Budgeting For You

Written by: Christopher Sell

Primary Source: The Wednesday Wake Up


The Budget.

He’s a devilish creature. But I couldn’t avoid it any longer.

The other day I finally relinquished to the gravitational pull of my guilty conscience and pulled up our family budget in an Excel spreadsheet. It had been too long since we had visited our family finances, and I could no longer put if off. It was like running out of excuses for not doing your homework. The dog wasn’t around to eat my essay, and the teacher was demanding answers.

I had delayed the inevitable for long enough.

Managing a budget doesn’t tend to be an exhilarating experience for me and my family. I could envision why it might be a thrill for some, especially if it’s a matter of determining how you’d like to distribute your abundant wealth. But for us common folk with more limited financial resources, managing a budget tends to be tedious at best, and heart wrenching at its worst. Besides, dealing with numbers has never been a real strong suit of mine.

So it makes sense that the process of examining our monthly budget has, over the years, become a Quixotic-type of adventure for me. It’s like a really difficult game of Sudoku that sits at our coffee table and goes unfinished. It just sits there, taunting me, as if it’s waiting for me to trade in my gloves and reluctantly hand over my heavyweight championship belt. Often times our monthly income is generated at a fixed rate. Yet in life, it seems like the expenditures only grow. Therefore, my time spent staring at my Excel spreadsheet trying to figure out the best way to manage our money turns into an epic duel. It’s me versus The Budget.

Who wins, you ask?

Well, it depends on the month, really.

So when I sat down the other day at my desk to renew our battle, I came prepared. I was like Floyd Mayweather, dancing around the boxing ring with a masterful cadence and arrogant confidence.

First, I started with a left jab:

Yeah, I know the grocery bill is larger this month, but our house utilities bill is way less, so take that!

Then I came in with a right hook, just underneath the chin:

Daycare expenses rose last week, but my wife got an additional paycheck for professional development training. BAM!

Then I go all in for the KO, trying to end this skirmish before it gets wild:

Yeah I know the kid’s college fund needs some attention, but I paid off that silly credit card, so there! DONE and DONE. Don’t make me go all Miley Cyrus on you and start Twerking in this boxing ring!

Sure, The Budget consistently threatens me with scandalous terms like “Student Loans” and “Diminished Savings”, but positivity is a strength of mine, so I try not to listen. If all I did every day was think about student loans, well, let’s just say I wouldn’t be very positive anymore.

Before long, I’m manipulating the Excel database every which way to see if I can make the math add up. I’m adding here and subtracting there. I’m eliminating this and adding that. Soon, my session with a stoic spreadsheet starts to look like a feverish game of Tetris. There tends to be only so much room with which to make the puzzle pieces fit.

And this is how it goes each time I sit down to an encounter with my arch nemesis, The Budget. He’s a crooked soul, but we’re learning how to co-exist.

The other day, however, my colossal clash with collateral took a unique twist. In reviewing our expenditures over the last few months, I began to see the need for a new category of expenses — unaccounted for up to this point — next to the more traditional columns like Mortgage, Cable Bill, and Daycare. There were copious amounts of expenditures that didn’t fit nicely into the original categories of my spreadsheet.

There was the ridiculously expensive kitty medicine we had to buy on a whim when our indoor cat decided he wanted to job shadow the life of an outdoor cat and camp outside in our backyard overnight underneath the shed without us knowing about it. Then there was the wedding gift for that distant relative. And then there was that time  the furnace stopped working on a cold winter morning and our warm breath evolved into clouds of moisture as it collided with the frigid air. You get the idea.

After serious deliberation, struggling to come up with an apt name for this emerging theme of miscellaneous expenses, I decided to call it like it was.


As it turns out, my exercise in budgeting illustrated for me the ways in which life happens whether or not we’re planning for it.  While managing financial spreadsheets, there are on occasion unexpected expenses. Surprise bills. Purchases that can go unaccounted for. The same reality applies to a much bigger scenario that doesn’t fit into spreadsheets — life itself.

My recent desktop duel with money taught me a lesson that proper management of finances requires you to consistently put away resources — investing for the future — for things that might not yet exist or haven’t even happened yet. It requires saving for the unexpected.

Seems to me that the same thing can be said for life.

Which has got me thinking about the ways in which we can be investing in the really important things — like life, our loved ones and ourselves — before the unexpected happens and we’re hit with a surprise bill that sets us back from achieving our goals and dreams. I think the best leaders in the business have it figured out. We all need a column in our spreadsheet for life that accounts for the certain uncertainty we’ll face along the way. We need to be doing things today to prepare for tomorrow’s adversity. We need to be proactively investing in ourselves so that when push comes to shove, we can rise to the occasion despite the obstacles in front of us.

So I hope on this Wednesday morning, you’re able to wake up with a bit of urgency. I’d challenge you to start saving for the surprises. Begin investing in yourself by engaging in professional development opportunities. Surround yourself with smart, wise, and hardworking people at work. Solicit the guidance of mentors to ensure you’re accounting for the setbacks you’ve haven’t seen yet.

Once you figure out how to prepare for the unexpected, you’ll be able to account for the right jabs or left hooks that life throws your way.

Yeah, life happens. Some things beyond our control will occur tomorrow. But you can control how you prepare today.

So just remember to budget for you.

It’ll be the smartest investment you make.

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My name is Christopher Sell and I'm an educator in higher education. At my core, I'm passionate about creating synergy and connecting people to opportunity. I place tremendous focus on collaboration, strategic planning, forward-thinking, and teamwork in any professional environment. As an alumnus of Western Michigan University (WMU) and Michigan State University (MSU), I'm equally committed to leveraging relationships with industry and students/graduates to retain & attract talent in the state of Michigan and contribute to the economic revitalization of the "Mitten State" that I love so much. Needless to say, I'm a big fan of the Pure Michigan campaign.

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