Budgeting, Credit Cards, Finance, Money Management

Ask Chuck: Breaking the Cycle of Overspending

By: Chuck Bentley, Crown Financial Ministries

Dear Chuck,

My husband is tired of my overspending. I struggle living on the budget he’s made because I make quick purchases rather than planning ahead. Then I feel guilty defending my decisions when the bills arrive. How can I get out of this cycle?

Spontaneous Spender

Dear Spontaneous, 

First, be thankful you have a husband who cares enough to make a budget. If only more people would do so! Next, let’s deal with the cause for the spontaneous spending so you can escape the cycle you are in.

Money and Emotions 

Money affects our emotions and our emotions affect our use of money. Experts understand this and market to your emotions – merchants from grocery stores, furniture marts, car dealerships, and online advertisers. They all target your feelings toward shopping. Learning to separate your identity from the things you buy will keep you from spending money to feel good. The term “retail therapy” implies that some people spend money to bolster their mood. It is a very real urge. I have experienced it myself and watched others do it as well. 

I had a friend who was competing for a big promotion in his company. Over multiple interviews and several months of consideration of all candidates, management selected someone else over my friend. The very day that he learned he was not selected, he went out and purchased a brand new, expensive car. The problem was he could not afford the car without the promotion but he had been dreaming of it for so long that he bought it anyway. In his own words, he told me that it was “retail therapy”.  

God’s Word makes it clear that we enter the world naked and we leave naked…and naked has no pockets. Since we can’t take any purchases with us when we die, we should become emotionally neutral towards our spending choices.

Avoid Spending Triggers

Certain emotional triggers can cause people to spend money. A few of the most common include:

  • Alcohol or hunger: lower inhibitions cause people to buy and regret later.
  • Anger or sorrow: spend to gain control, feel happy, find short-term gratification.
  • Loneliness: spending medicates briefly. But, materialism and loneliness are a self-reinforcing cycle.
  • Insecurity: try to keep up with the Joneses.
  • Self-focused: raises or tax refunds justify splurges or rewards.
  • Overwhelmed: spend on fast food, maid services, laundry, yard work.
  • Fear: causes hoarding or poor investments.
  • Guilt: spending to alleviate the pain inflicted on others.

Can you relate to any of these?

People justify spending when they are emotional because spending momentarily feels good. But, decisions based on feelings often create financial problems that further complicate life.

We cannot buy happiness. Spending and accumulating more money may not increase our well-being and can actually have a negative effect. But, wisely managing money, as a steward of God, is fulfilling.

Solutions to Your Urges and Splurges 

  • Create a budget and set goals.
  • Don’t go where you know you might spend money.
  • Resolve to make no impulsive purchases. Wait 24 hours if tempted.
  • Limit exposure to advertising and social media.
  • Delete or unsubscribe from sites where you waste time and face temptation.
  • Replace unnecessary time on the computer or cell phone with productive use of time.
  • Exercise or spend time with friends for lasting comfort.
  • Be accountable to your spouse or mentor.
  • Learn basic financial principles.
  • Avoid making big decisions when extremely emotional.

If you have true needs, take them before the Lord. The Apostle Paul teaches:

do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7 ESV)

Check Your Emotions

When did you last thank God for who He is and what He has done for you? Are you seeking satisfaction from people or things rather than the only One who can truly satisfy?

Thankfulness delays our need for instant gratification. Meditating on what God has provided can calm our emotions and prevent budget-wrecking purchases. Couple that with generosity and a heart of compassion, and our contentment can soar, bringing positive thoughts to light. 

Set your mind on things above, not on things that are on the earth. (Colossians 3:2 ESV)

In so doing, you will find that your heart becomes satisfied with the riches of Christ that is of much greater value than the things of this world.

A Final Tip

Consider some of Crown’s resources to help you and your husband get on the same page. My wife and I wrote a book together on this very topic. You can find it here and access numerous free resources on the Crown website. Thanks again for writing.

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Budgeting, Credit Cards, Holiday Tips, Money Management, Saving

A Saver’s Guide to Holiday Shopping

By: America Saves

Ready or not, the holiday shopping season is here. With the multiple sale days between now and the end of the year, you can avoid being served a heaping side of seasonal debt along with your plate of honey-baked ham if you keep a few smart-saver tips in mind.

Set Reasonable Expectations

In 2012, it was reported that the average American expected to spend $854 on gifts during the holiday season. While many won’t spend that much on shopping, any spending that strains your finances or saddles you with post-holiday debt is bad for your financial future —period. Take the time to talk with family and friends about realistic holiday spending limits before you go shopping. Consider less expensive gift options like homemade gifts. If you have a large extended family, maybe it’s time to start a new tradition of picking one name out of a hat to buy a gift for, rather than everybody buying a gift for every person in the family.

Plan, Budget, and Save

One of the best approaches you can take to holiday shopping is figuring out who’s on your gift list, creating a holiday budget, and gradually setting money aside to help you avoid overspending, unwanted debt, and financial stress. You can find helpful budgeting tools on mymoney.gov. If you didn’t budget and save for this year, it’s never too early to start saving for next year. Check with your bank or credit union to see if they offer holiday savings accounts that you can use to save for next year’s holiday goals. If you set up a plan now and leave that money alone, you’ll have a nice gift fund in a year.

Keep the Big Picture in Mind

It can be easy to forget that we spend money on other things besides gifts during the holidays. Big holiday dinners, travel to see family and friends and even increased electricity costs to run massive holiday light displays can drain your bank account. Make sure you plan for the cost of all of your extra holiday activities.

Watch Out for Costly Surprises

If you’re using gift cards or layaway plans, make sure you fully understand the terms and conditions. Expiration dates, inactivity rules, and hidden fees on gift cards can eat away at their value if you’re not careful. Take the same cautious approach with store credit cards that you’re offered at checkout. They might save you a few bucks at the register today but stick you with very high-interest rates later.

Avoid Holiday Debt Traps

Doing things like catching early sales, comparison shopping, ordering from sites or stores that offer free shipping, shopping at discount stores, and buying items that offer rebates can help save you money on holiday purchases. However, don’t let the excitement of holiday deals go to your head! If you rush to a store sale because you can get a $3,000 television for $2,000, you’ve still spent $2,000. Was that really something you had planned to do? Also, don’t be enticed by payday lenders who want to “help” you get holiday cash. Proper planning and saving long before the holiday can help you avoid a cycle of high-interest debt that can last for weeks or even months after the holidays are over.

Keep in mind that holiday spending is short-term spending. Once the unwrapping frenzy is over, how long will the excitement last? Saving your money for long-term goals like homeownership, college or a comfortable retirement may be the very best gift you can give yourself and your loved ones.

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Budgeting, Coupons, Holiday Tips, Saving

How to Save During the Holidays

By: America Saves

Holidays are often an exciting time of the year. Spending time with family, enjoying time off work, and celebrating with family traditions are enjoyable activities. However, the holidays can also represent added stress due to the crunch on your wallet.

It is hard to look forward to a holiday if you are worried about how to pay for it. Have you stressed about how to provide a fun experience for your family without breaking the bank? Decorations, gifts, and food expenses add up quickly.

To avoid this financial strain, it is important to plan for holiday expenses throughout the year. America Saves has compiled some tips to help you plan for a fulfilling holiday season while not drowning in expenses.

Develop a Holiday Budget

One way to reduce impulsive spending is to develop a budget that includes clear expectations for travel, food, entertainment, and gift-giving expenses.

  • Set your spending limit before you start budgeting. And stick to your limit. That might mean making some compromises. Decide what you will spend on each person before going shopping. If possible, talk with family members and friends to set a spending limit that everyone can spend on each gift.
  • Be as comprehensive as you can when you create your budget. Make a list of everyone who will receive a gift as well as all items that will cost money during the holiday season. Some items often forgotten include gasoline, babysitter fees, eating at restaurants more often, and so on.
  • Reduce your spending. Add up the total of your holiday list, and don’t be shy about reducing it some more. Challenge yourself to spend a little less each year. Consider writing handwritten notes expressing thanks or appreciation rather than buying gifts when possible to reduce your spending costs.
  • Divide the list into necessary items (needs) and extra opportunities (wants). For example, gasoline is a needed expense for traveling while eating out at restaurants while on the road is an extra expense that can be avoided if needed. Dividing your list will help you save for all necessary expenses and provide a list of ideas in case extra money is leftover.
  • As part of your budget, determine how you will pay for each item. Paying with cash will help avoid unexpected spending. Paying with a credit card without keeping track of spending may cause you to forget purchases for which you’ll have to pay later. If paying with layaway, look out for hidden fees and be sure to budget for any interest added.
  • Carry a copy of your budget with you, and be sure to follow it while in stores. Once a budget is made, it can still be hard to follow. In-store sales are tempting, but making impulsive purchases, no matter how small, can add up quickly.
  • Plan your shopping trips ahead of time by reviewing store ads for upcoming sales. This step will lower costs while also helping to reduce impulsive decisions while in the store.
  • Remember to save. Continue saving over the holidays so you don’t shortchange your retirement, education, small business, or other goals. Stick to more long-term savings goals and avoid the accumulation of new debt.

Download our Free Holiday Budget Printable for easy budget construction, and check out additional budgeting tips here.

Consider the following tips for the upcoming holidays:

  • Cooking an entire holiday meal on your own can be expensive. Consider having a potluck with friends and family to avoid cooking or paying for the entire meal yourself.
  • Keep the menu simple. Dinner can be special without two different types of meat, four vegetable dishes, and three different desserts. If you plan to serve mashed potatoes and gravy, you can skip the macaroni and cheese casserole. If you plan to make candied carrots, no need to serve candied yams also.
  • Plan for meals ahead of time to take advantage of coupons and grocery deals. Advertisements about upcoming sales can be found online and in local newspapers. Using in-season produce for recipes can often reduce food costs.
  • Reduce travel expenses by visiting out-of-town families for one holiday during the winter season (such as just Thanksgiving or only Christmas, rather than both holidays).
  • Consider setting up new holiday traditions that cost less. For example, some families or friend groups use “Secret Santa,” where each person draws a name randomly so that each person receives a gift and each person only buys a gift for one person.
  • Consider spending time together rather than gift-giving. Other ideas include a nice dinner out or playing games as a group.

When it comes to holiday spending, the important thing is to stick to your budget. We all want holidays to be special, but if you create debt in the process, it will end up being more of a headache than a holiday.

Spending less is just the first part of a successful financial plan. Put away the money you save during the holidays into a savings account for future expenses, both anticipated and unexpected ones. Those with a savings plan are twice as likely to save successfully. Let America Saves help you reach your savings and debt reduction goals. It all starts when you make a commitment to yourself to save. That’s what our pledge is all about. Learn more about how to save money for the future here.

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