Revisiting a “Poor” Excuse for a Budget

Paul went back to work at Calvary Baptist Church this week after a six month deployment to his Air Guard Station in Horsham, PA.  Normally, a deployment can separate families for long periods of time, but God was very kind to us and Paul was just ordered to fill a position at the base where he spends his drill weekends. So in reality, not too much changed during his activation. Except our finances.

After finishing up the ThM degree from WTS in May, we were quite jubilant but also quite broke. We’d paid for Paul’s schooling without going into debt (in partial thanks to the military) but doing so resulted in a severe depletion of our savings. Add to that Meg’s birth which, though wonderful, reduced my work hours for about two months this winter and you get a set of bank accounts that weren’t receiving much love last year. So when we got the news that Paul was being activated, it was a clear reminder to me of God’s gracious care. He didn’t have to give us that increased income, but he decided to do so and I was very grateful. We paid off the final school bills, made some car repairs, fixed some problem areas of our home, put money into a retirement account (what! crazy!) and even had some left over to take an awesome family vacation. A lovely summer all due to God’s unexpected generosity.

That brings us to this week. As I pulled up our budget program and began to plan for the next few months, I suddenly realized just how much less we would be making. And I began to get fearful. What if we had a bunch of unexpected expenses? What if one of us got sick and couldn’t work? Why hadn’t I saved more for our emergency account? Maybe I’d made a horrible mistake going on vacation! Maybe, maybe, why, why, what if, what if…

I’ve always struggled with my relationship to money. I know that God is the great provider, but I still have the nagging feeling that if only I worked harder, saved better, and made fewer financial mistakes I would be wealthy enough to live without fear of anything. Ironically, my definition of “wealthy enough” always ends up being “just a little bit more than I have right now.”  It’s a subtle lie that my heart feeds to me and Satan reinforces with messages from the culture that I live in.  And I was in the thick of that lie, letting it cloud me to the truth of God’s never-ending goodness.  It took a few days, but I have since readjusted my thinking. God is back in his proper place and I am not freaking out (no promises for the future though : )

I know that many of you have financial struggles that are out of your control. Maybe your situation is much more dire than mine is. But truth is truth and God’s goodness to you is as sure and reliable as his goodness to me. Never doubt that reality. He cares for you as a precious child and is going to grow you into a person who looks more like Jesus. (Seriously, I was the one reading Paul’s blog post this week : )

With that back story in mind, I thought I’d pull out our marriage situation post about budgeting. It expounds on my tenuous grasp of the truth of God’s goodness when it comes to finances and also gives some practical ways to deal with money together, as a couple.  We posted it two years ago and figured that many of you are new readers who might enjoy it. 

 

It’s Friday so it’s time for a marriage situation post. As always, Liz’s comments will be normal and Paul’s will be bolded. 

Raise your hand if you and your spouse have ever disagreed over something financially related.  Raise your hand if you have ever read a finance book together. Raise your hand if you have ever tried to create a budget together and ended up on opposite sides of a room with one of you fuming  and the other despondent.

So maybe that last one only happened to us : )

After a two years of marriage we were still in graduate school (albeit different ones than when we’d started our life together : ), still working just-slightly-above minimum wage jobs, and still eating the occasional ramen noodle dinner in order to save on groceries. Not destitute, but not raking in the cash. We’d kind of coasted through our graduate school years while in South Carolina. I’d entered our marriage with some money that I’d inherited from my grandparents and we used that to graduate debt free and subsidize our (very) meager income. We weren’t crazy spenders and since Paul worked at the bank where our one little checking account was held, he would glance at it once in a while to make sure we didn’t overdraw. Living like that worked for me. What I didn’t know couldn’t upset me!  However, once we moved to Michigan, Paul put his foot down and decided (and I reluctantly agreed) that we need to get our finances in order. Daily balanced checking account! Save for retirement! Save for a down payment! Save for a car! Strictly enforced budget! No more opening store credit cards so that I could save 15% on whatever $20.00 item I was purchasing!

And following about three weeks of living with a strict budget, I came apart. I couldn’t handle the stress caused by constantly thinking about a budget. I hated thinking about our (lack of) savings.  I despised balancing our checking account. And I kind of missed the little thrill I got from opening a store credit card in order to save on a purchase. I told Paul that I couldn’t do it (read:  dramatic pronouncement “I just can’t LIVE like this!!”) and that I wanted to go back to the tried and true coasting method of financial management.  Hence, feeling despondent on one side of the room with Paul on the other side, vainly attempting to think of a way to fix this problem.

(Picture from a card I bought for Paul : )

The “coasting method” of budgeting worked very well in college for me. Basically all I would have to do is not buy anything, and then I would have enough money to pay for it. When I got married, it didn’t take long for me to realize the “just don’t buy anything” tactic was not going to be satisfactory. Liz bought things–not lots of things–but much more than I had ever bought. I knew something needed to be done, but quite frankly, I didn’t have the energy to create a budget after the seminary and work days were done (about 12:00pm every night). I decided to just ramp up my “not buying anything”  in order to allow Liz some financial freedom. Every once in awhile I would get jealous when she bought something without a thought to our finances, but not so much as to say anything. She never went crazy with her spending and I just didn’t want to deal with the issue.  So, the fact that our finances were not “in order” did bother me, but I was already asking Liz to sacrifice so much. Every so often I would declare that we should “get our money situation in order” but when push came to shove, I didn’t have the time or will to organize it. 

Fast forward two years and there was a fateful day when a “budget crisis” forced my hand. We were down to a few hundred in our account and Liz did the strangest thing ever–she got upset. She couldn’t believe that we could be so low in our account. Seeing (but not understanding) her distress, I decided to give some dedicated time and thought to budgeting. Now I could make a budget for her good–to keep her from getting upset…and I do so love  to organize things. So I drew up a beautifully detailed plan and knew it would work flawlessly. Of course, this budget slashed any entertainment we normally did and brought the food allowance back down to consistent ramen noodle levels, however at the end of the month we would actually have money to save! (About $60 dollars : )  Hmmm. . .gulp. . .not sure how to sell that one to Liz—but maybe she would be impressed with how detailed it was :-).  So I gave it to her all at once, no sugar coating at all.  I became the budget Czar, and determined to maintain financial order. Well, that lasted for about three weeks, until Liz’s declared that she just couldn’t make it work. 

 

Our first financial crisis! What can a couple learn from this type of situation? What did we come away understanding? (Tune in tomorrow to find out… : )

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