4 Ways to Actually Make Progress with Your Finances
If you’re like most, you probably started the year off with the best intentions to finally get out of debt, follow a budget, save, and get your finances under control. Maybe these weren’t your specific New Year’s resolutions or goals, but you’ve been wanting to change your financial picture for some time.
But if you’re like most, you have probably also experienced some hiccups along the way – your car needed new tires, your child broke their arm, you didn’t get the bonus you thought you would…and that debt hasn’t gotten paid off, you haven’t been able to save, and you haven’t found time or energy to even make a budget, let alone stick to one.
Any of that sound familiar?
When it comes to our finances, taking the first step is often the hardest. We want to do the right thing, and may even commit to saving, budgeting, making a plan, but then it just doesn’t happen.
Sometimes it’s a result of our fear – the “what if’s” interrupting our drive to make progress. Often it’s because we don’t know where to start.
Waiting until just the right time delays the process and postpones any progress. Mark Twain said, “The secret to getting ahead is getting started.”
So, do it! Don’t put it off and don’t let yourself make excuses. Here are some basic tips to get started.
Track Your Spending
Many people are intimidated by budgeting, but it can actually be the key to financial stability and freedom. Don’t think about a budget as restricting your spending – think about a budget as giving you the freedom to spend – the right way.
If you’re someone that’s intimated or stressed out by budgeting, just start by tracking your spending. You can do this with an online banking account or saving receipts and using a tracker like this one to log every purchase. Don’t be intimated by this process – it’s one step you’re taking towards reaching your financial goals. And in order to have a successful budget down the road, you need to have an accurate understanding of how much you’re truly spending every month.
When it comes to creating a budget, I recommend this resource. Remember that your budget is also not set in stone. Each month is different, and your budget will change and fluctuate with your circumstances.
Get Practical: Commit to tracking your spending for one week. Decide right now how you’re going to do that and download the app, print the tracker, or open an excel spreadsheet. Tell someone about your commitment and ask them to hold you accountable. No more excuses!
Like budgeting, this is not an area to be intimated by.
Giving is not mandated by God – He asks us to give so He can pour out His blessings on us and others (Malachi 3:10). Giving with the proper attitude and an eternal perspective opens our hearts to the needs of others. We see the world through God’s eyes.
Living a generous life is one of the greatest blessings of financial freedom. When it comes from a grateful heart, not an obligatory attitude, it can change you. Start by giving a tithe to your church and then pray about other areas in which God is asking you to be generous.
Remember, your attitude about giving matters (2 Corinthians 9:6-7 says, God loves a cheerful giver)! The amount doesn’t matter as much as your heart’s attitude, so if it’s $5, give it joyfully. If it’s $5,000, give it joyfully.
It’s an opportunity to trust God and exercise self-control and discipline (a fruit of the Spirit). I also find that it changes the way you view your finances – your mindset shifts from that of scarcity to abundance. Instead of stressing about how you’re going to make it to the end of the month, pay all your bills, get out of debt, and save, you see the abundant blessings God has given you and praise Him for them. It’s a pivotal step in cultivating a thankful heart and becoming a faithful steward.
Get Practical: Give now! Most churches offer an online-giving option – find their website and look for a way to give online. You can also probably set up an automatic giving transfer. If that’s not an option, but cash in a sealed envelope and leave it in your car to take to church with you on Sunday. Set a reminder on your phone to give. And don’t touch that envelope for anything else!
A savings strategy should be part of every Christian’s financial plan. God wants us to be savers, and balancing your savings is an opportunity to honor God and experience His blessings.
Once you have your budget in place, reaching your savings goals will be easier (as long as you allocate money to save in your budget!). But don’t wait until you have a “perfect” budget to start saving. Just start with disciplined hands and a faithful heart.
Your first goal should be to save $1,000 in an emergency savings fund. Having this cash on hand will help you avoid additional debt, and eliminate a lot of stress when unexpected expenses arise. If saving $1,000 seems overwhelming to you, just start by saving $10. If you can save $10, you can save $100, and you can save $1,000. Try setting up an automatic transfer to a savings account so you aren’t tempted to spend it. Look for ways to cut out expenses and save money on the necessities. Or, have your employer deposit part of your paycheck into that account. These budget hacks will help you get started!
Just start somewhere and don’t allow yourself to listen to excuses!
Once you have your emergency fund, work towards saving 3 months’ worth of your living expenses as your next goal.
Get Practical: Once you’ve set aside money for giving, take any other cash or loose change and put it in a jar. Go through the sofa cushions and your jean pockets if you have to! If you don’t have a savings account, research the best options in your area and go open an account this week.
Get Out of Debt
It may seem counterintuitive, but getting out of debt should come after you’ve started budgeting, giving, and saving.
Having a budget will help you see what extra money you can put towards paying off debt. Giving will help you keep your heart and priorities in order. And saving will help you avoid accumulating debt in the future.
Once you are ready to put a debt-payoff plan together, go straight to the Debt Snowball Calculator. All you have to do is input basic information about your debt (balance, minimum monthly payment, interest rate), and how much extra cash you can put towards it each month ($20 can make a big difference!), and it creates a payoff plan for you. By utilizing the debt snowball method, you essentially “outsmart” your debt and save both time and money. If you’re interested in learning more about debt and the debt snowball method, check out our free mini-course – 5 Steps to Debt-Free Living.
We recommend you pay off your credit card debt first. If you have overwhelming credit card debt, get in touch with Christian Credit Counselors. We’ve partnered with them for years and trust them to help you develop a plan to pay off your credit cards the right way. You can start with a free debt analysis here.
Get Practical: 1. Find your credit statements, open your accounts, and total the amount of debt you currently owe. 2. Stop using your credit card until this debt is totally paid off.
I hope these practical steps help remove any fear or hesitation you have about getting your finances in order. Take the first step, and see how your heart changes in the process.