Why Budgeting Doesn’t Work

I have this work out plan right? But I’m pretty sure it’s not working, because I’m not getting skinnier, or stronger, or reducing my stress. So I think I need a new plan.

The truth is. Nothing is really wrong with my plan. The problem is: I don’t do it. Any of it. Ever. And especially not consistently.

I’ve sat down with hundreds of couples and gone over their ‘budget’ and most people, after some prompting can tell me, approximately what they spend on things like insurance, groceries, fuel for their car etc. But when I compare their ‘plan’ to their bank statements. The bank statements tell another story.

Admittedly, the title of this article is a little bit of click-bait. You’re not going to hear me advocate AGAINST budgeting. But when we pretend like budgeting IS the work of managing our money, we grossly underestimate the power of actions and habits. This is true throughout our lives isn’t it?

We intend to force our kids to eat the veggies, until they start throwing a tantrum on a Thursday night and we just want to have dinner over with.

We intend to have people over for dinner, make new friends, remember our friend’s birthdays. But a year goes by, and we find that we failed to make any of these connections.

Maybe you are like me and you know you SHOULD work out more, but you just can’t seem to break the status quo of what you’re doing.

Truth be told, all of these things I just listed are behaviors that we know we should do. But we don’t actually want the behavior, we want the result.

We want healthy obedient kids.

We want a strong sense of community and supportive friends.

We want a healthy body and lower stress.

The Bible says “if you clean the inside, the outside will also be clean” Matthew 23:26. Meaning, if we want behaviors that lead to healthy kids, strong communities, and financial peace. We need to work on our hearts, before we work on our wallets.

Budgeting Habits, Instead of Money

When we set up a monthly budget based on dollars. I.e. “We are only going to spend X on eating out this month”. We are creating a limiting barrier for our heart to battle against. We spend half of our budget by the 7th, spend it all by the 20th and then white knuckle it until the end of the month. We may restrict our behavior, but every month is a battle of momentary decisions (am I going to spend this money out of my budget or not?) It’s painful, annoying and it drains your ‘decision making capacity’ that should be used for more mission-oriented work. We are trying to address our outside behaviors (where our money goes) instead of addressing the heart issue underneath it (why we spend our money).

What works better is budgeting with habits:

 Instead of saying “we are only going to spend X amount”.

Say “We eat out on Tuesdays.”

When the question comes up “should I buy lunch out today?”  Instead of doing the math of whether or not it is in the budget, what other alternatives may present themselves this month, and how hungry you are for Chipotle; habits simplify the decision “is it Tuesday?”

 When we develop a rhythm to our money, we feel empowered. We can even feel grateful. Instead of, “I can only” we have something to look forward to. We decide not what we can’t do, or the limits of what we can do. But we choose to live our life in a specific way, with a specific rhythm in order to further our mission.

Instead of budgeting our behaviors we should be budgeting our hearts. If I am spending too much money shopping, the solution isn’t to say “I am going to spend less on clothes” and then hope and pray that I can ward off the evil ‘shopping spirits’ when they settle over me. A better question would be to ask myself a question “What do I believe about myself, or clothes, or God, or others, that causes me to overspend on clothes?” “What habits could I develop that would address this?”


Self-control is a ‘fruit of the Spirit’. When we attempt to control our behavior from our own strength it’s called will-power and it is finite. Eventually, you break down, or other parts of your life suffer. A person only has so much decision-making capacity each day, spending it all on restricting your behavior distracts from your mission. You should be spending that capacity on making progress on your life’s work. The ‘good works’ God prepared for you, and only you.

 Self- control is from the Holy Spirit and it is infinite. Self-control isn’t something that we ‘muscle through’, it’s something that is fostered in our heart by building habits that profess the Lordship of Jesus Christ over our lives. Making decisions in this way, actually fuel us, they bring us closer to God, our spending (or not spending) becomes an act of worship.

If we ask ‘How does God wants me to live my life?’ instead of ‘how much money is available to spend?’. We will find that not only do we have all that we need, but the times we do spend money, give us life and gratitude, instead of frustration and worry.

Now… off to the gym.