I started a Government Budgeting and Finance class this semester for my MPA program, and so far it has actually been pretty interesting. Apparently everyone who does the program dreads taking this class because finance and budgeting is dull, boring stuff. But the professor has really thrown down the gauntlet and made the class interesting to start off with.
He began class by declaring, “Budgets are not just numbers. Budgets are reflections of values.”
In the past, he said, when people still used checks, he would announce, “Someone give me your checkbook register and in 15 minutes I’ll tell you what you value.”
That thought has stuck with me this past week as I’ve chewed on it and processed it. It didn’t sit well with me at first, because my first thought was, “If you looked at my household budget, the number one recipient of our money is Wal-Mart. And I don’t really ‘value’ Wal-Mart.” In fact, I value a lot of things more than buying cheap Chinese crap at Wal-Mart.
For instance, just to take one small example, I value reading more than I value stuff at Wal-Mart. But I hardly spend anything on books because I get most of them from the library.
But then I got to thinking about it again… and maybe that does reflect some value choices at a deeper level.
Maybe it shows that I value saving money over going to, say, Safeway and getting slightly higher quality stuff.
Maybe it shows that I value feeding my family more than I value owning books that I could read again at my leisure.
So maybe my budget is reflective of my values after all.
We budget $100 a month for eating out or going to the movies. Maybe this shows we place a pretty low value on eating out. Or a higher value of eating in.
We budget some money each month to go to a local church, or to projects like Kiva or World Vision. That certainly speaks to our values.
So maybe the professor has a point. He went a step further to say that “Budgeting is the means by which we transmit abstract thoughts and values into action.”
If we say we want to pursue the abstract value of a “safer community,” for instance, then we adjust the budget in order to hire more cops, buy patrol cars, implement curfews, etc.
The flipside then would be: if we say we want to pursue a “safer community” and do not spend that money pursuing it, then we don’t truly hold that value after all. We’re just paying lip service to the idea.
So my questions to you this morning are these: is the professor correct? Are budgets reflections of values? Do they show us what we truly value in life? Do we really “vote with our wallets,” to borrow an old phrase?
And if so, what does your budget say about you? What does your organization’s budget say about it? What does your church budget or business budget say you value? For instance, does your church say they value missions, but then actually only give a tiny percentage toward missions?
Is it time to adjust a budget in order to value some different things?