Starting a Budget 101
A speaker once said that more people buy V-8 juice than drink it. They know it’s good for them, so they buy it, bring it home and leave it in the back of the refrigerator until it is past its expiration date. Their head tells them it’s a good thing, but their emotions go for the hot chocolate, lemonade, or soda.
Budgeting falls into the category of things that are good for you but not necessarily emotionally appealing, like flossing your teeth or exercising. The truth of the matter, though, is that everyone budgets. Drawing up a budget is just making your spending more intentional rather than allowing your whims to determine how you will spend your money or your time. Budgeting is a tool to help you figure out in advance where you want to spend your resources. The problem is that most of us come with lots of baggage about the use of money that makes us scared to look at it in the clear light of day. Thinking about money can cause many of us to feel discouraged and fearful when we consider the failures to handle money well in the past.
The key, though, is that those behaviors were in the past. The present and future are what concern you now, and you have an opportunity to start your financial life anew. As you approach marriage, you have a partner to share the decisions and the work. Just as it’s often easier to exercise with another person, you may find that handling financial decisions is easier when there are two heads working on them. Setting up some dreams for the future, whether it’s plans for children, moving to a new town, or checking off items on a bucket list, might make it easier to work toward them.
You might want to think about what motivates you to do other things that seem hard. If you gave up smoking, what made it possible for you to do that? If you floss, or exercise, or have another daily routine that is good for you, how did you build it into your life? Finding the key to what motivates you is a big part of establishing a budget.
Another important key to managing a budget is talking with each other about money and about your priorities so that you are on the same page. Facing the fact that one of you considers buying furniture a priority while the other thinks a vacation is just what you both need right now can be wearisome, but these opinions won’t go away just because you don’t talk about them. They’ll pop up eventually and affect your relationship.
Author Jason Kelly offers one tip that is helpful in trying to change any bad habit: Don’t try to get rid of bad spending habits all at once. At first, just cut back. Are there any monthly subscriptions to magazines, technologies, or other deliveries that you no longer use? Take an inventory and unsubscribe. If you were used to renting ten movies a month, cut back to eight. If you ate out five times a week last month, try to make it four or three this month. Every step we make will bring us closer to our goal. If we try to leap there, we’re almost sure to fall short and get discouraged.
Love isn’t always expressed in hearts and flowers. Sometimes it is reflected in the hard work you do with each other to create a budget, So haul out the credit card debts, the student loan payments, old doctor bills and any other leftover debts from the past, and look at your finances without criticism or sarcasm. Laying all your cards on the table will be the foundation for your new life of sharing your finances and making decisions together.
- Seven Steps to Becoming Financially Free: A Catholic Guide to Managing Your Money by Phil Lenahan
- In Good Times and Bad: Strengthening Your Relationship When the Going Gets Tough and the Money Gets Tight by M. Gary and Melisa Neuman
- Why Enough is Never Enough: Overcoming Worries about Money – A Catholic Perspective by Gregory S. Jeffrey