If budgeting isn’t your idea of a good time, I don’t blame you. Even as obsessed as I am with my budget, I get tired of it sometimes.
As much of a nuisance as it can be, though, having a budget makes sense. During the welfare session of the April 1975 General Conference, President Spencer W. Kimball said the following:
“Every family should have a budget. Why, we would not think of going one day without a budget in this Church or our businesses. We have to know approximately what we may receive, and we certainly must know what we are going to spend. And one of the successes of the Church would have to be that the Brethren watch these things very carefully.”
Just because a prophet of the Lord says we should do something doesn’t mean we do, though. It’s how I feel sometimes with home teaching and missionary work. I know I should be doing it, but there are a bunch of reasons why it doesn’t always happen.
With that in mind, I’ve thought of a few reasons why budgeting is hard and what we can do about it.
1. Budgeting restricts freedom
I totally get this one. We generally have a low budget for eating out. But when we’re too tired to make dinner, it’s easy to question whether we should stick to the plan or do what we want. After all, it’s my money, right? Why should I give so much power to my budgeting software?
Think of it this way: a budget is like a commandment. In a way, commandments do restrict us on what we can and can’t do. If you’re like me, there may or may not be a few commandments where you’ve thought, “Man, it’s too bad I can’t claim ignorance.” But in the end, we know what happens when we keep the commandments: more freedom, not less. By keeping the commandments, we choose to avoid doing things that can take away our freedom.
For example, say you never save up money in an emergency fund because you want the freedom of spending your money how and when you want. What happens when the car breaks down or the air conditioning goes out in the house? You’re either stuck without a car or A/C or you have to go into debt to cover the cost of repairs — AKA less freedom. On the other hand, say you’ve been a diligent budgeter and you have a few months’ worth of expenses set aside. If something comes up, you just dip into your savings to cover the cost and move on. You’re free.
2. Budgeting is overwhelming
If you’re like me, getting into the nitty gritty details of budgeting is exciting. But if you’re normal, the idea of meticulously planning every single purchase you’re going to make is as exciting as listening to the Saturday’s Warrior soundtrack on repeat for a week.
Fortunately, for you, there are ways to simplify the budgeting process. For example, some experts recommend the 50/20/30 approach. Broken down, that means 50% of your take-home pay goes to essentials (e.g. rent, utilities, transportation, insurance, groceries, etc.); 20% goes toward saving for the future and paying down debt; and the remaining 30% goes to wants (e.g. cable, eating out, gym membership, travel, entertainment, etc.).
Now, this framework isn’t perfect. If you’re deep in debt or don’t have any debt, you might have to adapt it a little. There’s also the matter of deciding which bucket tithing should go under. The point is budgeting doesn’t have to be about going crazy counting beans. It’s as simple as three goals: make sure your family is taken care of, meet your financial obligations, and secure your financial future.
3. It’s hard to stay consistent
Arguably, the biggest issue people have about budgeting is it’s hard to stay consistent. Many have tried and have given up for one reason or another. And it’s totally understandable.
Budgeting is somewhat like repentance. It’s not a set-it-and-forget-it kind of thing. You have to consistently stay on top of your goals and track your spending to keep yourself accountable. What’s more, budgeting forces you to take an honest look at yourself and where you’re falling short — and that’s not easy.
So view it the same as repentance then. Accept that you’re not going to be 100% on top of it every day, week or month. But do your best. The longer you stick with it, the more likely it’ll becomes second nature. But don’t expect that to come overnight. Find a plan that works for you and start doing it.
4. It’s pointless
Truth: budgeting for the sake of budgeting is pointless. To make it meaningful and successful, you need to tie your budget to something meaningful in your life. Set financial goals with your spouse and your family. There are the easy ones like saving for retirement, missions and college. But if those are a long way off, they might not be motivating enough.
So set short- and mid-term goals. Maybe you want to take the kids to Disneyland. Better yet, maybe you want a trip away from the kids. Before you start budgeting for the month, take a step back and consider all of your financial goals you’re working toward. Then keep those in mind as you’re running the numbers. Trust me, it’ll make the process easier.
Budgeting gives you peace of mind
Budgeting isn’t always easy. But if you can manage to do it successfully, it can change your life for the better. President N. Eldon Tanner once said in a General Conference address:
“I am convinced that it is not the amount of money an individual earns that brings peace of mind as much as it is having control of his money. Money can be an obedient servant, but a harsh taskmaster.
As someone who has budgeted consistently for years, I can attest to President Tanner’s words. We’ve had our share of money stress, but I’ve always had the peace of mind knowing that we’re in control. Budgeting isn’t sexy, but it always pays off.