Planning a Budget
About the Guest
Are finances a touchy subject at your house? Russ Crosson, president of Ronald Blue & Company, and his wife, Julie, talk about the wisdom of planning a family budget. The Crossons recall the financial tensions they experienced early in their marriage and tell how a budget got them singing off the same song sheet financially.
Julie CrossonJulie Crosson graduated in 1976 from the University of Arkansas with an Associate degree in Nursing and from the University of Kansas with a Certified Registered Nurse of Anesthesia degree. After working in this field for five years, she retired to become a mom to her three sons—Clark, Reed, and Chad. In 1989, Julie co-authored the book "Money & Your Marriage" with her husband, Russ. Julie is active in her church, Fellowship Bible Church, in Roswell, GA. She teaches a weekly women’s b...more
Russ CrossonRuss Crosson is President and CEO of Ronald Blue & Co, LLC, one of the largest independent fee-only financial, investment, tax, estate and philanthropic advisory firms in the U.S. With a national network of 15 branch offices, the firm serves over 6500 individual and business clients. Russ graduated from Kansas State University with a BS in Mathematics and a Masters Degree in Education. He and his wife, Julie, live in Roswell, Georgia, and are active in the teaching and mentoring of married c...more
Russ Crosson and his wife, Julie, talk about the wisdom of planning a family budget. The Crossons recall the tensions they experienced early in their marriage.
Planning a Budget
Bob: Do you have a budget for your marriage / for your family? That’s a good idea; but Russ Crosson says, “Even if you have a budget, it may not be realistic.”
Russ: We first got married. I said, “Okay, I think like [$]80 a week ought to be enough for groceries or something.” Well, I had no idea—I’m not buying groceries. I just set some arbitrary budget amount. I think a young couple needs to give themselves some time to figure out what are realistic amounts. You don’t want to be so much over that you never have any stress but not so much under that it’s not working.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, May 17th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We have some very practical advice for you today on your money. Russ and Julie Crosson are here. We’ll learn from some of the mistakes they made early in their marriage. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know what?
Mary Ann and I will celebrate—this week—38 years of marriage.
Bob: I do not think we’ve had a fight about money in any of those 38 years.
Bob: We have not always seen, eye to eye on, every money decision that was made—
Dennis: That’s because you are always right? [Laughter]
Bob: Part of the reason—here’s what I was thinking, “Why have we not—why has this not been an area of conflict for us?” Part of it is because I married a very frugal woman, and that’s helped. She has not been somebody who has wanted more than we could afford.
Bob: In fact, she’s always been on the frugal side. So, some of the disagreements have been about: “How much stuff do we need?” because I was the guy—as we’ve talked on FamilyLife Today—I was the guy who bought the thousand straws when she said we should just buy a box of a hundred [Laughter]—but it was so much cheaper if you bought them in the bulk like that. So, we’ve had areas where we didn’t necessarily see eye to eye; but in general, we’ve just not had a whole lot of marital conflict around money.
Dennis: And we’re really setting you up for some healthy, financial counseling, Bob; because at the table is the President and CEO—[Laughter]
Bob: You and Barbara—do you and Barbara fight—introduce them—and then, I want to know if you guys have ever had big money fights.
Dennis: Oh, that’s real simple—[Laughter]—President and CEO of Ron Blue & Company join us on FamilyLife Today. Russ Crosson joins us on the broadcast, along with his wife Julie. Welcome to the broadcast.
Russ: Dennis, it’s great to be here. Thanks for having us.
Julie: Thank you. Good to be here.
Dennis: You’ve written a book here called 8 Important Money Decisions for Every Couple. Is it possible to go through a lifetime and not have fights about money?
Russ: I think it’s possible, but you have to start off right. So, Bob may be the exception. [Laughter] Most people have struggles with money; but if you start off on the right path, you have a chance to have some great harmony and not have so much friction.
Dennis: Russ, I wrote the foreword to your book, 8 Important Money Decisions for Every Couple, because you really come at this from a thorough biblical worldview.
That really solves a lot of issues when it comes to a married couple handling money.
Russ: Well, it really does, Dennis. I mean, you go to Philippians 2, where it talks about being of one mind, united in spirit, and intent on one purpose. God wants us to have harmonious marriages—money is temporal / our marriages have eternal impact. So, it seems silly to let something temporal undermine something that is eternal.
Dennis: Let’s just cut to the chase. How about you [Julie] and your husband, Russ? [Laughter] Have you ever had a defining argument about money? I mean, Barbara and I give leadership to a marriage and family ministry—have we had defining moments in our marriage?—you better believe it! I can’t imagine you guys giving leadership in this area without having some of your own illustrations.
Julie: Well, we do. In fact, when we had only been married probably a year-and-a-half—moved down to Atlanta. Russ took a pay cut, and I quit working.
He is very controlling. He wanted to know where everything was—where every penny was. I always felt like I was a good money manager; but he would come home and say, “What did you spend?” Well, I hadn’t even been out! [Laughter] So, that was—then, it was not just one time—it was three or four times: “Did you spend anything today? What did you spend?”
Finally, it hurt my feelings; because I felt like I was very careful and that I wasn’t doing anything that I shouldn’t have. Finally, we realized: “This is not working. We need a system where he can relax—I can work within the boundaries, but he’s not worried all the time.” That’s where our budgeting came from.
Dennis: And so, let’s hear the other half of this story.
Russ: This issue with the budget was really a catalyst for us to say, “You know, we’ve got to deal with this.” That’s when we developed the system we talk about in the book, which just basically—you know, we agree together on the amounts; then, who is going to do what. Yes; I had forgotten she was a little ticked at me for always asking what she was spending and all that.
Bob: She used the word, “controlling.” Were you controlling back then? [Laughter]
Dennis: He asked her four times a day. [Laughter]
Russ: I don’t think it was that much; but you’ve got to remember—I took a pay cut. It was tight, and we just wanted to make sure we made it. Plus, I’m more the numbers guy. Now, let’s take it back a little bit further. When I first started dating Julie, I looked at her checkbook—there were no balances.
Julie: Okay; let me defend myself here. [Laughter] I grew up in a home where we did not use debt—everything was cash. So, when I started working, I kept all the numbers; but I didn’t subtract. I knew I was saving a thousand a month: “Why should I budget?” [Laughter] So, I think he was worried from the beginning.
Russ: So, Bob, you wonder why I was controlling. I mean, you know, she never wrote anything in her checkbook. I’m like, “Are we going under water, or are we not?” So, that was part of the reason for me to figure out: “We better…”—I was controlling and wanting to know what was going on / she never subtracted—she knew there was enough in there. And that’s part of it—when you get married, you go from playing singles—you start playing doubles—
—to use a tennis illustration. We both had to get on the same page.
I—as we’ve counseled couples, we’ve realized, “You bring these two different, selfish people together; and money is one of those things you have to deal with.” You’ve got to buy kids’ braces, and put food on the table, and put gas in the car—or whatever. So, you have to deal with it every day. That’s why I think, Dennis, they can become such a lightning rod.
Julie: And one of the things—I hate the word, “budget,” because, to me, that sounds terrible. So, once we realized we had to get a control system—we call it “planned spending.” [Laughter]
Bob: Having planned spending—
Bob: —that’s a good thought. Oh, yes—
Julie: Don’t you say, “Budget,” to me.
Bob: —no one wants a budget.
Dennis: That’s exactly where I was going with this conversation, because it was the budget that really got Barbara and I—to use your illustration, Russ—off the same song sheet. By establishing how we were going to spend, save, give, that really settled a lot of issues in advance. Now, at that point, you have to live with it; but the budget or—what did you call it?
Julie: Planned spending.
Dennis: Controlled—[Laughter]—that sounds, to me, like it is controlled spending. [Laughter]
Bob: Well, in order to have planned spending, you have to have some conversation about values / about what’s important. That’s really—money is just a symptom; isn’t it?
Russ: It really is, because one of you may use it on vacation. The other one may want to have different furniture in the house or whatever.
Dennis, I want to come back to what you said. Let’s remember a budget is simply telling your money where you want it to go, rather than wondering where it went. That’s the real difference. People think it’s restrictive; but in reality, it’s freeing. It’s just like with children. You know, discipline and giving them boundaries really frees them up. It’s the same way with money.
Bob: The problem is—when I’m sitting down and working on the planned spending with my wife on a Monday night and I say, “This is where I want my money to go this month,”— then, on Thursday afternoon, when I’m someplace else—at the ice cream shop—and I go, “I did not put any money—I forgot that I wanted some of my money to go to ice cream this month”; right? [Laughter] So, the problem comes—
Dennis: So, you rush out and buy ice cream! [Laughter]
Bob: —when, all of a sudden, you go: “Ah! There were things I forgot that I really thought I’d want.”
Russ: Well, it takes about 18 months, Bob, to really get a budget system to work; because you do learn those things. Then, the other thing that’s a problem with budgets is—they don’t get a big enough perspective on the budget. You don’t want to just look, month to month. You want to step back and look at the whole year and, then, start breaking it down.
And the other thing about a budget is the difference between monthly expenses and non-monthly. If I could say to people, “Anything that can help a budget work is distinguishing those.” We met with a young couple—he was budgeting for his car repair at [$]83 a month. I go, “Does your car break down at [$]83 a month?” “No; it doesn’t.” “Do you get sick at [$]83 a month? No; you don’t.” So, when you make a distinction between non-monthly items and figure out how you are going to manage that versus monthly, it really is a freeing deal.
Bob: It is. That was always a sticking point for me in our planned spending / in our budget; because honestly, when I sat down and said, “Okay, this is how much money we’ve got coming in,”—and I want to be prudent—
—“So, I want to make sure we are giving this much. I want to make sure we’re putting some money aside for this and for that.” I never had enough money to—with what I was bringing in, I could never get a budget to get to that number. I always needed more. Yet, it seemed, month to month, we were getting along okay.
Russ: Ultimately, that’s why you have to look at it on an annual basis.
Russ: If I’m going to spend these items to live—then, “How much do I have to make to support that?” If I don’t make that much, I’ve got to figure out where I’m going to cut. Then, there are some things that are discretionary. For example, you don’t control being sick, or your car needing repaired, or your house needing fixed; but you do control vacation, gifts—things like this—
Russ: —and clothes. You have to decide: “Which ones do I have control over?” Julie and I—we’d take the first six months and see how it was going in medical, and home repair, and auto repair. If we’re doing okay—the latter part of the year: “Alright, now, we can look at, and let go, and do more gifts and more vacation,”—things like this.
I think the biggest thing is that you want to make money a non-issue in your marriage. You have to deal—like Julie said—early on, we were having friction; because we didn’t have a plan. You’ve just got to figure it out, you know: “Who is going to spend what? How are you going to agree on the amounts?”—and things like that.
Since we got that figured out, we haven’t really had any conflict. We sit down, between Christmas and New Year’s every year, and kind of reevaluate and recalibrate for the following year. She has her areas that she is going to spend—she feels good and has freedom / I’ve got the areas I’m responsible for—and off we go.
Dennis: Tell us about when you do sit down, at the end of the year, and take a look at—the check stubs, so to speak—and where you spent your money and your credit cards—and how that is spelled out. What does that look like? How do you do that?
Russ: Let’s remember—every budget system is like an envelope system. So, basically, at the end of the year, we go back and look and say, “Did we take more out of the envelope than we had in the envelope?” I can tell you—last year, we were over a little bit in gifts; but we were under in vacation. I mean, I have a record—
—so I know where I am each month—I’m either over or under.
Usually, monthly items never blow a budget; okay? Your utilities, your mortgage, groceries, gas—those are in a pretty tight ban. So, to make budgeting less onerous for you, the monthly is not going to blow your budget, usually. So, now, you’re down to gifts, vacation, home repair, auto repair, clothes. Those are the things that blow the budget.
Russ: Medical. So, basically, you’ve said, “I’ve budgeted”—let’s say—“$1,000 a year for all those things.” You get to December—and with your system, you should know if you’re over or under. Then, the other thing you do is—that helps you set the next year.
Julie: That’s where we talk together—like, “Did you feel too tight?” I’ll say: “I felt too tight in this area, and we seem to have enough left over in this other area. Can we move things around?” That’s when we unemotionally discuss: “Could we move things around—make things a little bit easier? I don’t need as much in groceries, but could I have some more in my allowance?”—
—which is one of the things that Bob mentioned about the ice cream.
If you have an allowance envelope—I’m using the envelope—like we use paper clips in my cash register / my checking register. In that paper clip, under “Allowance,” I get [$]50 or a [$]100 a month. That’s where ice cream would have come out of, because I’d have that money to spend. I just have to decide, “Is that what I want to spend it on this month?”
Bob: Julie, have there been times, in the middle of a budget year, where you’ve got allocated “x” amount of money for something—and it’s a choice—it’s not: “The car lost a transmission. It’s going to cost you a ton,” / it’s—you just decide: “We’re going to blow the budget and not be a slave to it”?
Julie: No! [Laughter]
Bob: You have towed the line on the budget because that’s what you decided.
Julie: —we have both agreed and bought in that, “This is what we are going to do.” Now, there have been times when things happen—and like—let’s say in the grocery budget—
Julie: —and my son brings over ten of the football team; okay?
Julie: Well, I don’t have in the budget for that many kids. So, what I’ll do is—I’ll ask him, “We can do beans and peanut butter, or can I go over in this category?” Then, we decide together.
Julie: So, there’s not a surprise or conflict.
Bob: But do you—from a practical standpoint, you don’t cash your check every month and put it in white envelopes, with [$]100 for groceries—stuff like that; right?
Russ: No, but it’s the concept. I just want people to understand that you’re only on a budget system if you can answer the question, at any point in time, “How much do you have left?”
Russ: Don’t tell me how much you’ve spent. Let’s say: “Here is January 6th. How much do you have left in groceries for this month? How much left in gas?” If I get down to March 3rd—and you want to know how much I have left in vacation—I ought to be able to tell you that.
Russ: Don’t just tell me how much you’ve spent. Tell me how much you have left.
Bob: So, on March 23rd, you’re looking and you’re going, “Okay; we had set aside $150 for gas this month.” And I’m about to run the credit card, and we’re going to go $10 over for gas.
Do you call her and say, “I’m about $10 over for gas”; or do you just fill up half a tank, or what do you do?
Russ: No. That’d be another thing I’d say about a budget—is no budget system works if you are pay check to pay check. You have to have some grease in the system / some cash in the system. So, no, I’m not going to talk to her about that. We’ll see if it will level out over the next month. If not, we may get to June and say, “You know, we just didn’t budget enough.”
That’s the other thing—that if you—you miss seeing God work if you don’t really have a spending plan; because sometimes, you don’t get sick / your car doesn’t break down; but if you don’t have a plan, you might miss that. One of the beauties of a budget—or a spending plan or planned spending, as Julie said—is to see God work.
Dennis: One of the things we are kind of assuming here in this conversation is that husbands and wives are talking about this together, and they’re in agreement about this together.
Dennis: And that, really, is at the heart of Philippians, Chapter 2. I just want to read these phrases—it talks about us being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord, and of one mind.
Bob: Yes; that’s the verse you were referring to earlier—yes.
Dennis: I mean, if we, as a couple—and I look back on Barbara and me—the reason we haven’t argued about money all that much over the years is, as we’ve gone about doing life together, we’ve come to the point of being of one accord. Comment on young couples starting out and why you think that is so important.
Russ: Well, I think, Dennis, that if I could say to young couples anything—it’d be that—remember what you just said about how important the marriage is. It’s a model of Christ and the church. We are to live in harmony and unity and be of the same spirit.
And money—you’re going to have to deal with it, like we’ve already said. So, “How are you going to take this temporal thing called money and manage it?” because you really do have to pay bills, you have to stay within your budget, and so forth. You need to become convinced that your marriage is worth it that “I’m not going to let this temporal thing called money…” That’s what Julie and I had to decide: “Wait a minute. This is causing friction. How are we going to develop a system?” Whether it’s an envelope system, or a total cash system, or however you do it—
—just figure out “How are you going to make this work?” because the goal is that you get to the point it’s really a non-issue.
I mean, Julie and I really don’t have to talk about money—very rarely. If the budget is getting off a little bit, in the middle of the year, we may talk about it / then, as we reset the next year; because we’ve done it so long.
And the other thing I would say is realistic amounts. That’s why it takes about 18 months. When we first got married, I said, “Okay, I think like [$]80 a month or something ought to be—or [$]80 a week ought to be enough for groceries,” or something. Well, I had no idea—I’m not buying groceries. So, I just set some arbitrary budget amount.
Dennis: How’d that work for you, Julie?
Julie: Not too well!
Russ: And so, I think a young couple, Dennis, needs to give themselves some time to figure out: “What are realistic amounts?” You don’t want it to be so much over that you never have any stress but not so much under that it’s not working.
Bob: Julie, the wife or the husband, who would say: “I hear you guys saying you need to be able to talk about this. Anytime we start to talk about it, it’s a fight gonna happen.
“We’ve tried; but every time, it gets emotional—the door gets slammed. We can’t seem to talk about it. How do we get help? What do we do?”
Julie: That’s a tough one, because there are a whole bunch of other issues. It can be as simple as personality types. It can be how they were raised—one raised with debt / the other was raised not. It can be male/female. She is more security-oriented; he’s more risk-taking—you know: “Debt is no big deal.” But it can also be a control-thing that: “You are not going to tell me what to do.” So, then, you have some serious heart issues that may be surfacing through the financial window.
The important thing is—if that’s not working, they do need to get help / they do need to have a third party.
Bob: Counselor / a mentor couple—somebody who—
Julie: A pastor.
Bob: —yes—steps in and helps with that.
Julie: Somebody; yes.
Russ: And I would say, Bob—that the husband, as the spiritual leader—to all those reasons Julie said can be sources of conflict—but you know, at the end of the day, you have to be able to talk about this. You have to be able to figure out how you’re going to do life. I would say that: “Go get counseling. Figure it out.”
I mean, because—then, if you practice it like—Dennis has for 41 / Julie and I are for 34—it will get easier.
But it’s not going to start off easy, because you’re bringing these two disparate personalities together / different backgrounds. You are ripe for conflict, right off; because you’ve seen different things modeled. Like Julie said, I actually subtracted on my ledger on my checkbook and she didn’t. [Laughter] We had to work through that—over a couple-year period.
Julie: Well, and some of the things that helped me—because I did come—even though raised in a strong, Christian home—came through the feminist ideal, where “I’m not going to let a man”—
Bob: —“No man’s going to tell me what to do”?
Julie: —“No man’s going to tell me what to do. I’m as smart as he is.” I had to go back to Scripture. In Proverbs 31, it talks about: “The heart of her husband trusts in her.” So, one of the ways I approach money is, “How can I help him trust me?” because, obviously, that’s a problem or God wouldn’t have put it in Scripture.
One of the next verses then says, “He has no lack of honest gain,”—that’s not wasting money so what he’s providing is not wasted—
—“and no need of dishonest spoil.” Well, that is defined as: “…pressuring him for things he can’t afford.”
Since finances tear marriages apart more than you like to realize—I don’t want money, which is something that is here on earth—and that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills / so money is not a problem to Him—I don’t want that to tear up my marriage. “How do I approach him with money?” because in the beginning, to be honest, when we did the credit card thing—it was like, “Should we both be on the same credit card?” because his dad told him: “Women waste money. So, maybe, you ought to have separate credit cards.” We didn’t believe that. We believed you both should be on the same one; but I knew there was an issue with him trusting me.
Dennis: We ran by something very, very fast that I want you to comment on, Julie. Russ made the statement about a man taking spiritual responsibility for this area and guiding his wife, loving her in the process. When he sits down with you, at the end of the year, and has this conversation, looking back over your money and how you guys have done over the past year—
—how does that make you feel, as a woman, just from the dialogue that you get a chance to have, at that point?
Julie: Well, actually, it is wonderful; because I feel like I’m part of the team—like I’m helping him, which is another—Genesis 2:18 is that God created me to be a helper. I’m going to be happiest when I do that—that means helping him reach his goals. So, if we come together with the finances, and we’re both doing what we have agreed to do, he’s happy. I’m happy because I’m helping him—I feel part of his team—and I feel like he enjoys having me work through life with him. It’s not just money.
Dennis: Yes; and we’ve talked about some important issues here today. We talked about being in agreement—kind of having what you called a “planned spending” approach to money. Secondly, we’ve talked about the importance of dialogue and getting on the same page together. That means listening but also talking. Then, third, we’ve talked about—in a number of ways—about adjusting.
When something doesn’t happen the way you expected it to happen, making the adjustment together and moving forward in agreement, as a couple. And back to how you started the broadcast, Bob, if couples are doing that, they are not going to argue about money.
Bob: Well, and maybe a good place to start is to get a copy of a book like the one that Russ has written to help spark some healthy conversation in your marriage about the money decisions that you face, as a couple. We’ve got copies of 8 Important Money Decisions for Every Couple in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order the book when you go, online, to FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to order at 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
I know some of you are aware that one of the things we’re working on, here, at FamilyLife is a new video series that’s all about parenting—
—it’s something that we hope to have ready early next year. It’s an involved project—we’ve talked to more than a dozen different contributors, who are speaking into the priorities of parenting. We’re getting it all put together right now.
When I have talked to folks and told them that this is something we’re working on, I’ve had a lot of people, who have said, “I’m so glad!” because they see this as a need today in Christian families. They see moms and dads needing help / needing biblical guidance on how to raise the next generation. That’s our commitment—we want to provide practical biblical help and hope for couples and for parents with the resources we create, with this daily radio program, our events, our website—it’s what we’re all about, here, at FamilyLife.
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Now, tomorrow, we want to talk about who ought to be in charge of the family finances. Is it just whoever is the best at math or does the Bible give any instruction or direction about whose responsibility it is to make sure the bills get paid? We’ll talk more about that—and other subjects— tomorrow. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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