Creating a Basic Spending Plan
Most people would admit that they should have a budget (or spending plan), but according to a recent Gallup poll nearly 2/3rds of Americans don’t have one. Why is that? For some budgeting just feels overwhelming, for others they don’t know where to start, and for still others they don’t think they need one. While you may be able to get along without a super detailed budget, everyone should at least have a basic spending plan.
The Bible tells us that if we don’t control money, it will control us. Proverbs 21:5 says, “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” We also see the principle of watching over what has been entrusted to us. Proverbs 27 tells us to, “Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds… the lambs will provide your clothing, and the goats the price of a field. There will be enough goats’ milk for your food, for the food of your household.” Now, today a lot of us don’t have flocks and herds to pay attention to, but we do have dollars and cents. And the principle is the same: if you budget your income and spend wisely, you’ll have enough to live on. Therefore, as stewards of God’s resources, we need to have a plan for where our money is going.
A basic spending plan is simply a monthly plan assigning every dollar that comes in to some predetermined purpose (or category). It uses much broader catch all categories than a detailed budget and prioritizes every known need. It might look something like this:
There are a number of options for creating a spending plan, from web based solutions, to smartphone apps, to a paper and pencil. You have to use what works for you, but the most tried and true method is simply starting with manually tracking your spending. We have an Excel based budget worksheet on our website at www.ronblueinstitute.com/tools. To figure out how much you are spending in the different categories here is a simple process:
- First, track your spending for 30 days. Capture everything. The Excel budget worksheet referred to above has a journal to help you do this.
- Learn what your true income is after taxes. This can be found on your paystub.
- Break down your monthly expenses by broad category. We provided some suggestions above, but feel free to remove some and add others. You have to find what are the best things for you to track.
- Compare your expense with your income and begin the process of making some “adjustments” in your spending if you are spending more than your income.
- If you’re married, do this with your spouse. This is not an opportunity to point fingers, it is an opportunity to get on the same page.
- Be sure to capture those non-recurring expenses like insurance payments or HOA fees that don’t happen each month.
Once you have collected all of this information, you can make a plan for each month. If you don’t like your allocations, make some adjustments to the plan. Find a system that works for you and then continue to modify it so that you are able to find out the information you need to know before you get into a financial bind. Regularly check your progress toward meeting your spending plan during the month and make any adjustments that need to be made along the way. It is a very good idea to periodically track how much income you have left during the month to spend. When the amount starts to get low, it is time to make some adjustments and do everything in your power to spend less than what you make. If you can consistently spend less than you make, every other financial arena in your life will become much more manageable.
Rob West of the MoneyWise Live radio program provides us with some closing suggested steps as you begin to “know well the condition of your flocks:”
- Begin every planning session with prayer
- Be honest with your spouse (don’t hide purchases or missteps)
- Find alignment in areas in which you are going to cut back
- Be flexible and know that “stuff happens” every month
- Keep giving, be generous
- Get rid of credit cards
- Don’t leave out enjoyment, celebrate your successes
- It’s your plan, revise it if necessary
But remember, you only have 100%. So if your income doesn’t allow you to meet your goals, you either have to save beforehand, make adjustments or make more money.