When most people think about resources to help develop a budget (or refine one that has been neglected), many don’t realize all the important information they have available right in their online banking account. Although I previously worked in a retail bank setting, I sometimes forget how much of a story the numbers can tell me, if I’m willing to look at them.

Navigating your online banking tools may be limited to the account summary, where you can click into your account(s) and look at recent purchases and payments, but I’d like to point your attention to the little tab, link, or area that shows your spending. For Wells Fargo customers, that is called “My Money Map.” If you click on that, it will take you to the information that shows what directions you have been sending your money. The spending report information defaults to the current month and the two previous months. It also shows an average of spending by category. If you share your finances with a spouse, it’s a good idea to plan time to look at it together.

Before you jump to the bottom regarding total outgoing spending, I’d like to encourage you to take a few minutes and prayerfully ask God, “Where am I spending more or less than I should?” and listen for a while. As you look at the categories (which can later be easily edited by clicking the “Edit Budget” button at the top), consider the dollar amount that seems about right, too much, or not enough. Make notes on paper because it can be a lot to take in and talk about.

When my husband and I got married, we agreed that we would sit down together and review/agree on any necessary budget adjustments anytime there was a big change in our finances. This has included everything from job changes to purchasing our first home and having children. Because we have honored this commitment, I can honestly say we have never argued about our money. It’s not to say money has never been tight, because it really has at times, but we’ve always been in agreement with how we’re using it and trusting God for wisdom to make every dollar count.

Taking some time to look at your finances might take a while or a few sessions at the computer before you can really wrap your head around the idea of a budget. Once you see where you want your money to go, it’s really easy to click into a category and move things around if your bank didn’t put it in the category where it belongs. I’ve encountered that at times for Target shopping. Sometimes it really is a retail expense (birthday or holiday gifts), but other times it may be groceries. As you get in the habit of managing your money, you’ll get a much better idea of how you’re spending your money and what you might need to do differently.

It’s definitely a discipline to be developed and sustained, but trust me when I say that it’s worth it. That trip to Europe we’ve always dreamed about is finally in our plan for savings. Ten dollars here or there when we don’t use the full budget for a category will really add up!

I will leave you with this encouragement: Budgets are not intended to be restrictive like an extreme diet. They are intended to be guidelines for how to be a good steward of what God has entrusted to you in the financial areas of your life. Knowing what you have set aside for any given category frees you to say “yes” more (if you’re typically a saver) and also “no” or “rain check” more easily.

Enjoy the freedom of knowing your boundaries and working on that budget!