A Bodey in Motion

Building momentum, one step at a time

How to Build Your Financial House

When you’re first beginning the process of trying to take control of your finances, it can be totally overwhelming. In a world as complicated as ours, you find yourself having to juggle so many payments and fees and bills that it’s hard to know where to start.

But those who won’t care for their relatives, especially those in their own household, have denied the true faith. Such people are worse than unbelievers.

1 Timothy 5:8

The right way to start is by building your financial household first. Get to know what your core basic needs are and take care of them before you worry about anything else. Unfortunately, our complicated world has begun to confuse what a need is, so let me elaborate. Basic needs can be limited to three categories, which make up our roof in the picture below.

I usually scratch this out on a piece of paper for the people I'm coaching. You have the benefit of Photoshop to clean it up and make it legible. You're welcome.

Healthy: The stuff that keeps your family alive and in reasonably good condition. This will include groceries and any medicine your family must take. (i.e. medicines for high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic depression, and the like. My acid-reflux medication wouldn’t make this list.) It might also include health insurance and/or co-pays.

Safe: The stuff that keeps you out of the elements and a reasonable amount of security. This will include your basic utility services (such as electricity and water) and your mortgage or rent. You might want to include the cost of necessary home repairs here as well. Don’t include every possible security measure, though. No amount of money can make you 100% secure.

Productive: The stuff that keeps you generating an income and ready to work. This will include transportation, which could be a car, a bus pass, or a good pair of shoes. It will probably also include a phone of some kind. It might include Internet access and an email account, a reliable cellular phone, and a reasonable clothing budget.

In all cases, the goal is to determine a reasonable number for your basic needs. Keep your numbers realistic, and don’t overload any of the categories with fluff you really can do without. For example, a young couple, just married, probably shouldn’t be spending $800 each month for groceries. A $200 per month cell phone contract with all the bells and whistles doesn’t qualify, either. And an Xbox will never be a necessary component to maintain productivity, no matter what anyone says.

Also, you’ll have to plan for different types of expenses.

My simple picture just got all complicated. "Expenses?" "Variable Cost?" What is this madness!?

A good example of a fixed cost expense would be your mortgage or rent. It’s a bill that’s due every month, and the amount owed doesn’t change very often, if at all. They’re predictable costs, and we wish that every core item was a fixed cost expense. Unfortunately, they’re not.

A variable cost expense would be things like gasoline for your car, or your electricity bill. Each month the amount spent on this item is going to change, either because the price of the good is constantly under change (gasoline), or your use varies (electricity). The is the simplest thing to do is put down a number that represents a high average for that item that month. It’s rare that you’ll find yourself at risk of going over.

Items like car maintenance or clothing would be a non-monthly expense. It’s a cost you know will be coming eventually, and you’re socking money away for it now so it won’t break the bank later. Use a savings account and put a little aside every month for each of these types of expenses.

Making sure that you’re covering your basic needs gives your budget a foundation to build on. It shows you that, no matter what else happens, you can keep the lights on, put food on the table, and stay employed. And if you’re not covering your needs, then it’s clearly time to improve your income. Without any margin, you’ll never be able to move beyond the struggle of living paycheck to paycheck. Every dollar earned above that core is the fuel to be used for reaching financial goals, but you have to build your financial house first.

This is the form I built based around the information in this post. I’m using it to help people start getting their finances in order when they’re struggling. Feel free to share it, or this post, with others.

The total you figure from your core needs can be used as a base number for your emergency fund. How many months can you live off of your savings when you’re just taking care of your basic needs? How many months do you want it to be?


June 24, 2013 - Posted by | Marriage and Family, Work and Money | , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. […] first priority is to take care of those things that keep your household functioning. I’ve covered this ground before, in explicit detail, so I won’t spend a lot more time on it. The big point of this step, […]

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  2. […] Step: Write out your necessities. Know the difference between an expense that needs to be paid, and one that’s nice to have […]

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