Ask Chuck: Stuck Without a Budget
My husband and I have good intentions when it comes to using money wisely, but we just don’t follow through. We need help!
Stuck Without a Budget
Dear Stuck Without a Budget,
In my years of counseling couples about their finances, I have met many just like you who want to have a structured approach but can’t seem to get there or stay there. I have three tips: put in the time to plan, write out your plan, and then, faithfully implement it.
Time to Plan
One of the primary obstacles is that most couples don’t take the time necessary to work on their finances. You probably spent plenty of time together when you were dating/courting. Now, you need to invest time in your financial future.
Planning takes time, but it is an essential element for any financial program. God is an orderly provider and expects us, His stewards, to be the same. Set aside a weekend for you and your spouse to begin the process of discussing your goals and putting a plan together to get there. If that is not possible, start with just an hour per week at a time and place where you are relaxed and able to focus.
Sound financial management is an aspect of the Christian life that requires God’s wisdom. We must rely on His Word to make financial decisions for the short term (for the duration of our lives) and for the long term (beyond our lives into eternity).
A Written Plan
A written plan provides goals to work toward and helps you measure progress. It will help you stay on track by referring to your original objective. You will analyze priorities and develop effective habits. Working as a team, you can encourage and motivate one another to stay focused. Your mindset and behavior will change as you strive to manage money by Biblical principles. As Ron Blue said in his book, Never Enough, “Goals tie our habits to our hearts.”
A budget is a tool that shows how much you can spend based on what you allocate to giving, saving, and investing, or vice versa. Certainly, a budget is an important aspect of getting your finances under control, but it should be viewed as a means to achieve your larger goals, not the end goal. For instance, a wise financial plan will accelerate you towards achieving your life purpose, not simply paying the bills and having money for retirement. Friends of mine planned for years to be able to self-fund their full-time global mission work after age 55. They have done it and are having the time of their lives! A budget helped them accomplish their purpose.
Adjust your budget as you gain new insight and as your financial picture changes. Remember that choosing frugality is less painful than it being forced on you due to lack of planning. For help getting started, go here.
A record number of American adults say that their primary financial regret since the beginning of Covid-19 is “not saving enough for emergencies.” A financial plan could have prepared them for the unexpected. See saving tips.
Your plan should include:
- Saving: emergency account
- Debt reduction and elimination
- Investing: employer retirement plans, IRA, HSA, real estate, etc.
- Mortgage, insurance, car and home maintenance, improvements, and future purchases
- Children’s education, vacations, upcoming events, and large purchases
Implement Your Plan
Track your giving, saving, spending, and investing. Then, put financial “dates” in your calendar. Make them a time you look forward to. Monthly budget analysis, quarterly progress reports, and yearly goal resets will help you stay the course. Crown has a great program called, “Money Dates” that you can find here.
Pick a night of the week to dedicate to your financial education. You may know a lot about money but perhaps not what God says about it. Feeding on truth, you will renew your mind and gain a Biblical perspective on money. This will help you make smart decisions and find contentment in all situations. This is also a time to review your progress.
- Learn to practice patience and moderation in every financial decision.
- Have a positive decision attitude.
- Never get involved in financial decisions that require instant action, but allow God to take His course. The difference between a profit and a loss may well be the attitude with which we approach financial investments.
- Avoid any get-rich-quick schemes, no matter how tempting.
- Maintain your plans as long as you have peace about them; they’re the plans for your life.
- Do not be inflexible, but don’t change your plans just because somebody tells you something different.
(Wisdom of Larry Burkett from The Complete Guide to Managing Your Money)
Expect a battle. You will have to arm yourselves offensively and defensively to live out what you believe. However, the two of you, working towards defined goals, will find joy in the journey.
Paul wrote in Philippians 4:12-13, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” This perspective will help you find contentment as well as strength to press through the times you may become stuck.
My wife, Ann, and I wrote a book that you may enjoy called Money Problems, Marriage Solutions: 7 Keys to Aligning Your Finances and Uniting Your Hearts. In it, we provide real-life stories, a solid foundation from Scripture, and practical steps for application, giving you a plan to unite and conquer financial issues together.
This article was originally published on The Christian Post on June 4, 2021.