10 Lessons Learned from Budgeting for 180 Consecutive Months

This month, my bride and I prepared a budget. Just like we had done since July 2003, Jenn and I chose to tell our money where to go by planning every single dollar. For those who like math, that is 180 consecutive months of budgeting! 180 months is equal to 15 years.

Anyone who has prepared and followed a budget for just a month or two knows how helpful and powerful it can be in moving toward your financial goals and funding your dreams. Now, I can say what it feels like after 15 years! I’ve taken some time to reflect on all of those months and share “10 Lessons Learned from Budgeting for 180 Consecutive Months” with you.

10 Lessons Learned from Budgeting for 180 Consecutive Months

  1. More money won’t make budgeting easier. Less money won’t either. Like most people believe at some point in their lives, I used to believe that more money would make budgeting more fun or easy. I did not find this to be true. With more money came different financial decisions that were more complex. When I had little money, the biggest budgeting challenge was figuring out a way to make our income cover all of our obligations. As we moved beyond paycheck-to-paycheck living, we were faced with investing decisions.
  2. The financial rewards of budgeting become much greater the longer you stick to it. When we first started our budgeting journey, we were excited to pay cash for a small weekend getaway. All of our previous vacations had been put on a credit card! As I write this, we just got back from a trip of a lifetime throughout Europe – and paid cash for all of it.
  3. It has required both of us to be committed to the process.  I used to be the out-of-control spender who did not want to be confined by a budget. My bride had to be so frustrated! It is a great enough challenge to manage your money when you are both committed to the process. I can’t imagine where we would be if we had not both committed to prepare and follow the budget every single month.
  4. Financial emergencies tend to disappear as you prioritize savings (margin) in your budget.  We’ve had lots of “surprise” financial expenses, but none of them derailed us. I credit it to the fact that the process of monthly budgeting tends to make you a better planner – and gives you a better vision of the future. This, in turn, causes you to prepare in advance.
  5. The lessons learned in personal budgeting transfer to business financial management very well. I transferred the budgeting process into this fledgling business called “I Was Broke. Now I’m Not.” when we launched in 2008. It has been so successful that it helped us purchase two additional businesses and launch another. Every business operates with a monthly budget. It is an invaluable part of our management system.
  6. Budgeting has allowed us to be intentionally generous.  Like any other human being, we desire to live generously. Our monthly budget allowed us to always prioritize generosity. It is the very first item in our budget. If you have ever used one of our free budget templates, you will notice that “giving” is the first category. That is not an accident.
  7. Cash envelopes have been wildly helpful in preventing impulsive spending.  I’ll never forget the our first monthly budget back in July 2003. We decided to use cash envelopes because Dave Ramsey recommended them. It felt like we had robbed the bank when we withdrew the cash for our “impulsive” spending categories: Groceries, Dining Out, Clothing, Entertainment, and Spending Money. It completely changed the way we shopped for groceries (no more Barbie movies bought with grocery shopping money), went out to eat at restaurants (started sharing a lot of meals and ordering water), and purchased clothes (hello, consignment and clearance racks). We have continued to use cash envelopes each and every month.
  8. Budgeting several months in advance help us anticipate and accommodate major expenses.  As we began to become expert budgeters, we began to prepare monthly budgets about twelve months in advance. This allowed us to foresee upcoming major events (summer vacation, runner’s camp for our daughter, car repairs, Christmas, etc.) and “smooth” those expenses by allocated a portion of each month’s budget toward those expenses. This allowed us to pay cash for each one without crushing that particular month’s budget. If you’re an expert budget (or a planner by nature), I encourage you to check out our free “annual budget – month by month” budget template.
  9. Planned money goes so much farther than unplanned money.  I am absolutely convinced that we would never have been able to successfully chased our dreams without this focused effort on planning our money. I was so floored at how much we were able to accomplish with our first budget that it made me a believer for life. That feeling has never left. Each and every month, we’ve been able to make progress even in spite of the challenges that life has presented.
  10. I’ve found no better way to maximize the potential of every dollar.  Seriously. When I find a better way to maximize money, I’ll convert to that method. Until then, I will continue to prepare and follow a monthly budget.

Lest you think this past 15 years was easy. Here are just a few of the challenges we’ve been able to successfully navigate:

  • Downstairs heat pump failure
  • Upstairs heat pump failure (six months after the downstairs unit)
  • Hot water heater failure
  • The truck’s transmission went out
  • Complete remodel of downstairs of a “fixer-upper” house
  • Left corporate America to go on staff at a church
  • Launched a new business (I Was Broke. Now I’m Not.)
  • Embarked on the IVF journey
  • Left church staff to lead IWBNIN full-time
  • Canceled maternity insurance after IVF didn’t work only to find out we were pregnant 16 days after canceling the insurance!
  • Had to pay cash for the delivery of our baby boy (he’s 8 years old now!)
  • Purchased another business (INJOY Stewardship Solutions)
  • Found out we had another miracle baby on the way (we had maternity insurance this time!) (she’s 4 years old now!)
  • Too many car issues to list including all the standard maintenance stuff like tires and brakes
  • Four major surgeries in the family
  • Multiple ER trips (I can count at least four …)

My hope with this post is to encourage you that YOU CAN DO THIS!

With this said, I must stop writing because it’s time to prepare next month’s budget.

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