I recently read a story about a husband and wife that were going through some hard times and decided to end their marriage. While in anticipation of the divorce, the husband thought it wise to go through his finances to make sure things were taken care of. In the midst of filing old receipts, he found old checks that had been written out to the hotel were he and his wife had their honeymoon. As he continued going through his desk he saw another old check for the down payment on their first home, then a car payment appeared and finally a check he’d made out to the hospital; the day his daughter was born.

After an emotional moment, he’d realized the investment he and his wife had made on their marriage. The checks he wrote were symbols of their story – a list of priorities he and his wife held while married. He picked himself up off the floor and ran to the phone to call his wife. After some awkward explanations of why he was calling, he told her what he’d found. Would she find the checks as valuable as he did? Would she work with him to rebuild their marriage?

While some of us may not understand this crisis, the checks or the story of the checks is a common one. What we spend our money on means something; it tells us what we value, how we save and to whom we give. In fact, if you want to know someone’s heart, look at their finances. The checks will reveal the truth of what we value. This is why the wife and I have personal conversations about what we want in life. My wife has always asked me what the plan is. I didn’t understand it for a long time because to me it was simple. The money came in; we paid the bills we could and the rest we spent.

I didn’t realize what she was asking. Many times as a family we get “caught in the weeds,” we wake up, rush the kids off to school, run to work, Netflix & Chill- then repeat. Budgets get a bad rap because they often tell us what we can’t or shouldn’t do, so naturally, most people hate them.

But if we change that thought from what we can’t do to what we will invest in, we can have a bank account that reflects the real us and not just the life happening around us.

1. Create a life plan OR a family plan.

It’s not that complicated really. Sit down with your spouse and start asking the hard questions. I usually start with something like this. “babe, if you didn’t have a job, and all the money in the world, what would you want to do?” Sounds a little daydreamy but it works. It gets your brain to start thinking about things a little differently. I love this question because it changes from decade to decade.

The hopes and dreams you once had as a child shouldn’t have changed. The daydreams of you being a firefighter/superhero or a graphic designer/soccer hero should be the dreams that keep you afloat. The only differences I feel should change the HOW. The how of what you want should change but never the what! [enter] “budget talk” – This is what budgets represent to me, a means to allow me to plan out how superhero fits into my current situation and how much it’ll take to get me there.

2. Get excited about dreaming again.

This year my daughter made the summer national team in soccer. Her mother and I were shocked, in a good way but shocked. She’s only been playing soccer for about a year and a half now, and she already wants to play on the women’s Olympic team. I love it; she’s got her head in the clouds and her heart in a soccer ball; I’m super jealous. We talk a lot about what it’s going to take to get her ready for her first game on the women’s US team. Her eyes light up, her ears hone in, and then daddy says “so we have to budget your time” …what???

I’m always telling her that her road the women’s US team is going to rely on how she choices to spend her time (time is money). Are we going to spend all day gabbing about what, “what’s her face” said at school or get our homework & chores done so we can get to soccer practice on time? I think she gets it.

3. Start today, right now.

There’s no motion for forwarding motion to get things going. I know it sounds cliché, in fact, I’m cringing as I write this but there’s no other way to say it. I realize that number 1 & 2 are the easy parts, but this last one here is where the gold medals lie. We can plan and budget for the stars, but if we don’t jump, nothing will ever happen.

The man in this story was a great example of these three points if you think about it. He found his dream; the family plan was right there in front of him in the checks he’d written. He’d lost sight of it but found hope in the memories. I can only imagine the excitement he felt remembering the first time he held his daughter in the hospital, the check was just a reminder. Who knows what happened after he spoke to his wife but I’d like to think they talked and found a new excitement about a dream they once had.

Budgets are budgets they can be as complicated as you make them. The key to wielding their magic lies in creating them from a dream.