It used to be that when I felt broke, I chased away the horrible feeling by turning to my bevy of credit cards. As long as I could spend money, it felt like I had money. And the more I used my credit cards to prove to myself that I wasn’t really broke, the more debt I created until finally I couldn’t fake it any longer.

It took me thirteen years to get out of the financial mess I got my family into. It was bad. But I did it and in the process I learned a very important lesson: No matter the situation, all of us need some money we can call our own.

At some point during that long journey back to financial health, my husband and I agreed to put me on an allowance. It changed everything for me. As long as I had my own money and it wasn’t money I was sneaking out of the account in hopes that he would not find out, I didn’t feel broke. And when I didn’t feel broke, I was much more willing to be frugal with the rest of our income. My change of attitude made all the difference.

Step 1: Talk it over. If you’re married, bring up the subject with your spouse. My husband totally endorses my allowance. He gets one, too. Determine what you’re going to spend your allowance on. It should be just for you, so no groceries or household essentials like toothpaste and laundry detergent.

Step 2: Set an amount. You can specify a set amount like $25 a week or $200 a month. Or go for the gold by taking a percentage of your take home as your allowance. Here’s a secret: It’s not the size of my allowance that really matters. It’s knowing that I can count on getting it every month that makes me feel secure.

Step 3: Create a schedule. Once you know the amount, determine how often you’re going to pay yourself. If you get your work paycheck monthly, you might want your allowance in one lump sum. Or would you prefer smaller amounts weekly or bi-weekly?

Step 4: Cash or ATM. There are several ways to receive an allowance, but cash is my favorite. No hassles, no worries. I put my allowance into an envelope that I keep in a secret place.

If cash isn’t for you, set up a savings account with access via a debit card. The benefit of doing it this way is that you’ll have a monthly statement that shows where your money goes.

Money has a way of leaking away undetected. If you just start spending your allowance without keeping track of where it goes, at least some of it is going to just disappear. The way to stop the unintended flow is to keep track in order to be accountable—to yourself. If you are keeping your allowance in an envelope, it’s handy to record your spending on the back of the envelope. Or, set up an allowance tracker in a simple notebook or look for one of the many free apps available for IOS and Android.

My allowance has grown over the years. However, there have been times when I’ve taken a pay cut for a period of time as we’ve needed to tighten our household spending. So it has gone both ways. And my raises have been the result of systematic negotiation with my financial partner, my husband.

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