Activities, Budgeting, Money Management, Saving

Ask Chuck: Help Me Get Our Spending Under Control

By: Chuck Bentley, Crown Financial Ministries

Dear Chuck,

We have to cut our spending this year, but I really don’t know where to begin. When I bring up the subject, my spouse always has an excuse. If we don’t get things under control, we are going to face eviction from our landlord. 

Cash Crunch

Dear Cash Crunch,

I’m so glad that you wrote to me and are ready to make some big changes. My hope is that if you set a clear direction, your spouse will be inspired to join in the effort. Forced eviction is devastating emotionally; it is expensive and wrecks your credit score. Let’s work hard to avoid it!

Some of the obvious ways to reduce spending include eliminating the big expenses, like a car payment or rental/living costs in excess of 40% of your net spendable income. Look at both of those expenses closely, and determine if you need to make any changes. If not, there are some not-so-obvious ways you can save money each month that really add up over time. Cutting what seems like a necessity may seem impossible, but over time, the sacrifice will prove rewarding. Here are a few examples I want you to consider.

Do You Really Need Amazon Prime?

Membership fees jump for new members on February 18th. Renewals take the hit on March 25th. The annual cost will be $139/year plus taxes or $14.99/month plus taxes. An alternative is to keep a shopping list until you reach a total that qualifies for free shipping from Amazon or other companies. You may have limited shipping options, but this leads to better planning and less impulse purchasing. You can also use Amazon gift cards to limit spending since a credit card is not linked to your account.

Do You Really Need That Streaming Service?

According to The Streamable, in 2021, the average viewer had five or more subscriptions. The top five include Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+, Hulu, and HBO Max. In May 2021, Bloomberg reported that the average streaming consumer spends $40 per month. That comes to $480 per year! Different streaming prices can be seen here. The average cost of cable TV comes in at $64 but can run from $11 to $127 or more per month.

Do You Really Need Audible or Spotify?

Free audiobooks are available via Overdrive and Hoopla with a library card. Spotify and other small monthly fees that seem insignificant can really add up. Nothing is too small to eliminate to help you avoid eviction!

There’s More

Look at your spending with a critical eye. What could you realistically eliminate? What are your real needs? What do you need to reprioritize? Small daily purchases can add up quickly.

Analyze what is spent on subscription services, fast food, coffee, bottled water, shoes, clothes, gym membership and gear, house plants, manicures, pedicures, tattoos, haircuts and color, lottery tickets, toys for children, etc.

Challenge

Ask your spouse to join you in tracking all spending for the next 30 days. When Ann and I did this years ago, we found that recording each dollar spent made us more aware of our actions. We realized that we had some costly habits. Write down your expenses. Don’t leave anything off your list so that you know where your money is really going.

After 30 days, come together and share what you learn. It may only take a few days before a heightened awareness sets in. Prayerfully discuss what you could sacrifice for six months or a year. I suggest you gently educate your spouse on the long-term benefits. Can you agree to get the help of a mentor or come under the accountability of trusted friends? How about planning a reward when reaching your goal? You can likely cut back on your spending by 25% by just changing some of your habits.

Once you get your spending under control and avoid eviction, there are many other reasons people decide to better manage their money. Reduced spending builds the habit of saving, and with the help of automatic deductions, people learn to live without. The possibilities can include:

  • Building an emergency fund
  • Paying off debt
  • Saving for retirement
  • Giving more generously
  • Having funds for vacations, a move, a business, education, holidays, births, deaths, etc.

Years ago, a woman confided in my wife that she was tired of her husband limiting her spending. She felt like she was being treated as a child. Ann listened and then asked, “Have you considered the possibility that he loves you so much that he wants to protect you and save for your future together?” The thought had never entered the woman’s mind. It changed her entire perspective and opened the door to healthy dialogue about their finances.

We enter marriage with a philosophy of money. Most often, we marry an opposite. The goal is uniting around God’s principles regarding our finances. Pray about how to lovingly communicate with your spouse. Treat him/her with respect and love so you can make progress. My desire is to see God’s people free and marriages united, strong, and thriving. We must recognize the errors in what the world has taught us about finances and have our minds renewed by God’s truth. Consider this effort to lead the way out of this crisis the best gift you can give your spouse.

If credit card debt is a source of frustration in your marriage, consider contacting Christian Credit Counselors. They specialize in assisting people with getting out of debt and on the road to financial freedom, and they are a trusted source of help.

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Budgeting, Goals, Money Management, Personal Goals

7 Steps to Achieving Your Financial Goals This Year

By Daniel Rodriguez | Dr. Budgets

Another year has come and gone, and last year’s goals are now in the history books. So how did you do? If you want some guidance in achieving your financial goals this year, then read on! Below are 7 steps to achieving your financial goals this year:

1) Be SMART. No, I’m not talking about intelligence. The first step to achieving your goal is to set a strong financial goal that is SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound). In order for your goal to be strong, you have to really want it (do you have a strong emotional attachment to your goal?). Once you are emotionally invested in your goal, then being SMART with it will strengthen it even further.

2) Know Your WHY. Take some time to determine WHY your goal is so important to you. For example, my wife and I have a goal of moving from our condo to a single-family home in four years because our baby girl (on the way) and future unborn kids are very important to us. We want to raise our kids in a place that is large enough and located in a great school district because family, education, and stability are a top priority. Knowing the WHY behind your goal will help keep you on track when you stumble (and believe me, we all stumble!).

3) Find the Money. Once you have your goal and you know your why, then you need to consistently put money toward your goal. To do so you need to be aware of where you are currently spending your money, and then find savings within your current spending that can be used to fund your goal. One of my favorite tasks as a Dr. Budgets money coach is to find the savings within my client’s current spending that allows them to achieve their financial goals. The key is to keep spending money on what is important to you and cut spending in the areas where you receive very little value from your money.

4) Build A Plan. Now that you have all the facts and figures of your current spending and have determined where the money is going to come from to fund your goal, the next step is to build a spending plan that coincides with your SMART goal. This is also when you may have to adjust the “T” portion of your SMART goal based on your findings from Step 3.

5) Monitor Your Progress. Having a plan is worthless if you don’t follow it. Monitoring your progress and making adjustments along the way is critical to successfully achieving your goal. If you don’t know how you are doing, then you will be flying blind. When I coach my clients, I track their spending and monitor their progress toward their goals, which greatly increases their probability of success.

6) Celebrate! Setting some milestones (or mini financial goals) along the way toward your ultimate goal, then celebrating and rewarding yourself when you hit those milestones, makes your journey much more enjoyable and will help keep you motivated. So think of some experiences or things that you want, then use those as rewards for when you hit your milestones. Also, remember to celebrate when you do achieve your ultimate goal. This is an area where I have had trouble in the past, but I’ve been getting better at rewarding myself, which has made it more fun!

7) Repeat. Repeat Steps 1 – 6 for your next financial goal. I do recommend you limit the number of goals to a maximum of three. Ideally, you want to focus on just one financial goal at a time.

These are my 7 steps to achieving your financial goals this year. I hope you find these steps helpful as you start off the new year. What is your top financial goal this year? What will you do to achieve it? Wishing you a great start to the year!

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Budgeting, Debt, Money Management, Personal Goals

Ask Chuck: Help My Financial Anxiety!

By: Chuck Bentley, Crown Financial Ministries

Dear Chuck,

My husband and I are both working adults. With 3 kids at home and trying to care for some extended family here and abroad, I am increasingly struggling with financial anxiety. Now the holiday pressures are making it worse. Please help me deal with this! 

Family Financial Stress

Dear Family Financial Stress,

You obviously have a big heart…maybe bigger than your budget can afford.

The Bible says that we are to provide for our own immediate families (1 Timothy 5:8). This is a responsibility that the Lord has entrusted to us. When you add extended family members, here and/or those living in a different country, it is no wonder your stress is great.

Immigrants or children of immigrant parents face pressures that differ from many in the general population. Learning the language, navigating the culture, and the burden to succeed create tremendous stress. In my travels, I have seen how parents in some nations sacrifice greatly to give their children an excellent education. Once in the working world, these children are then expected to sacrifice for their parents. The pressure for a couple to support four aging parents along with their own children can be financially and emotionally crippling.

Financial Anxiety

Researchers at the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center at George Washington University and the FINRA Investor Education Foundation found that prior to Covid-19, more than half of American adults experienced financial anxiety. The report shows that anxiety occurs in thinking about or discussing money. (This is without the very real pressures you and your husband are shouldering.) Women, young adults, those with financial dependents, and those who are low-income, unmarried, and unemployed feel most anxious. Respondents reported that too many expenses and monthly bills, especially medical expenses, were major factors contributing to high anxiety.

My Advice

First, establish a budget that primarily takes care of your immediate family. Meet with your husband, and discuss the appropriate distribution of the surplus funds that you discover in your budgeting process.

Next, set priorities for whom your budget will allow you to support, and then, determine how much can be allocated to them as the Lord provides.

Communicate to those whom you may not be able to support on a regular basis that you are sorry that you cannot continue. Let them know that you will help them establish a budget, and encourage them to try and take care of their needs themselves.

For those that may be totally dependent on your financial support and are unable to work or care for themselves, set some goals for what you may be able to do should the Lord provide an increase in your income, but live within your budget without compromise.

Make or improve your plan. If grandparents are living with you, possibly they can be asked to make some contribution to the needs of the family, like babysitting, doing household chores, shopping for discounts, cooking, cleaning, or running time-saving errands. Don’t rule out that some family members may be capable of generating income under the right circumstance or opportunity. A friend who operates an online business has his parents that live with them answering emails, praying with customers, and even filling orders.

Consider creative ways to give meaningful gifts that do not cost money. Often, a handmade card, a day spent together, or a poem or song will convey your love far more than a gift that comes in a box.

Reduce Financial Anxiety 

God’s Word gives us financial principles for our good. When we fail to know and live by God’s financial principles, we actually create circumstances that increase our stress. He also told us how to deal with anxiety. Here are some tips that have helped me:

  • Acknowledge Him as your Provider. He is a God of abundance, and He is faithful.
  • Live one day at a time. That means to keep your mind and emotions on today. Matthew 6: 25-34
  • When you are afraid, learn to pray and seek God’s guidance.
  • Cast your cares upon the Lord.
  • Practice gratitude. Give thanks to the Lord for three things every day. Philippians 4:4-9

The key to breaking the anxiety loop is faith exhibited by a deep trust in God’s character and an assurance of His promises.

Faith is a muscle that grows under tension. It is an exercise that must be practiced. Remember the words the apostles spoke to the Lord? “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5 ESV) Or, remember the father who brought his boy with an unclean spirit before Jesus for healing? “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24 ESV)

Invite the Lord to intervene and give you peace in the midst of your trial. Ask Him for wisdom to make the right decisions and the words to talk winsomely with your family.

If your pain is from debt, stop all borrowing. Are you in need of a raise? Improve your skills, meet with your boss, and ask for feedback on how to qualify for an increase. Have you mishandled money in the past? Get on a crisis budget, and ask all family members to help.

Crown has many free online courses available to guide you, like budgeting tools and career assessments. Also, if debt is a problem, Christian Credit Counselors is a trusted source of help.

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Budgeting, Debt, Money Management, Saving

Ask Chuck: Time to Get Out of Debt?

By: Chuck Bentley

Dear Chuck,

I have been steadily paying down debt, and the end is within sight. I’m due a sum of money for the sale of some real estate and wonder if I should pay off the remaining debt or save it. Seems like a good time to be debt-free. What would you do?

Almost Debt-Free

Dear Almost Debt-Free,

I can think of only a few reasons why you would not go ahead and become debt-free if you are able. Of course, I don’t have your full financial picture, so I will try to give you a few things to consider as you come to your own conclusion.

Shifting Sands

There is a lot of uncertainty in the world right now. Covid-19 has created stress in many areas of our lives. A Pew Research Center survey reports that half of the non-retired adults say the economic impact of Covid-19 will make it harder to achieve their long-term goals. There are medical and financial pressures along with rising mental health issues. Add to that inflation, the instability in Afghanistan, forest fires, flooding, the possibility of a stock market, and real estate bubble… Need I go on?

A major benefit to being debt-free is that you will be in a much stronger position to weather the economic storms we may face. If your overall picture is good, then pay off all the debt. But, there is more to consider first.

A Safety Net

It is great to be debt-free, but uncertain times also require that you have savings available for emergencies. You want to avoid ending up in the same position six months from now. Therefore, I suggest you give a portion, fund an emergency account, and then apply the rest to debt.

Have you ever done the limbo? The object is to get under a bar without touching it. Budgeting is very similar. Your income represents the bar. Your spending must fall below the bar every month, or you lose.

In limbo, you must take carefully-measured steps to keep as far away from the bar as you can. The gap between your body and the bar is what I call “financial margin,” which we all need. This is the space that grants peace and financial protection in the unexpected storms of life.

It is possible to increase your monthly margin quickly by adjusting your lifestyle. Consider the benefits of choosing to live on far less than you make. Manage the common budget busters—food, entertainment, and transportation—to further reduce expenses.

Other Tips

Paying down the highest interest-bearing note first will save you money in the long run. Paying down multiple small notes can provide a psychological advantage. Repay any late mortgage or rent, utilities, HOA fees, taxes, and car payments so there is no threat of losing your home or car.

Do you owe family members any money? Do not ignore this responsibility. Be honest, and treat them as you would want to be treated so that relationships are not harmed.

Be Intentional 

Even if you do pay off all your debt, it is important to manage your finances well as you go forward. Just because you become debt-free does not guarantee that you will stay that way unless you manage what you have well. Here are my three tips:

  1. Plan ahead: Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established. (Proverbs 16:3 ESV)
    • Budget wisely. This will keep you from creating more debt and will allow you to build an emergency savings fund. If needed, a crisis budget can get you to a position of financial strength. Here are instructions, an online fillable form, and a spending plan.
  2. Seek counsel: Without counsel, plans fail, but with many advisers, they succeed. (Proverbs 15:22 ESV)
    • Please consider my advice as only one source of those you will turn to for help.
  3. Make wise decisions: If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (James 1:5 ESV)
    • God is the source of all wisdom. When we learn His Word and commit to live by it, everything in our lives will begin to take on new excitement and joy. Using money to fulfill God’s purposes for your life will be the best financial decision you can make.

Thank you for the question. I don’t think you can go wrong if you pay off the debt and commit to following the steps above.

For more guidance, especially if your debt is related to credit cards, please consider contacting Christian Credit Counselors. They are a trusted source of help.

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Budgeting, Money Management

You Don’t Need an Emergency Fund for These Financial “Emergencies”

BY DANIEL RODRIGUEZ

An emergency fund (or cash reserve fund) is important to your financial security. I would say paying off high-interest debt and building up an emergency fund are the foundation of your financial stability. This rings even more true during these unprecedented times. But, when should you tap into your emergency fund? What constitutes a financial emergency? I believe the list of actual financial emergencies is short. This would include unexpected life events such as losing your job, a large medical bill, an expensive auto repair, or a substantial home repair. So, what is NOT a financial emergency and how should you plan for those expenses? Here are some items that I would not consider financial emergencies:

Property Taxes. If you use an escrow account to pay for your property taxes, then you are funding your property tax payment every month. This is an easy way to ensure you aren’t surprised by your property tax bill. If, on the other hand, you don’t use an escrow account, then you should be prepared to pay for this expense every year by budgeting for it in your monthly housing expenses.

Most Home Maintenance Expenses. Owning a house means having home maintenance expenses. There are countless things that need to be fixed or maintained. It is important to have a line item in your spending plan for home maintenance expenses. You can use an average of your home maintenance expenses for the past three years to give you a ballpark estimate. You can then round that figure up to account for unexpected expenses. This will at least give you a baseline estimate, rather than having a $0 budget line item for expenses that will invariably come up.

Most Auto Expenses. Buying new tires is not a financial emergency! Your auto registration is also not a financial emergency. Just like with home maintenance, there should be a line item for auto maintenance expenses and auto registration. These expenses happen every year, so you should be prepared to pay for these when they happen.

Most Health Services. This one is similar to home and auto maintenance, but this one is for maintenance on yourself and your family! Every year, doctor, dentist, and eyecare expenses probably come up (some years more than others), so you should plan for them. This one is harder to estimate because these expenses are much more unpredictable. I always advise budgeting higher than anticipated to create a “buffer” in your budget. If you end up spending less, then great! But, if you end up spending more, then the financial shock won’t be as dramatic.

Tax Preparation. If you have someone prepare your taxes every year, then you should factor it into your spending plan. I advise people to take their annual cost for tax preparation, then divide it by 12 to give them a monthly amount for their budget.

Holiday Gifts. This is another spending category that happens every year that seems to catch people by surprise. Similar to tax preparation, I would take the total spending on holiday gifts then divide it by 12 to give you a monthly amount for your spending plan.

How can you plan for all of these expenses in a simple way? I’m glad you asked! I would use a separate checking or savings account (“Irregular Account”) for most of your non-monthly expenses. You can then use one account to save for your property taxes, estimated home maintenance expenses, auto maintenance expenses, auto registration, health services expenses, and tax preparation fees. When you have large expenses in any of those areas, you can pay for them directly out of your Irregular Account or “reimburse” your main checking account. You can also include holiday gifts in your Irregular Account. Alternatively, you can set up a separate savings account for holiday gifts, then transfer that money to your main checking account right before you start your holiday gift spending.

I hope this was helpful in learning why you don’t need an emergency fund for most financial “emergencies.”

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Budgeting, Credit Cards, Debt, Money Management

Ask Chuck: My Spouse is an Impulsive Spender

By: Chuck Bentley, Crown Financial Ministries

Dear Chuck,

Do you have any advice for someone married to an impulsive spender?

Cautious Budgeter 

Dear Cautious Budgeter, 

Sounds like you may be married to an opposite financial personality; my wife and I can relate! 

Most of us have made an impulsive purchase at some point in time. Others struggle with it more frequently. Or they are married to one who does. I was the impulse spender in our marriage for many years. To be clear, impulse spenders buy what they want without considering the consequences. Their behavior negatively impacts others, and the financial stress can be terrible. 

It can be difficult to determine if someone is impulsive, compulsive, or materialistic. Some definitions will help here: 

Materialistic describes one who is excessively concerned with physical comforts or the acquisition of wealth and material possessions. This is an issue of the heart that drives the behavior. Often, people live ignorant of or in denial of this spiritual deception. 

Impulse buying is often related to anxiety or depression. Those who struggle with their self-image desire acceptance, respect, or attention. They shop whether they can afford to or not, in an attempt to meet those needs or boost their mood. Some call this “retail therapy.”   

Compulsive spending, on the other hand, is an uncontrollable desire to shop. It results in spending large amounts of time and money and tends to escalate over time. Mental Health America gives 4 stages of compulsive spending: anticipation, preparation, shopping, then spending. If impulse buying impacts budgets, compulsive spending can destroy them! 

Symptoms of Compulsive Spending:

  • Spending a significant portion of income on discretionary purchases
  • Accumulating a large amount of consumer debt
  • Spending continually, despite resolutions to stop
  • Hiding purchases from loved ones 
  • Experiencing more excitement in purchasing than owning 
  • Feeling let down or shame after buying something
  • Buying things not needed, not using what’s bought
  • Suffering relationship problems due to spending
  • Feeling ashamed of the spending problem
  • Getting agitated or excited when shopping
  • Feeling that the next big purchase will improve life 
  • Shopping is the primary or only means to cope with stress

A Change of Heart 

To help your spouse identify if he/she is struggling with materialism, consider doing an online Crown study together. Typically, the behavior will not change until the heart is transformed. In my own experience, I had to repent of the control money had over my life. I surrendered my life to the Lord’s control in order to escape my double-mindedness. 

Practical Tips 

Ask your spouse to consider some of the steps that will bring impulsive buying or compulsive spending under control. 

Pick a stress-free time and environment to set goals. Write them down, and post them in a visible place. Then, create a budget. Honor God and one another by staying within the spending limits for each expense category. Learn to give first, and then, pay your bills; use automatic transfers to specific savings accounts. Discover what the Bible says about money, and ask the Lord to work in your situation. 

Track shopping sprees. Discover the triggers, and note what is purchased.

Avoid shopping—period. Find a healthier activity to substitute for the rush. If you must make a purchase, determine your needs, make a list, use cash, then exit immediately. Take a spouse or trustworthy friend with you. 

Stop using credit cards. Put them in a very, very inconvenient location. Unsubscribe from store emails, and avoid online shopping. Professional counseling may be necessary. Just remember, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation, he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10: 13 ESV) 

Aim to be humble and transparent, committing to honesty in all transactions. This removes distrust in relationships. Seek accountability with your spouse and the wisdom of an older couple. Learn good communication skills. (Check out the numerous resources available at RightNowMedia.org.) 

Learn to appreciate things money can’t buy—like nature, health, and relationships. Ask God to remove the impulses so that you can fulfill His purposes in your life. He is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us….” (Ephesians 3:20 ESV) 

Pray for an eternal perspective—that the things of this world would lose their luster. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-20 ESV)

Christian Credit Counselors may be able to provide more guidance, as they are a trusted source of help to free individuals and families from the burden of credit card debt. 

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Budgeting, Credit, Credit Score, Debit & Your Credit Score, Money Management, Personal Goals

Financial Spring Cleaning Tips

BY DANIEL RODRIGUEZ | DR. BUDGETS

Spring Cleaning can mean more than buckets, mops, and brooms! There are many reasons why this time of year is great for cleaning up your finances:

  • We’re 4.5 months into the year, so you are starting to get an idea of how the year is shaping up, including earnings, spending, and debt repayment.
  • You’ve just done your taxes (or filed an extension) and can start getting organized NOW for next year’s taxes.
  • There’s something invigorating about the time between winter and summer – birds are chirping, flowers are blooming, and you might feel motivated to do some spring cleaning!

Here are some things to consider when you do your financial spring cleaning:

Review Budget (Spending Plan)

We are about a third of the way through the year, so now is a good time to check in with your spending thus far. How are you doing with your spending this year? Have you spent more than anticipated in some areas? If so, consider spending less in those areas during the next few months to balance your spending in those categories. Have you spent less than anticipated in some areas? If so, consider setting that excess money aside in case you end up needing to spend in those categories later this year. Remember to stick to your spending plan even when you seem to have the extra money in your bank account…that “extra” money will come in handy when those semi-annual or annual payments are due (or over the holidays!).

Declutter Paper

Even with all our technology and cloud storage solutions, we are still overrun by paper! Paper clutter can be stressful, and it is probably costing you money (and time!). Consider using this time of the year to declutter your paper. Some examples of things you may find include bills, bank statements, notifications for membership renewals, and payments for Flexible Spending Account (FSA) expenses. You can scan, then shred items that you need (be sure to back up the files!) and toss or shred items you don’t need anymore. For more info on what to toss and what to keep, check out these articles from Forbes and USA Today.

Return, Sell or Donate

Do you have unwanted stuff lying around the house? Are there things you haven’t used in over a year? Those items can sometimes be returned (if you purchased them recently), sold, or donated. If you can return the item, that will be your best option since you will be able to get back what you paid for it. If you have nice clothes, here are 13 of the best places to sell used clothes for money. For other items or electronics, consider using Craigslist or eBay. And if you have unwanted gift cards, try a website like CardCash to get cash for those.

Improve Credit

This is a great time of the year to review your credit. First, check your credit reports for accuracy at annualcreditreport.com. If you want to check your credit reports for free throughout the year, check one of the three credit reports every four months (for example, Experian in April, Equifax in August, and TransUnion in December). To help increase your credit score, try to bring your debt utilization rate under 30%. Here are 5 tips for winning the credit utilization game. Finally, pay your bills on time every time! According to Investopedia, paying your bills on time is the most important component of your credit score. With that said…

Automate Bill Payment

If you can pay most or all your bills automatically, that can streamline your finances, reduce stress, and improve your credit. You can also avoid those dreaded late fees! If you are concerned with having enough in your checking account when your credit card payments come due each month, consider setting up your automatic payment for the minimum payment, and then paying extra toward your cards manually when you have the additional funds to pay down your debt. A bonus tip: save automatically! If you can automatically save money, it has been proven to increase your overall level of savings. Just be sure to pay off that high-interest debt first!

These are my 5 tips for financial spring cleaning. Happy Spring!

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Budgeting, Finance, Goals, Money Management, Personal Goals

Ask Chuck: 5 Steps to Improve Your Finances This New Year

By: Crown Financial Ministries

Dear Chuck,

Covid set me back financially this year. As a result, we’re having a very frugal Christmas. Can you offer any tips on setting financial goals for next year? I want to be better prepared for what may lie ahead!

Getting Ready for 2021

Dear Getting Ready, 

I am so sorry for the setbacks you have suffered during this pandemic. Millions of people just like you are looking forward to the new year with great anticipation and are hoping to make improvements in our finances. 

New Year, New You

January is typically a time of renewal. For many of us, that includes diets, health and fitness goals, relationships, or financial plans. However, after what we have experienced in 2020, our highest need will be for renewed hope. Watching the news, scrolling through social media, and listening to certain friends or family members will not fulfill that need. Hope gets us through the tough seasons and gives us direction in times of uncertainty. Thankfully, we have the ultimate source of hope: Jesus. We need to learn to rely on Him in order to cultivate that hope. Here is a quick outline of the steps for 2021.

Step One: Make a Vow. Dedicate this year to the Lord and seek his guidance in all decision-making.  

“Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” (Proverbs 16:3 ESV)

Step Two: Make a Plan. Plan and encourage one another daily. 

Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their toil.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9 ESV)

Pray for self-control and the willingness to stay focused throughout the coming year. 

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things, there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV)

Step Three: Make a Target. Defining your financial goals gives you something to aim for. 

  • Write them out and place them where you are reminded daily. 
  • Determine to spend less than you earn. 
  • Have monthly money dates to analyze your progress. 
  • Assign roles to each other for defense and offense. Be “guard dogs” to protect your earnings so that you can steward wisely. I guarantee you that the “thief” is on the prowl. He comes ONLY to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10a ESV). He will rob you of progress unless you are very intentional in implementing your plan.

Step Four: Make a Budget. Gather your financial records, track your expenses, and create a budget. Make giving your first priority. Establish an emergency account. This will enable you to cover unexpected expenses so that you can avoid debt. Start with $1,000 and then aim for an amount that covers 3-6 months of your overhead expenses. Analyze lifestyle decisions. Some short-term ones to consider include replacing a vehicle, repairs, maintenance, vacation, gifts, etc. Long-term decisions may include a downpayment for a home, education, retirement, etc. Keep your tax liability in mind and plan accordingly.

Step Five: Review Your Insurance. This is a good time to review your insurance coverage: Homeowners or Renters/Auto/Liability, Disability, Life, and Long-Term Care. Not only should you determine if you have coverage but also if you are getting the right price for what you have in place.

Don’t Overlook These 

Update your will. Today this includes creating a Living Will or Trust, Health Declarations, Power of Attorney documents, and password files. 

Pick a debt management plan and pay off all credit cards! Christian Credit Counselors are trusted partners of Crown and have helped hundreds of thousands of families eliminate their credit card debt. Once free of consumer debt, you can begin investing

Depending on your age, put a reminder on your calendar to enroll in Medicare before your 65th birthday. Determine when you should begin to draw social security. 

Check your credit reports from Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. This is important with the number of security breaches. Check to make sure information is correct and report any inaccuracies. Contact them to freeze your credit if necessary. This will prevent thieves from applying and obtaining credit in your name. You can unfreeze as needed. 

Know your credit score. A free report is available at www.annualcreditreport.com. Some credit cards update your FICO score for free each month. 

Calculate your net worth (assets minus liabilities). Aim for a positive number! 

Get Wisdom! 

There has never been an easier time to attain a Biblical financial education. Books, online studies, and insights from places like Sound Mind Investing, Generous Giving, and Crown’s online library of courses make it convenient and practical to learn year-round.

Most importantly, read the Word of God. You will gain wisdom, discernment, and hope that is more advantageous than anything the world offers. 

God has called us to himself that we might shine light into the darkness and bring Him glory. At Crown, we provide resources that will renew your hope through Biblical truths about the Father and the gifts He has entrusted to you.  

Merry Frugal Christmas 

It has been our experience that a frugal Christmas is often the best Christmas. The focus shifts away from the number of boxes under the tree or the expense of the season to the awe and wonder of celebrating the incarnation of Christ; Emmanuel, God with us. 

I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year. We are here to help you on your journey in 2021.

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Budgeting, Economy, Finance, Money Management, National Debt, Saving

Ask Chuck: Practical Advice During the COVID-19 Crisis

By: Crown Financial Ministries

Dear Chuck,

Many of the young people in my Bible Study are frightened of the Coronavirus and the threat to their families. I understand their fear. But, as an older American, I’m also concerned about their economic well-being in the aftermath of this crisis. What kind of financial advice can I offer them?

Sheltered in The Storm

Dear Sheltered in the Storm, 

We have two crises happening now and you have properly identified the third one. First, the virus has created a very real health crisis. Second, the shutdown of the economy has created a very present economic crisis and third, the government bailout will put us at risk of a future debt crisis and threat to the global economy. 

As Thomas Sowell said about our current challenges, “We do not have good choices, we simply have trade-offs.” 

Living on the Edge

The Coronavirus has revealed the financial unpreparedness of millions of citizens. Aaron Zitner, at the Wall Street Journal, reports: “Some 15% of Americans have used, or plan to use, either short-term loans or credit cards that they don’t know they can repay in order to buy emergency goods to deal with the outbreak, a survey by NORC at the University of Chicago found.” He says others rely on savings or plan to divert money set aside for other things.

It is my hope that many Americans have been better prepared for this event after making financial adjustments following the Great Recession, which started in 2008, by paying off debt, increasing savings, and living within their means. Either way, here are some practical and spiritual insights for the young people in your Bible study. 

Establish Essentials as Priority

Everyone’s situation is different. Let’s help the young people understand how to deal with the current economic crisis, and we will deal with the long-term consequences of the bailout later. Here’s how I would attempt to help those in your Bible study when meeting one-on-one. 

Regardless of what’s happening in the world, everyone needs food and shelter. Pay the bills that provide food, home, and necessary utilities. This is a time to sacrifice wants to provide for needs.

Most middle-income families will receive some sort of government assistance money. Establish or grow your emergency savings account. Always keep it resupplied as you are able. 

With job cuts right now, childcare and transportation costs may drop significantly. If possible, save that money in an emergency fund for future needs. Even a small amount in a savings account will reduce financial stress and grant margin in your life. Exercising self-control (a fruit of the Spirit) will boost your confidence and grant hope.

Face your bills with courage and hope. Pray over them and ask God to work in miraculous ways knowing He is able to do far more than you can imagine. Avoid fear and anxiety with this verse:

“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Romans 12:12 ESV)

Practical Steps 

  • Limit social media to avoid online shopping. Don’t give in to your (or your children’s) wants right now. Lead by example in love.
  • Student loans: this may be the time to refinance.
  • Debt: negotiate with lenders to reduce your interest rate or balance. Seek to eliminate penalties. Demonstrate your intent to pay. Avoid maxing out credit cards. Consider balance transfers but read all the fine print. Set a goal to eliminate the debt and the method to get there (I recommend the snowball or avalanche methods). Contact Christian Credit Counselors if you are falling behind. 
  • Insurance: assess coverage and negotiate the cost. Some coverages may not be a necessity or deductibles may need to be raised to lower premium costs. 
  • Make a will. Don’t procrastinate.
  • Save: deposit something weekly, or every other week, to develop the habit. Get a fireproof, waterproof safe to keep some cash at home at all times. I recommend one month of living expenses. 
  • Wisely use your government check if you have an emergency savings account: give a portion, pay current bills, and pay down debt.
  • Income tax filing has been postponed until July 15th. If you owe money, set that money aside in a separate account.
  • Ask for help. Trade skills: haircuts for food, tutoring for computer help, etc.
  • Sell what you don’t need. Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist make it easy. Do it safely by meeting buyers in a grocery or government parking lot during daylight hours.
  • Look for opportunities. This may be the best time to start a business or take on greater responsibility at your current place of employment. Learn new skills. Take advantage of online classes. Educate yourself by reading, listening to books, watching Ted Talks, and documentaries.
  • Be generous. There are many suffering at this time. Be exceptionally generous while also being wise and discerning.

Hope for Troubling Times 

Those who are frightened, worried, angry, or frustrated must remember they are not alone. God has not left us on our own. In fact, idols are being revealed and priorities analyzed. It’s time to reorient our lives.

We all know we should live one day at a time. That requires taking one step at a time. But, what if fear overwhelms you and you don’t know what steps to take?

Imagine a sailboat drifting in the center of a large lake with no apparent destination in sight. It rocks back and forth, back and forth, unable to move forward. Suddenly, the wind begins to blow. The sails of the boat filled with air. The sailor takes action and strategically directs the boat to the desired destination. The boat glides effortlessly while the sailor works with the wind to safely arrive to shore.

The Holy Spirit is the wind. He fills our sails enabling us to know when and how to move forward. Filled with hope, we develop perspective and work toward our destination.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13 ESV) 

Not Our First Rodeo

Like you, I have lived long enough to have experienced a number of crises in my life. As my friend said, “this is not my first rodeo, but this is the first time I have ever ridden this horse!” We are living through something the world has never experienced. It’s an opportunity to trust God with all our heart. May He fill you and me with all hope so we can proclaim His goodness. 

 “…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5 ESV)

For anyone struggling with credit card debt, get in touch with our partners at Christian Credit Counselors. They can advocate for you, helping lower payments, and organize your debt. Start your free debt analysis today.

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