Are you uncertain — perhaps, even skeptical — that a budget can work for your family? Maybe the answers to the following questions will help to convince you that a budget can indeed work for your family. First, however, let’s explain what we mean when we use the term “a budget.”
A budget for a family is basically a financial plan for a period of one year or less that provides spending and saving goals that they set, possibly with some guidance by a financial counselor. Each category of actual spending and saving is then compared against these goals. The actual spending in each category will usually be at least somewhat under or over the goal for that category; i.e., actual spending in each category will rarely be the same as the goal for that category of spending. The crucial consideration is whether the total actual amount of spending (or saving) is significantly above or below the total goal for spending (or saving).
Now let’s consider several questions regarding whether or not a budget can work for your family.
Why do we need a budget — we are already saving plenty of money?
For Christians, one of the primary reasons to have a budget is to be a good steward (or manager) of the financial resources that God enables us to have. I Corinthians 4:2 says, “[I]t is required in stewards that one be found faithful.” And Luke 12:48b states, “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required. . . .”
Because a budget requires you to set spending and saving guidelines, having a budget can help you to focus on how you really desire to use the financial resources that God entrusts to you. For example, as you set your spending and saving guidelines, you may decide that, because God is richly blessing you, you will save less so you can increase your contributions to Christian ministries. Also, a budget may help you to become aware that you have been spending more than you really want to in some categories, and that you have been spending less than you would like to in other categories.
How can a budget work for us — we spend everything we earn just for things that we really need?
In Matthew 25:14-29, the parable of the talents, which discusses giving money to stewards for them to manage, makes it clear that we are responsible for whatever financial resources that we have been given, even if the amount isn’t much.
Surplus money is often found in the process of developing a budget, when each area of spending is given careful consideration. As you prepare to make decisions about how much to spend in each category, it will be important for you to give ample thought to ways to get the most for each dollar that you spend. For example, you may be able to reduce substantially the costs of even your necessities by shopping more prudently — waiting for sales, shopping frequently at discounters, purchasing store brands, etc. What you save can be used to purchase other items or set aside to meet future needs.
What good is a budget if we have unexpected expenses all the time?
Prudent budgeting should attempt to take into consideration extraordinary expenses such as major repairs for your car or for the central air conditioning or heating system of your house. You may not have enough money to cover all of your extraordinary expenses during the first year or two after you begin budgeting, but over a period of several years, prudent budgeting should enable you to set aside ample money to pay for most, if not all, such expenses.
How can we have a budget that works if my spouse and I have such different views about spending and saving?
Finances are a leading cause of divorce, so it stands to reason that a budget that enables both spouses together to deal with their financial needs, wants, and desires can be an important factor in creating marital harmony. Just as Christians have different gifts or abilities (see Romans 12:4-8), spouses have different abilities and ideas regarding financial matters.
Because each spouse may have dissimilar ideas about family finances, a family budget needs to be the result of prayer, discussion, and a willingness to compromise. Gentleness, meekness, and self-control, which are fruits of the Holy Spirit, according to Galatians 5:22-23, will also be helpful in making budget decisions.
How can we make a budget work for us when we are so busy that we don’t have the time to spend on keeping up with a budget?
Developing the initial financial budget for a family may take several hours, if it is done correctly. Subsequently, maintaining the budget records should require only one to two hours a month. This investment of your time should be worthwhile if it brings you and your spouse financial peace of mind, including greater long-term satisfaction for each of you in the use of the financial resources that God has entrusted to you.
How can we make a budget work for us if our income varies?
For people whose income varies from month-to-month, it is usually wise to budget on the basis of an income level between the lowest earnings month and the average during the prior 12 months. Then, follow the example of the ant, which stores up a surplus during the plentiful months (see Proverbs 6:6-8). When earnings for a month exceed the budgeted amount, the surplus should be set aside to take up the slack during months when earnings are below the budgeted amount. If the surplus becomes larger than you think is necessary, you can invest it or use it to pay for things on your “wish list.”
Why should we try again to have a budget? We tried previously to have a budget and we couldn’t make it work.
Having a budget that works may take longer than some people expect. Many people make a number of mistakes before they learn how to use a budget successfully. Learning takes time. Meeting with a family financial counselor to discuss budgeting problems may shorten the learning period. After most people learn how to use a budget successfully, it is doubtful that they would be comfortable in the future without having a budget.
We don’t know anything about budgeting, so how can we learn to make a budget work for us?
A budget can work for you, but first you have to take the time that is necessary to develop a budget that fits your family. Getting started on developing a budget is relatively simple.
Get a monthly family budget form. The form should include categories for income, contributions, payroll deductions, various types of spending, and saving. Such forms are available in various books on family financial budgeting and from sources such as Consumer Credit Counseling, Crown Financial Ministries, or perhaps from your local church, if it has a family financial counseling ministry.
Determine how much you have been spending in each expense category. If you write checks for most of your expenditures, your check register will be a very useful source of information, assuming that each check is to pay for only one category of spending. Otherwise, you will need to rely primarily on receipts, notations of how much you spend when you don’t get a receipt, and estimates.
Complete the budget form to the best of your ability.
Keep records of how much you actually spend each month and for the year-to-date in each expense category, and compare these figures to the budgeted amounts.
After a few months, decide if it is necessary to revise any of the budgeted amounts or if it is necessary to adjust your actual spending.
If you need assistance in making your budget work, contact one of the organizations mentioned in step #1.