A Budget that Gave Freedom
by Cynthia L Simmons
The first year of our marriage, my accountant-husband approached me about setting up a budget. As a registered nurse, I knew very little about handling money, but I agreed. A few days later, he presented me an idea he’d devised which involved sorting our receipts at the end of the month and filling out a spreadsheet. As a practical person, I saw the pitfalls and announced it wouldn’t work. His idea created a history of what we had already spent, but I sensed the need to monitor our tiny income in the present. My husband, who loves philosophy and everything theoretical, tried to promote his brainchild despite my protests. I remained firm, so he returned to his desk to hammer out another solution. We went back and forth like this a few times. He designed, and I protested. To my amazement, he didn’t get discouraged but kept sketching out new suggestions. Finally, he brought me a budget that used envelopes, and I immediately agreed it would work. We implemented the plan together, and with adjustments, we’ve continued to use his budget throughout our forty-year marriage.
His brilliant idea involved dividing the checking account into a set of virtual envelopes. He named one envelope groceries, one medical, one housing expense and one transportation and so on until we had an envelope for every area of our spending. That process forced us to decide what each category covered. For instance, we bought shampoo, toothpaste and deodorant at the grocery store, so we included those items in the groceries. We also combined car repair and insurance into transportation in order to save money for those expenses, but we placed gasoline in another envelope. As the years passed, we realized a smaller number of envelopes made the process easier, and this system allows flexibility.
Next, we chose how much we’d put into each envelope. My husband didn’t want to tithe ten percent because that seemed legalistic, plus he believed God honored giving. So he planned to create a reserve we could give to the church. We started tithing eleven percent and put more into that account each time he got a raise. Knowing car insurance bills required a large sum, he totaled the amount we paid for both cars and divided the total by twelve so we could put aside the amount needed. No need for panic when the whopping bill arrived! We kept housing at about a third of our income and estimated how much we’d need for food and clothing. When the kids were little, my husband told me we should never pay more than fifteen dollars for shoes, so I assigned the job to him. As the kids grew, he found shoes at sales or tweaked the budget as needed.
After we chose how much went into each category, we “filled” our envelopes on payday and kept track of our transactions with a spreadsheet for each. When we added up the totals from all the envelopes, the amount should be the same as our checking account balance. Later, we switched to a computer program which made the job easier, because the computer did all the addition and subtraction.
In some cases, we kept the envelope with us. For instance, we took money out of the bank for the entertainment—eating out or going to a movie. That category only got a small sum, but we didn’t want to neglect fun. So if I wanted to take a break from cooking, I would look in the envelope to see if we had the cash. If we found money, we could pick a restaurant. However, if it was empty, we’d have to wait until the next paycheck. Doing that controlled our spending because we didn’t want to get into debt. Those first years we had to watch our spending and often discussed whether we needed an item or wanted it. That conversation hurt, but we set priorities together.
Years later, we taught our system in Sunday school and also counseled couples. Once we shared with a class of young couples, and the ladies groaned. In response, I told them our budget sounded like the Old Testament law, but I could show them the budget had grace built in, meaning it could be flexible. For example, if we had leftover money in clothing or food, I could move that sum to another place. That first year, I wanted to buy my husband a birthday present, and so about four months before the event, I started saving tidbits from various envelopes. I stuffed the cash into my secret gift fund until I had what I needed. What a thrill to buy my sweetheart a nice gift without busting the budget, and he loved the surprise. We handled credit cards the same way, because if you don’t pay them off, the interest will make your debt much larger. So we never put anything on a credit card we couldn’t pay off when the bill came.
However, there’s one secret to making this budget work: don’t borrow money from envelopes that save for upcoming bills like insurance or repairs to the house or car.
In summary, my husband and I developed a budget together that provided for our obligations without getting into debt. It also allowed us to build a fund to give to the church and other Christian organizations. You can do the same. A couple years after we had our budget running, a Christian man developed a program very similar. We laughed and said we should have published our ideas. Whether you develop your own budget or find a financial counselor to help you, I hope you find financial freedom too.
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