Money, money, money, money!
Now I’ve got an image of a bald man with a massive, back of the head to brow comb-over. Ah, the joys of television.
It’s almost ironic that I am talking to you all about money management. Twelve years ago, my husband and I were about as financially irresponsible as you can get. I’d brought a fair amount of debt into our marriage. Largely due to ignorance. Balance your check-book? Why do that when you can check the account balance after each withdraw? And credit cards? That’s just free money, right? Somehow the final bill never registered in my mind while I was making the purchase. Worst thing you can do to an eighteen year old is approve them for credit and give them a $5,000 limit. Bet you can imagine how long it took me to get to the mall. Yep, and those cute little sweaters and jeans I’d had my eyes on–viola! They were just a swipe of a card away.
Until the bill came and I realized I didn’t have the money to pay.
Then, when I got married, I brought my irresponsible attitudes with me. Which wasn’t a problem. My husband shared my love for shopping, and before long, the debt I’d brought quadrupled. By the time our daughter was two, we were $24,000 in debt. Not counting the mortgage and car payments.
Debt has a way of creeping up on you. One minute your out doing your thing–a quick trip through Wendy’s here, that cute little throw pillow there, convenient mart sodas every day. Each item by itself isn’t a big deal, but because they’re “no big deal”, you keep adding them to your day. By the end of the week, you’ve blown through hundreds, with nothing to show for it except a few left-over ketchup packets.
Let’s break it down:
Let’s say you and your spouse each buy a soda every day at the local convenient mart. Each soda costs $1.50. No big deal, right? Now multiply that by two, since you both got one. Then multiply that by 20. (We’ll say you passed on the soda ten days out of the month.)
By the end of the month, you’ve spent $60–on soda!
And what about all those trips to Starbucks? All those times you eat out? Or buy little Suzie that dollar toy shelved at her eye-level that instigated a twenty-minute fit?
Again, each one by itself is no big deal. But each one is never by itself because what we do becomes habit, either positive or negative.
For us, it wasn’t the occasional splurge that got us into trouble (although those didn’t help, and they were much more frequent that we wanted to admit.) What sunk our ship was the day to day dribbles–a dollar here, a happy meal there. It took some radical attitude-adjustments and some good old elbow grease to climb out of our mess, but it was well worth it! Today, minus our home mortgage, which we are working to pay down, we are basically debt free. And it’s a good feeling. However, we are also very alert that we are one purchase away from sliding back into the debt-pit.
How’d we do it?
First, we tithed. Sound crazy? Like maybe we should have paid our debt off first? Nope, God first, everything else must come second–unless you prefer going it alone. If you want God on your side, you need to do things God’s way. The minute we started following God’s financial plan, amazing things happened. Financial obedience has a way of multiplying things–just as God promised in Malachi 3:10 “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”
Don’t believe it? Then test Him. Seriously, He’s asking you to. Let Him show you just how faithful He is when you lay it all in His hands. Which is what tithing is–trusting God to provide for your financial needs.
Our tithe is the very first thing we do each month. Before the money dwindles away. My husband gets paid once a month, so we write our check once a month. Then we make everything else “fit” with what we have left over.
The second thing we did was make a budget. This was hard at first, because quite honestly, we had no idea how much money we were spending in a given month. Which meant we needed to be more alert, and take a few months to record our purchases. This was very revealing! I had no idea how much money were were wasting on sodas and coffees!
Once we knew where our money was going, we worked to eliminate unnecessary spending. In the beginning, eating out was out. We committed to each other not to spend a dime on “entertainment” until our debt was paid off completely. Think that’s a bit drastic? Then pull up your credit card bill, calculate the amount you’ll pay in interest over the next year or two, and see if you don’t see things differently. In my mind, interest is the equivalent of throwing your check in the trash.
Next, we looked for ways to do things cheaper. I began cutting my husbands hair. Poor guy. lol. And he started taking a lunch to work. That alone saved as much as $50 per week. I also started keeping a snack bag in the car for those times when our daughter got hungry while I was out and about. You can buy a box of crackers for about $2, which will last for a while, or you can buy a happy meal for about the same price, maybe a bit more, which will last but a day.
We started to set aside “emergency” money. For car repairs, house repairs, unexpected expenses, that sort of thing. This emergency fund carried us through six months of unemployment four years ago. The rain’s coming, so start saving.
Finally, we learned–or should I say, are learning– to be content. This is an ongoing struggle for us. The media’s gotten rather sneaky with their advertisements. They know how to push our buttons–wouldn’t life be so much easier if we had that little slicing gadget? And we’d look so much prettier if we purchased those boots, that sweater, that special facial cream. Oh, and our kids absolutely have to have that new video game.
Sound like a lot of work? It’s well worth it. The stress reduction of knowing nothing’s hanging over your head is worth every penny pinched.
Wanna try it?
1. Tithe. If you want God to stand behind you, and at times, carry you, you’ve got to do things His way. He will never, ever bless disobedience.
2. Record your spending for a month or two. Every dollar. Every dime.
3. Analyze your spending and look for areas that can be eliminated. Do you really need that Vente latte? Every day? (You can see my greatest area of weakness, huh?)
4. Record your non-negotiables. (mortgage, bills, insurance, whatever.)
6. Determine how much you’d like to spend in negotiable areas. (clothing, entertainment. personal spending. Both Steve and I have an allowance”.)
7. Find ways to do what you are doing cheaper.
Can you find clothing on clearance? Can you shop in the off season? Can you pack a lunch? Could your family go on a picnic instead of a restaurant? For a walk instead of the movies? Are those convenience foods really worth it? (You’d be amazed how much you can save slicing your own cheese or tearing your own lettuce)
8. Learn to distinguish between wants and needs. Ouch! This is a big one, and a constant struggle for our entire family! But most of the things we just had to have were soon forgotten, either in our basement collecting dust or on the shelf of a store.
9. Make a point to continually evaluate your budget and your spending. Materialism has a way of creeping up on us.
10. Think long term. How do you want to spend your retirement years and are you doing the things you need to do to make that happen?
11. Give yourself wiggle room. If you tighten the purse strings too tight, you risk getting discouraged. Make sure to allow for a treat once in a while. Knowing you’ve got a “reward” coming, big or small, will make it easier to stay focused on the day-to-day.
What about you? What are some ways you save money? Have you made positive financial changes? If so, how long did it take you to
Reflection’s columnist Ben Erlichman is participating in NaNoWriMo. Stop by tomorrow to learn what he’s done right and what can he do better. I’ll bet you’ll find a nugget you can apply to your own life.