Dave stared at his check register, perplexed. With his hands in his thinning hair, he wondered, silently, “Where did it all go?” With a week-and-a-half left in the month, there were still bills to pay and precious few dollars to pay them with. “What happened?” He asked himself again and again, blinking repeatedly – as if the shutting and re-opening of his eyes would change the numbers his downcast eyes landed on. Meanwhile, Dan’s wife, Dorothy, hovers close by uncertain how to comfort or help him.
The truth is, that Dan and Dorothy are not alone. According to an article in the April 2014 edition of Business Insider, 61% of US Adults Do Not Keep Track Of Their Money. That means that slightly more than 3 out of every 5 adults here in the United States do not have a budget.
What is a budget?
In its most basic terms, a budget is a plan that predicts expected income and directs how that income will be spent.
Another word for money is currency. It flows. That seems to be the problem, that money flows into our lives, and for folks like Dan and Dorothy, it flows back out. Without a budget, the money goes where ever we let it. What Dan and Dorothy could do with a budget is this: put a name on every dollar that comes in – that’s right! Give it a job! Put it to work for them!
Why don’t people budget?
Five recurring themes emerge when looking at people’s avoidance of writing a budget, according to Linsey Hunsaker in the Deseret News (10/10/14).
- Emotions and Unresolved Emotional Issues: When people are in emotional states or have unresolved emotional issues, they may tend to relate to money like others do to food or alcohol. Money, specifically spending money, may be a form of soothing those emotions, sometimes to an excess. Because dealing with finances can also trigger feelings of failure or insecurity, people avoid working with a budget to avoid a negative emotional outcome. A personal/family budget needs to be about the “business” of the individual or the family.
- Meaningless Numbers: Some people have difficulty connecting the numbers to real life. What shows up in the check book or the bank statement doesn’t translate well into their experience or understanding. In budgeting, then we need to connect needs, hopes, and goals to the numbers.
- Inertia: In some cases, the inertia can be found in a lack of preparation or experience, “I’ve never had to do it before.” At other times, it can flow from a simple resistance to change. The problem with budgeting is that it is not a on-off exercise but an on-going process that gets refined during the current budget month, but also at the beginning of each month because there are different things that are needed in that month.
- Endorphins: Endorphins are the pleasure chemicals in the brain. They are released when we drink coffee, eat chocolate, and enjoy time with friends or family. Endorphins are also released when we spend money on something we think we want or that we think will bring us pleasure.
- Misconceptions: Most people misunderstand budgeting and see it as a slavish experience and drudgery. The truth is that once a person begins to budget it becomes much easier each time. It’s not so much that we have to pre-plan every expense, but that we need to know how much money we have for given categories of needs first and wants second.
Whatt are the risks of not having a budget?
There are several risks we run by not having a budget. We can end up like Dan and Dorothy who have way too much month left at the end of their money.
- The financial risks:
- A bill goes unpaid.
- They get hit with a late fee or interest charge.
- They cannot properly take care of an urgent need without incurring debt.
- The emotional risks:
- Dan feels like a failure, lost, dejected and hopeless.
- Dan becomes desperate and may make hasty financial decisions.
- Dorothy is worried about Dan and about their financial condition.
- Dan’s kids feel the tension in their home.
- The relational risks:
- Dan and Dorothy argue over money – or worse, they don’t talk about it at all.
- Dorothy feels alienated or isolated because Dan doesn’t include her in what little process he has.
- Both Dan and Dorothy become frustrated and embarrassed when creditors start calling.
These are just some of the risks they face because Dan didn’t develop a real budget with Dorothy’s cooperation and participation.
By the way, in some households Dorothy could be the one with the checkbook, and Dan is the one who might not know what’s going on.
What’s to gain from having a budget?
Working on a budget and executing that budget together can certainly help in many different ways. Here’s how:
- Having a budget is one way for Dan and Dorothy to show they love each other and see each other as important.
- Both Dan and Dorothy will know what money is coming into and leaving the house.
- They will know what their needs are and will be able to prioritize them.
- They will work together to dedicate the appropriate amount of money to each of those needs.
- With greater control over their money, by having given each dollar a job, they will find that their income goes a bit further.
- Dan will feel less a failure (and perhaps even a success) and Dorothy will feel more secure.
- The budget will also allow them to effectively communicate with creditors, if needed, to ensure the debt is paid!
Winning with money is possible!
Ultimately, Dan and Dorothy can win with their money, and so can you! But it requires a plan that must be worked. And a budget is just one piece in the puzzle of prudent financial management. That’s where a financial coach can guide you, using proven steps to financial freedom. Learning, and often first unlearning, how to deal with money sets you up for success. Together you can overcome most hurdles and climb to a way of living you only may have dreamed about!