On A “Budget”?

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It seems like I hear “on a budget” quite a bit in news snippets or various articles, especially those that might be referring to vacationing or sticking to a special diet. I must say I am getting a little annoyed with the “on a budget” catch-phrase because my ears perk up when I hear these words and then I’m disenchanted to find that the information rendered isn’t my idea of being on a budget at all.

It seems like a lot of newscasters or blog writers are using “on a budget” almost in the same way that grocery stores use loss-leaders. When I hear “on a budget,” I automatically associate those words with things like “frugal,” “cheap,” “inexpensive,” “thrifty,” and so on. However, I am usually disappointed to find that their suggestions are far from frugal in my opinion and would not even pass the “Simple Steward’s White Glove Frugality Test.”

So, what does “on a budget” really mean? When I write about sticking to a budget, I have in mind an audience of stewards that are looking to do things the way God intended; that is exercising the virtue of prudence when spending money. In other words, I’m pretty sure that, even though God created salmon and intended for us to enjoy eating it from time to time, I don’t think he meant for us to spend $12 per pound to feed our families when we can get many of the same necessary nutrients from chicken, which is closer to $2.00 per pound on a good sale (which is the only time you will catch the Simple Steward purchasing meat, if you have been following along).

Probably the most upsetting part about these “on a budget” tag lines is that, yes, you can buy a quarter-pound of salmon and only spend $3 for it, put some healthy vegetables with it and a side of brown rice, and you’ll have a nice meal. But how many people will you feed?

I have a family of five, one of whom is a former football player and still eats as though he’s in training. A quarter-pound of salmon is not enough for our family, even though the price may be great. Our grocery budget has been at or below $300 each month for quite some time (see articles archived on Compass Catholic.org). I stay close to that amount while still feeding everyone healthy meals and snacks. My children are getting older and their appetites are starting to rival that of their football-player dad so there have been a few months this year where we have gone over the $300 target, but we do our best to stick to that amount.

What about vacationing “on a budget?” These suggestions don’t usually sound terribly frugal to me either. When our family vacations, you can bet we do it “on a budget,” but that doesn’t include saving money on posh hotels or meals at restaurants every evening.

We have enjoyed many wonderful vacations, but mainly our vacations involve getting back home to visit with our families. Granted, if we could take the same amount of money and put it towards a different destination, we might be able to stay in a hotel for a few nights and eat a few restaurant meals. But, staying close to our family is a priority so we use the majority of our vacation funds on transportation to visit relatives. Thankfully, our families provide wonderful accommodations and we all pitch in to cook and maintain our host’s home while we are visiting. That’s a vacation budget!

I encourage you to stay on your budget, whatever that looks like for your family. Don’t let advertisers and paid-for articles sway you into changing anything unless they will truly help you reduce or at least maintain your current budget. And if you don’t have a budget—now is the time to start!

“Life’s prime needs are water, bread, and clothing, and also a house for decent privacy.” ~Sirach 29:21

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