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The “B” Word Isn’t So Bad

Call it a spending plan, a money management blueprint, an income distribution strategy… whatever you want. It’s a budget, and everybody needs at least one. Further, I believe everyone should have to prove adept at its use before one can have a driver’s license, file an income tax return, and perhaps even before being allowed to own a cell phone. It’s that important.

I grew up as a child of a child of The Depression; the “Big One” that began in 1929. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. And my mother grew up in New York, so tough times there were truly tough times. In our household, the sounds of eagles screaming as pennies were pinched was commonplace. “We can’t afford it” was the first thing I heard every morning. It wasn’t until well into my adulthood that I realized my parents were not, in fact, paupers. What they were was very, very wise. Their strategy for financial success was to live far below their means, plain and simple. Each month, before a bill was paid, or a pair of tennis shoes bought, money went into four different directions: a savings account, a Christmas club account, a retirement account, and to our church. If each one of those priorities got five dollars, that was five dollars more than it had last month. No excuse worked; every month was the same, regardless. And rearing six children on my dad’s modest salary must have brought about some months where that discipline was more than a little difficult.

Today in my practice giving financial advice, I begin most of my conversations with asking about a budget. I get blank stares, nervous giggles, and occasionally an enthusiastic nodding of the head.

Why do people today struggle so at managing their money? By far the majority of people who come to me for help complain of having too much month at the end of the money, but when we dig down to see where their should-be-ample salaries are going, there are black holes everywhere.

A budget doesn’t have to be a complicated thing! I use a spreadsheet. If you’re not comfortable with that much technology, use a notebook. Or I have a sheet I’ll provide; I’ll even make copies. I’ve seen a dry-erase board on a refrigerator serve as a perfectly functional budget tracker. One popular financial guru suggests using envelopes to keep track of cash. Whatever works for a person/f