How to budget in a time of uncertainty

By Stuart Sampson, Head of CAP Money for Christians Against Poverty Australia

Photo by Melissa Walker Horn on Unsplash

I am a planner.

That’s why I keep a diary. A diary gives me an idea of what to expect, a sense of control. Of course, I didn’t have coronavirus in my diary, I didn’t expect it and there is very little I can do to control it.

You might not keep a diary, but you probably like to know what’s around the corner so you can be prepared. As humans we thrive off consistency, routine and the feeling of control. If we don’t feel in control, we panic — and buy boat loads of toilet paper.

I especially like to feel a sense of control over my personal finances, that’s why I have a budget. Coronavirus didn’t feature in my budget either.

This uncertain season has reminded me of the difference between being in control and being resilient.

The truth is I don’t have total control over the state of my finances or market forces that affect them – only God is in control.

But if I am not in control, then why budget? Because I can wisely cultivate resilience using the resources given to me. Resilience is about being flexible, durable and able to last when the unexpected happens.

The financial resilience of many in our nation is about to face a great challenge, we will probably all feel the effects in some way or another, so it’s wise to take time to consider how things are right now.

Here are some things I’m doing to build financial resilience that you can do too:

  1. Talk about your budget. My wife and I usually sit down together once a month to talk about our budget. It’s a good chance to take stock and consider what is coming up and make adjustments. Bring that date forward. Set aside some time in the next few days to talk about money with your spouse. If you have never written a budget or talked much about money now is a good time to find your next CAP Money course and get started.
  2. Consider your current priorities. I know we all like to consider ourselves ‘Aussie battlers’, but the truth is most of us have more than we need, and our money is mostly spent on wants. Now is a good time to consider where to cut costs, cut back or cut out, in line with new and changing priorities. Some things may have to change for a while.
  3. Cut up the card. Living on credit does nothing to build our financial resilience. If things start getting tight the last thing I need is a debt I can’t afford to pay. Please stop using your credit card, your frequent flyer points are no good when airlines are grounded, and debit cards can do everything a credit card can.
  4.  Live below your means. When we spend every dollar we earn, it is impossible to build any financial resilience. The only way to put money aside for the unexpected is by spending less than you earn.
  5.  Reach out. You may feel okay with where you are at financially, if that’s you great! It’s incumbent on you to check in with others. You don’t have to be a financial adviser or counsellor to ask how someone is going.
  6. Ask for help. You might be starting to really worry about what is to come. Maybe all this talk of financial resilience is making you worry that you won’t be able to weather the storm. Ask for help – people can’t help you if they think everything is fine. If you don’t know anyone, call CAP on 1300 227 000 and a debt counsellor will talk to you.
  7. Pray. Matthew chapter 6 teaches us not to be anxious. Not because there is nothing to worry about, but because God knows and loves us and has promised to take care of us. By taking things one day at a time (he asks us to pray for our daily bread remember, not our monthly bread) we can rest knowing God is in control and knows our needs.

This last one is the most important. All the money in the world can’t protect us from the unknown of tomorrow, and the anxiety that knowing we are not really in control brings.

But a trust that is built on the promises of God is a safety that cannot be shaken.

Financial resilience might start with a budget, something material. In time however these habits form a strength of character that has deep roots that can’t be shaken. My prayer is not just that you may be financially resilient in this moment, but that the discipline of budgeting would prepare in your heart a resilience that is literally unmoveable thanks to the confidence found in Christ.

CAP Australia (Christians Against Poverty) - Get involved

Stuart Sampson, is the Head of CAP Money for Christians Against Poverty Australia. CAP is passionate about working with local churches to release people across Australia from the crushing weight of debt, poverty and its causes — into a life filled with hope and freedom.
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