While I was washing dishes and trying not to lose my mind after lunch today, I realized that having a budget is a lot like having small children. Both have good and frustrating qualities that make them difficult to predict, but rewarding. Even if you don’t have your own (kids, that is), I think everyone’s been around enough little people to see the similarities.
1. They take time. The first budget I ever made as a married person took several hours of work. I had to figure out all our categories of expenses, many of which were new to us as a couple; create (actually, find a template) for a spreadsheet to keep track of everything; and then plug in a whole bunch of numbers. I currently update our finances once a week, but it does take a little planning. (I use Dave Ramsey’s free app now to keep track of things, but Excel served me well for many years.)
2. They are unpredictable. I made our first ‘real’ budget when James started his first ‘real’ job. I thought everything would stay the same and that I’d predicted all expenses exactly so I’d never have to change anything. Obviously, I was wrong. I am often wrong about my children’s needs as well. Something can work perfectly for a while (say, a specific nap time), but then it changes and I have to figure it out all over again. My greatest moments of stress come during these times of change.
3. They get more expensive over time. Prices go up with inflation, and kids cost more as they start getting bigger. It can be difficult to shuffle the budget around when prices have gone up and your pay hasn’t matched inflation. Shuffling doesn’t mean that you’ve failed to have a good budget in the first place.
4. You can’t compare yours to anyone else’s. I used to pore over lots of money-saving blogs and beat myself up for not spending less on my groceries. I should be feeding my family for $200 a month because so-and-so in Pennsylvania does!
Then I stopped and thought about it: I don’t live in Pennsylvania. I live in a small, isolated Utah town. I have more people in my family, too. Stick to good principles and don’t worry so much about the numbers. Get worried if you spend more than you earn, and that job is what you’re supposed to be living on for the rest of your lives. I won’t even get in to comparing kids, but I’ve done plenty of that and felt terrible in the process.
1. They bring peace. In making and sticking to a budget, I know that I’m doing everything I can to keep my family’s finances in order. My children ultimately bring me peace at the end of the day because they are my greatest work.
2. They provide a happy future. Learning to discipline our spending now is what makes our future possible. It doesn’t mean that there won’t be hard times, but we’ll be prepared to handle them.
3. Having no money doesn’t mean you shouldn’t (or can’t) have one. I don’t say this lightly. We had children and a budget when we had no money because it was the right thing for us to do. Since there wasn’t much money coming in and it was unpredictable, I simply recorded everything we spent and tried to cut back where we could. Since we can live on one teacher salary and have me stay home, I think our lean years of frugality were a success. (James did have a second job for 3 years, but we’re back to just 1 now.)
4. Sacrifice. I put this as a good thing because to me, it means giving up something good for something better. The main sacrifice I make to save us money is with my time. It takes longer to make food from scratch, fix things instead of buying new ones, and find suitable clothes at yard sales. It’s a whole lot easier to eat out and not do dishes (especially with no dishwasher). However, I’ve been able to learn a whole lot about homemaking that I never thought I’d be able to do. I wouldn’t trade what I currently do for anything!
Keeping our home running smoothly makes me happy. I’m glad to be at home with my kids, even though they drive me nuts sometimes. I worry sometimes that they will feel deprived of new clothes or restaurant experiences, but at the end of the day, they care more that they get to spend time with me. Some parts of being frugal can be frustrating. Not everything I do turns out great, but I always have God’s help to make up for where I fail. For that, I am especially grateful. I never thought a budget could be such a blessing.