The Neglected Business of Budgeting

“Thou shalt promptly devise a monthly budget” is not a biblical commandment, incumbent upon people setting up their own home. But making a budget is both common sense and part of a good theology of money.

Biblical Principles at Play

Scripture commends proper planning. “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty” (Pro 21:5).[1] “Go to the ant …” (Pro 6:6-11).

Budgeting can help us in prioritizing with our finances. We may want to provide better financial support for the work of the Lord; a budget lets us see where our money is going and how we can reallocate funds for better purposes. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Mat 6:33).

We are stewards of all that God provides us, including our money. He expects us to use it wisely, not carelessly. “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much” (Luk 16:10; see also vv1-13).

Budgeting can help us in developing the graces of self-control and discipline. “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls” (Pro 25:28). How much does our budget allow us to spend on eating out this month? And if you do choose to spend money at a restaurant instead of preparing a meal at home, consider inviting someone to join you; combine your treat for yourself with the blessing of serving others.

Drafting a budget enables us to identify problems and make changes so that we can avoid the bondage of debt. “The borrower is the slave of the lender” (Pro 22:7).

Providing for the needs of our household is a Christian responsibility. “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1Ti 5:8). Budgeting isn’t a Bible law, but is a tool to help us fulfill biblical responsibilities.

Biblical Examples to Consider

In Luke 14:28-30, the Lord Jesus used the example of a man who wanted to build a tower but failed to budget, and was subsequently embarrassed because he started a project that he could not finish. The Lord used this to teach a lesson about something much more important: a failure to count the cost of following Christ. But His choice of such a scenario is indicative of how financial budgeting is simply a logical, common sense approach to living wisely. Shame, disappointment and frustration are all common consequences of poor financial planning.

Upon being given responsibility over Pharaoh’s empire, Joseph was tasked with managing Egypt’s food supply (Gen 41). He knew what the future held, and essentially, he budgeted the nation’s resources to provide for the people through the years of famine. There is an important lesson here. Although we don’t have certainty about the future, it is reasonable to expect financial needs will arise – accidents happen and things break. A budget should have some leeway. If your budget is designed only for ideal circumstances and contains no margin for irregular expenses, it is going to let you down.

Lessons Learned from Experience

Upon preparing our preliminary budget not long after we were married, Esther and I discovered two problems. First, as it had been created, it wasn’t going to work; there was a strong likelihood that some months were going to see more going out than was coming in. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can simply use your credit card to cover those shortages, and pay it off when things (hopefully) turn around. Credit card debt is deadly debt; don’t carry balances on your credit card beyond their monthly due date. We realized we had to decrease what we planned to spend or else we were going to dig ourselves into a hole. “The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it” (Pro 22:3).

Second, after a few months, we realized our giving to the work of the Lord, whether through the local church or privately, had become a function of merely what was left over after all else was allocated. While our spending wasn’t amounting to an extravagant lifestyle, it did reflect some wants that weren’t necessarily needs. Again, our budget helped us to see what we could change. Before the Lord, we determined a percentage of our income that we wanted to give. We then tried to adjust how our monthly expenditures were allocated in order to give more to the Lord. “Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce” (Pro 3:9).

Why Is Budgeting Neglected?

Some individuals’ personalities are particularly averse to the act of detailed planning and later checking of numbers; the thought of it gives rise to the sensation similarly produced by fingernails scraping a chalkboard. But sometimes challenges need to be taken by the horns and faced head on. For others, the benefits have never been explained and it has not been exampled to them.[2] Still others may feel that budgeting is unnecessary in a life of faith. We do need to trust God in the realm of finances and our living needs, but faith and planning are not opposed to one another. Circumstances out of our control sometimes arise that blow the budget and bring great financial pressures – these are not unnoticed by our Heavenly Father (cf. Mat 6:32). But that doesn’t negate the value of planning.

The practice of budgeting and sticking to it is often simply an exercise of self-discipline. There are millions in the world for whom “budget” is not part of their vocabulary; they have nothing with which to budget and merely hope to survive day to day. The circumstances of most who read this publication are far different, and with your relative abundance comes responsibility to be wise and not careless with what the Lord entrusts you. At a minimum, tracking how you have spent your money over the past year will likely be an eye-opening and spiritually fruitful exercise. “If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?” (Luk 16:11).

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the ESV.

[2] Beyond the simple use of an Excel spreadsheet, some potential online tools or apps to help you budget include YNAB, PocketGuard, Mint and Wally.