One of my favorite memories from school was doing the “Family Trip Project.”
In the 6th grade, my teacher gave us a budget of pretend money. Our assignment was to plan a week-long trip for our family without going over the budget.
After each of us picked a destination, we spent weeks poring over Rand McNally road maps to figure out distance and mileage, taking tolls and gas prices into account. We used AAA travel guides to pick hotels, activities and possible restaurants.
At 12 years old, it was fun to have money and all the power on how to spend it. We felt like kings!
But in real life, budgets and budgeting never seemed that fun. They felt like work.
I have clear memories of my mom spending hours balancing her checkbook and verifying expenses while working on our family budget.
I remember the hard conversations about having to wait for things because they weren’t in the budget for that month.
Budgeting seemed like a process that I certainly wanted to avoid if at all possible.
But then, I graduated college, moved to a new city and got a VERY entry-level job. I realized pretty quickly that being responsible and intentional with my finances was the only way I was going to be able to navigate my new life.
Even though I had examples in my family and had school projects (like the Family Trip), I really had no idea how to actually create and live on a budget. It seemed overwhelming, complicated and restrictive—the exact opposite of fun.
Luckily, my brother (Brandon Sieben, former Compass CEO and current Board Chairman) has always had a knack for finances, and I knew I could turn to him. He told me something that I will never forget and completely changed my view of living within a budget:
“Having and using a budget equals freedom.”
Wait, WHAT??? How could a budget bring freedom?
This was Brandon’s advice:
1. Keep it simple.
We started with a basic excel spreadsheet that I would print out and write on each month.
2. Be honest.
I had to be completely honest about how much I was making and how much I was spending each month, and I had to track all of it.
3. Allocate non-negotiables first.
Things like tithes, rent/mortgage, utilities, insurance, car and phone payments, etc., all need to be “paid” first.
4. Save something every month.
It didn’t matter that at the time I was only able to save $20 per month. The important part was to establish the habit and start building up those funds.
5. Put aside something for “fun.”
Having a little something each month for a movie or fun purchase helped keep me on track and served as a reminder that hard work paid off.
As I followed his advice, I began to understand his perspective…
I was free from the worry of being able to pay my credit card statement each month.
I was free from the anxiety of an unexpected expense or medical emergency.
I was free from the burden of debt accumulation.
I was free to live knowing that I had enough to pay my obligations and still have some left over for myself.
“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both money and God.”
Jesus warns us that we cannot serve both God and money (Luke 16:13b). As Christ followers, I would encourage you to use Compass’ books, studies and tools to help you establish a solid foundation for your finances and align your perspective and focus with God’s Word and plan for your life.
God wants us to live a joyful and fulfilled life. Not one that is full of anxiety and worry (Matthew 6:25, 27, 34).
By taking the time to budget and having the discipline to follow it, we can truly live the life of freedom that God desires for us.
Meredith Kunzke, Contributing Writer
Meredith is an active member of Christ Journey Church in Coral Gables, Fla., where she now works after spending several years as a stay-at-home mom to her two children, Ella and Hans. She graduated from the University of Illinois with a bachelor’s in history and a minor in Spanish. Meredith loves serving women in her community. She is the advisor for her sorority at the University of Miami and has faithfully led a weekly women’s Bible study since 2005. She and her husband, Hans, live in Miami, Fla.