About this time five years ago, Matt and I did our first budget. I have no clue what we did prior to that first budget meeting, but I think it was some combination of checking our account balance daily, crossing our fingers and eating pasta bake and Totino’s pizzas when they went on sale–four for $5. Since that first budget, we’ve made a thousand revisions. We’ve added two kids and given up my income. I don’t think we’ve ever had a budget that worked just like it was written out. There are always suprises–the baby shower you forgot about, the field trip that missed the calendar, the MLGW bill from when it was one billion degrees. Imperfect people make budgets, so it almost never works out perfectly. For us, no matter how much money we put into groceries, it seems like we always go over. My girls both eat like linebackers. (I can’t imagine where they get that from.) And we’re eating much healthier than we did back then, and healthy food costs more. The money has to come from somewhere, and when we go over in one area it has to come from another area. This is why I end up getting my hair cut once every eighteen months and why I learned how to cut Matt’s at home.
In our experience, a budget almost never works exactly like it’s written, but it’s gotten us way closer to our goals than we would have gotten otherwise. A budget is simply a plan–telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went. And like building plans or weight loss plans, a budget will get you to your intended goals if you keep coming back to it. It probably won’t be perfect. Some months might even be a disaster. But just like when you take the wrong exit and Siri has to reroute you, if you get back to the plan you will get to where you’re wanting to go.
Matt and I had no clue where to start in creating a budget. Our first step was to take Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University from our church. We’ve since led several groups through the curriculum, and we really like Dave Ramsey’s baby step approach. The baby steps make it doable and not so overwhelming. There are several other great programs out there, but make sure whatever program you choose is based on the simple principle of living on less than you make. It’s not rocket science. It’s what our grandparents did, but it’s a concept that’s pretty foreign to our generation. Our church is hosting Total Money Makeover Live this Saturday, May 3rd if you’re in the Mid-South area, and a new FPU class starts May 14th at Highpoint. If you’re not in the Memphis area, you can go to Dave Ramsey’s site and find a class near you. If you’re an overachiever and just want to dive right in, you can find budgeting forms on Dave Ramsey’s site too. I’ll be honest and tell you we needed the background info and the hand-holding that the class offers. Those budget forms looked like Greek to us the first time we read them, but the class made everything make sense.
I know money isn’t the most fun topic to talk about, but getting on the same page with our finances has been the single biggest factor in the health of our marriage. Even though our budget rarely works exactly like it’s written, it gets us on the same page and enables us to reach our financial goals. That makes every Excel sheet, every budget meeting, every living room hair cut totally worth it.