As is our newfound, month-end habit, Kathy and I braced ourselves for Budget Accounting Day (BAD).
“What do you think, shall we Do The Budget tonight?” Kathy asked, hoping I’d say “No”. (Doing the Budget is nothing like Doing the Hustle.)
Sadly, I recently reorganized my sock drawer, and my hard drive doesn’t need de-fragmenting. “I suppose we should … ?” I sighed mournfully.
Gone is our eagerness to see how much progress we made in reducing our debt. Gone is the novelty of gaining mastery over our expenditures. Both of us suspected that this was not a good month — we’ve been careless and inattentive, and our spending reflects this lack of discipline. Even worse, there wasn’t any extra income to save our bacon — this month would have to stand on its own.
The budget must survive – we’ll fight to the bitter end.
I pulled up our debit card records while Kathy scrounged for receipts, and the litany began: “SOMEBODY went to Wal-Mart on the 12th and spent $60.28,” I recited in a sing-song voice, raising my eyebrows and looking at Kathy in what I hoped was a significant and portentous way.
“Yep, I’ve got it. That was split between Households and Groceries.” Kathy often feels defensive about how the money is spent, probably because of the accusatory way I read off the transactions.
This month there were a couple of debits that we couldn’t explain. “C’mon,” I insisted. “The receipt has to be somewhere. Try to remember — $35.08 at Target on the 15th … ?” I tried to restrain myself from self-righteousness, but failed. “Don’t you usually put receipts in that little blue coupon wallet,” I prompted, in a patronizing tone.
She still couldn’t find it. Then a flood of embarrassed realization swept over me: the 15th was the day before Kathy’s birthday. I had shopped that evening at Target with the kids, foraging for last-minute gifts. I couldn’t remember where I put the receipt.
“Um, OK, that was already recorded under Mystery Gifts in Tim’s Unaccountable,” I muttered, shamefaced. Kathy sweetly refrained from rubbing it in, and we moved on.
Silly Daddy, how could you forget?
When the dust settled, we were over-budget in Groceries (no shock there, with a week at Camp behind us), Medical Expenses (Rachel’s contact lenses) and Clothing. As is our practice, we paid the overage even-Steven from the money in our individual accounts (we each get a small amount per month in ‘unaccountable’ money).
“Arrrrgghhh!” remarked my wife. “I’m nearly broke!”
“Me too,” I agreed, sadly. “We really need to watch our spending more closely, so this doesn’t happen again.” Suddenly that last $25 I spent at Costco on milk, eggs and fruit seemed much more painful, now that we were paying for it out of our treasured personal money.
To add insult to injury, this month we made only modest progress on our debt-reduction. Earlier months saw double-digit percentage reductions, but this month we were only able to pay off 4%, dropping from 51% to 47% of total debt remaining. It is enough to make a novice budgeter discouraged. At this rate, it would take us another year of penny-pinching to pay off our debt!
Whoever wins the tug-of-war gets the extra budget money!
As I write this, I am convicted of my ungratefulness, faith-lessness, and foolish bad attitude. What do I possibly have to complain about? We were able to live within our means, and to reduce our debt by 4% — how generously God continues to provide for us! We’ve been able to save some toward our roof that still hasn’t failed, and our aging cars keep starting. August looks to be a good month, with an extra paycheck and potentially lower expenses than usual.
I think I’m a lot like the Israelites, after they left Egypt and were wandering in the desert. Even though God provided food and water for them on a regular basis, it seems they had a very short memory, and were willing to complain and doubt His providence for their needs at the drop of a hat.
The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”
Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the LORD to the test?”
But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”
Then Moses cried out to the LORD, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”
The LORD answered Moses, “Walk on ahead of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the place Massah (meaning testing) and Meribah (meaning quarreling) because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the LORD saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” — Exodus 17:1-7
47% of our debt remains, as of August first.
So let me re-gird my faith and praise our Lord and God for His graciousness in helping us to make progress in reducing our debt, even when we don’t pay strict attention to the principles that He has helped us to discover.
After all, I need to face this fact: if I plan to honor God with my finances, I’ll be subject to some kind of a budget for the rest of my life. I’m just not the kind of person who can ‘wing it’, and I doubt I’ll ever have enough money to enjoy that luxury. So this is a discipline that needs to take root in my heart, not just a quick-fix band-aid that I slap on my life.
Hopefully the children will learn from our budgeting struggles and victories.
Hooray for God, who gives us the strength we need to do hard things!