking a one-way trip to Nap Town. Once upon a time, I would have thought the same thing. But spreadsheets can tell astounding stories. 

Joe: I make lots of different spreadsheets. Today we’ll be talking about my family budget spreadsheet, which has been ongoing since before we got married.

Before we dive into this shared budget and all that its brought to our life together, I asked Joe to give me a little history into what inspired his love for spreadsheets, statistics, and tracking. Which is particularly impressive considering this all began in a pre-wearables world.

Joe: My love of spreadsheets really started with tracking time and really just tracking things. Even in high school, I tracked what I did every day for an entire summer. But not in a diary way, just in a “where was I and for how long?” And I concluded that I spent more time at my friend Seth’s house than I spent at my own house that summer. Then I took that love of spreadsheets to professional life as a structural engineer, which was more profitable. (laughter) But I’ve also kept track of different things along the way. As just a personal love and passion. Like gas mileage and D& D sessions. The turn-to-turn dice rolling I kept track of for entire campaigns.

So now that you understand Joe’s humble spreadsheet beginnings, we can get into where I come into the picture and how spreadsheets became a critical part of our relationship.

Joe: Then it developed into a financial hobby because we moved in together right out of college. And with that, we needed to start sharing expenses.

Jen: Yes.

Joe: And we were both confident and adamant that we kept everything straightforward. Not with the expectation that we weren’t going to be together. But in the case that we didn’t, we knew to the dollar how much each one of us owed the other.

Jen: At any given time.

Joe: At any given time. It started off also because I was unemployed right out of school in 2008, right before the stock market crash. And I was in the negative.

Jen: Yes, by a lot.

Joe: You were paying rent and then I went on a trip to England with my bros.

Jen: Your “bros”?

Joe: (laughter) By the end of the summer, in which I still owed you a good amount of money. And then I got a job. But we kept up the spreadsheet. And then it got to a point when you owed me enough money that I needed to make the decision that “Oh, we’re going to be together so I should stop holding you to this…”

Jen: Unimaginable amount of money.

Joe: Not unimaginable. It was a lot for then.

Jen: It was a lot for then. For now it’s not so bad, but for then…

Joe: That was fun. So anyway, then we started budgeting for our wedding. which was our first real collaboration on…

Jen: Oh yeah. On a budget.

Joe: Yeah, and a big one, as well.

Jen: Yes.

Joe: And that, we had a lot of fun with. And you kind of gave me the reigns to decide what could fit in the budget and how it would work. And that started our initial – that tug-of-war of… Someone in a couple – someone’s going to want to spend more than the other. It could be different on each transaction. It could be in general. But there are going to be things that one person wants, and…

Jen: Yeah, there are certainly parts of our budget that you spend more on than I do and vice versa.

Joe: And through those conversations you kind of figure out how all of that is going to work.

Jen: Yeah, it’s all a negotiation, like a relationship negotiation.

Joe: And just learning how to communicate that without being overly judgmental (laughter). Or being able to do that without hiding things. Being able to do that without feeling overly criticized. All of these were challenges that came up. And once we got married, I started the Family Spreadsheet that lives to this day.

So we got married, our expenses truly combined, and things were going pretty smoothly. But what was the point of the budget now? What was all of this for?

Joe: So each month I had a – well each year, I set out yearly expectations on how much we would make and how much we would spend on each category. And then each month I would adjust it based on upcoming expected expenses. And the reason that became important was because we were saving to buy a house. 

Jen: Yes.

Joe: And saving to put 20% down in the Boston area is a lot of money.

Jen: Mmmhmmm. Yes it is.

Joe: And so to do that, we needed to be pretty knowledgeable about where our money was going and were it was coming in.

So as you can probably tell, my husband is a pretty level-headed guy. And his version of making is very different from my previous guests. So I wanted to dig a bit further and see if he is more like my previous guests than he lets on.

Jen: So you’ve given a very thorough description of what the budget looks like and all of that stuff. And I think that its good for you to go through that because it gives people an idea of the level of detail you go into and your personality in that it is very detail-oriented, that you’re very realistic and reasonable and how you plan these things. You want there to be reasons. You want there to be goals and all of that. But I think that the part that’s most interesting to me and the part that we don’t necessarily talk about as often is the “why” behind that. The podcast is very much about “You make a thing. That’s great. Tell me a little bit about why you make that thing. And why it’s important to you and why it’s important to other people.” And I think that we just sort of started to touch on it in that we were saving for a house. And the budget, to me, is valuable and important because of everything it has allowed us to do. And because we’ve been frugal and thoughtful and smart about what we’re doing now and where we want to go into the future we’ve been able to do a lot of things that I don’t think we would have been able to had we not been planning and thinking critically about what we were doing on a day-to-day, month-to-month basis. So I’m interested in the “why” behind the budget for you personally.

Joe: Yeah, so personally, it’s a personal challenge. And there’s nothing I love more than a personal challenge. Something that I’m excited about and it makes me excited to not only to reach the goal. Actually the goal isn’t really as big of an excitement for me as the process of “how can I – how can we better manage our day-to-day expenses or how can I better manage our monthly bills so that we can be the most efficient we can with the money that we have?” And that challenge is something I really enjoy. Which is why I do it and it’s why most people don’t. Because it’s not rewarding in itself. Unless you enjoy that challenge. Unless you enjoy that puzzle. It can be very daunting to look at your past spending. To have discussions about what that spending means for you and your partner and your family. It can be daunting to have to – one of my personal challenges is trying to talk to customer services people. 

Jen: It’s interesting to me because… I’m trying to pull out of you this very like, you know “what is your motivation behind the budget? What do you want to achieve with it? Where are we going? What is this journey that we’re on together?” And its funny because your personality and the cornerstones of who you are are shining through in how you’re presenting this. And I don’t know why I’m trying to get out of you anything other than “I do it because it’s a challenge. I do it because its hard. I do it because the process is  interesting to me.”

Joe: Yeah, so that’s what makes me different from every other person you’ve had on. Is that everyone seems to be making things for other people. I just make things for myself. (laughter) Well, not making things just for myself. It’s for my satisfaction. If other people enjoy it, that’s great. I’m happy that other people can enjoy the time I’ve spent on the budget. That we’ve been able to buy our house, to have a family, to send our kids to daycare. Those things also make me happy. But that’s not why I do the spreadsheet. 

Jen: Yeah, those are sort of like icing on the cake. Not the cake itself.

Ok, clearly Joe is not a standard maker and what he makes doesn’t fit the same mold that many of our creations fit into. But what I started to realize as I spoke with Joe was that this episode isn’t about what Joe’s making means to him. It’s about what it means to me.

Jen: When you first started tracking everything, I had a really hard time with feeling very restricted, and feeling judged, and vulnerable, and that my money wasn’t mine any more, and that I couldn’t just make decisions for me. And the way that I came to terms with that and the way that I overcame those feelings, was by seeing the outcome of how much more enjoyable and successful our lives could be because of the budget. Because of this thing you were making me do. When it came time to buy a house, it was so much less stressful than the experience I had seen other people go through. Because we could put down 20%, we could get a better interest rate. Everything was easier and better. And because of that, because of that outcome, I went, “The budget is amazing. I have to live by the budget. It’s going to make everything in my life better.” And I don’t think it was until that moment that I really realized that, “Oh, this is important and valuable. And it’s good that Joe is making this.” 

Joe: I do remember how many compliments we got from our mortgage broker on (laughter) how prepared two 28-year – we were 28 when we were…?

Jen: Yeah! We were 28-years-old and I remember you showed him the budget and he was beside himself. He was like, “I”ve never seen anything like this.”


Joe: Well first of all, most people don’t show him a budget.

Jen: You knew he’d appreciate it!

Joe: So I had read that a mortgage broker might like to see a budget to make sure you can afford whatever you’re trying to buy. And he was just like, “Yeah, you can afford, you can afford whatever you’re doing.” (laughter)

Jen: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. And that people had made far more risky choices financially and with home buying than what we were making. It made me feel confident. It made me feel like all of the choices we’d made up until that point had been worth it. I remember having this feeling when we were renting. And I remember feeling like I was making a good enough salary that I shouldn’t be, as my Mom calls it, “living with two feet in one shoe”. And I was like, “Oh, I should be able to go out to dinner whenever I want and I should be able to …” you know? Because I was making a reasonable salary and so were you. And, I mean, it wasn’t a ton of money, but it was certainly more money than I had when we were in college. And I was like, “Why aren’t we going out all the time? Why am I not going out shopping whenever I want and buying things on Amazon as I please?” And I think that it was because we hadn’t had enough time of making good, smart choices, for there to be something that I could see as the result of those choices. There wasn’t anything yet that I could point to and say, “See? This is what you’re doing this.” And now, having had two children and been able to keep working and send them to daycare and being able to support our family the way that we do, it so obvious and clear why it was so important that we started as early as we did and made real conscious decisions every day.

Joe: The reason I told the story about why we started is because I didn’t know any of this stuff then. Like I didn’t start it knowing that we were going to save to buy a house or that we were going to be planning our wedding. Or that we were going to use it as a tool to decide what makes us happiest in our lives. That’s something I… every year I look at the budget, at each item, and say “Did this bring our family happiness for what it cost?” That’s how I take things off or increase budgets and make those kind of decisions. My goal isn’t to be cheap. In most cases its to be frugal. Because if there’s a thing that makes us happy, I want us to put money towards that. I want us to put as much as we’re comfortable putting towards it. And I would recommend that to anyone. But to do that, we went and cut out the things that weren’t bring us as much… maybe they did bring us happiness. 

Jen: They did. Just not as much.

Joe: Yeah, not comparatively. And we also looked at how much time we spent doing those things. And if it’s something we didn’t do often, it was easy to get rid of. Or if it was something we did a lot but didn’t get a lot of value from.

Jen: Yeah, I remember that was the case for cable. We were spending… I was spending just as obscene amount of time doing nothing but watching television when I got home from work. And the value was basically nothing.

Joe: Well, it was entertaining.

Jen: It was entertainment. That was it. But I think that…

Joe: Which is fine.

Jen: Yeah. Yeah, it was fine for then. It was fine for then. But I think that when we cut it out, I realized pretty quickly that there were things that I could do with that time that had so much more value to me. And that’s really when I started creating more. Before that, I wasn’t creating because I was watching television. And then I started learning how to play the guitar, and I started writing more. And you know, that was when I was like, “well I can’t just sit and waste my time in front of the tv anymore. So I can go and do things!” And I got to start figure out what I wanted to be making, which was good.

That was a pretty powerful revelation for me. After several years of doing the budget, we had determined that the cost of cable and what it was bringing to our lives didn’t fit into our equation for happiness. So out it went. And from there my dedication to making kicked into high gear. I can thank the budget for giving me the time to do the things that I love most. 

Alright, enough talk about the budget. Let’s move on to something a little bit different. I wanted to know if there had been anything else Joe had made during the year that he felt particularly proud of. There was one specific thing that had come to my mind. A project that had meant a great deal to me. But I was curious to see if Joe felt it was notable enough to make the cut. It wasn’t the first thing he remembered, but we got there eventually.

Jen: So, we’ve been through the year. What, aside from the budget this year, have you made that you are particularly proud of making?

Joe: Did I fix the roof this year?

Jen: You did!

Joe: Yeah, I think that… that was pretty… I was impressed by that.

Jen: You did a good job.

Joe: We had probably like a five-by-five area of the roof, shingles got torn off in a wind storm and I went up and repaired it.

Jen: You went up and repaired it…

Joe: Before it rained.

Jen: Yeah, and I remember thinking to myself that this was probably really dangerous and I should probably put my foot down and be like, “No, you’re not going to do this.” Because, I mean, you were up there, it was in the Springtime, maybe? So, it was still, the days were still pretty short.

Joe: It wasn’t too cold. But it got dark and I hadn’t finished yet.

Jen: Yeah, and you had not finished and it was nearly pitch black out and you were up there hammering shingles into the roof. And the kids were about ready to go to bed, which tells you how late it was. And I was just… I was just beside myself. I was like, “He’s going to fall off and break his neck and either be paralyzed forever or die. And, ok. I guess I own this house alone now.” Immediately, my brain went from “He’s on the roof” to “He’s off the roof and I have to plan a funeral.” That’s how quick my brain goes.

Joe: That’s worst case scenario mentality.

Jen: Yeah, it is. That’s how my brain works.

Joe: Yeah, so that was, that was… I’m trying to think of what else I… Oh! We made the fence! 

Jen: That’s right.

Joe: That – oh, come on! We made the fence!

Jen: We did, we made the fence.

Joe: We made a fence to corral our children.

Jen: Our terrible, terrible children.

Joe: From running off into the road and into the neighbor’s garage.

Jen: Yes, our kids like to escape. And after years of requesting, very nicely, that we erect a fence…

Joe: I wouldn’t call it “nicely” but you were but you were pretty adamant about the fence thing. And so we had to come up with a compromise.

Jen: mmhmm, it’s a semi-permanent fence solution.

Joe: Yes, a semi-permanent fence, right outside the backyard. It’s like a large playpen.

Jen: It’s a glorified playpen, yeah. But, it’s a real fence! And we really had to dig post holes. We really had to… it took days!

Joe: Yeah, the whole design of that was…

Jen: Yeah, because our backyard is on a slope, so it meant that all of the fence pieces that went in had to go in at different depths and had to all be level. It was a very intense process. But, let me ask you this: Since making that thing, how much better have our lives been?

Joe: I mean, much better. It’s definitely worth it. I mean, if we didn’t have the fence, the kids wouldn’t go outside.


Jen: That’s right! We couldn’t allow them to go outside, ever.

Joe: I mean, they would, but it would have been very limited. Because they were going outside and after about ten minutes they would be in another yard. 

Jen: Yeah, we just spent the entire time chasing them.

Joe: Yeah, so now we can go out, or we could send them out and work in the kitchen, which has a view over the…

Jen: Yeah, to me, it’s given them more freedom and it’s given us more freedom. Because now I can just open the door, keep the door to the backyard open and they can come and go all summer long, from the backyard. I mean, I’m always either on the porch or in the kitchen when I send them out. So I’m always, you know, 15 seconds away, at most, from them should something happen. But to me, it provides enough of a visual barrier between them and I that I think they feel that they can explore and be a little bit mischievous in ways that I think are really good for them that we didn’t have before. I think that’s been a really big part of it. I think Emma’s… I don’t know if it’s just because she’s gotten older and that’s what would have happened naturally anyway, but I think that this summer, giving her that time to be independent, was really good for her. Because I think she’s much better with us, and socially, and with herself than she was before the summertime. Before the fence.

Since we’re getting so close to the end of the year, and the holiday season is upon us, I thought I’d be remiss to not ask Joe at least one holiday themed question. In last year’s Christmas episode, I spoke with my friend Rachel about making holiday traditions. And this year, Joe and I are diving head first into that journey.

Jen: So, this year, for the first time, we’ll be spending Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the following day completely just the four of us. And I think that we’ve always, because we’ve always been somewhere else or somebody else has been with us, we’ve often deferred to other people’s traditions and other people’s plans. We kind of just go along for the ride. And so this year is the first year that we get to really make it our own. And so, I think that my history as a person, my childhood has filled me with lots of ideas for different fun family traditions that we can adopt or continue. I think that that’s a conversation you haven’t been super willing to have up until now. 

Joe: Yeah, I’m coming around to it more recently. I don’t know why.

Jen: I don’t know. Maybe you’re just turning into a sappy old Dad.

Joe: Yeah, I don’t know where it came from. I’m trying to figure out why I was so against the idea of making traditions. I think it was more of a worst case scenario. I don’t like being forced to do things. And then, more specifically, forced to do the same things every year that I don’t like. So I was really just not looking forward to what those traditions could be. But that I started to consider that I could have input. And if I could hav input, then I’d be more willing to go along. But your question was what traditions am I looking forward to?

Jen: Yeah. Is there a tradition that we haven’t really started yet or that you used to do or…

Joe: There’s a tradition that I’ve been thinking about recently, I haven’t specifically shared it with you, that I want to institute for Christmas Day.

Jen: Ok!

Joe: My favorite thing about Christmas is spending the day actually interacting with what you’ve opened and with the people you’ve opened it with. My idea is to have a gift for each person that I can do with them and do that on Christmas Day. And this might come from childhood angst. Being pulled away from that activity by going to other family’s houses or needing to be present in other things. But that’s something I’d really like to be present for and have that to be the bulk of the day.

Jen: I mean, certainly in my house growing up, Christmas was kind of this really extravagant occasion. It was the one day a year when the train went completely off the rails and (laughter). You know, my Dad turned into a real sap around Christmastime and he couldn’t see something anywhere that could possible bring any of his three children joy without buying it. He just had to buy all the things. Everything. There was just so many gifts. And I think that in a lot of ways, while that was really fun, while the effect of it when you came downstairs was really magical and helped to keep all three of us children really invested in Santa for a really long time, I think that it was also so much that you couldn’t really appreciate any one thing. Because, there was just so much. And then the second you opened it all, you then had this marathon of events during the day. And then by the time you got home and could enjoy any of the things, the magic of it and the wonder of it all had sort of worn off. And you were like, “oh, yeah, I got that thing.” And it stopped being as exciting as when you had initially opened it. So I fell like, if we’re just like, “We’re home. This is what we’re doing today. And here’s this one special thing that is an actual activity or thing that you can do, I think that is really special. I think that’s really… that makes the day probably more memorable.

At this point, we’d come to my standard final question that I put to each of my guests. Given Joe’s stance on making from our conversation so far, I had felt like we had sort of covered it already. But I asked anyway, and the response that Joe gave stunned and delighted me.

Jen: You are not what I would classify as a traditional maker. I wouldn’t call you someone who is a maker. There are few things that you make and they are not often things that you make with your hands. But they are incredibly valuable and helpful and have allowed our family to be a family. So, that being the case…

Joe: I make dinner.

Jen: You do make dinner. That’s true. You make dinner almost every night of the week. So, in that way, you are a maker. But you’re not a hobbyist maker.

Joe: But also, again, I make the food for my own enjoyment. And I’m glad other people enjoy it. But that’s not why I make it. (laughter)

Jen: You’re really… you’re really drilling home this like, “I don’t do anything for other people. I just do it for me.”

Joe: I find that I’m… I’m just being honest. (Jen laughs) And I think other people…

Jen: Should also be honest?

Joe: Yeah, I think other people are lying when they say, “I do these things for other people.” Because I really – I think deep down, they enjoy doing the thing, which is why they do it. If they didn’t enjoy doing it, they probably wouldn’t do it for other people. 

Jen: Well…. Yes, there is usually a benefit to the person making the thing. Either their being paid for it or they get some sort of self-satisfaction out of it or whatever. Yes, that is true. But I wouldn’t call that necessary the primary enjoyment that a person gets out of something.

Joe: Not always.

Jen: It could be the initial reason the person started making the thing. But it might not be what keeps them there.

Joe: I’m not saying that all people are lying. I’m just saying, there are some people who are lying. Or lying to themselves. (laughter)

Jen: Ummmm, are you looking at me?

Joe: (laughter) No.

Jen: Ohhhh, jeez. Alright, anyway, before you interrupted me. The things that you do make, like dinner and like our budget, have tremendous value to our family and allow our family to exist and be happy and healthy. What do you think, either for you personally or for people in general, why do you think making is so important? 

Joe: What’s funny is the first thing that came to my mind was not what you would expect from what we were talking about. Alright so the first thing that comes to my mind is shared experience. And that shared experience of enjoying what that person has made and how it can positively effect their environment either in the short or long term. Which is less personal. There is a lot of personal fulfillment. But a lot of that personal fulfillment can come from sharing what you’ve made for others. Even if you were going to make it regardless of what other people wanted. So yeah, I’d say shared experience is what’s important about making to me.

Well, that was an unexpected twist. Turns out that this conversation caused Joe to think about making differently than he had in the past and he was processing his own stance while the mic was turned on. The following morning, as we packed the kids lunches, he gave me some further insight after having slept on it. He explained that the motivation for making is a ratio of two different things for each person. It’s partly for yourself and partly for someone else. And while his motivation is more driven by his own interest, that doesn’t mean that the other side of the equation is less valuable or meaningful once the creation is complete. That shared experience he was talking about, it’s not his initial motivation for creating something, but he gets a great deal of satisfaction from it. So I guess he isn’t that different from the rest of us after all.


And now I’d like to tell you about something I made this month. I started making it a few months ago and will keep on making it until June of 2019. And to be fair, it’s something that my husband and I are making together. We’re growing our family and having a third child! This makes our budgeting even more critical heading into 2019 as we move around numbers and figure out how to make room for a fifth member of our family. This means some big changes ahead for the Tierney family. And I’m so excited to have one more tiny person to share all of these inspiring and empowering stories with. Thank you for continuing to take this journey with me!  

Well, that brings us to the end of this month’s episode. You can find show notes and other extras for all of the show’s episodes over at Find us on Instagram @howtomakeamemory. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please consider heading over to iTunes to rate and review so more folks like yourself can find the show. “How to Make a Memory” is a member of The Geekend Legion podcast network. Our logo is by Becky Carpenter, our music is by Chuck Salamone, we get system admin support from Greg Thole. Now, go make something for someone you love.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.