This video segment is one of five lessons in the “Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Finances” seminar.

The GCM series are marriage preparation and marriage enrichment level resources. If your marriage needs restoration level care consider one of the other options available at, or visit for help finding a counselor near you.

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Budgets are a victim of prejudice. Everyone hates them, but most people who hate them don’t really know them. They have only heard budgets talked about badly and have embraced that negative sentiment as their own. Or, they take a simplistic caricature of a budget and deride it to make them feel better about their own budget-less existence.

Here is the challenge of this lesson – get to know what a budget really is. Treat budgeting like a co-worker that you were lied to about on his first day on the job and for the first couple of years these lies coerced you into disliking him. You have now come to learn that the lies were false, and you want to get to know them for who they really are.

What Is a Budget? 7 Definitions

A budget is more than numbers scribbled on a yellow steno pad in response to a crisis. That is the equivalent of saying that a wedding is a big pageant for two people blinded by love. Let us lay aside such cynicism about budgeting (and marriage) in order to experience what God intended for both.

1. A budget is the numerical expression of an individual’s or family’s mission and priorities.

This does not mean we need to color code our budget according to “Love God; Love Each Other; Love the World,” but it does mean these categories should be on our mind as we budget. Too often we think that the tithe covers our family mission and that the other 90% is ours to do with as we please. When we think this way two things happen.

First, we devalue functional spending. We no longer view health insurance as a way we love each other. We miss that our grocery bill can be a way we love our world when we have our neighbor over for dinner. We overlook that our mortgage is a way we can love God by hosting a small group in our house.

Second, we become prone to think that only fun-spending “counts” as being rewarding for our efforts. In the absence of a larger sense of mission, our personal enjoyment (i.e., hobbies, decorating, etc.) becomes all we find satisfaction in.

2. A budget is a tangible recognition that we are only stewards of the life God blessed us with.

As we do a budget, we should quickly realize that it is God who gives us life, health, and the abilities necessary to earn money. Ultimately, we see that all of life, not merely our money, is a gift from God given to us for a purpose. Therefore, “success” is measured by how well we accomplish His purpose for that gift.

Considering this, we can see in fresh ways that we will give an account for how we spend our life (Rom. 14:12). While this involves much more than finances, giving a faithful account will require some “accounting.” We cannot say that we managed something well if we did not keep track of it.

3. A budget is a family’s prayerful conviction regarding God’s will for their resources.

Don’t ever say you have sincerely prayed about a significant financial decision if you do not have a budget. God’s will for the pieces is harmonious with his will for the whole. Both need to be considered when we pray.

 When you put numbers to paper, you are saying, “We believe that these numbers represent God’s will for a ‘normal’ month.” If you believe it is God’s will that you and your spouse have a regular date night, that should be represented in your budget.

This is a different way of thinking than asking, “Is it bad for me to want [blank]?” This question may have worked when you were single. But now you are a “we” instead of a “me” so there are two people dreaming for the same dollars. A budget is the place where you and your spouse learn to think collectively about God’s will.

4. A budget is one barometer for how an individual engages in life and relationships.

You will tend to treat those closest to you like you treat your money. If you are controlling with money, you will tend to be controlling in relationships. If you are undisciplined with money, you will tend to struggle with following through on your commitments in relationships.

Considering what Jesus said about money this makes sense, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matt. 6:21).” We tend to treat the things we care about (money and people) the same because the control center for how we manage “treasures” is the same for both – the heart.

Therefore, a budget is a way to shape your relationships, especially marriage. When we learn to manage our money with intentionality, freedom within limits, and wise generosity, then these qualities will also become the trademarks of our relationships.

5. A budget is a measure of what we believe is worth living for.

We live in an economy where we trade hours for dollars and dollars for stuff. We seek education, experience, and other credentials to make our hours worth more dollars. But all we ever spend is our life. Our budget is a place where we see and can decide what we will live for.

This makes every expenditure an act of worship. We are spending our life on something we deem worthy of our life. If you make ten dollars per hour and go on a two-hour date with your spouse that costs $30, you have invested five hours of your life on that date. If you make $4,000 per month and give $1,000 to missions, you have invested a week of your life in making Jesus known around the world.

6. A budget is an instrument for harnessing the untamed power of our heart’s passion.

The words “I want” are the driving force behind invention and economy. These words have shape culture and history. Something so powerful will either do great good or great harm, but it will not be neutral.

Question: What will ensure that “I want” becomes the fuel for unity instead of division in your marriage? It would be nice to give the simple answer “a budget,” but that would be an overstatement. The more complete answer would be: two people who are learning the gospel-joy of dying to self (Luke 9:23-24) and living for others (Phil. 2:3-4) as they order their life accordingly – a key part of which is a budget.

Illustration: Our hearts need to be tamed, but that is not to imply weakened. A tamed horse is not less powerful than a wild one. It’s just that the power of a tamed horse can be focused, intentionally upon a particular task. Similarly, a tamed heart is not less free than a wild, sin-bent one. It’s just that its freedom can be focused on the things that really matter instead of “nickled and dimed” into trivial living. This is why taking the time to manage your money will make it feel like getting a raise.

7. A budget is a life maintenance document.

A budget for a family is the equivalent of an oil change or tune up for a car. It is something that if not regularly kept up results in damage far greater than the investment of the maintenance. In this sense, a budget is a form of insurance. With insurance we make a small investment now in order to protect ourselves from a greater liability later. In this case, the small investment is time and energy and the greater liabilities are financial crisis and marital division.

How Do We Start a Budget?

Hopefully you can now say, “We want this! It is good. It is a blessing. We really do want a budget.” Let those words sink in. A budget is a good thing. It is a desirable blessing. We are getting ready to start focusing on numbers and you may forget this. But it is true. Persevere and give God the opportunity to prove it.

The first step towards having a budget is to track your actual spending. A budget is a reality (report on actual spending) before it becomes an instrument of change. Too many people fail at budgeting because they start by writing down what “should be” before they write down what “is.” Start by familiarizing yourself with the categories that should organize your budget.

  • Fixed Necessities: Those things that cost the same every month and are essential.
    • Debt Payments: Your current debts will go here until you have paid them off.
  • Variable Necessities: Those things for which the cost varies each month and are essential.
  • Fixed Luxuries: Those things that cost the same every month and are nice but not essential.
  • Variable Luxuries: Those things for which the cost varies each month and are nice but not essential.

These categories organize your budget so that it is clearest where reductions should be made, when needed. It is easiest to reduce spending at the bottom up. As you go into the higher categories, a greater change in lifestyle is required.

Completing the information below provides the information you need for Lesson 3. Many couples get overwhelmed as they try to gather information, organize information, and create a workable budgeting system at the same time. We have broken that down into steps. Now you’re gathering information. In the next lesson you will create a budgeting system.

If you are an engaged couple, you may not have all this information, but you should know the big pieces. Going through this exercise should let you know what information you need to research and what expenses you need to track carefully in the early months of marriage to learn what is realistic to allocate for your family.

Identifying Income

The starting point for creating a budget is defining your income. For a budget to be “sea-worthy” you must start with what you have and work backwards rather than starting with what you want and moving forward. It is helpful to gauge these expectations by looking at your total family income for each of the last three years.

  • Income Last Year:                            $ ____________________
  • Income Two Years Ago:                  $ ____________________
  • Income Three Years Ago:                $ ____________________

As you identify income, we will encourage you to divide it into three categories:

  • Regular Income – What you can count on coming in each month
  • Irregular Income – Sporadic income or commission-based income
  • Potential Income – Opportunities available to you if you need to retire debt or save for a special expense
Regular Income Source When Received Total Monthly Total Annually
$ $
$ $
$ $

Unless your family is supported primarily by irregular income, your standard monthly expenses should be covered by the sources of regular income. If you try to cover your “regular” expenses with “irregular” income you are creating a lifestyle that is unnecessarily stressful and has a high propensity for debt.

Many families have sources of irregular income; if nothing else, their tax return. These funds should be allocated for “irregular expenses” or “designated savings” (Lesson 5) outside the monthly budget. If a family lives off irregular income (i.e., primary income is from an independent contractor rather than a salaried position), then the standard monthly budget should be set against their minimum monthly expectation.

Irregular Income Source Minimum Monthly Estimated Monthly Estimated Annually
$ $ $
$ $ $
$ $ $

Too often we opt for the easy solution of debt for irregular or unexpected expenses. Debt is the “duct tape” for the financial procrastinator. Until you have adequate savings (Lesson 5) a list of potential income sources is the next best buffer between your family and “life.” Make a list of the sources of potential income available to you.

Potential Income Source Frequency Available Notice Required Potential Monthly

Identifying Fixed Necessities

Fixed necessity expenses are the foundational pieces of your standard monthly budget. They are the largest percentage of your budget and changes to them result in significant changes in your lifestyle. It is important to keep this portion of your budget to as few line items as possible. One of the most common budget-busters is labeling non-essentials as necessities.

Item Monthly Expense Quarterly Expense Annual Expense
Health Insurance
Life Insurance
Car Insurance

Only use Quarterly or Annual Expense for Non-Monthly Expenses, But Still Allocate Monthly

Once we commit to a debt that payment becomes a fixed necessity. We are morally obligated to pay back what we borrow (Rom. 13:8). Therefore, this portion of your budget should be classified as a “fixed necessity,” but we will look at how to eliminate it from your budget in Lesson 4. In order to prepare yourself for Lesson 4, list your debts in order from smallest total debt (Column 2) to largest.

Lender / Item Total Debt Minimum Monthly Payment Interest Rate

Identifying Variable Necessities

The second largest section of your budget should be your variable necessities. In a well-managed budget, (a) tithe, (b) fixed necessities, and (c) variable necessities usually comprise 75-80% of a household budget. This has two implications. First, you need to strive to keep your necessity spending at healthy levels. Second, you need to adjust your expectations on how much luxury spending your income will provide. Realize contentment is to be found in your necessary spending.

Item Monthly Expense Quarterly Expense Annual Expense
Electric / Natural Gas
Medical Expenses

Only use Quarterly or Annual Expense for Non-Monthly Expenses, But Still Allocate Monthly

Identify Fixed Luxuries

These are nice things for which we should feel no guilt when we can afford them. However, we should not go into debt or fail to tithe in order to have these things. For that reason, they are “luxuries” not “necessities.” As you begin to think about your ideal budget, you will want to keep a balance between your fixed and variable luxury spending.

  • If your luxury spending is predominantly fixed, your budget will feel like a straight-jacket and you’ll either resent it.
  • If your luxury spending is predominantly variable, it is unlikely it will be balanced between the preferences of the family members and there will be competition to see who gets to spend the month’s luxury money.
Item Monthly Expense Quarterly Expense Annual Expense
Personal Care / Hair
College Savings

Only use Quarterly or Annual Expense for Non-Monthly Expenses, But Still Allocate Monthly

Identify Variable Luxuries

These are the most fluid expenses in your budget. They are the kinds of things we begin to think “we just can’t keep track of.” This is a section where categories can easily begin to overlap – what is the difference between husband/wife spending and entertainment? It may take some time to discern what the most functional categories for your family to use.

When you get to this point in the monthly budgeting form (Lesson 3), you will have narrowed down how much you have to spend. This means you will only be looking for the categories and allocations that are the biggest blessing to your marriage with the remaining funds instead of saying “it would nice” or “I think we should” as you blindly walk into debt.

Item Monthly Expense Quarterly Expense Annual Expense
Eating Out
School / Extra-Curricular
Husband Spending
Wife Spending
Kid Spending
Pet Care

Only use Quarterly or Annual Expense for Non-Monthly Expenses, But Still Allocate Monthly


You have now gathered the raw data you will need to make a budget. Too often people think the information you just recorded is the budget, but we’re not there yet. Remember a budget is more than numbers on a page. A budget is a document that creates a lifestyle of living on purpose, being prepared, and investing in the things that matter most.

A budget is a document that creates a lifestyle of living on purpose, being prepared, and investing in the things that matter most. Click To Tweet

In Lesson 3 we will look at how to take the numbers you’ve recorded here and create that kind of document. For the moment, relax and experience a sense of accomplishment. This is a significant marker on an important journey. You don’t have to be “there” yet in order to have a sense of accomplishment. Learning to enjoy the process of achieving your dreams is an essential skill in budgeting.