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We Need to Have an Honest Conversation About Budgeting

Scared of the word "budget"? Read this post for an honest conversation about budgeting and 7 ways it can make a positive impact on your life! You'll be encouraged!

We need to have an honest conversation here. Because there’s a big problem I’ve been noticing over the past few years. It’s causing all sorts of financial issues, marriage tension, and stress.

It’s a big problem, but there is a pretty simple solution. And I want to get up on my soapbox today and talk to you about this problem. Because it’s high time we not only acknowledge the problem, but we talk about a solution.

What’s the problem, you ask?

It’s this: people have a negative view of the word budget.

Like, it’s all fun and games until I bring up the word “budget” and then everyone looks at me like I suddenly grew horns and contracted cooties.

Y’all, the word budget is not a bad word.

It’s not an inappropriate word.

It’s not even a negative word.

For real.

It’s a POSITIVE word.

And the sooner we can start believing that, living from that belief, and celebrating the amazing-ness that is a budget, the sooner we’ll start experiencing more financial success, more unity in our marriage, and so much less stress.

As someone who has lived and breathed by a written budget over 14+ years of marriage, I’m a living testament to that.

A budget is not something that will make your life miserable. It’s not a ball and chains. It’s not bondage. It’s not a straight jacket.

It’s not any of the negative, icky things you’ve pre-determined that it is. In fact, it’s the opposite of negative… if you choose to view it that way.

Here are just a few reasons I believe that a budget is a very positive thing:

A budget is a powerful weapon. It is your best hope for getting out of debt. It is your strongest tool for being able to make financial traction. A budget helps you to know where to spend your money and where not to spend your money. Instead of having to stress over where to spend your money, a budget will direct you to exactly how you should spend your money.

A budget is a marriage unifier. Sitting down and creating a budget together forces you to learn to communicate and get more on the same page financially — and probably in other areas of your marriage. It will likely open the door to many conversations about a variety of subjects and will give you the opportunity to have discussions you might have no even known that you needed to have!

A budget reduces fights in our marriage. I’m a natural saver and Jesse is a natural spender and we are so different in so many ways. We have had to work hard to not let our differences break us apart. Creating and following a budget helps us to learn to work together better and to compromise in a healthy way. And ultimately, it removes so much tension that could come from our spender/saver relationship because we’ve already pre-determined how much money we feel is good to have in each spending category.

A budget makes decision-making easier. If you usually struggle to make decisions, a budget can simplify your decision-making process by helping you to know quickly whether or not something is a wise purchase for you right now. It will save you time and it will eliminate post-purchase regret!

A budget is a gift to your life. The clarity that creating and following a budget will give you will bring so much added fulfillment and purpose to your life. Plus, if you’re a person who likes to spend money, a blow category in your budget can give you just the breathing room you need to be able to spend money for fun — without the guilt!

A budget brings so much freedom. If you often stress over purchases and wonder whether you really have the money to make a certain purchase, you need a budget. A budget gives you the peace of mind to know that you have enough money to cover your expenditures for the month and that when you go to the store and spend money from your grocery category, you’re not eating into your ability to pay your electricity bill this month.

A budget is a roadmap for success. When you create a budget, it challenges you to think longterm where you want to be financially. It allows you to set goals — to pay off debt, to save up to pay cash for something, to slowly change your financial position — and then serves as a guide to help you achieve those goals.

I look back over the past 14 years of our marriage and can point to our decision to follow a budget as one of the biggest keys to so much less stress, tension, and the thing that has brought so much more peace, calmness, and joy into our life.

Which is why I just can’t understand why anyone would think negatively about a budget. Because, for us, it’s been the best thing ever and I can’t recommend it highly enough!

The solution to this big problem is simple: stop viewing a budget as a negative thing and start celebrating all its positive attributes. It might be a slow process of reshaping your viewpoint and shifting your belief system. But it can be done… little by little, day by day.

I challenge you to put the effort to change your perspective on budgeting from a negative thing to a positive thing. Your perspective can change everything — including your success at budgeting.

And when you can set up and follow a budget + experience the freedom and joy that can come from it, you could very well completely change your life and the lives of your family and your future grandchildren and great-grandchildren!

How has a budget positively impacted your life? I’d love to hear! Share in the comments.

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49 Comments

  • Linda Conklin says:

    I agree that budgets can take the stress out of a relationship. In our case, it was with our son. My husband and I are both savers, but our son is a spender and a fashionista…a dangerous combination! Several years ago we all sat down and discussed the amount of clothing and shoes that as a growing teen, he would need in a years time. We made a list and then put a dollar amount next to each item of what we would be willing to spend for that article of clothing. We came up with a budget and he could buy anything he wanted and pay any price, but when the money ran out, that was it. It took awhile, but finally, he goes to the sales racks or shops online so that his money goes further. Lesson learned!!

  • Jennifer B. says:

    I realize this isn’t the type of comment you requested, however I’m going to post and you can remove if you see fit.

    Personally, I do think of a “budget” as a constraint (also negative) so why not think of it as a “money plan” instead?

  • stacy says:

    Oh Crystal I think I need to interview you for my FB group – seriously! You are speaking my language girl! I am currently getting certified as a financial coach and have 7 years of commercial banking experience and am teaching on this very principal! I agree, budgets are key to a happy marriage although I admit my husband and I are not very good at sticking with them. We are good about making them and good at making sure we have enough to cover our expenses every month but we really do need to be better about savings and making sure we have our monthly budget meetings!

  • Jen says:

    Love this post! When my husband and I married 20 years ago I dreaded his suggestion of going on a budget. It sounded so restrictive. At the time I just had a rough estimate of what was in my checking account and never balanced it! I wasn’t a big spender, but I managed to rack up a couple thousand in credit card debt that I brought into the marriage. I was shocked to see how quickly we were able to pay that off just by deciding at the beginning of the month where our money would go. I came to see that budgeting meant meeting goals. It meant freedom. It allows us to spend money intentionally and have a better sense of where our money is going. Can’t recommend it enough!

  • Sue Eichler says:

    About 5 years after my husband and I were married, I decided I wanted to go back to school for a degree in another field. My husband, at the time, was making a decent salary, but we were probably losing about 40% of our income when I stopped working. We developed a budget at this time and we never really missed the extra income because we knew exactly where our money was going and what we could spend. Fast forward 23 years later and we still live with a “budget.” My husband’s income has increased significantly and I have been very blessed to be able to stay home and raise my almost 14-year old twins. Money is not an issue because we always know exactly how much money we have and exactly how much money we have to spend. As Jen mentioned above, control of your money equals freedom. We will be living with our “budget” for the rest of our lives!

  • Hannah says:

    I couldn’t agree more! Budgets are freeing. My husband and I had a huge amount of debt after infertility treatments ending with IVF. He was going back to school after spending 5 years in the military and I knew I wanted to at least cut back to teaching part-time after we had a baby. Having a budget allowed us to pay our years of infertility expenses off in three years, and have me teaching only part-time. Even better, I am resigning my teaching position at the end of May to stay home with our two little girls full-time. I can’t even believe it. This was NOT easy. It took dedication to the budget, lots of coupons, and blog-following, but was well worth it. Thank you for all of your help and inspiration along the way.

  • Agreed! The word “budget” is like the word “diet.” Too often, people associate it with deprivation and not being able to enjoy life.

    But a budget is about making sure you CAN enjoy your life by focusing your money where you want it. Couponing at the grocery store so you have money left over for fun stuff, saving now so you can retire later, etc.

    And, just like a diet, it’s important to know that if you mess up, you can absolutely get back on plan.

  • Michelle says:

    We’ve been married for 11 years now and we’ve had times of need and times of plenty. We’ve also moved several times leading up to my husband following his calling into full-time ministry. We have always had a budget, even when there wasn’t enough money to cover all of the bills on the list. Our marriage has been strengthened continually because we’re both on the same page financally, and I can’t even begin to tell you how much our faith has grown as our faithful, heavenly Father has provided over and over again. Budget is a good word in our house!

  • Denise says:

    We budget a certain amount each week to go towards expenses that only come up occasionally like car repairs/maintenance, home repairs/maintenance, car insurance/registration, clothes, trips to see family, eye glasses, and having that budget in place means I don’t have to stress out when my car needs tires or my husband needs a new tool for work. It is freedom!

  • Theresa says:

    This all sounds great…but what if you don’t know how to create or follow a budget? My husband and I have tried to budget in the past and failed every time. A post about how to create and follow a budget would be a nice follow up to this post. (And please, mention something other than the envelope system. Having envelopes full of cash laying around seems very unsafe.)

    • Tabitha says:

      Theresa, The first thing my husband and I did when we created a budget was keep track for three months of all our expenses. We didn’t change anything at first, we just wanted to see where we spent our money. Then we sat down over dinner one night and discussed how we were spending our money and where we could make better choices. Then we tracked where we spent our money for the next month (implementing our “better” choices). We continued to do this for about four months until we had perfected our “budget.” Now that we have a budget or spending plan in place, we only revisit our budget once a year OR when there is a big life change. Don’t be overwhelmed – little steps. Hope that helps!

    • Tiffy says:

      I struggle with the envelope system too – it works well – in theory. But if having so much cash around makes you uncomfortable you can STILL make a plan! Sign up with Everydollar.com

      It’s free – and does all the “mathy-business” for you, you just make a plan – every single dollar has a name BEFORE you even get it – then when you get paid you just follow the plan you made!

      Spend 3 months documenting where your money is actually going – NO CHEATING! If you splurged and bought a candy bar while at the gas station – that’s OK – just don’t lump it in with your gas purchase!

      When you see where your money is actually going it is easier to see where your “financial hemorrhages” are – get those plugged and all of the sudden you are making progress, you feel like your are telling your money what to do – AND IT IS FINALLY LISTENING!!!!

  • Bethany says:

    It certainly can be what you describe. I believe it’s worked out about like that in our marriage too. However, this is a broken world we live in. The word carries the connotation of emotional abuse for some of our sisters. There are many misogynistic men that “put their woman on a budget.” I have a friend in that situation right now that I am praying for.

    • I’m so sorry your friend is going through that.

      Sadly, I know of wives who are trying to “put their men on a budget”, too. 🙁 A “budget” can be abused by a spouse who is just trying to control the other spouse in a very unhealthy manner.

      That’s why I think it’s SO important that a budget is not a me thing but an US thing. It requires communication, compromise, and a lot of conversation to get on the same page in marriage — about finances and many other areas!

  • Learning to budget has certainly helped me and my husband to come to some sort of agreement in teams of how we spend the money we earn.

    Budgeting has help us to avoid impulse shopping whenever we can.

    Budgeting helped us to cut down on unnecessary expensive expenses such as cable TV.

    Budgeting has stopped us from using our credit card and taking any debt.

    Budgeting has helped us save money for any financial goals, be it buying a second hand car, holiday, etc.

    Budgeting has helped us to be content and grateful of every thing in our life.

    So I totally agree with you Crystal on viewing budgeting as a positive thing.

  • Anders says:

    Hey Crystal!

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot, why budget seems to be such a negative word for many people. For us who like to save and live frugally it’s almost natural to have a budget, and it’s more common than not that people do in our “community”.

    I think the negativity stems from a discrepancy between the fact that people might want to save but at the same time we’re showered in messages about where we should spend our money. And I think the media machines are very good at making us feel a bit of FOMO if we can’t spend like society expects us to. And we don’t want to feel like we’re missing out now, do we?

    I also have a slight fear that there’s a laziness brewing in the world. We get more and more used to things being fast, easy and preferably automated and if we have to do any work ourselves, it scares us off. To me it seems like people might be willing to budget if they can use an application like Mint or similar, where they don’t have to do too much work themselves.

    I’ve tried the automated systems too, but for me and my family, it just doesn’t work to not have to do the work with the budget. Putting the numbers in and seeing where we’re at each month is what helps us stay on track. Have you tried (or heard people try) the automated budget apps and software and have good experience with it, Crystal?

    When it comes to your question about positive impact from budgeting in my life I have to say that our family’s economical situation as a whole is thanks to budgeting for about ten years now. We started our budget when we were in university and we didn’t have much money. As we got jobs and higher salaries we kept the budget rather similar to where it was in university, to avoid lifestyle inflation to hit us. We have increased some though, it’s hard not to when you’re making more money and you actually want to grow in life.

    But all in all, our budget helps us save between 45 and 60% or our salaries each month. And we still don’t feel like we’re missing out on things. We spend on what we like and have fun. Perhaps, we just think a bit more if consuming things will actually equal more fun.

    Thanks for bringing this subject up Crystal, it’s one that I think needs to be discussed.

  • LeaDawn says:

    Truth! I love the freedom that comes from our budget. I know I have money set aside for a babysitter and date night, so I do not feel guilty scheduling it and spending that money.

    We are in the middle of a work transition and move. It would be terrifying without a budget! I was able to go through our typical budget and cut out extras and add moving expenses and make things work for the month. That saved me sooo much worry! Budgets are a powerful tool.

  • Karen says:

    Did you really write this, Crystal? It doesn’t sound like you.

    • Yes, I did. 🙂 It’s something that’s been sitting in drafts for a long time and I finally decided to actually get brave and finish it and post it yesterday. 😉

  • BethB says:

    Thank you for this post!

    What drives me batty is when I see things like “Decorating on a budget”, “Travel on a budget”, “Capsule wardrobe on a budget”, etc.. People. A budget is a spending limit. EVERYONE has one. Even Donald Trump. Being “on a budget” is not indicative of a small, restrictive amount of money. We have somehow learned to associate the word with a lack of resources when this is not the case!

    I’m the Executive Director of a small nonprofit and my treasurer has helped change my thinking around the organizational budget. The budget is a living, breathing thing that is going to change over the course of the fiscal year. We might be over in one area but under in another because that’s how life works. Things don’t always fit into these perfect little boxes. I’m not going to freak out if we’re 5% over on office supplies because we had to replace the paper shredder. I’ll just continue to monitor spending and find other areas in which to cut back or increase income.

    It goes back to the Eisenhower quote about plans being useless but PLANNING indispensable. A plan, or budget, isn’t this rigid thing people think it is.

  • Sandra says:

    I grew up in a household where money was tightly controlled, and even in my adult mind, “frugal” is synonymous with “stingy,” and “budgeting” has more to do with poverty than freedom. I realize I may be bringing a lot more baggage into the equation than most people, but I don’t think my perspective is that unusual. I would love to think of budgeting in the terms that you describe, but I have no idea how to change my mindset. As it is, I dread whole process.

  • Sandra says:

    As an addendum to my previous comment, I think part of the reason why I (and I’m sure others) dread the budget subject is because there isn’t enough money to cover the things that really need to be budgeted for. Consequently, the exercise of actually looking at how bad it really is only increases the anxiety. In order for a budget to help you make progress, it necessitates having enough money to begin with. Is it possible to have a positive attitude about money management otherwise?

    • We had a budget in the early years of our marriage and we never had enough money to cover all of our basic expenses, but we somehow made it work every month. Having a budget was always an encouragement to us because we knew that it would have been so much worse had we not carefully been accounting for every single penny! We couldn’t afford to NOT have a budget.

    • Amber says:

      Sandra! No one has ever described it like that before and that is EXACTLY my problem. I know I don’t have enough to fund every category and it stresses me out. 🙁

      • Sandra says:

        Amber, I can sympathize. Most budgeting advice says to trim more off each category, but when it is already as bare bones as it can get, that’s not very helpful, particularly when all that’s left is getting rid of paying for things the kids really need. The only thing that makes sense in that case is to increase your income, which is what we are trying our best to do. God has provided practical solutions in the past, and I know He will again. I’m just not very good at managing my fear and dread of dealing with finances in the meantime, which is what prompted my original post. Maybe someday, I can look at budgeting with a positive attitude again. 🙂

  • Brianna says:

    When I follow a budget, I like to think of it as a game! It is a challenge to see if I can keep spending under the budgeted amount and so fulfilling when I do! It doesn’t have to be negative at all.

  • Chris says:

    The most recent thing that we have been able to do because we budget, is to be able to pay for a used minivan with cash. It took several years to save for it, but when I wrote the check at the car dealership instead of having payments, I can’t tell you what a good feeling that was. 🙂

  • Emily C says:

    Someone told me last week that making a budget is an act of faith and I really liked that. Have faith that you can choose where your money will go! You can decide what your priorities are!

  • budgeting is seen as a restrictive term. I actually like the word “money plan”. But budgeting made a huge difference in our life. We are able to see our spend, calculate the % of our savings, and plan our future much better than not knowing our savings and not planning on investments etc.

  • Deanna says:

    I LOVE having a budget! I’m a saver and my husband more of a spender. Finding a method that worked well for us didn’t happen immediately after we were married – we’ve had to do our fair share of tweaking. But as a save, having a budget gives me freedom to spend and I can actually enjoy it because that’s how the money was meant to be used.

  • Sarah says:

    I completely agree! My husband and I went through FPU about 10 years ago. I was NOT into it at all but we were going to support a family member taking the class. Anyway, we started the steps. It was so tough at first, especially the first few budgets and how many times we had the “How do we possibly afford anything?” moments.
    Through prayer, trust, and dedication, we were able to pay off $60,000 in 21 months. Now I’m able to stay home with our 3 kids and we’ll have our house paid off in about 7 years with no additional debt. We take trips, both as family and as a couple, to places like Boston, San Fransisco, and Cabo debt-free.
    The budget is hard at first but if it’s adhered to, has MAJOR benefits, both financially and relationally.

  • derek says:

    Too many people think of a budget as a monthly reminder of how they suck at money and screwed up… again! So they just quit. (And who could blame them?)

    I think people put expectations on themselves that are too strict and unrealistic. Without some wiggle room you are setting yourself up for failure.

    Just like exercising, if you plan on running 5 miles and only run 3, that’s not a failure, that’s a huge win. 3 miles is waaaaay better than 0.

  • Noel says:

    Having a zero-based budget, paired with using mostly cash, has been great for our marriage! Now when my husband, the spender, talks about wanting a Bronco, or this toy or that tool, I don’t clamp up in fear and tension that he’s actually going to come home with that item, assuming that item wasn’t in the budget. If it comes from his blow money, super! If we need to talk about it and add it to the budget, fine. But my level of stress has dropped so much in the eight years that we’ve been budgeting the right way. And I didn’t even know that his unbudgeted spending was stressing me out until the stress was gone. And this feeling of trust is an amazing thing!

  • Katie B. says:

    It was eye opening to track our expenses and see where our money was going. We both had been stressed about finances because we thought we didn’t make enough to cover everything but in fact, we were spending quite a bit on extras without even realizing it.

    Telling our money where to go (aka budget, money plan, whatever you want to call it) has helped us be able to save and pay for things like vacations and private school tuition while covering our other monthly expenses and not taking on more debt.

    We switched to cash envelopes a couple months ago and are spending less than we thought we could. We have adjusted some categories and added a couple as things have come up. Before we had a plan, we would have stressed about random expenses (like school registration costs) but with a plan, the expenses are easily handled.

  • Elisabeth says:

    Hi Crystal,

    Can you please direct me to a post (or create one!) about how you and your husband learned to manage your differences in money styles? My husband and I have been married for 5 years and are still struggling with this. He is an uber saver (barely sees the need to spend money on food) while I do like to spend money (that we have, not outside of our ability) on eating out, buying clothes more than every 3 years, saving for a family vacation, etc. I am reasonable with my spending but it feels like we can’t get on the same page about our budget.
    Book or article suggestions about this struggle? Any helpful resources you can suggest would be GREATLY appreciated!
    Thank you.

  • Casie says:

    Seriously Crystal, I just about cried reading this post! I wish people would give budgeting (or money planning or whatever you call it) a chance.

    Following a written on paper budget every month (well, we do every four weeks) has been life-changing for us. We wrote our first budget in September 2009 and have done one every four weeks since then. It has allowed us to become debt free, to give when when want, to save hand-over-fist for retirement and to be able to handle two mortgages right now (we bought a house and the buyer on our previous house walked out of his contract leaving us with the house). We could never have handled two mortgages without having a budget.

    It is the best thing we’ve ever done. Money talks don’t make me want to vomit like they used to. ? Now money talks are easy and almost fun – we dream and plan a lot!

  • Megan H. says:

    Amen! Very well said. It is amazing that the majority of people I know have no concept of their income vs expenses each month. Thank you for posting!

  • Debi Z says:

    My husband and I have been married for 25 years. We have never been able to stick to a budget, but we are both frugal people. The idea that “frugal” people naturally budget is simply not true. We pay cash for cars and car repairs, do not have credit cards, and pay extra on our house. We spend way less on groceries, clothing, and household expenses than almost anyone I know (we have a household of 14 currently and spend less per week on groceries than many budgeting families do for a family of 4, we shop at thrift stores, etc.) yet we dread the idea of a budget. I can relate to your friend that has an eating disorder who can not go on a diet. Being on a budget makes me hyperventilate. Literally. We have plenty of money, but I instantly stop spending any money on anything as soon as I see how much money we have. On the months where we don’t try to use a budget, we sometimes overextend our bank account and it goes automatically into a credit line (which, I know, is similar to a credit card). On the one hand, we don’t want to do that, but we are able to pay it off at least once a year. On the other hand, when we do a budget (whatever you call it) I feel extremely anxious and absolutely NO freedom whatsoever. Any suggestions?

  • Kim says:

    My husband owns his own business and his income is very inconsistent month to month or week to week sometimes. I have a very good salary and ot is very consistent. Also we purchased our home and car when his income was on an upswing. How do we create and stick to a budget when one income is very inconsistent and we have made commitments/ incurred debt based on when his income was higher?

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