Although I am typing this session of Money Matters on a laptop in the Denver airport, I grew up in an era when this was not always as practical as it is now. When I was in high school, my English assignments were not typed, but they were written out on notebook paper (yeah, we actually were required to know how to write). Do you remember standard or college rule notebook paper with the blue horizontal lines and the red vertical line down the side? I understand the purpose of the blue horizontal lines. They were there to make sure the writing was straight on the paper. Without those blue lines, everybody’s writing would have an angle, a slant, or an arc which would make it completely frustrating to read. But those red lines; are they really necessary? I had a problem with this. These lines were to provide margins. The standard margins on notebook paper are 1 inch on each side and you were to only write between the margins. Why was I being restricted from writing from one edge of the paper to the other? I didn’t need margins. I could do more without them. If I was able to use the whole sheet of notebook paper, I could get more done with less paper. I would be more efficient, right?
I used to think I would be better off without margins. I see things a little differently now. Margins are a good thing. Yes, they are restricting, but they are meant to be. Margins provide structure, and structures introduce order where there is chaos. The structure margins create to bring a sense of “alignment” that is badly needed but is missing. Think about someone you know whose finances are a wreck. I would be willing to bet (and I live in Vegas) that they spend without margins or their margins are a way to close to the edges. I know, everybody thinks more money would fix their money problems, but, although popular, more often than not, it just isn’t true. Everybody wants more money, but what are they doing with the money they already have?
Financial margins are a must if you plan to be successful with money. How else will you know who much you spend on the essentials? How will you know who much you can save? How will you know how much you can afford to invest? How can you ever expect to be consistent with anything if you don’t have defined boundaries? You need a plan. A plan that is built on systems and defined by structures or margins. And these margins are created in a budget. That’s right, the dreaded “B” word rears its ugly head again. I get it, just the word “budget” is draining and brings up thoughts of mind-numbing pointless boredom. While I admit, it can be that way, it doesn’t have to be. Budgeting allows you to see, on paper, where your money is going. They allow you to tangibly see what you are actually doing with your money on paper. Now, you might not like what you see, but sometimes the truth is ugly. But you still need to see it. There is a simple test you can perform to give you an idea of how well you are doing handle money. Ask yourself, some simple questions. How much money do you spend on food? How much do you spend on bills? How much do you spend on paying off debt? Now, you may be able to answer those questions easily, but here come two or three questions that most people with money issues cannot answer. Ask yourself, where is all this written down? Can you account for all the money you earn? Is there any money that is wasted or unaccounted for? At your current rate, what is the exact date you will be debt-free? Uh-oh. I heard a hush come over the readers. Those are the tough questions to answer because an honest answer demands a different level of stewardship and greater attention to detail. But those are the questions you need to be able to answer if you want to win. A written budget gives you a picture, albeit in numbers, to answer these tough questions.
A life lived without margins is surprisingly unfruitful and often ends in tragedy. The same is so with our finances. Our spending habits need structure, and this structure actually turns out to be more enabling than restrictive. A structured plan, or budget, helps bring clarity to a financial situation. And with clarity, financial progress can be made. Haven’t you compassed this mountain long enough? (A reference to Deut. 2:3 for you bible scholars). It’s time to move forward. It’s time to take your dreams and turn them into goals (goals are nothing more than dreams with a deadline). It can be done, but it will take introducing a different level of order and discipline to your finances. We serve a God of order (1 Cor. 14:33), and he expects us to do everything decently in order (1 Cor. 14:40). Shouldn’t this apply to our finances too? It’s time. It’s time to make financial progress. It’s time to break down and do the uncomfortable things we dread to get the results we want. Are you willing to make that sacrifice? Are you willing to do it God’s way? God Bless.