Interest rates are up. Prices are up. The stock market is up—and down, and up and down. And you haven’t had a functioning budget since before Covid hit—maybe long before.
Finances can be overwhelming. If you feel that way, you’re not alone. An October 2022 study by the American Psychological Association found that 69% of respondents experienced significant stress related to the economy, 66% experienced it related to money, and 52% experienced it related to housing costs.
This is actually good advice in many areas of life, but today we’re just going to talk in terms of personal finance.
Most of what goes on in the world around us is completely outside our control. When we focus on that, we feel helpless and hopeless. But there are things we can control and focusing on them will allow us to take steps to improve our situation.
For example, you cannot control the stock market, but you can control how much money you invest in it. If the stock market’s ups and downs have you losing sleep, maybe you should adjust your investments, so you aren’t as exposed to the market’s volatility, then you can sleep better at night.
You have very limited control over your chances of getting into a car accident, becoming disabled, or passing away. However, you can help control the financial risks of those situations by purchasing appropriate insurance.
You probably have no control over the health of your aging parents or their financial situation. You do have control over conversations you have with them, and the way you prepare for their inevitable passing.
You cannot control the price of groceries, but you can control what you purchase and eat.
You may not be able to control how much money you earn, but you can control how diligently and intentionally you manage it.
Money management itself is a lot easier when you focus on what you can control.
The traditional way most people budget is by making a list of all of their expenses and then tracking what they spend in each category on a monthly basis. But, it can be overwhelming to track every cent you spend in 20 different categories, so many people end up just giving up.
It doesn’t have to be that way. If you think about it, there are only a few categories of spending that you really have full control over in a given month. Your rent or mortgage payment is fixed, so unless you move or refinance, you can’t really do anything to change it from month to month. The same goes for your cell phone bill, debt payments, insurance premiums, and utilities. Those are all expenses you’ve more or less committed to that are going to be there in the same form each and every month. When it comes to budgeting, think of those as things outside of your control.
So what can you control that you should be focusing on instead? Groceries, eating out, gas, shopping, and entertainment are the expenses that you have the most control over on a monthly basis.
If you struggle to budget and know what you have coming in and going out each month, I’m giving you permission to stop trying to track everything. Take the time to add up all of those fixed expenses so you know what you have left, but don’t worry so much about tracking them. Only track those expenses that actually affect your daily decisions. You’ll find it’s much more manageable to track 5 categories of spending you really control than 20 categories, many of which you can’t.
Focusing on everything that is outside of your control can be overwhelming. Instead, focus on those things over which you truly have influence and you will be empowered in your stewardship.
On top of that, remember that God is the one who is ultimately in control of the universe, the economy, and everything else, and he has promised to work everything together for good for those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose—those like you!