The saying “the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray” could not be more true when talking about a budget. Most people think that the budget needs to be set at the beginning of the month and once done, it is chiseled in stone never to be changed. The reality of this way of budgeting means at the end of the month after life happens, or the “oops” and “oh yeahs”, the money was spent differently from what was expected, and then give up on budgeting all together because it’s impossible to live on a budget. And they are right, if using this method.
But what if I told you that budgeting is easy, that it could be changed, that it can be flexible yet control spending. I may just be carted to the loony bin for that kind of talk. But it is true! The idea behind the budget is to try to plan for the “life” part and make educated guesses.
First: Don’t set yourself up to fail. Make sure everyone that spends the money, shows up to write the budget. Also, don’t think you will get it right the first time. Things often go wrong even though you have carefully planned what you are going to do. We’ve been doing this for 6 years and we still have to go back and make adjustments every now and then. The biggest help may come by adding a “Blow” category and understanding how it works. The blow category is both a buffer and a fun category. It can catch the “oops” and “oh yeahs”. Its planning for the things that might blow the budget. If the power bill is higher than you thought, just take some from the blow category without having to take from the other categories. Need a tool to finish that project but not in the budget, use the blow money.
Second: Plan for the unexpected. I know this sounds ridiculous but hear me out. Most times the “unexpected” is actually the “unplanned” A few examples: the house needs a new roof, we need tires for the car, when did they start putting Christmas in December! All of these examples can be prevented by writing them down and planning ahead. For example lets use the tires. While doing your preventative maintenance on the car you notice that the car will be due for tires in about 5 months. You call around, find the best price is $500. Set aside $100 per month for five months and pay cash for the tires.
Third: Make your budget emergency proof. The best thing you can do for your finances is have an emergency fund in place. This will save you from the things that just don’t give any warning. The dog needs to go to the vet, the appliance that breaks, the car dies in the driveway. All these things can cause a budget to go into cardiac arrest…unless there is money set aside to cover all or most of the emergency. A good starter emergency fund is $1000 until you are our of debt. After that, 3-6 months of expenses covers you for almost all unforeseen issues.
Last and most important: The whole house buys in. The only way this works is if everybody in the house lives by the budget. You can’t agree on it and then go do whatever you want. You are building a budget to accomplish a common goal or dream. If someone goes against the budget, they are effectively sabotaging the dreams and goal of the family. I know that may be harsh but if you can learn to live on a budget and get out of debt, you will find that there is room for both bills and fun.
Sometimes I like to daydream or think about things. About how clean I will get the house…tomorrow. What great shape I will be in…. next summer. About the great faith I will have… when I’m older. Its great to have goals and focus, but I’m not thinking about the work it takes to get there. If I want to be in shape, I need to exercise and eat right. Repeatedly. Consistently. Long term. It must be a priority over other things.
There is a lot of commitment and dedication that has to come when you’re reaching a goal. That makes perfect sense to us for physical goals. For things we see, its easy to believe. But we don’t always make that connection when it comes to our walk with Christ. Something happens and we act like we’ve been smited (smoted? smitten? whatever) and throw our hands up like God has no idea whats going on.
We want to be powerful people of faith, but when life happens and our faith actually gets tested we respond in a million ways other than confident faith (blogging to myself here). Do you get filled with fear, anger, hopelessness, sadness? Do you back away, circle up the wagons, and huddle in your own little corner? Do you lash out at whoever gets close? It HURTS. But these things force us to make a choice: trust more or fear more. When we are taken to a place where we need to trust, we grow. But to actually do it, we have to work.
Faith doesn’t just bubble up out of you one morning before breakfast. It grows with hard work. By reading Scripture (DAILY), talking to Him AND listening for Him, worshiping Him, and being with His people. You can’t grow in godly character without knowing God’s character. You can’t know him without spending time with Him and seeing what He has done and is doing.
Every single great sports film involves that great little montage of the main character(s) working hard with the inspirational music in the background, going from a motley crew to a finely oiled machine. You know you get excited for them. You’re cheering for them. You know they can do it if they stick with it! You feel victorious with them!
We want our struggles wrapped up in a nice 90 minute piece, critically acclaimed and full of witty banter. We want our problems to have a nice expedient solution. But what about when it doesn’t happen like that? When that dream job isn’t achieved? When the love story didn’t last 60 years? When the miraculous healing didn’t happen?
“Consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave in the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double minded and unstable in all they do.” (James 1:2-8)
Sometimes it’s easy to read a verse like this and think in big generalized statements, rather than personal. Consider it pure joy…when that coworker is a jerk to you for no reason. Consider it pure joy when your job isn’t your job anymore. Consider it pure joy when your kid is sick and you can’t fix it. Consider it pure joy when____________. Everyone has a situation. Why can we have joy when it seems like we shouldn’t? Because He promised us that it will help us grow, that we aren’t alone, and that He loves us. God doesn’t lie, so we can rest in that. There is no situation that God doesn’t know is going to happen. He knows before you get there and He doesn’t allow anything to happen that His grace can’t cover.
Get to work! You got this!
You may have noticed we recently changed our blog name to Dollars and Sense. We have decided to broaden our topics and talk about more than just money management. We are looking beyond Financial Peace University and talking about stewardship.
As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. – 1 Peter 4:10 NKJV.
Naturally when I read this I think great…what’s a steward? The dictionary defines a steward as: One who manages another’s property, finances, or other affairs. My Nelson study bible defines it as: a manager or trustee who will be held accountable for using their gift in the best interest of the One who gave it to them. Since God owns it all, and we are just managers, that means we need to look to God on how we should be managing money.
But we don’t just manage His money. God gives us more than that. He gives us gifts, skills. If you’ve ever said to someone “I have the gift for decorating” or “I have a knack for building things” or “I can just see how something is done and then just do it”, then you have been given those skills and gifts by God and should work to use those gifts and skills in the best interest of the One who gave it to you.
Over the next year, you are going to hear more about this word stewardship. More accurately, what God desires us to be.
I look forward to any thoughts comments or questions you may want to share. Comment below or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.