The Lowly Budget Takes One On The Chin—Again

Every now and then, I come across an article in the mainstream personal finance press that’s so wrong, so misguided, that I just can’t keep silent. So it was with a piece published earlier this year by Kiplinger, an organization I generally respect, enjoy, and learn from. The headline read, “Budgeting Doesn’t Work: A Fatal Flaw in Typical Money Management Advice.”

Where did the article go wrong? Right from the beginning, and on through to the end.

In the eyes of the article’s author, a budget is not simply a money management tool. Oh no, we’re dealing with a much larger, much more sinister issue here. A budget, you see, comes from “budget culture,” which the author defines as “a system of beliefs that worships wealth, promotes debt elimination as a means of attaining a higher status, demonizes certain ways of spending while elevating others and oppresses people who don’t match up with its supposed picture of financial health.”


The author went on to write, “Budget culture is the prevailing way we think, teach and talk about money that relies on restriction, shame and greed.”

Wait, what?

Time out

Let’s look at each of these claims. First, the idea that budgets come from a culture that “worships wealth.” Ah, no. When encouraged as part of biblical money management, it comes from the recognition that God owns everything and we are His managers. We don’t worship wealth. We worship God and seek to honor Him by managing His resources according to His principles and for His purposes.

What about promoting debt elimination “as a means of attaining higher status”? Once again, nope. A budget is just a tool. It comes with no baggage, no point of view. If a person decides to use a budget to help them get out of debt, then it’s a means of attaining a sense of financial freedom. (See Proverbs 22:7 and 1 Corinthians 7:23).

How about the suggestion that using a budget “demonizes certain ways of spending while elevating others?” Okay, she got us there. After all, if you use a budget you can never buy a latte! I’m kidding, of course. Budgets come with no absolutes about how much to spend on clothing or vacations or even at the coffee shop. Again, a budget is just a tool, but one that does wonders in helping people live within their means. People are free to set their own priorities as long as the budget balances. 

Does a budget oppress people? Does it rely on “restriction, shame, and greed”? Wow! Where did those assumptions come from? Of course those claims aren’t true. A budget provides empowerment, giving people the knowledge they need to proactively manage money well.

“Just like diets,” the author went on to write, “budgets encourage restriction and rely on discipline, which makes them unsustainable at best and harmful at worst.

Right. Who could live with discipline? It’s a crazy thought.

When the cure is worse than the disease

What’s the author’s solution?

“We don’t have to rely solely on ‘hard work’ to provide for ourselves. Recognize the value of resources such as community support, government benefits and credit and loans to meet your needs, and choose work that’s joyful and meaningful.”

Do I even need to comment on that? Is she really suggesting that the best way to live is to depend on government programs and loans?

If this article had run on April 1st, I would get it. But the fact that it was meant as advice for readers of a personal finance publication is stunning. It shows just how misunderstood budgets are. 

Never utter the “B” word!

Certain personal finance writers seem to think that if they recommend budgets, they will lose their audience. The Kiplinger article reminds me of a piece I wrote long ago in which I mentioned some of the ways I’ve seen budgets treated in popular personal finance books. One author told readers to “take those budgets you’ve been struggling with and throw them in the garbage. If you really want to budget your expenses, that’s your business, but I think it’s a waste of time and effort.” And yet, in the workbook that accompanies his book, the author encourages readers to estimate and then track what they spend. He also acknowledges using Quicken to track his own household’s spending.

In another popular personal finance book, the authors write, “Don’t worry. This program is not about budgeting!” They then proceed to teach readers how to track their spending “down to the penny.” They explain that their approach is “based on consciousness, fulfillment and choice, not on budgeting or deprivation.” Ah, I see.

I realize that mine might be just a voice crying in the wilderness on this one, but I’m sticking with my point of view that a budget is the single most powerful tool anyone can use to manage money well.

Take it to heart: “The plans of the diligent lead to profit; hasty speculation leads to poverty.” – Proverbs 21:5

Take in more: Read The Five Budget Mistakes I See Most Often and How to Fix Them 

Take action: For help getting started with a budget, read:

Budgeting is About Having More

Where Does All Your Money Go?

Managing to the Numbers in Your Budget

Maybe if kids grew up using a budget, it wouldn’t carry such a stigma. I devote a chapter to the topic in Trusted: Preparing Your Kids for a Lifetime of God-Honoring MoneyManagement 

2 Responses to The Lowly Budget Takes One On The Chin—Again

  1. Lucy Chappell August 15, 2023 at 4:09 PM #

    I read that article and cringed all the way through! I, too thought it was satire or a joke! Such a horrible way to Not take responsibility because of how it makes someone feel!! I pray for our grandchildren!

    • Matt Bell August 16, 2023 at 9:58 AM #

      Yes, Lucy, praying is one of the best things we can do! One other thing working in our favor is actually technology. With the advent of budgeting apps, it’s never been easier, faster, or even more enjoyable to manage cash flow. We just need to make sure our kids (or, as you said, grandkids) see the biblical basis for using a tool like a budget and then train them how to do it.

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