I’ve learned a lot about budgeting over the past year and a half. It started out of necessity…
We were in a bit of panic mode due to job circumstances and medical bills just after my daughter was born, and I had a huge amount of anxiety just not feeling in control of any of our finances, but the one thing I could control was just tracking each and every expense so that we had a better idea of where our money was going and what changes we might be able to make. It took us almost a year to really get good at budgeting accurately and we STILL sometimes have to adjust for unforeseen circumstances, but our knowledge about our own spending habits has grown SO MUCH in the last few years. However, it wasn’t until my husband and I did the Cultivate What Matters Finance Guide that our attitude around budgeting began to change. You can read a bit more about the guide in THIS POST from last year, but it was then that we shifted from survival mode to changing our mindset and starting to think of using our money as a way to reflect our values.
Now, some things, we can’t really change (we have kids, they are expensive no matter how frugal you are. We have massive student loan debt and we can’t go back in time and change that, etc.), and we know that we will continue to have unforeseen and non-negotiable expenses (like… future medical expenses.) but some of the questions in the finance guide brought me back to thinking about something we talked about during our engaged encounter.
For those of you unfamiliar with Engaged Encounter, it is part of the Catholic premarital counseling and it is basically a weekend where you discuss a bunch of different topics that can cause stress in a marriage if not communicated about and that can strengthen a marriage if you are on the same page and in it together. One of the final sessions talked about discussing ideals and values and our mentor couple explained to us that ideals are what you wish your priorities would be in ideal circumstances/an ideal world and values are what you are actually placing importance on in your current circumstances. So if you say family is important, but you currently spend no effort to grow your relationships with your family, then having a strong family is an ideal for you, but not a value. If you value something you will show it in how you spend your time, your money, your thoughts, etc.
So when we did the finance guide last year, we realized that some things that we claimed were our values actually were not. Now AGAIN, let me stress, that sometimes, based on the way we are talking about values in this post, your primary or possibly ONLY value at some points in life is going to be survival. That first nine months or so after my daughter was born we reflected that we valued surviving, building relationships as a family of four, and letting our community know we still loved them and hoped to emerge soon. Anyway, we were out of purely survival mode and realized that we wanted to start budgeting based on what ideals we wanted to make our lived values. This meant budgeting for our our son to go to preschool. It meant budgeting for home repairs because we wanted our home to be a safe place and because we spend a LOT of time at home during this phase of life. It meant budgeting for some sort of physical fitness for me to keep my anxiety in check because a gym or yoga studio membership or a new pair of running shoes are WAY cheaper than a year of therapy appointments. And it meant starting to budget for giving.
Can I be honest? I felt torn on this at first. Those of you who follow the Dave Ramsey method of finances may be familiar with giving being the FINAL baby step… as in AFTER YOU PAY OFF ALL YOUR DEBTS INCLUDING YOUR MORTGAGE and fund kids’ college expenses. I think I had that in my head when I felt the initial resistance about changing our budget in this way. But you know what? If we waited until we were debt free to give, we’d be waiting a long LONG time, and I don’t want to live that way, because sometimes life is shorter than we think it is. And I want to start this habit now… so we felt totally convicted that some of our values is helping others and having a generous spirit. Even if that generosity may seem very small compared to what others can give. In our budget each month, hubby and I each have a small amount of personal funds to spend on things like coffee, an emergency meal out, or we can save it up for other things that are definite wants, not needs, that are just not in our budget right now. We decided we should set out charitable budget to the same amount as this “fun money” and if there are months it feels like we can’t afford it, then we cut the same amount out of his, mine, and giving. And it doesn’t always mean we are giving to a charity each month. Some months our giving fund goes to providing meals for people who need them or some other super local or personal cause, but other months it means giving to Team World Vision or Catholic Relief Services or The Florence Project
And sometimes we are already out of our budget for this in a month where a lot of our friends have several really amazing fundraising projects going on and it is hard for us to know that we can’t give more at this time. I have even been embarrassed by how little we can give sometimes. We have made micro gifts of $5 or $10 to causes we want to support and wish we could do more. In the past, I would think about doing that and felt ashamed by the amount and then not given at all. I thought I’d be judged or that I might be offending the organization or person fundraising by giving such a small amount. It has been a relief being on the other side of it and knowing that any gift is an act of generosity, and that little by little adds up to a lot. Four gifts of one dollar per mile I am running in my half marathon would equal one person having clean water for life… $13 or $25 means years and years of life changing water for someone. I’m not going to scoff at that. And that has opened my heart to give what we can without shame. I’ve been thinking a lot about the widow who contributes what amounts to a few cents and Jesus talks about how precious her offering is. Starting a practice of giving has been a gift to help us really change our attitudes and examine how we define wants and needs. We are by NO MEANS experts at this and are continually praying about how to steward our resources. About when we truly have nothing left after the bills that HAVE to be paid, and when we have wants that are tempting us away from our values. About whether we should be throwing more at debt vs. what to keep aside so we can endure for the long haul and not throw in the towel on budgeting and living more simply. About what we want to model about finances for our kids.
Our financial budget is something we’ve built the habit of discussing every week, but as we’ve seen the differences that being intentionally frugal have made for our financial budget, it has made us want to start discussing how we budget our time and how that reflects our values vs. ideals and what might be the healthiest way to approach this and other finite resources.
If a stranger were to look at your bank statements, what would they say you valued? How closely does that match your ideals, and are there any little actions steps you can choose today that will help those two things move closer together?