It’s April 15th, which is “Tax Day” here in the United States. Taxes got me thinking about money, which lead me to think about my ministry budget. Since ministry budgets is a thing we all deal with, let’s talk about the basics.

Some ministries have massive budgets. Other ministries have little to none. Regardless of the number of zeros in your bottom line, you need to be proactive about staying on top of your budget. Like many of you, I have a Finance Department that helps me stay on top of my spending and my allocations. I have a few things that help me stay on top of my monthly finances and I’d love to share them with you.

  1. Know how much you have so you know how much you can spend.

I use an excel/google spreadsheet to keep track of my monthly budget. Typically, I have an amount I’m allowed to spend every month. Sometimes this number can fluctuate due to extra expenses associated with events or months where giving is usually down (summer). Sometimes I can spend more because I’ve underspent in past months and sometimes I have less because I had extra expenses I didn’t anticipate that caused me to go over. All of this should be recorded and available. Know what these numbers are so that you can know what you have available.

  1. Keep your receipts!

What I do isn’t a super fancy or glamorous way to keep track of my receipts but it works for me! I created a folder in the photo app on my phone and I snap a pic of every receipt I get. Once I take a picture, I add it directly to that specific album. When it’s time to reconcile my finances, I know exactly where to find the receipt. I also drop pics that my staff sends me for receipts that they collect. I know there are high-tech solutions for this, but it works for me.

  1. Don’t get behind.

It may seem like a great idea to wait until the end of the month to start tracking your spending, but it’s easy to fall behind. I work Sunday through Thursday. At 3:00 PM on Thursday (it’s a recurring appointment) I enter all my purchase order amounts, collected receipt amounts and vendor invoices to my spreadsheet. This gives me a chance to see exactly how much money I spent. I am able to see how much money I left to spend and I can make my Finance Department aware of any off track spending I may have going on.

  1. Have a plan.

We are in the first month of the second quarter of 2016. Now is a really great time to review where your current spending is. You may not be able to make adjustments for 2016 but you can certainly be making a plan for 2017. I make sure to keep track of the high ticket items that occur for me yearly and try to spread those throughout the year, rather than have them all hit in the same month. Having a plan will help you (and the finance team) from getting surprised.

  1. Don’t overspend and don’t underspend.

Steps 1-4 will help to insure that you don’t overspend or underspend. It is important that you are guilty of neither of these budget offenses. Overspending can get you (and your church) in trouble and underspending can leave your ministry lacking. Staying on top of your monthly budget will keep you out of the red and black!

Not all of us are accounting nerds (no offense to accounting nerds who might be reading this). Managing our resources is a part of ministry and all of us have our tricks. What ministry finance apps are you using? What are your best practices to managing your budget? Please share so that we can all learn from each other. Oh, and happy Tax Day!