When you hear the word “budget,” what comes to mind?
It doesn’t exactly have a positive connotation.
So why does the word “budget” evoke feelings of dread and regret?
It implies two things:
1. You must know exactly how much you are spending in a given month.
2. You need to develop a plan to decrease that spending.
The second implication isn’t always true. While there may be some shifting (or re-prioritization) of certain line items on the budget, it’s only to keep spending in alignment with your family values — the overarching goal of any good budget.
At a prior employer, we spent a great deal of time trying to disguise the word “budget” and put friendlier alternatives in its place: cash flow management or financial independence analysis. Whatever your nomenclature, let's challenge the traditional way that you view a budget.
Budgeting as a Tool
A budget is not evil. Rather, it is a tool that creates awareness of your current spending and saving patterns. A budget is a starting point to craft a concrete financial plan. Since life is not static, financial goals change over time. Recognize that your financial aspirations should also be tied to life priorities.
There are seasons of life where you may be more focused on yourself than others. You may want to attend expensive concerts, dine at fine restaurants and travel extensively.
When you have kids to feed and larger bills to pay, conservation takes precedence. Your indulgences as a single person will fall away, and you’ll be focused on financially providing for the entire family.
Creating a cohesive family budget will take time and energy. As income rises, you have the luxury to prioritize experiences, tangible items, or additional savings. When income falls, you need to make lifestyle cuts without putting the health and safety of your family in jeopardy.
My Own Budget Journey
Below is a mini-chronicle of my budget as an adult and how it has shifted over time.
As a new college grad, my budget was pretty basic and separated into three main categories:
1. Fixed expenses (such as rent, utilities, and insurance)
2. Variable expenses (food, clothes, entertainment)
3. Savings (to fund a down payment on a home)
Living in the Midwest as a single person and earning a strong salary as a new accountant, there was plenty of wiggle room in my budget for fun expenses, including entertainment and recreation. By the time my husband, Bryan, and I married, we owned a nice starter home and had a solid joint emergency fund. Budget category names remained the same, but extra funds went into joint savings — for a down payment on a larger home in the suburbs.
I still use the same budget format from Microsoft Excel that I developed over 15 years ago, yet there are many more line items in each category now. We had a “budget overhaul” with the addition of each child. When our first son was born in 2009, I returned to work after a short maternity leave. Saving was relatively easy — even with a reduced workload and full-time child care expenses.
With the arrival of our second son in early 2013, I was unsure about returning to paid work since Bryan was working full-time and attending a rigorous evening MBA program. We must have reviewed our budget at least 100 times to see if we could live solely on my husband’s income. Seriously.
I reluctantly went back to work after baby No. 2 but only stayed about eight months. It was simply too much to handle … the 40-minute commute each way and Bryan’s absence in the evenings made it too difficult for me to juggle work and family responsibilities.
This was a HUGE change for our family, so things quickly went from financially comfortable to awkward. The reality further set in after our third son’s arrival. Categories, such as clothing and entertainment, that were selfish indulgences before kids were now exclusively focused on our boys. We actively sought out activities for low or no cost that we could enjoy as a family. The vacation budget amount was the same as 10 years earlier, but we had to make accommodations for a family of five rather than two. There was little to no wiggle room in this new budget. It made Bryan and me very uncomfortable.
To alleviate some of this financial stress, I drew on my accounting background and started my own firm, SV CPA Services (opens in new tab), in 2014. Fortunately, I developed strong client relationships early on and earned a steady part-time income.
Two years later, we made another major change. My husband was unemployed for a few months, and my part-time earnings did not seem sufficient. I spent the vast majority of my career in wealth management and also yearned to start a fee-only registered investment advisory firm. WorthyNest® (opens in new tab) launched in late 2016. Although it wasn’t profitable from Day 1, WorthyNest® helped me come alive again professionally.
The combined income from SV CPA Services and WorthyNest®, coupled with a moderate opportunity fund (opens in new tab), enabled my husband to quit his unsatisfying job so we could embark on a three-month Spanish adventure in early 2018.
Our personal budget was critical to making informed decisions for each of these dramatic changes. Additionally, business projections for SV CPA Services and WorthyNest® were crucial components of the personal budget.
Shift Your Perspective
Do you see how a simple change of perspective can make the budget go from foe to friend? In future columns, I’ll dive deep into the different types of budgets (including Envelope Budgets and Detailed Budgets).
In the meantime, register for the Redefining Family Wealth email list (opens in new tab) to get our FREE starter guide and weekly tips on family wealth-building.
Deborah L. Meyer, CFP®, CPA/PFS, CEPA and AFCPE® Member, is the award-winning author (opens in new tab) of Redefining Family Wealth: A Parent’s Guide to Purposeful Living. Deb is the CEO of WorthyNest (opens in new tab)®, a fee-only, fiduciary wealth management firm that helps Christian parents and Christian entrepreneurs across the U.S. integrate faith and family into financial decision-making. She also provides accounting, exit planning and tax strategies to family-owned businesses through SV CPA Services (opens in new tab).
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