I hate budgets. I think Microsoft Excel is demon possessed. Anybody with me on that? I'm glad we have men in this church who are skilled in the financial realm because looking at the monthly budget reports for me is tantamount to reading Chinese! It ain’t happenin’!
Consequently, my own practice of budgeting was at best half-hearted and at worst a phantom—a nice idea that lived as a ghost in my guilty conscience. This was true up until this last year. Thankfully, our church embarked upon a Capital Campaign, and we were all asked to give over-and-above. You ask the question, “Why would being asked to give more be a blessing?” Good question! Answer: It forced me to create a budget. In addition to that, I realized that budgeting flowed out of my understanding of the gospel.
Some people give in order to gain favor with God. The gospel tells us that being the recipients of unmerited favor and grace from God should flow back out of you in every area of your life…including your finances! We don’t give to gain favor, we give because we’ve FOUND favor in Jesus Christ! Here are a couple of gospel-forged thoughts for you about budgeting, and then I’ll describe the process my family uses for budgeting.
1. A budget enables both expected and generous giving
The reason most people don’t put enough thought into their giving is because it’s not intentionally worked into their budgets, or, because the budget is non-existent. Additionally, many people give on the fly, as the offering plates are passed. The reason we provide weekly giving opportunities is not so you can empty the random change from your pockets. We receive an offering each week as a symbol that giving should be regular and planned. It is difficult to give 10% of your income unless you have planned to do so! If giving is not budgeted then other priorities will crowd out giving and will leave only fragments and scraps to be placed in the offering plate.
Without budgeting, 10% giving probably isn’t happening, and if 10% giving isn’t happening, then “over-and-above” giving certainly isn’t happening! Biblically, I believe that 10% is normal and that “generous” giving starts at 11%. In order for believers to give what’s expected (10%), and also be a generous giver (11%+), then a budget is a “must” to make this happen.
2. A budget keeps our idolatry in check
Build a budget. Start with your tithe (10%) going to your church. Add another percent in for “generous” giving. This 11% should be the building block of your budget. After you add in other big-ticket items, you’ll realize how little is left for extras. The “extras” in our lives often reflect our idolatries. An “extra” could be an exorbitant car payment to purchase car we like but don’t need; or too much money for clothing; or $300+ per month for entertainment (TV, internet, etc). If we feel we need these to be happy, satisfied, or fulfilled, they are idols. Thankfully, budgeting and commensurate giving puts the squeeze on our idolatries, which is actually very therapeutic for our prone-to-wander souls!
3. A budget helps us remember the Lordship of Christ over our money
The gospel tells me that “I am not my own…I have been bought with a price!” (1 Cor 6). Not only does my body belong to God; all I have and own belongs to God! When I budget, it enables me to make my church giving the building block of my finances, which in turn is a visible symbol that I am simply a steward of what God has given me. Jesus is my King…even over my money. Therefore, my money should be financing a lifestyle that glorifies him and pushes forward his global initiatives to make disciples of every nation!
4. A budget breaks the tyranny of money in our lives
I was tired of worrying about money, therefore I created a budget which helped me live within my means. Money had become a slave-master for me. I hated being “tight.” I hated running the accounts down too low. It was stressful. It was a tyrant in our lives. Setting up a budget, and living by the budget enables me to not worry because we’ve built safety nets into the budget. It frees me to give generously and happily. I’m no longer a slave to money.
Now, having said that, let me walk you through my simple budget. Maybe you don’t like budgets either…I feel your pain! Listen and heed my advice because I’ve created a budget that even budget-haters and embrace! The budget is broken into 3 categories: concrete expenses, surprise expenses, and accordion expenses.
Concrete expenses: These are expenses that don’t change from month to month: tithe to the church, generous over-and-above giving, house payment, utilities. These are the building blocks for your budget. They are laid down first. Whatever’s left is what you have to live on. Savings and retirement should be part of this category as well. For these, I use automatic bill pay.
Surprise items: These are expenses that are (supposed) “surprises,” but they really shouldn’t be. This would include: tax payments (I pay my own taxes), yearly automobile renewal fees, sports registration for kids, and even automobile expenses. In other words, you know that at some point you’ll have to put new tires on the car. Will it be 2 years down the line? Then split up the total cost between 24 months and start putting that money away in a special savings account. That way the expense of new tires is no longer a “surprise.” Those kinds of expenses should be debited out of this special savings account. Every month I’ve set up an automatic transfer from my checking account to a special money market savings account to cover these costs.
Accordion expenses: These are expenses that can expand and compress depending on the choices you make. This includes groceries, eating out, clothing, entertainment, coffee money (very important for me) and other various categories. The best way I’ve found to manage these is through a cash envelope system. These categories have a strange way of growing larger than you ever imagine! Before you budget, track your spending for one month…I think you’ll be surprised how much you spend on certain categories. Track that spending for one or two months, and then take the money left over after concrete and surprise expenses and attempt to live on what’s left. Apportion it to envelops, pay in cash, and when it’s gone, it’s gone! Force yourself to scrape by. It’s very enlightening to see how fast “disposable” income is disposed on very disposable and worthless things!
In summary, in order for Christians to be good stewards, I believe budgeting of some kind is necessary and important. Jesus didn’t purchase our souls so we could live however we wanted. We are purchased for a purpose, and that purpose is to glorify Him with who we are and what we own, and a budget is a great tool for accomplishing that end!