Do you ever feel like you are on a financial roller coaster?
You finally begin to get ahead one month. You’re not sure how you did it, but you can’t believe how nice your budget looks. You pat yourself on the back and celebrate that you finally had money at the end of the month.
Until next month, when the exact opposite happens. You didn’t change a thing, you didn’t go out on a spending party, there were simply more expenses than you expected and now you’re wondering if you really will ever get ahead. You try to plan so carefully, you budget and scrimp and save for a rainy day, but the rainy days keep coming.
This feels like the story of our life this year. We are in a decent spot financially, much better than we have been in the past. We feel like we have a little more wiggle room in our budget for extras and we’re able to plan better for things we know are coming down the road. But it’s all those things that we didn’t know were coming down the road that keep messing up the plan.
Things were going smoothly so we put a deposit down on a vacation we’ve been dreaming of for years. And then the washing machine broke and needed to be replaced. We get a new washing machine and start working our way back up only to discover that we have a pretty bad termite problem in our house that will cost thousands of dollars to completely repair. Ugh, back to square one.
The reality is that many of us are just barely making it financially. Even in two income families, the majority of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck with little left over for emergencies, extras, or even giving. And it is exhausting and frustrating.
More Than Just Making It
We want to do more with our lives, but we never can seem to get ahead. This is why I was so excited to read Erin Odom’s new book More Than Just Making It: Hope for the Heart of the Financially Frustrated. The financially frustrated? Isn’t that all of us? I don’t know anyone who hasn’t experienced financial frustrations at some point in their life.
More Than Just Making It is part memoir and part “how to” book offering practical strategies to overcome financial struggles and frustrations. Erin grew up in middle-class America, she attended private schools and was even able to graduate from college completely debt free. She had plans to become an overseas missionary, but just as that dream was about to become a reality she found herself in a struggling marriage and a desperate financial situation.
The book shares Erin’s story of true financial struggles, from standing in line to apply for food stamps, learning how to cut back and live frugally in every possible way, to walking through a bankruptcy. Erin’s situation went from bad to worse before things slowly and gradually began to turn around. Now that Erin has made it to the other side, she is sharing all of the tips and things she has learned as she went from middle class to living at poverty level and back up again.
More Than Just Making It will be released on September 5th, but if you preorder the book, Erin has put together a number of incredible bonuses worth over $220. You can read more about the preorder bonuses and book at morethanjustmakingit.com.
For Those Who Are Not Financially Frustrated
One of my favorite parts of the book is that Erin tackles the debate and the stigma of government aid head on. Her stories share a glimpse of the reality of families who survive on food stamps, Medicare, and other sources of government aid. She honestly shares her own assumptions and pride along with the shame she felt when she needed to turn to the government for help.
The chapter on “Changing Our Mindsets” offers an incredibly powerful call to the church and a guide on how believers can support and help those who are struggling financially. She believes that “meeting the physical needs of suffering individuals can go a long way in opening the door to meeting their spiritual needs as well.” She drives home the point that judgment and shame will never lead someone to the gospel or out of poverty, but compassion and assistance can do both.
Whether you are financially frustrated yourself or you are living comfortably, I highly encourage you to pick up a copy of this book. I was amazed at how well Erin is able to provide tips and knowledge for those struggling financially as well as ideas and insight for those on the other side who can make a difference through compassionate support.
Steps to Take to Get to More Than Just Making It Financially
Today, I wanted to share a few tips on how to go from financially frustrated to more than just making it. These tips and ideas just scratch the surface of the ideas that Erin provides in More Than Just Making It, so be sure to grab a copy to learn more.
Determine if you have an income or a spending problem.
Erin makes the important distinction between those with an income problem and those with a spending problem. Take some time to have an honest look at your income and expenses to help determine where your situation lies.
If you have an income problem you can save and cut back all you want, but you won’t ever get ahead. If you are constantly struggling just to cover the basic necessities, then your solution isn’t more coupons. You need to address your income problem. Maybe you or your spouse need to get a different job, an extra job, or even start your own business on the side. (This post shares a number of options to help bring in additional side income.)
If you have a spending problem, it is important to address the underlying cause of your excess spending. For many people, shopping is used as a therapy to numb the pain in other areas of their life. Others struggle with “keeping up with the Joneses” and living outside of their means as a way to appear as if their circumstances are better than they are. Some may simply have a knowledge problem and they need resources and education on how to live within a budget and make better spending choices.
Make a plan for your money.
The Bible calls us to be good stewards of our resources. Whether we are rich or poor, it is our duty to spend our money wisely and shrewdly. If you don’t make a plan for your money ahead of time it is hard to make wise decisions. You need the knowledge of the big picture to help you determine the best plan for your spending.
This is why everyone should live on a budget. Not a restrictive, you can’t spend any money on fun things budget, but a simple plan for your money. When you receive new income (ie, payday) take a few minutes to sit down (preferably with your spouse) and make a plan for each dollar of that income. You can make whatever categories and budget line items you want. Making a budget simply gives you the freedom to spend your money guilt free on the things you have planned.
I recommend using YNAB (You Need A Budget) to create your budget, but a simple pen and paper work just as well too. The point is not necessarily the tool, but the fact that you use it. So sit down, make a plan, and then actually live according to your plan (adjusting for unexpected broken washers and termites accordingly).
Don’t borrow to buy what you can’t afford.
If you don’t have the money to buy it, you don’t buy it. It really is as simple as that. Obviously, there are circumstances that might require you to borrow money in a pinch. However, if you find yourself pulling out your credit card on a regular basis for meals out, extra clothes, or fun adventures, you would be wise to lock your credit card somewhere you can’t find it.
In a perfect world, we would all have a large emergency fund to rely on when things get tight. But in reality, working your way up to a hefty emergency fund can take years and in some cases might never feel possible. If you do need to borrow or use credit, make wise decisions. Only borrow the bare minimum you can to cover the things you truly need. Using your credit card to buy a few days of groceries to float you until payday is one thing. Borrowing an extra $20,000 in student loans for extravagant living expenses is foolish.
Always be saving.
One of my favorite parts about YNAB is that I can “blind” myself to our actual bank account balance. I rarely look at how much money we have in our bank account. Instead, I look at the amount of money we have designated for each category. If there is $300 left in our food budget and we are three days away from payday, I don’t feel too guilty about picking up some take out if I’m too tired to cook. But if there is $.03 left in the food budget, you better believe I’ll be searching the pantry for a box of mac and cheese instead of hitting the drive thru. Even if our bank account says we have $2000 in the account, I only look at the amount in the category I intend to use.
The reason for this is because we are always saving. There are constantly little bills that come up and big expenses that only pop up once a year. I put a few bucks into these occasional bill categories each month so that I’m never blindsided. When it’s time to renew our license plates, the money is ready and waiting in the account. When our Amazon Prime membership automatically pulls from our account I don’t have to sweat it because I had been slipping that money over every month. When we have birthdays in August, September, October, and Christmas in December, I don’t have to panic because I’ve been planning for this spending escapade all year long.
Even if you can’t fund every budget savings category that you would like, make it a point to start somewhere. Even if it’s just $5 a paycheck, begin to create the habit of saving some of your money. You will feel so relieved to find money set away when a rainy day comes.
No matter how dark your financial situation is, there is a God who calls you beloved. He cares for you deeply and passionately. And He will never leave or forsake His beloved children. Lay your fears and anxieties, your worries and your stress before Him. Cast on Him your burdens and ask Him to meet your needs. Our God always provides. It may not look like we expect. It may not be everything we want. But He always, always takes care of His children. He is always there. Trust Him, rely on Him, find your hope in Him.
Today’s Action Step
Take an honest look at your personal financial situation. Are things going well for you? If so, what can you do to provide compassion and assistance to those around you?
If you are financially frustrated, consider the areas where you may need to make some changes? Do you need more income or better spending habits? Do you have a plan for your money each paycheck period?