In the immortal words of Mike Tyson “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
Budgets are plans, but many people have a hard time sticking to them because of the unexpected emergencies and opportunities in life.
Deciding how you are going to spend your money before the month starts is a great idea in theory, but it seldom works.
Many people find the plan too rigid and avoid planning altogether. Still others find themselves constantly over-spending, beating themselves up at a ‘budget review’ and then swearing they’ll do better next month.
My wife and I had a similar routine.
Although I was the ‘money guy’, she did 90% of the variable spending.
I (much to my discredit) had little sympathy for the variability of our household needs, and took for granted many of the things our household required.
Developing an inflexible plan is naïve and not all that Biblical.
The Bible tells us that “man makes his plans, but the Lord establishes his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) And James chastises his readers for making statements about what they’ll do in the future (James 4:13-14).
It’s not that it’s wrong to have a plan. It’s just wrong for the plan to have you.
When we plan our spending with a budget and refuse to be flexible, we miss opportunities to give when we didn’t plan to give, to have lunch with a friend you need to connect with or to take advantage of a special travel opportunity that comes up unexpectedly.
Availability is the key to opportunity, and having every dollar planned for the next month means there is $0 available.
But we DO need to spend responsibly, give intentionally and put a little money aside for a rainy day.
How can we do this if we don’t plan?
Although budgets make a claim about what is going to happen in the future, in both organizational finances and personal finances I’ve found them much more useful for telling me what did happen.
Reviewing a periodic expense report compared to your planned spending shows you where things ‘popped up’ and where your ‘plan’ went awry.
Many times, when reviewing my budget these items cause me to shrug “I wanted to buy that person lunch” “So and so needed groceries” “that purchase will save me money in the long run”.
The budget review tells me what happened. It points out what my habits are.
When we use budgets as a mirror for our behavior, rather than a rule for our behavior, we allow the budget to serve us instead of the other way around. The budget points out the idiosyncrasies of our spending lives. Just as a weight lifter or dancer will perform in a mirror to notice where their form is off, budgets remind us of spending habits that are slightly off mission.
When opportunities or emergencies arise, how did we handle it? Did we panic? Spending well more than we needed to. Did we take on debt? Did we refuse to serve, give or be generous because we were holding on to our money?
Use the Mission Minded Money Worksheet to review your budget and see if it is on mission.
Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. Planning to spend X, spending X+Y, changing nothing, and planning on spending X the following month is insane.
Something has to change.
Too often when Christians deal with their finances, they rely on religion instead of the heart.
They try to modify the behavior, without addressing the cause.
Jesus tells us to ‘clean the inside first and then the outside will also be clean’ (Matthew 23:26).
Spiritual transformation comes through habits like Bible reading, fasting, serving and prayer. Financial transformation likewise comes through an intentional adjustment of habits in our spending, working and giving.
How to Do a Habit Review
The next time you review your budget, instead of saying “we need to spend $100 less in X category”, decide what $100 in that category represents then form a habit that will impact that dollar amount.
For instance, you might say “we really need to spend $100 less on groceries”. You can’t continually eat the same meals every month and expect the grocery bill to go down.
Maybe you decide that if you eat one meatless meal per week or forego a weekly indulgence or change the store you normally shop at, that that moves the needle for you.
If you want to spend less on ‘going out’ instead of limiting the dollar amount say, “we’ll go out on Wednesdays and Fridays” or “we’ll go out once a week”.
You may find that sitting on your couch watching Hulu, or going shopping on the weekend don’t really align with your values and mission at all, and perhaps these are habits that need completely cut out.
But you might find as you review your budget, that the habits that you have, align with your mission.
I spend a fair amount of money on ‘eating out’, but almost exclusively while buying lunches for people I am meeting with either for counseling, relationship building or mentoring. That money is well spent in healing the hearts of the broken, nurturing relationships for business or friendship and learning from wise mentors around me.
Sure, it’d be ‘cheaper’ to not meet in this way, but sharing meals and being generous towards others aligns with my values and my mission.
It’s a habit worth keeping.
Rules should not control the Christian life.
Unexpected problems and opportunities arise and we should be ready and willing as followers of Jesus to deploy money towards these, regardless of our plan.
Critically analyzing our habits, instead of spending levels gives us a better window into what our heart conditions are towards money. As we align our habits towards our calling our money decisions will naturally follow suit.
And once you’ve formed the habits to bob and weave with life’s surprises, ‘getting punched in the face’ might not hurt as much.
Just ask Tyson.
Want more content like this on the go? Check out the Christian Money Podcast.