Adulthood gives the freedom (or responsibility, depending how you look at it) to make your own decisions. Others criticize, question, and praise your decisions, but at the checkout counter, you are the one swiping your card on a new pair of shoes or a bag of groceries. But it often doesn’t feel like we decide where our money is spent. The landlord, gas station, grocery store, and internet provider all demand payment. There is sometimes little to nothing left to spend on what we desire after the bills have been paid.
Many attempt to solve the problem by earning more than they spend. It is helpful to increase your income, but if your cost of living rises with your income (as it almost always does), a raise is not enough. You must budget your spending and focus on what is most important to you.
It cannot be overstated how important a budget is to a healthy financial life. Your budget is the dam that slows down the flow of money out of your bank account. Most people already do some form of mental budgeting, even if it is rudimentary and only sometimes successful. When you drive past the restaurant instead of through the drive-thru because you already ate out twice this week, you are budgeting. This mental budgeting is notoriously ineffective, though. The following key components will help make your budget succeed.
Write it down
A written budget improves your likelihood of success in a couple ways. Writing a budget down forces you to evaluate your net savings (how much you earn minus how much you spend). This is the scariest part for a lot of people, but if you never assess the damage, you will not know how to fix it. To keep yourself from financially suffocating, you must spend less than you earn.
A written budget also helps you remember how much you intended to spend. You will be able to compare your actual spending to your planned spending. If your spending is off target, you will feel it more when you see the numbers next to each other, and you will be more likely to pull back in areas of your life that may be harming your budget.
There are a lot of ways to keep a written budget. Your notebook can work if that is what you prefer. Microsoft Excel is a simple tool for those who like to use spreadsheets. Quicken is a computer program that organizes your spending and helps you plan your budget. But there are also excellent free options online such as Mint.com and PersonalCapital.com. These sites allow you to easily sync with bank accounts, loans, and investments and give you detailed information about trends in spending and earning.
Have a purpose
Your budget needs to work toward a goal. Sit down to write your budget as if you are preparing for your future. How you spend your money now affects your life long-term. Overspending could delay purchasing a house, keep you from sending your children to the school you want, or simply mean you are unable to take a vacation this year. Always create your budget with the future in mind.
Prioritize most essential to least essential
The primary purpose of creating a budget is not to restrict your spending, it is to redirect your spending to the areas of your life you feel are most important. A warm house to sleep in every night is more important than the luxury of eating out. You may not even be sure what is most important to you. This is why you should sit down and figure it out.
Create a list of all your spending categories. Your list will likely include essentials such as taxes, rent/mortgage, groceries, gasoline, utilities, tithe, phone, and medical. It will also include many nonessentials such as restaurants/coffee, travel, hobbies, entertainment, clothing, and shopping.
It is necessary to separate what is essential from what is nonessential. This way you can determine how much money it takes for you to simply survive every month. You do not require coffee every morning to survive (although it may feel like it). You do, however, require a place to sleep, food to eat, water to drink, and transportation to work. These should be considered essential.
Get everyone involved
It is necessary your entire family shares the same financial goal. If you dutifully pack your lunch to work every day and avoid the mall so your children can attend private school while your spouse spends money unnecessarily, your financial goals will be replaced by bitterness. Everyone involved should share the same vision and dedication.
Everyone who is a part of your budget must also have input. If they want to spend more or less in a certain area, their opinion should be considered. Compromises often have to be made in order to create viable budgets, but those compromises should be made by all individuals involved, not just one.
This step may seem simple for a single person because you only have yourself to convince. We are sometimes the worst at keeping ourselves accountable, though. If you struggle to keep yourself on a consistent budget, it is helpful to find a friend or mentor who can keep you accountable and give you input.
Solomon says in Proverbs 24:3-4 “By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches” (ESV). God has given us the wisdom to care for our families and the knowledge to keep our financial futures on course. Adulthood has given us the freedom and responsibility to not swipe our card when we don’t need to.