Make-Believe Budgeting

I’ve designed my 3 hour budgeting class to lead up to the fundamental exercise: actually working on a budget, with real numbers, needs, dilemmas.

One problem: the people taking the budgeting class currently have almost no income to budget with.

Let’s figure out how to make gold out of straw?

Or, what I came up with on the fly with my one student last week: Let’s pretend that you finish school and become an office manager, and let’s pretend (because I truly have no clue) that you would make $30,000 a year. We both agreed that her salary might well be more than that (I am going to look up some common jobs and their average salaries and have that info on hand next time). We both liked the idea that we were being very conservative to see what things would look like with a possibly less-than-actual amount of money.

In the back of my mind I was thinking, not only look up some average salaries for common jobs, but also look up the national average income in general.

The budgeting exercise went off brilliantly. I think it not only gave her good practice in sitting down with an income limit and trying to make her expenses, desires and dreams fit inside of that limit, but also just the act of pretending to have that kind of power and choice made her believe (“make believe”) that it was within her reach.

Having been poor my entire adult life, I understand the depths of despair a person will have to slog through, and how every shred of hope is torn off as the thorns of reality scrape one raw and down to bare bones.

I understand how valuable it is to regain the belief in oneself and in the future. I think part of this class needs to be about starting that emotional recovery, in addition to gaining the skills and information to achieve financial health and stay there.

So now it’s time to take my impromptu experiment and develop it. I figured if I used the national median income I could justify the number I used as well as simplify things by having each student working with the same figures so we could kind of compare notes and things. I found it here: U.S. Census.

The median annual income for the United States of American is around $50,000. Holy f-monkeys. Rounded off, that’s about $4,000 every freakin’ month. Cripes.

There’s no way in hell I can use that number.

Am I just jealous, because our family can’t seem to get near that number?

Or after all these years, do I think that it’s an impossible figure, and in applying my own lack of faith, I’d be holding my students back from achieving something that obviously a TON of people are able to achieve?

Or do I just not want to give them a shot of hope that will get them SO high that when it doesn’t look immediately possible, they will throw out everything we’ve discussed, even the reasonable, helpful bits?

How can I justify using $30,000? Because it’s a number I’m intimately familiar with? Because it gives one a modest little $2,500 per month to work with? Because it’s most likely a believable, and inspirational, step up from where they’ve been for years?

I’ll have to do more investigating. And more experimenting.

3 responses to “Make-Believe Budgeting

  1. I’m doing a lot of personal work around wealth at the moment. It’s been a continuous (sometimes hourly) battle with those old patterns and beliefs. Working with imagination and visualisation was easy. Watching which words I put out into the world, not so hard. Being relaxed about money going out – and showing that I trust more will come in – that gave me palpitations. It does seem to be getting easier though, and little bits and pieces of cash are coming in (from unexpected places) most days…I have to keep asking whether I’m behaving with faith or fear…ouch.

    • It’s amazing how it all starts with our attitude and assumptions, isn’t it? And the people I’m working with are all in a pretty bad place financially, and with the way things are in the world, it’s hard to tell them outright to behave with faith. But maybe when we get tired enough of the fear (I know I’m sick of it), then we can try moving forward in another way. I hope to show them a couple of new ways.

      Thank you so much for stopping by, Karyn! It’s great to hear from you again.

  2. Hi, yes, have recovered from having dial-up internet and back in the real world!
    I meant faith vs fear for you…I agree your students wouldn’t be ready for that. Imagining they could have a life above the poverty line is a great first step for them.

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