A budget is more than numbers scribbled on a yellow steno pad in response to a crisis with good intentions that will never be fulfilled. That is the equivalent of saying that a wedding is a big pageant for two people blinded by love surrounded by a crowd of family and friends willing to participate in the mass delusion of “happily ever after.” Let us lay aside such cynicism about budgeting (and marriage) in order to experience what God intended for both.
1. A budget is the numerical expression of an individual’s or family’s mission and priorities.
This does not mean we need to color code our budget according to “Love God; Love Each Other; Love the World,” but it does mean these categories should be on our mind as we do our budget.
Too often we are prone to think that the tithe covers our “family mission” requirement and that the other 90% is ours to do with as we please. When we think this way two things happen. First, we devalue functional spending. We no longer view health insurance as a way we love each other. We miss that our grocery bill can be a way we love our world when we have our neighbor over for dinner. We overlook that our mortgage is a way we can love God by hosting a small group in our house.
Second, we become prone to think that only fun-spending “counts” as being rewarding for our efforts. In the absence of a larger sense of mission, our personal enjoyment (i.e., hobbies, decorating, etc…) becomes all we find satisfaction in. But within a healthy budget fun-spending is, at best, 25% of your take home income (support for this percentage coming later in this chapter). We feel robbed by everyday life, because we haven’t attached everyday life to our reason for living.
2. A budget is a tangible recognition that we are only stewards of the life God blessed us with.
It is overwhelming when you first sit down to do a budget. We quickly realize that life is not as controllable and predictable as we would like for it to be. A budget should humble us and teach us what it means to live in the fear of the Lord as the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:7).
As we do a budget, we should quickly realize that it is God who gives us life, health, and the abilities necessary to earn money. It is God who has made the world, even in its current broken state, orderly enough that budgeting is even possible. It is God who will have to continue to be faithful in order for our income to remain steady and our expenses not to spike. Ultimately, we see that all of life, not merely our money, is a gift from God given to us for a purpose. Therefore, “success” is measured by how well we accomplish His purpose for that gift.
In light of this, we can see in fresh ways that we will give an account for how we spent our life (Rom. 14:12). While this involves much more than finances, giving a faithful account will require some “accounting.” We cannot say that we managed something well if we did not keep track of it.
3. A budget is an individual’s or family’s prayerful conviction regarding God’s will for their resources.
This should be said very clearly, “Don’t ever say you have sincerely prayed about a significant financial decision if you do not have a budget.” That is the equivalent of saying you pray, and God told you to marry an unbeliever (2 Cor. 6:14). You cannot say God answers a prayer that is against how He has directed us to live (Luke 12:42-44).
When you put numbers to paper, you are saying, “We believe that these numbers represent God’s will for a ‘normal’ month.” When you save money for a designated purpose you are saying, “We believe this item is an ‘atypical’ part of God’s will for our life.” If you believe it is God’s will that you and your spouse have a regular date night to enrich your marriage, that should be represented in your budget.
This is a different way of thinking than asking, “Is it bad for me to want [blank]?” This question may have worked as a single person, as long as you didn’t go into debt. But now you are a “we” instead of a “me” so there are two people dreaming for the same dollars. A budget is the place where you and your spouse learn to think collectively about God’s will for your family.
4. A budget is one barometer for how an individual engages in life and relationships.
You will tend to treat those closest to you like you treat your money. If you’re fearful with money, you will tend to be fearful in your relationships. If you are controlling with money, you will tend to be controlling with relationships. If you are undisciplined with money, you will tend to struggle with following through on your commitments in relationships.
This makes sense in light of what Jesus said about money, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matt. 6:21).” We tend to treat the things we care about (money and people) the same because the control center for how we manage “treasures” is the same for both – the heart. If we do not like how we treat money or people we cannot use the excuse, “Well, that’s not who I really am.” According to Jesus, that is exactly who we are.
Therefore, a budget is a way to shape your relationships, especially marriage. If we view a budget as a mean, controlling document, then our fear of budgets (while misguided) is on to something. We are instinctively recognizing the connection between financial management and relational patterns. However, when we learn to manage our money with intentionality, freedom within limits, and wise generosity, then these qualities will also become the trademarks of our relationships. What could be better for a marriage?
5. A budget is a measure of what we believe is worth living for.
We live in an economy where we trade hours for dollars and dollars for stuff. We seek education, experience, and other credentials to make our hours worth more dollars. But all we ever spend is our life that has gone through a currency exchange for dollars.
This makes every expenditure an act of worship. We are spending our life on something we deem worthy of our life. If you make ten dollars per hour and go on a two hour date with your spouse that costs $30, you have invested five hours of your life on that date. If you make $4,000 per month and give $1,000 to missions, you have invested a week of your life in making Jesus known around the world.
Our budget is a place where we see and can decide what we will live for. This should bring greater joy and enthusiasm for good expenditures and make it clearer why bad ones need to be cut. A budget is a place where couples build unity around what they will invest their life in. Too often the mundane repetition of budgeting overshadows these profound, romantic qualities of budgeting.
6. A budget is a dynamic document tracking a dynamic commodity.
A budget is a living document tracking the dissemination of our life. Money doesn’t sit still. It is always coming and going. This is a big part of what overwhelms people about budgeting. They’re trying to track a dynamic commodity as if it were a static object and don’t understand why it always feels like they’re failing.
We should think of a budget like measuring the wind. Wind has variance, direction, and force. Asking a one-dimensional question of wind (i.e., Is it windy today?) is as useful as asking a similar question about money (i.e, How much do we have in the checking account?). These questions have some value, but we are not getting all the information we need.
In order to maintain the motivation to budget a couple needs to have a process for tracking more than month to month spending (static mentality). Your money and life are going somewhere (dynamic quality). In this seminar you will learn how to see your monthly expenses in light of where your life and money are going, so that you can harness the motivation and enthusiasm to continue budgeting and reap its benefits.
7. A budget is an instrument for harnessing the untamed power of our heart’s passion.
The desires of our hearts are incredibly powerful. The words “I want” are the driving force behind invention and economy. These words have reshaped culture and history countless times. Something so powerful will either do great good or great harm, but it will not be neutral or leave things unchanged.
What will ensure that “I want” becomes the fuel for unity instead of the fire of division in your marriage? It would be nice to give the simple answer “a budget,” but that would be an overstatement. The more complete answer would be: two people who are learning the gospel-joy of dying to self (Luke 9:23-24) and living for others (Phil. 2:3-4) and beginning to order their life accordingly – a key part of which is a budget.
Our hearts need to be tamed, but that is not to imply weakened. A tamed horse is not less powerful than a wild one. It’s just that the power of a tamed horse can be focused, intentionally upon a particular task. Similarly, a tamed heart is not less free than a wild, sin-bent one. It’s just that its freedom can be focused on the things that really matter instead of “nickled and dimed” into trivial living. This is why taking the time to manage your money will make it feel like you got a raise.
8. A budget is a life maintenance document.
A budget for a family is the equivalent of an oil change or tune up for a car. It is something that if not regularly kept up results in damage far greater than the investment of the maintenance.
In this sense, a budget is a form of insurance. With insurance we make a small investment now in order to protect ourselves from a greater liability later. In this case, the small investment is time and energy and the greater liabilities are financial crisis and marital division.
As you begin creating a budget, recognize that it is something that will require a significant amount of attention as you get started and then will become a brief maintenance exercise to protect your marriage. Usually this start up phase lasts for three months. After that you should only need to update and maintain the system unless you have a significant life transition (i.e., job change, buy a house, major medical expense, etc…).
This material is an excerpt from Session 2 of the “Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Finances” seminar. The full GCM series of seminars and pre-marital mentoring ministry they facilitate can be found at www.bradhambrick.com/gcm.