Pay me now, or pay me later

Do you budget well? Do you budget at all? As the day draws nearer for the prospect of another threat of government shutdown, it is interesting to consider how it is that not only our government deals with fiscal reality, but also how we deal with it. The United States government has functioned for a number of years now without a budget, preferring instead to opt for Continuing Resolutions (CRs) that keep the machine running. Budgets are hard to devise and even harder to live by. They require honest conversations about wants and needs. They assume mutual respect and a willingness to compromise. They necessitate a willingness to sacrifice for a better future while addressing the exigencies of the present. Given that many of these (if not most) seem absent from our legislative and executive branches over the last number of years, it is no wonder that a balanced budget which is voted upon and carried out is far off on the horizon if not in fact a fantasy. Does that dimension of public life trickle down into the affairs of everyday people like us?

Many families find themselves not engaged in monthly or yearly budgeting, and even fewer individuals do as well. There seems to be the myth that as long as we are carrying on today, that not only will we be ok tomorrow, but we are using our resources wisely. The latter being more of a pipe dream than the former, both are not guaranteed. As our lifestyle continues to be more and more supported by debt – federal, state and personal – it is obvious that we have grown accustomed to eschewing the discipline of saying no today to things that we cannot afford today. This lack of self-restraint is troubling on many fronts, not the least of which is a failure to appreciate that someone has to pay the bill sometime. Only children have the benefit of living otherwise without a care in the world. Is it any wonder that credit card debt has outpaced even student loans in the USA?

So is budgeting as an individual, a couple, a family, or a civic entity the answer? I believe it is the start of the answer. God calls us first and foremost to take account of the blessings of our lives. To sit down periodically and review our assets as well as our needs is a critical first step to living a life in reality. To begin doing this from the moment we begin to spend money freely (discretionary income that doesn’t require parental permission), allows us the habit of letting us determine our spending rather than our spending determining us. Far too often, undergraduates (and sometimes even grad students) feel as if they need not have a monthly plan for spending simply because they perceive themselves to still be on their parents’ dime. However, the habit of budgeting needs to be cultivated early in life so as to not only mitigate the prospect of learning to live beyond our means, but more importantly to learn to take stock of the blessings of our lives and give thanks to God (and our earthly parents) for all the blessings we have received.

Let’s all grow up a little bit and begin to have a more mature approach to our finances. As long as we act like children, we can never hold our governments to a higher standard.

Peace,

Fr. Mike
fr.mike@duke.edu  c. 919-316-8763 / w. 919-684-1882
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