How creating a budget can help you be more intentional

By Zach Garrett, Growth Pastor

When Chelsea and I were first married, we were like most newlyweds, keeping a loose grip on our money despite tight times.  I remember when I would look into my wallet expecting to see dollar bills, only to see the black emptiness inside my wallet.  It seemed like our money was going out and spending itself without us even knowing.  We knew that our income was enough to cover our monthly expenses. Yet, we were getting into a routine of frustrating conversations where Chelsea was asking questions to figure out why we were getting as close to coming up short as we were.  As this tension was building, I felt stuck in these crucial conversations because I was clueless about responsible money management at that time in my life.

It took some time, but praise the God who freely gives wisdom to those who ask; those conversations are different now.  The questions aren't about where our money has gone, but where do we want it to go?  We don't finance reactively but proactively.  And God has changed my heart about money along the way.
Let me take a moment to be unashamedly honest.  I have to refrain from using the word "we."  My wife really is the hero of this story, and I just reaped the benefits until I started to adopt a new perspective on money along the way.  I'm going to assume that many people are reading this saying, "Yep, I too was (still am??) clueless about being money smart."

That brings me a measure of comfort!

Here is the first step Chelsea took to apply purpose to our money.  She went through our bank statements and identified where every dollar of our net income was going.  Tedious and time-consuming?  You bet, but as they say, good things in life rarely come easy.  To get to step number two, you cannot skip this step number one.

Once you can map where each dollar is going, it isn't hard to find the leak in the pool that disproportionately drains the money going out to the money coming in.  In our situation, we found that we were spending anywhere between $500-$600 a month on eating out.  I can still remember the intense conversation with Chelsea when she asked me if I had any idea of the amount of money we were spending on food, mainly fast food.  Are you surprised to read that I didn’t have a clue?

As we sat together and worked on this blog, Chelsea told me that this was one of the few “never again” moments of her life…so far.  While some people budget to spend considerable amounts of money to eat out, and if you have the desire and the means, rock on!  Extra spending on eating out just wasn't an area of excessive cash outflow that my wife was comfortable with.  Food is a beautiful gift from God, and it's necessary for human survival. However, we knew that we could save a lot of money by creating the discipline of cooking at home and taking leftovers to work. Fortunately for us, I love to cook!

Okay, step two.  Chelsea made a budget.  Knowing where our money was going over the past three months, we could easily see how much we needed for essential expenditures and what we had left for luxury.  Your mortgage, rent, car, and student loan payments are essential, non-negotiable budget items that you have to pay.  You probably should include food, gas, and utilities in this list too.  We also have to remember that every expenditure adds up. Have you talked with anyone struggling with the cost of the work commute because of the increasing gas prices, yet every morning, they go to Starbucks?  A budget is an opportunity to create purpose for your money, but it has to include a healthy perspective on what is vital for you to spend your money on.
If you have a fixed monthly income that does not vary by a lot, the budget will show you exactly how much must be set aside for essential expenditures and how much you have leftover for luxury expenses.  Hear me on this, as this is an area of my life where God has done some of the most transforming work.  God has taken away and added to the list of what we've deemed as essential expenses over the past nine years of our marriage.

I want to emphasize this week that you can't surrender to God what you don't have.  So many people live under the control of their debt and spending habits. While you may physically have money, spiritually, you may be miles away from the point where you can surrender it all to Jesus.

Chelsea and I didn't stop eating out entirely, but we decided to be intentional about designating how much we would spend on eating out each month and then incorporated this into our budget. We were taking control of the money God gave us, and in the process, said that no longer were we going to let our money control us.  By taking control of our finances, we then could truly surrender our money, along with our lives, to Lordship of Jesus Christ, our Savior.    
Let me end on this word of encouragement.  If you are reading this, it likely means you have an earnest desire to find financial freedom. The kind of financial freedom that will allow you to apply a God-honoring purpose to your money. If so, check out these practical action steps below.  You can do this!  

Practical Action Steps
  • Identify the last 3 months of your expenditures
  • Calculate the average amount spent on different categories
  • Use these averages to formulate a budget
  • Make a Budget
  • Add up total income
  • Add up total expenses (i.e., giving, saving, food, utilities, housing, transportation, health, insurance, recreation, personal spending, misc.)
  • Decide how much money you need/want to spend in each of the categories
  • Write down the amounts
  • Subtract total expenses from total income, which should equal 0.  A budget should always end in 0 because that means you have applied purpose to every dollar in your budget.
  • Once you finish the 1st month of budgeting, you will add up your actual expenses and then compare your expenses to what you budgeted.
  • Don’t be surprised if you find that different budget areas are entirely off; this will occur as you establish your budget within the first few months.  You will use that first budget to reinvent and create the 2nd month’s budget.
  • Then, by the 3rd month, you will have perfected your budget and will only need to tweak it slightly as incomes and expenditures fluctuate from month to month.
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