I recently shared how our family started tithing, and even more recently, how God enabled us to begin giving a portion of what is left every month (a total miracle).
In order to be responsible with our finances, I learned to look at our monthly financial picture and devise a budget. It is the only way to make sure we don’t unintentionally over-spend.
Do you follow a budget? There are so many digital options that make it easy to keep track of expenditures. I finally gave up my paper and pencil and put our budget into the spread-sheet in Google Drive. I shared it with my husband’s account so he can see what we have to work with at all times. Making sure your spouse is on the same page is key–if they don’t know what they have to spend, one trip to town can completely sink your planning.
My budget is open on my home computer, and I have access to it on my phone so I can update the categories with new receipts right away. This is working well for me, and the best part is, it doesn’t cost anything!!
So how do you budget?
- Start with prayer. Ask God to guide you and give you wisdom for the planning you need to do.
- Add up your fixed income. That is the amount of income you know for certain that you can count on every month. If you make extra some months, great! But don’t budget what isn’t for sure.
- Now take 10% off the top. Dedicate it to the Lord and write that check right away. What’s left is what you have to spend on you.
- Next, add up your fixed expenditures. These are bills that you always have, whether monthly, bi-monthly, semi-annually, or annually. Examples of these are:
- Your house payment or rent (Do you know that making 1 extra payment per year will reduce a 30 year mortgage by 7 years?)
- Electric, propane, trash, and other utilities (Utilities can fluctuate. Look at your bills from the last 6-12 months and find the average to budget each month. On months when you have some left-over, put it in savings and ear-mark it for utilities so that when you have a month that costs more you will have it.)
- Phone and Internet
- Life and automobile insurance–Look at your bi-annual or annual bill and divide it by the number of months it covers to find out how much it costs per month. Then put that amount into savings each month so that when the big bill comes, you are prepared.
- Add up your annual car registration renewals, divide to find your monthly expense, and put it in savings.
- What other fixed expenses do you have? Monthly dues, entertainment like Dish, retirement investments, school loans, credit card payments, car payments, etc… add them in.
- Have you started an emergency fund?
- Don’t forget gas for your vehicles, and oil changes when they’re due. I budget a reasonable amount for this. Every month is a little different. If I use it all, great. If not, I put it aside to pay for more costly months, or set the extra aside for next year’s camping trip.
- When you have completed your fixed expenses and deducted them from your total, now you get to work with what is left over.
- Make yourself a category for groceries. Looking through last months receipts may be helpful, or this next month may be eye opening for you as track what you spend, keeping track of what you have available in your budget. Use this information to set aside a reasonable amount to spend on food in future months.
- You also need to set aside funds for your non-food items. You can break this down into lots of small categories, and a budget sheet usually has some of these suggestions already available to use. Or, if there’s not a lot to work with, you might opt to have one simple category like I use–“Everything Not Food”. This includes our diapers, postage, clothes, homeschooling supplies, toiletries, gifts… literally, any monthly expense that isn’t food.
- Now look at your total income and subtract everything you budgeted for expenses. Does your budget balance? If not, start praying about how to make adjustments, or if necessary, how to bring in additional income.
You may have to research how to reduce your fixed expenses. Cut the cable, switch to a more affordable cell phone plan, shop for lower insurance, adjust your thermostat and unplug some of your “stuff” when you aren’t using it in order to cut utility costs, etc…
We actually have our deep freeze on a timer. It is off at night when we are sleeping and no one will open it. Everything stays frozen. Then the timer turns it back on during the day. So we run a deep freeze, which is a necessity with such a big family, but we only pay for electricity half the month!!!
Other ways to cut costs may include strapping down on those variable expenses…
- Don’t do unnecessary driving so you can save money on gas. I try to do all my town stuff only one or two days a week.
- Find ways to cut back on groceries. This may include using coupons, comparing costs at different stores, menu planning so that you don’t buy anything you don’t actually need, eliminating desserts, or saving $ on some recipes by cooking from scratch.
- Eating out less or not at all. We had to stop eating out years ago, and our diets have become so healthy that when we do occasionally get to eat a meal out, it doesn’t settle well on the tummies. Home food is definitely healthier and more affordable.
How God Has Provided for Us
Let me encourage you, if you don’t already tithe, consider giving back to God. I promise, if you are trusting Him with what you have and believing that He is going to take care of you, you will not be disappointed.
With a family of 10, groceries are honestly one of our greatest expenses. November is the month that Minnesotans deer hunt. For our large family, this is a staple that we’ve grown to look forward to for both the variety and the affordability. (I hope this is not offensive to anyone, but please read on to catch my point.) Last fall we paid for a hunting license, but we didn’t ‘get’ a deer… a loss of over $30 from our budget. Our 7 year old son was bemoaning the fact that, “Now I’ll never have venison!” and I found myself telling him,
“If God wants us to have venison, He is not limited by whether Dad got a deer this year. He can provide us with venison in another way.”
I had to pause for a second, realizing I had just given God a door to build my son’s faith, and hoping that He would use it. You know, He didn’t disappoint. Less than 24 hours later, a friend of camp, who we see maybe once a year, showed up in my husband’s office. “Do you like venison?” he asked with a smile, holding out a bag containing 15 pounds of processed venison steaks, chops, and roasts.
God is always showing up, even to rescue the budget of His precious son or daughter who is befuddled on how to stretch their resources while purposing to give back to Him. I could tell you story after story. Miracles become common place. It really is easier to live on less when God receives His portion first.
I hope this blesses you as you plan and put together a working budget.