Guest Post: Take Control of Your Money

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I was very excited when Rachal asked me to do a guest post about finances.  Then I stopped for a minute and thought, “Where to start?” Dozens of studies show that the average family in America today is living paycheck to paycheck.  That’s 7 out of 10 to be exact. (Some studies show an even higher percentage…) Which means of ten people who are reading this blog right now, seven will not know how to pay for an emergency when it comes up.  (And if you are alive, one WILL come up.) Finances is a very personal issue for me, and I am very passionate about it. Before my ‘financial awakening’, I worked at a bank for several years. I saw what money could do.  I saw what the lack of money could do. I learned the thrill of balancing a till and holding thousands of dollars in my hand. Sadly, though, I never took the time to learn how to properly handle money. That came several years later. That’s the journey I’d like to share with you today. I hope I am able to leave you with some practical tips for getting a better handle on your finances (because let’s face it, we all need a little help from time to time – I know what it feels to be swimming in debt and not knowing what to do about it) There is hope.  There IS a light at the end of the tunnel. It all depends on what YOU decide to do.

For those of you who haven’t met me, I am the wife of a hard-working farmer. Mother of 3 earthly little people and a few celestial.  I have a small Etsy shop, and I enjoy floral design, beading, gardening, working on the odd woodworking project, crocheting, and making my home more beautiful.  I moved from Michigan to central Washington when I married my farmer (it’ll be 8 years ago this year!)

When we got married, life was very simple (almost too good to be true!!) We lived in a small trailer, had very little expenses, and traveled a lot.  We bought anything we wanted-hey, we could! We didn’t really talk about finances much or what our future plans would be-we were just “living on love” without a care in the world.  A few years went by and we had a baby and bought a house. We were real grown-ups now! With real grown-up payments. (That’s what everyone has, right? We’re living the dream!) We never thought to plan to purchase a vehicle or save for emergencies-that’s what the credit card is for, after all.

Fast-forward a few years (and another baby).  I had a miscarriage that saddled us with a whole bunch of medical debt.  So on top of the heartache of losing a baby, the physical, emotional, spiritual upheaval, we had more payments to make.  Then our vehicle started to die. We had no money, so we went out and got a loan. Then the vehicle we bought died (that salesman must’ve seen us coming a mile away!)  We sold the lemon and bought another vehicle. Within a few months we discovered we were expecting again. We went month after month of complications with the baby-nearly losing him several times. So basically, you can sum up the year-heartbreak, loss, doubt, confusion, and debt.  The Lord carried us through some very dark times and allowed us to come out still choosing to praise Him. He is truly good. After the dust settled we took out all the bills. I had a good cry (ok, several good cries). Then we looked at each other and said, “We are NOT living like this ANY MORE!!! We are paying this debt off and we are going to change our lives so we are NEVER in this position again if we can help it!!”

You might be saying, “Well, those things were emergencies! You did what you had to!” You might be right… But how would these scenarios differ if we had been intentional with our finances from day 1? We can’t go back, but we can make changes to make our future different.  The very definition of crazy is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result” (Albert Einstein). So, after sharing a little of our background, I want to share with you some things we’ve done to change our story for the better.

#1-STOP BORROWING MONEY. There have been extensive studies done on the wealthiest people in America.  The number one thing they say about getting ahead with money is to stop borrowing (reference forbes.com). You cannot dig your way out of a hole. If you are in debt, you do NOT need more!! I sat down and figured out the finance charges on our credit card for one year.  It was nearly $1,000 in finance charges alone. OUCH!!! What would YOU do with an extra $1,000?? That means all that stuff we thought we REALLY needed cost us 4x the amount of the ticket price when you factor in the finance charge.  If you walked into a store and picked up a pair of shoes you really wanted, but looked at the ticket and saw it was 4x more expensive than you were expecting, I’m pretty sure you’d put the shoes down, laugh a little, and walk away.

#2-Create a detailed budget. Yep. I said it. The “B” word.  Not many people like that word, and to be honest, I never really liked it either.  Until I fully realized the freedom it brought. When you budget for things like medical expenses, toiletries, diapers etc, you know what you’ll have when you need those items?? Money. To buy what you need.  You won’t be scrambling around or reaching for the credit card. You will have the money to go and get the items you need without guilt. I highly recommend the budgeting app, EveryDollar. It keeps track of all your expenses and allows you to see exactly what you will need each month.  Budgeting is not saying you can have no life. Budgeting is “YOU telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it all went” (John C. Maxwell). Making your dollars work for you and not against you. There are any number of websites that can give you a healthy idea of percentages for each category of your budget, but what I suggest is taking an honest look at your life.  What could you do without to get your family in a better place financially? Is there something that is worth more to you than taking care of your family? Something you’re not willing to give up? It could be the newest electronic device, or your morning coffee stop, eating out, clothing, the latest doo-dad for your kiddos, or even travel?

#3-Live with intention. This one has become one of the biggest hallmarks of my life. In EVERY area (and please don’t get me wrong, I do NOT have this down, I am on a journey-I haven’t ‘arrived’) Most people we rub shoulders with don’t have a real plan–they go from one moment to the next without set goals, intention, discipline. Ooohh there’s another word we don’t like–discipline. The ability to CHOOSE. Choosing the hard thing over the easy thing. I made a sign that hangs in my kids bedroom–“We must all make the choice between what is right and what is easy.” What if today you decided to stop borrowing money. Where would you be at this time next year?? You may not be out of debt, but I can almost guarantee you’d be in a better place. It takes you deciding, though. “Living less out of habit and more out of intention” (Amy Rubin Flett). If you’ve always done something one way, how do you expect to get different results? Sometimes we need to stop trying so hard and need to start trying ‘different’. My husband has a new catch phrase when I ask if we should do our buy something, “Is this choice bringing us closer or further away from where we want to be? Is this our ‘old way of thinking’ that got us into a mess, or is this going to be beneficial for our family in the long run?”

#4-Dream and Hope. When was the last time you sat down and just dreamed?? Allow your mind to run wild with the possibilities of what you could do if you had absolutely no debt.  If you lived with intention and were able to fulfill some of those desires you’ve always had bottled up. We all of us live with deep-seated desires, so what is yours?? Is it travel? Seeing the far-corners of this beautiful earth God made? Visiting family more often? Building your dream house? Being able to give generously to those in need? What would you do if you had absolutely no payments in the world? One big thing that allowed me to seriously start dreaming again was hope. “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right” (Henry Ford). So what are you believing about what is possible?? Are you willing to work for it?? Great things don’t usually just happen. You need to work hard for them. Are you willing to stop eating out? (Pinterest project: meal planning. You can DO IT!!!) Cut off the cable? (Try spending your evenings actually talking to your spouse. Play games with your kids-they’ll love it!) Downsize to a smaller home or downsize your possessions? (Sell some stuff on your local Facebook rummage sale page!)  Are you willing to stop getting coffee on the way to work or buying a new wardrobe every season? (Make coffee at home and ONLY buy clothing that is an actual need-“This is so cute” does NOT count as a need.) What are you willing to do to allow that hope to return? “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12 ESV)

#5-Someone is always watching. Remember this. Never forget it. Your children. The little kids in the grocery store, your mother-in-law, your siblings, and last but absolutely not least, the Lord. What are you showing them that you believe? How are you displaying your stewardship of what God has given you? We forget this so very often. We. Are. Stewards. We are managing something for God. If we managed a company the way we manage our finances, what shape would the company be in? Would we still have our job? Are we telling our kids it’s important to save and then going out and buying a new tv on the credit card? Are we telling them it’s important to work and then spending our hard-earned money on frivolities instead of necessities? We need to start thinking very differently. Our actions will follow our beliefs.

The world feeds us money lies from every angle.  Lies about debt. Lies about living the life we ‘deserve’ (P.S. “You don’t deserve something unless you save up and can pay cash for it.” – Dave Ramsey) There are advertisements everywhere we turn-magazines, radio, newspapers, billboards, even friends and co-workers are constantly telling us about the new things they have or the trip they just took.  “Comparison is the thief of joy” (Theodore Roosevelt). Don’t spend your life wanting something that’s not yours. Enjoy what God has given you. Things money cannot buy. Learn to be content. Learn to do without. When you get money-give some, save some, spend some. Be intentional. Personal finance is MOSTLY behavior-very little head knowledge required. It is setting a plan and DOING it. (“Children do what FEELS good. Adults devise a plan and follow it.” – Dave Ramsey) Cutting your lifestyle. Living on less than you make. If you don’t have the money, you don’t buy it.

I know I didn’t give so much of a “12 step process on financial health” but principles that have helped guide my personal financial journey. I’ve been “There and Back Again” (just like Bilbo Baggins) I know the struggle, but I also know there is great hope, great dignity, and an overwhelming sense of accomplishment when you set this area of your life in order. I hope this has been an encouragement and blessing to you.  

If you want more detailed info, I’d highly encourage you to check out the book by Dave Ramsey, The Total Money Makeover.  Also check out daveramsey.com if you are in need of further financial assistance or guidance.