There are those people who can account for every cent of where their money is going at all times. And then there’s me. Well, that was me before the word “budget” became a part of my daily vocabulary.
Budgeting was once a very daunting concept. It was synonymous with restricting, demanding, and scariest of all: adulting. In other words, I thought a budget would rob me of my autonomy, suck all the fun out of life, and leave me feeling trapped. Much to my surprise, it did quite the contrary — it freed me.
At 23 years old, I am proudly in the heart of the millennial generation. After college, I started working a full-time job. Around the same time, I started following Jesus and learning what it means not just to say I am a Christian, but to actually live like one. This has come with many ups and downs, triumphs and failures, but most of all — consistent gut checks about how I spend my time, and more grudgingly, my money.
About a month ago, I met with a financial planner because I was tired of feeling like I was “broke” every two weeks. After plugging in all of the numbers for my monthly expenses, she questioned where the monthly surplus I should have had was going. Much to my embarrassment, it was hard for me to give her an answer. As we dug deeper, we found that the surplus was going to excess food, entertainment, and other frivolous expenditures. No bueno. But I know I am not the only one who finds themselves in the hole from time to time.
Proverbs 12:1 puts it plainly: “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid.” Yes, it really says “stupid” in multiple translations of the Bible; they weren’t sugarcoating it.
And that was exactly how I felt: stupid. It was time to get disciplined and come up with a plan on how to spend and save money in a manner that was meaningful, strategic, and reflected my values.
There are three simple, yet weighty questions that we should all be asking ourselves when making a budget. And I’m not talking about a nagging phone app that buzzes when you overspend. You need one of those primitive Excel spreadsheets that require formulas and brains that shows you the full picture of your finances. These three questions will help anyone who might be feeling like this adulting thing is harder than it may seem.
What stays? The way we spend our money says a whole lot about what we treasure. Outside of mandatory bills, determine the expenses that are too important to compromise. What do you deeply value? What should your money be working for?
For me, giving 10% of my gross income through tithing was one of those vital expenses. Jesus put it simply, “…From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded.” (Luke 12:48) While 10% might sound terrifying, trust me it is not as hard as it sounds. In fact, there is actually a lot of joy that comes with giving up that money.
There were other commitments that I have made that stayed as well, such as monthly commitments to my church outside of tithing, sponsoring my Compassion child, and support to a friend in ministry who fundraises her salary. My most important value is that my life leads to more people knowing Jesus, so my budget has to prioritize and reflect that.
Next, factor in entertainment and other monthly expenses that are important to you. Maybe it’s keeping Netflix, Hulu, or Apple Music. Choose what you can give up or what you can compromise. For me, $10 a month for Spotify? That stays. I value access to good music with no ads too much to lose it.
What goes? What are your spur of the moment vices? Emotion-driven shopping sprees, $5 lattes multiple times a week, spontaneous tattoos, chicken biscuits from Chick-Fil-A? I had to take a hard look at where my money was going and determine what was really worth the cash.
Create long-term and short-term saving accounts that you can strategically filter surplus money into weekly or monthly. Having both short-term and long-term accounts is a great way of working toward goals that your weekly or monthly paycheck cannot handle on its own. Sometimes that means sacrificing flippant spending and having accountability for what you need to save to meet your goals.
What’s left? OK, let’s be real. A lot of my money is going to adulting, but it is still 100% necessary to have some wiggle room for fun. So I opened a whole new checking account that is strictly allotted to fun spending. This money is set aside for play and play alone. Guilt-free. There is no shame in responsible leisure!
In Matthew 6:21, Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” I left my financial planner feeling free because I finally had clarity about where my treasure was going. I had the freedom that comes with discipline. It’s worth the time and effort to set your finances up to be a reflection of your values and goals.
Stop being stupid like me. Go make yourself a budget.