Have you ever run out of money before you run out of days in the month? Have you ever bought basic necessities such as groceries with a credit card? Have you ever wondered, "Will I ever be out of debt?" Have you ever longed to be able to give to a special cause, but knew there was no money in your bank account? If you answered yes to any of these questions, this article is for you.
The way you use money is largely due to your own personal attitude about money. Your feelings may be traced to views about money that may have been passed along to you by parents or friends; they may be due to some life circumstances you have encountered; or they could very well be influenced by commercialism and media steering. Whatever the source, it is very important to reflect on your attitude about money. Usually your level of financial fitness has less to do with how much money you make and more about your attitude concerning money. As we review some basics principals about financial fitness, take the time to think about your own views about money and how they may be affecting your own financial situation.
Principles for Financial Fitness
Know that God is the Provider
"And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus". Philippians 4:19
It is important to always remember that your employer, your investments, your parents, or any other means of income is not the source of your money - God is. He simply uses those people or things as conduits for His provision. God gave you all of your talents, abilities and health to help you earn a living. He is the ultimate source, and the One to whom we will give an account for how we have used his resources. The way you earn or receive money may change over the years, but the true source never changes.
Give to God First
"Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse… Malachi 3:10a
"God loves a cheerful giver." 2 Corinthians 9:7b
Tithing is one evidence of our attitude about money. If we truly believe He is the Source and Provider, giving back to him should be easy. It's His money anyway, right?
Create a Spending Plan
"All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty." Proverbs 14:23
Talking about a budget or a spending plan is not going to get you any closer to your goals. The plan needs to be written. If you have never developed a spending plan before, begin by taking your last 6 months of expenditures (all of them, not just the regular bills, even the things you have charged), add them together, then divide by six. This will give you a pretty good idea of your average monthly expenses. Compare that number to average monthly income. If you are living within your means, and you still have income in excess of your expenses - look at that excess, do you have a plan for that? Are there things you are spending money on that are not really necessary? Only you can make these kind of decisions.
If you see that your expenses are greater than your income, then you need to confront some choices head-on. You are headed for a debt-trap that is going to be impossible to dig your way out of if you continue at your current pace. It is time for change! Find creative ways to cut back on expenses. If you are truly ready to be financially fit, you will find a way to live within your means. If after much evaluation, you can not find a way to pay cash for your expenses with your current income, you need to seek financial counseling. Keep in mind - a counselor can only give you direction and guidance - you are the only one who can make the changes necessary to live within your current income.
Design a Strategy to Pay off Existing Debt
"Give everyone what you owe him." Romans 13:7a
Paying minimum payments on a credit card bill is like eating an elephant one bite at a time. You may get finished, but it may take you a lifetime to do it! With a little bit of organization, you can develop a strategy to pay these off in a shorter amount of time. Try to pay more than the minimum payment - even $10-$20 more a month will make a difference. If you are paying multiple credit card bills - once the first one is paid in full, avoid the temptation to spend the amount you have become accustomed to paying on new "things". Instead, apply the payment of that credit card to another one to increase the rate of payoff. Austin Pryor says, "No investment is as secure as a repaid debt." There are many good resources out there to help you design a plan. Just remember - a plan only works if you stick with it!
Avoid New Debt
"…The borrower is servant to the lender." Proverbs 22:7b
From here on out, think in terms of cash, not credit. Mary Hunt says in her book Debt-Proof Living, "Plastic is not the real thing - it is only a stand in for money. To think of plastic as having intrinsic value is to believe a myth." There are times to appropriately use a credit card; however, if you are struggling with debt-repayment, you need to quit cold-turkey.
Avoid Large Spontaneous Purchases
"A patient man has great understanding, but he who is impulsive exalts folly." Proverbs 14:29
We live in a microwave, fast food, instant gratification society. However, wise choices come through thoughtful decisions, not through quick, spontaneous reactions. If you see something that you think you just "have to have", give it a week and see if your desire is still as strong. Take the week to evaluate the necessity of that item. Is it really needed, or it a part of your "possession obsession", a term coined by organizational trainer Ab Jackson? Avoid being in bondage to "stuff". Always keep in mind, "For where your treasure is, your heart will be also." Matthew 6:21
Create a Contingency Fund
"In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has." Proverbs 21:20
There are always things that come up that we can not foresee. It is a good idea to have some savings that is liquid and can be easily accessed. If you currently don't have a savings account, remember that some is better than none. You can start with as little a $5 a week, but do something. This fund will give you extra security in case of an emergency, or it could allow you to pay cash for a major purchase down the road.
Being Financially Fit is about much more than math - it is about self-control, discipline, and positive choices. As you enter into this new year, get a new attitude about money. God has entrusted you with all you have - make the best use of it. Also, when you begin to hand the cashier that bill instead of a credit card, remember that it is "In God We Trust".
Recommended Authors for Financial Matters: Mary Hunt, Larry Burkett, and Dave Ramsey
Denise Craig, Chief Financial Officer
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