I am a sucker for a good story. I love to watch all kinds of TV. In fact, I watch a little too much TV. I don’t mean to, it just happens. We sit down to dinner around the TV (I know I am a bad example of the Cleavers not being around the dinner table). And the news turns to wheel of fortune, which turns into Duck Dynasty, which turns into a ball game with a good dose of Netflix drama to end the night. Before you know it the evening has gone and we spent the evening wrapped up in a series of stories. Some fact, some fiction.
What does that have to do with budgeting you say? Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. My love for story translates into budgeting. Each line item starts out just a number and then translates into a philosophy and then progresses to a real life event. Namely the story of my life told through the lens of resources expended on behalf of that line item. Let me give you an example.
One of the line items on our budget is Joshua’s Work Budget. The back story is this. I grew up in a poor family and the idea of an allowance was never anything that actually made it into our life experience. Now my friends got allowances (or at least I thought they did). And I always thought that one day when I grew that I would give my kids an allowance. So, I did. I started pretty early with Josh and came up with this idea of giving him allowance consistent with his age and ability to manage a little money. So when he was 5 he got $5 a week and then when he turned 6 he got a raise to $6 dollars a week, etc. Now we only have one son so this plan was pretty affordable and as he got older we planned to add more things that his allowance was to pay for.
Then enter real life. Allowance day comes and Josh gets his money and proceeds to allocate his resources (i.e. run to Walmart toy section). After working through the idea of saving a little, giving a little and spending the rest. He gets his mom or me to take him to the store to spend the rest. In fact, he had no rest till he spent the rest. And I begin to watch this hard earned money dissipate into a series of semi-appreciated toys to add to his arsenal of semi-appreciated toys. I knew we were learning something about managing money but wasn’t quite sure what. But I knew that I was not liking the pattern I was seeing of him connecting the dots of work expended for money received. So at the ripe old age of 9, I cut him off of his allowance. Cruel dad huh? I felt like the lesson he needed to learn was one of work and not getting paid for things he should be doing around the house anyway. But work that needed to be done so that he could get the spending money he wanted. So we put him on the Howington payroll. His wage was half his age per hour and he had a guaranteed 2 hours of work to do (which gets us full circle of using his age to gauge the amount of spending money I was willing to add to his budget). All he had to do now was report to the bosses (mom and dad) and ask for an assignment and he could earn some spending money.
Why do I tell that story? I think it serves as a good example about each of our budget line items actually are a part of our lives and our management of that line item begin to define who we are becoming or who we aspire to become. Electricity bill item becomes a story of environmental thriftiness. The household line item becomes a story of the balances of preference that end up on the dinner table. The vacation line item becomes a families quest to get away to get it together. The giving line becomes a barometer of what a family values. The debt line item shows a families ability to manage their lives with the confines of the resources allotted them. The income line item reveals a head of households engaging his/her abilities in the workplace to provide for the ones they love. In short, your budget line items each tell a little snippet of your story of how you are living life in this world. So……
Don’t just write a budget. Write a story. The story of your life.
Tim Howington is Executive Vice President for Freedom 5:one and is one of our Financial Life Coaches. He lives with his wife Terri and son Josh in Rogers Arkansas.