Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Budgets: Putting it on Paper, Defining Priorities, and Doing what it Takes

In the previous budget post detailing an organized way to set up monthly and yearly budgets (Budgeting Tool #1), I briefly mentioned the importance of getting that budget on paper so that everything can be seen in "black" and "red."

Putting it on Paper
The reason I believe that it is so important to get everything down on paper is because I firmly believe that financial discussions for families should be about the meeting of minds, defining priorities, and working as a team to ensure that those goals are met. Without solid information, it is more difficult to come to that all important meeting of the minds that needs to take place. Without solid information and data, it is much more likely that accusations will fly and parties privy to the budget will feel unfairly attacked, disenfranchised, and patronized. In short, the budget should be used as a tool to monitor and control the finances of the household, not monitor and control each other.

A poster in the comments section of my last post, "Sleep Deprived," demonstrates just how important a written budget is to achieve a meeting of the minds. He states:

I used to do create a similar budget in MS Excel. It didn't take long to realize we were "in the red" every month. Convincing my wife to help make lifestyle changes was thought at first. But when I showed her that she had spent $1,500 on clothes (for herself) for 2 consecutive months, she got with the program. Within 2 months, we were able to achieve positive cashflow.

Defining Goals
Preferably before a budget is created, but certainly by the time a budget is created, a family should define their priorities so that appropriate adjustments can be made. But since goals change as circumstances change, I have decided to place the defining goals as a second category.

Obviously, financial goals will be as diverse as the families defining them. But, it is important to know your goals and be able to state them. Having a goal in mind makes the sacrifices that come with achieving those goals much easier to handle.

Whether your goal is to lessen your debt load, eliminate your debts, stay out of debt, build your savings, buy a home, make a major purchase, or achieve long term financial security, chances are that you cannot "have it all." No matter what your financial goal is and no matter how different it is from your friend's financial goals, the commonality is that something will have to go.

MominIsrael points to a column in Maariv dedicated to fixing a couple's financial issues. In the case that MominIsrael highlights, the couple find themselves in a monthly overdraft (translation for non-Israelis: they are debt financing their current lifestyle). The wife does not want to sell their apartment, which is eating up 40% of their take home incomes. However, it seems that they have a myriad of other expenses.

If I was consulted, I would suggest that they define their top priority and focus their budget around that goal. If keeping their apartment is their top goal, there are plenty (and I mean plenty! Just follow the link) of adjustments that can be made to help them achieve this goal. Of course, the couple might find that cutting out the expenses to achieve this goal are just too much and may choose to redefine their goals and work their budget around those goals.

Goals need not be etched in stone. But, they should be clearly defined so all involved parties know what they need to do to achieve their goals.

And, one more note on goals: I believe it is wise to include older children in defining and prioritizing goals. Of course, parents still need to maintain a high level of control as they are the heads of the household, but it is perfectly acceptable to let your children

Doing What it Takes
There is not much to say regarding doing what it takes, as it should be self-explanatory. What is hard is "saving face" in front of the neighbors who oftentimes seem to have no problem letting you know that you should be providing x, y, or z for you family. The "Ortho" part of the "nomics" is that we live in communities that more or less have rigid expectations of what is a must. Here, we must define what is a need and what is a want, for your own family. Ultimately, you will be much happier because you will be achieving your own goals, rather than feeling like a failure because you can't keep up with the Goldberg's, and you will feel in control of your pocketbook, rather than feeling disenfranchisement.

(More on these topics later).


Anonymous said...

You're right on target. Many come to perceive things that are expendable as necessities just because "everyone has them." And, there has been a decided escalation in what "everyone has," from custom sheitels to cell phones for each member of the family.

Ezzie said...


(Good points, Ariella.)

A friend of mine actually created a fake set of books in Excel after the post I wrote following your previous post, which is nicely set up (but still needs to be added to and adjusted) for anyone who wants a good way of 'putting it on paper' and tracking it.

Even when people *do* start getting it all on paper, they think just coming out even is good - and truthfully, it's better than what they were doing before. But the goals point is perfect - they need to be putting a nice chunk aside for the future even without goals. If they want to achieve those goals, how much more so.

Great post again, SL.

RaggedyMom said...

We took a break from "putting it all on paper" in Excel broken up by categories and dated, but are starting up again now that it's a new month. Since we have preschool tuition this year for the first time, it will be good to see where things are going and reassess our spending habits. What you wrote about evaluating whether something is indeed a "must" or if it's a "frum thing" is such a key point.
Great series, and thank you, SL!

Orthonomics said...

Ariella-I can't stress this point enough. The fact that nearly everything can be viewed as a necessity is a killer.

Ezzie-You are correct that just scraping by isn't really that great, although it beats going into debt! But, if one is just breaking even every month and then something happens that they cannot control (gas prices increase, an illness, etc), they can easily go from debt-free to in-debt and spiraling.

Cushions and emergency funds are definitely on the to blog about list.

RaggedyAnn-Hope you will keep us up to date on changes with your newfound pre-school expenses. You are smart to look at the expense side of the equation, rather than the income side. A lot more could be said about this. Hopefully I will be able to write about this too. :)