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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Bankruptcy, Home & Mortgage, Money Management

Ask Chuck: How Can I Disaster Proof My Finances?

By Chuck Bentley, Crown Financial Ministries

Dear Chuck,

I have several friends who are in deep financial trouble in the early years of their marriage. I want to avoid the stress they’re experiencing. Do you have any helpful tips so that I can guard my home and marriage?

Avoiding Disaster

Dear Avoiding Disaster, 

Being under constant financial stress is terrible at any age, but it is especially dangerous in the “early years.” This is a time when most couples are vulnerable to separation and divorce. 

I assume your friends are struggling with debt due to being unprepared for their lifestyle. It usually occurs in a series of small mistakes, as a result of one huge accident, or because of the assumption that “this is just the way it’s done.” Since I don’t really know what happened to your friends, I will give you some financial advice and also some general principles so that you can avoid the five most common causes of debt.  

1. Allowing a Get-Rich-Quick Mentality to Govern Decisions
If people only invested in get-rich-quick schemes with available cash, they would be more cautious. Somehow, it is easier to risk borrowed money because it appears to be free money. Like purchasing consumer goods on a credit card, it is easy to justify borrowing money to invest, especially when you think your returns are “guaranteed.” Speculating on the future is a practice in surety, which the Bible warns against. It’s presumptuous since no one can rightly predict financial markets.

Believers are particularly vulnerable, trusting so-called “Christians” who claim to have a special revelation from God when selling their scheme. My advice: Stay with what you know. Thoroughly investigate the product, company, and person presenting the offer. Make no hasty decisions. Always wait 24 hours, and pray before investing a dime. Borrowing money to speculate is not investing. It is a high-risk gamble.

2. Ignoring the Primary God-Given Advisor: A Spouse
Since opposites tend to attract, couples will not agree on everything. Learn to communicate respectfully to reach reasonable compromises. Husbands are to love their wives. That includes seeking and listening to their advice before making any financial decisions. Wives are to honor their husbands and to respectfully give their opinions. God created a husband and wife to function as a single working unit. This enables them to capitalize on each other’s strengths and avoid errors in judgment.

3. Failing to Schedule All Expenses
Plan on financial disaster if you fail to plan for unexpected expenses. These are often things that have yet to come due or the unexpected costs of maintenance, repairs, or health issues. Anyone with a car, home, children, or pets understands this. Ignoring the inevitable or not working expenses into a budget creates credit card dependency. Adjust the budget to include setting aside money into an Emergency Account. Though temporarily uncomfortable, it is very wise long-term. It is best to have 3-6 months of your monthly expenses in an Emergency Fund.

If you are struggling with credit card debt now, contact our friends at Christian Credit Counselors. This should be done before you dig a deep hole.

4. Buying a Home You Cannot Afford
Purchasing a home too early in marriage or paying too much for one creates problems. A house payment for the average family’s budget should not exceed 40% of net spendable income after giving and taxes. Include the mortgage, utilities, HOA fees, property tax, maintenance, and repairs. Destroying the budget to get into a home is not logical. It restricts the ability to give, save, and invest. Only purchase if the numbers work, preferably based on one income only. If you cannot put 20% down before you take on a mortgage, it is best to rent and save until you can.

5. Buying a Car You Cannot Afford
Most people look at the monthly payments for a car instead of the overall price. Interest translates into paying significantly more than the asking price and being burdened by the debt for years. Unlike a house, a car depreciates in value the moment you drive it off the lot. So, do not finance something that will lose money. Save, and buy reliable used cars with cash.

Disaster Proofing the Marriage  

There is no silver bullet to protect “your home and marriage” from a disaster. Satan prowls around seeking to cause havoc in all relationships including the best marriages. Having your finances under God’s control is a sign of wisdom, and I highly recommend it. At the same time, let me give you a few tips that have helped us through the hard days.

Pray together, often. This took us years to get comfortable with, but it is now a way of life. Often, we take long walks and pray aloud together the entire time. 

Seek to grow as Christ’s disciples. When you are both pursuing this goal, you will experience the fruit of the Spirit which is a glue to make any marriage even better. 

Invite your spouse to be your most intimate, trusted advisor on all decisions. This trusting submission builds confidence and leads to better outcomes in all things as you work in unity. 

Be humble, gentle, and quick to apologize. Nobody escapes hurting their spouse in a marriage. We can escape becoming indifferent about it by showing mercy, kindness, and grace when we are offended. 

A good marriage is a financial benefit. A divorce is emotionally and financially devastating. My wife and I wrote an entire book on the topic of money and marriage, called Money Problems, Marriage Solutions. It is a step-by-step guide to growing in unity. You can get your copy here.

I made many of the mistakes that you are hoping to avoid. By God’s grace, He kept our marriage together, and we worked through the mistakes. Today, we are in a much better place and stronger because of our ability to work together. There is always hope when you fully trust Him and apply the principles of God’s economy.

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Home, Money Management, Personal Goals

Can You KonMari Your Money?

By Jeannie Rodriguez | Dr. Budgets

Recently, I watched the entire series of “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” on Netflix (along with seemingly everyone else in the world) and I was inspired! One by one I watched as Marie Kondo helped people transform their homes and, eventually, their relationship with stuff. I tackled organizing my daughter’s clothes and the new sight of her beautifully folded clothes brought me tremendous joy! It got me thinking…can people apply KonMari principles to their money and experience the same joy? Being married to Dr. Budgets, I can confidently report that it can be done! Here’s how:

1) Does It Bring You Joy?

KonMari method principle:

Collect all your clothes (or papers, or miscellaneous items) in one place and hold each one…ask yourself if it brought you joy. If it did, keep it. If it didn’t, thank it and let it go.

KonMari application to your money:

Open a Mint.com account and link all your bank and credit card accounts. Mint will import all your expenses for the last three months. Look at each purchase and ask yourself if it brought you joy. If it did, great! Incorporate it into your budget. If it didn’t, thank it and let it go.

Some examples:

$100 for a monthly housekeeper or massage – think about how you feel after this experience. Does it bring you joy? (I know that I feel joy after a massage!) Great, now work it into your budget.

Now, what about these?

  • $100/month on-the-go coffee
  • $100/month gym membership
  • $100/month for a storage unit

Maybe you love the daily indulgence of a coffee shop cup of coffee and it truly brings you joy…great! Or you LOVE your gym membership, or you are thrilled to have a storage unit because it keeps those items out of your home. Those $100/month expenses should bring you the same joy as the massage or housekeeper. If they do, work them into the budget.

Alternatively, maybe you are shocked to discover you spend $1,200 a year on coffee that doesn’t, in fact, bring you joy. Or maybe you haven’t been to that gym in months or you’re not even entirely sure what you have in that storage unit, maybe seeing those expenses does not bring you joy. That’s okay…take a moment to thank them, and then take steps to get rid of them.

2) Organize in a Way So That You Can See Everything

KonMari principle:

Fold your clothes in a special way so that they can stand up in your drawers and you can see everything at once (not stacked on top of each other). Put smaller items in boxes and display sentimental items so you can see/appreciate them.

KonMari application to money:

Organize your money so that you can SEE it. This will be a little different for everyone, but here are some ideas (you can combine these methods):

  • Use a money tracker (like Mint.com) and categorize/review your spending monthly.
  • Use the envelope system wherein you allocate actual cash money in an envelope for spending in categories such as dining out, bills, and groceries.
  • Create a visual way to track your progress toward your financial goals and review them each month. Here is a fun way you can try!

3) Commit Your Time to this Project

KonMari principle:

Set aside time to go through everything and commit to getting it done. Trying to do it little by little doesn’t work. Make a commitment to go through the entire process.

KonMari Application to money:

Exact same idea – set aside time to organize your finances, determine financial goals and set yourself up for success.

4) Take a Moment to Reflect

KonMari principle:

At the beginning of each episode, Marie would find a spot in the house, sit on her feet, close her eyes and introduce herself to the house. She encouraged the people with whom she was working to join her and take a moment to thank the house for everything it gave them and imagine how they want to feel after the process.

KonMari application to money:

Take a moment to think about your money. What does your money do for you? How does it make you feel? How do you want it to make you feel? What do you want to get out of the process of organizing your finances? Just take a moment to set the tone for the journey you’re about to take.

5) It’s Your Decision

KonMari principle:

Marie Kondo does not question the decisions of the people on the show. She doesn’t suggest that they should let go of an item they decided brought them joy. The “afters” of these spaces aren’t the typical picture-perfect homes you’d expect on a makeover show, and I love it! These are real families with real homes, not pages in a magazine.

KonMari application to money:

How you spend your money should be up to you. If you’ve done the work to set financial goals and made the decision to be intentional about your spending, then you can buy those fancy shoes or have a spa day or buy that new gadget. Your budget should not look like my budget because we have different goals and priorities.

6) It’s an Ongoing Process (but you’ll probably feel better about it now!)

KonMari principle:

Going through the KonMari steps wasn’t the end – now the families need to do a little bit each day to keep their homes in that state. However, after going through the steps, each of the families appeared to feel better about their stuff and their home. It seemed that the task of keeping up their homes wasn’t as overwhelming as it may have felt before they worked with Marie Kondo.

KonMari application to money:

While some of your budgeting tasks can be automated (and should be!), you’ll need to be actively involved in your finances. Many consumers talk about an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality about their finances, but almost all admitted that wasn’t the best approach! Setting aside a little time each month to review your spending, whether it’s in Mint.com, on a spreadsheet, or with a money coach, is going to be the key to keeping that joyous feeling about your money. If the idea of doing that now seems daunting, understand that you’ll likely feel better about it after you go through the initial process of organizing your money and setting up a spending plan.

7) You Have the Potential to Improve Your Relationships

KonMari principle:

So many relationships appear to be transformed in the series: peoples’ relationships with their homes, with their stuff, and with each other. It is no surprise that if you have a sense of chaos or stress associated with a major part of your life, it’s going to affect your relationships. Going through the process, at the very least, opened a dialogue between the participants. In many of the episodes, it seemed to improve partnerships and family relationships…and I think that’s something that truly sparks joy!

KonMari application to money:

Since money touches so many aspects of our lives, it’s no wonder it can be a big source of stress and tension in relationships. Similar to the physical items in your home that are always there, such as paper, clothes, photos, books, and boxes of Christmas decorations, the financial items such as bills, budgets, statements, income, expenses, and debt aren’t very different. You can try to pack them away and forget about them or work around them and get by, but unless you deal with it all (ACTUALLY deal with it), it’s probably constantly stressing you out and affecting your relationships. In many ways, I think sorting through the money stuff is a lot like sorting through the stuff-stuff…once you dig in, it’s not as scary as you thought and you’ll wish you had done it sooner!

Conclusion

As it turns out, there is a lot about the KonMari method that can be applied to money! Have you applied any of these principles to your home? How do you feel about doing the same with your money? If you’d like help with the process, Christian Credit Counselors could be like your own Marie Kondo for your finances!

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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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Debt, Economy, Money Management, Personal Goals

Ask Chuck: Coping With Economic Anxiety

By: Crown Financial Ministries

Dear Chuck,

I don’t think I have ever felt more uncertain about America’s economic future than I do now. Do you see any light at the end of the tunnel? My anxiety levels are growing! 

Anxious American

Dear Anxious American, 

Your question prompted me to see if there was some measurement of the sense of uncertainty that so many of us are feeling and I found one! The International Monetary Fund published a graphic of the “World Uncertainty Index” in context over the past 25 years. The interesting takeaway for me is that the index peaked with news of the Coronavirus but has decreased by about 60% since the middle of last year. Take a look:

The point is, you are not alone. The world is in a history-making shift right now and most of us are experiencing greater levels of concern and anxiety.

Dealing with Our Unknown Future 

If we focus our minds on all of the uncertainty we are truly in right now, it will no doubt breed anxiety. Financial anxiety begins when we start projecting how our future will be impacted by current events. Not knowing if our needs or expectations will be met creates worry. Dwelling on the unknown can propel us into a vortex of hopelessness. Doubt, disbelief, and negativity will eat away the peace and confidence that God wants us to experience. 

In July of 2020, AnxietyCentre.com released an article with data and facts worth reading to get an idea of how serious this issue is. It states:

According to The Economic Burden of Anxiety Disorders, a study commissioned by the ADAA and based on data gathered by the association and published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, anxiety disorders cost the U.S. more than $42 billion a year, almost 1/3 of the $148 billion total mental health bill for the U.S.

Anxiety can raise its ugly head concerning health, money, education, careers, family, on and on. However, this is not new to humanity. An idiom came into use in North America during the mid-1800s. You’ve probably heard some form of it: “don’t borrow trouble.”  Worrying solves nothing. It wastes time and energy and distracts us from more important things. Most of what we worry about never happens and reveals our lack of trust.

That idiom is nothing new. The Bible addressed the issue centuries ago:

  •  “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.” (Proverbs 12:25 ESV)
  •  “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” (Psalm 94:19 ESV)
  • “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34 ESV)
  • “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV)

Because we cannot know the future, we will always be prone to experience financial anxiety if we dwell on all the “what if” scenarios that race through our minds. Here is a simple framework that may help. When financial anxiety is rising, remember S.O.S. Stop. Organize. Start. 

Stop!

If you are overspending, accumulating debt, and living with financial stress to make it to the end of the month, declare that you will stop repeating those mistakes now. This is the first step in gaining financial wisdom that will reduce your anxiety. Stopping is progress! 

Humble yourself and recognize your need to place full confidence in the Lord. Repent of mishandling the money He entrusted to you. Don’t blame others or beat yourself up. Simply agree that you want to discontinue old bad habits with your finances. 

Organize!

Make a plan to repair the problems you have created. They will not disappear by winning the lottery or ignoring them. Get help and seek training to address your issues and establish goals. 

Begin a process to right the wrongs. Ask the Lord to help you persevere through this step with discipline, self-control, and hope. This will reduce your anxiety even more. God promised that we will experience tribulations and storms but He will never leave us or forsake us.

Start!

Once you have stopped and organized, you are 2/3 of the way there. God wants you to start doing what is good and faithful with money. His goal is not that we simply have freedom, but that we use money for His purposes, not our own. 

It can be helpful to find wise mentors and gain knowledge from others who can guide and encourage you. Prioritize your life around the basic principles of giving first, saving second, and living on the rest. Restructure your lifestyle within a defined budget and renew your mind daily. 

Light at the End of the Tunnel

I truly do not know what lies ahead, although I enjoy watching trends and keeping up with events that threaten our financial future. I just released a new book called 7 Gray Swans where I discuss many of these trends. I also know that there is always a reason for hope. Most of what we worry about will never happen. If it does, God will work it together for our good. We can find His Light shining brightly, no matter how dark our circumstances may seem. 

We offer a variety of online courses and other resources to ground you in Biblical financial principles and fortify you for the days ahead. Christian Credit Counselors can help you eliminate credit card debt. Their Christ-centered values and experienced team of professional counselors can help you overhaul your finances. That step alone will reduce your anxiety.  

Pray for our nation. We are in a turbulent time. We need you and all believers to be the salt and light that Jesus created us to be for such a time as this.

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Finance, Goals, Money Management, Saving

Rebuilding toward a Brighter Future with Emergency Savings

By: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)

This year, for many Americans who experienced financial challenges as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, preparedness means taking small steps toward rebuilding and resilience.

If you are ready to think about your bigger financial picture for the first time in months, what’s the first step?

Consider – or start – your emergency saving fund. As you build it over time, it will help cover unexpected expenses that may come, whether that be a natural disaster, unexpected illness, car trouble, or other financial downfalls. It can become an important means for avoiding unwanted debt and help you more quickly realize your dreams. In short, it can become a strong foundation for your financial future.

There are different strategies to get your savings started. These strategies cover a range of situations, including if you have a limited ability to save or if your pay tends to fluctuate. It may be that you could use all of these strategies, but if you have a limited ability to save, managing your cash flow or putting away a portion of your tax refund are the easiest ways to get started.

Strategy #1: Create a savings habit

Building savings of any size is easier when you’re able to consistently put money away. It’s one of the fastest ways to see it grow. If you’re not in a regular practice of saving, there are a few key principles to creating and sticking to a savings habit:

  • Set a goal. Having a specific goal for your savings can help you stay motivated. Establishing your emergency fund may be that achievable goal that helps you stay on track, especially when you’re initially getting started. Use our savings planning tool to calculate how long it’ll take you to reach your goal, based on how much and how often you’re able to put money away.
  • Create a system for making consistent contributions. There are a number of different ways to save, and as you’ll read below, setting up automatic recurring transfers is often one of the easiest. It may also be that you put a specific amount of cash aside each day, week, or payday period. Aim to make it a specific amount, and if you can occasionally afford to do more, you’ll watch your savings grow even faster.
  • Regularly monitor your progress. Find a way to regularly check your savings. Whether it’s an automatic notification of your account balance or writing down a running total of your contributions, finding a way to watch your progress can offer gratification and encouragement to keep going.
  • Celebrate your successes. If you’re sticking with your savings habit, don’t miss the opportunity to recognize what you’ve accomplished. Find a few ways that you can treat yourself, and if you’ve reached your goal, set your next one.

Who is this helpful for: Anyone, but particularly those with consistent income. If you know you have a regular paycheck or money consistently coming in, you can create a habit to put some of that money towards an emergency savings fund.

Strategy #2: Manage your cash flow

Your cash flow is essentially the timing of when your money is coming in (your income) and going out (your expenses and spending). If the timing is off, you can find yourself running short at the end of the week or month, but if you’re actively tracking it, you’ll start to see opportunities to adjust your spending and savings.

For example, you may be able to work with your creditors (like your landlord, utility companies, or credit card companies) to adjust the due dates for your bills, or you can use the weeks when you have more money available to move a little extra into savings.

Who is this helpful for: Anyone. This is one important first step in managing your money, regardless of whether you’re living paycheck to paycheck or have a tendency to spend more than your budget allows.

Strategy #3: Take advantage of one-time opportunities to save

There may also be certain times during the year when you get an influx of money. For many Americans, a tax refund can be one of the largest checks they receive all year. There may be other times of the year, like a holiday or birthday, that you receive a cash gift.

While it’s tempting to spend it, saving all or a portion of that money could help you quickly set up your emergency fund.

Who is this helpful for: Anyone but particularly those with irregular income. If you receive a large check from a tax refund or for some other reason, it’s always good to consider putting all or a portion of it away into savings.

Strategy #4: Make your saving automatic

Saving automatically is one of the easiest ways to make your savings consistent so you start to see it build over time. One common way to do this is to set up recurring transfers through your bank or credit union so money is moved automatically from your checking account to your savings account. You get to decide how much and how often, but once you have it set up, you’ll be making consistent contributions to your savings.

It’s a good idea to be mindful of your balances, however, so you don’t incur overdraft fees if there’s not enough money in your checking account at the time of the automatic transaction. To help you stay mindful, consider setting up automatic notifications or calendar reminders to check your balance.

Who is this helpful for: Anyone, but particularly those with consistent income. Again, you can determine how much and how often to have money transferred between accounts, but you want to make sure you have money coming in. If your situation changes or your income changes, you can always adjust it.

Strategy #5: Save through work

Another way to save automatically is through your employer. In addition to employer-based contributions for retirement, you may have an option to split your paycheck between your checking and savings accounts. If you receive your paycheck through direct deposit, check with your employer to see if it’s possible to divide it between two accounts. If you’re tempted to spend your paycheck when you get it, this is an easy way to put money aside without having to think twice.

Who is this helpful for: Those with consistent income. Again, if you’re getting a check from your employer on a regular basis, pay yourself first by putting a portion of it automatically into savings.

It might seem impossible to save enough to get you and your family through something like a furlough, job loss, or reduced hours. But any amount can make a difference and it’s never too late to start. The more you can save, the better you can weather the worst, and the faster you can recover when it is over.

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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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Budgeting, Debt, Money Management, Saving

4 Steps to Spend Your Stimulus Check and Tax Refund Wisely

By: America Saves

Most Americans don’t have an emergency fund. While we’re all experiencing this pandemic very differently — some having only minor inconveniences and others finding themselves without a job or having to close their business — those without a savings cushion are vulnerable to feeling the ramifications of COVID-19 for a very long time.

With stimulus checks and tax refunds on the way, there will be tough financial decisions to make once received. Here are active steps you can take, along with things to consider to help you develop a solid spending plan.

  1. Make a list of all expenses

Write out every single expense that you have, including essentials like food and utilities. Be sure to go through your checking and savings account history to make sure you don’t have any “vampire” expenses, like monthly subscriptions that you may have forgotten about and no longer need.

  1. Talk to all creditors and lenders

The CARES Act puts into effect two mortgage relief provisions: protection from foreclosure, and a right to forbearance (pausing or making partial payments) for those experiencing loss of income due to COVID-19. However, the provisions are not automatic and are only for federal loans, so you MUST talk to your lender.

If a creditor/lender offers you a payment plan or other relief, make sure you get it in writing and take note of the names and dates of the customer service representatives with whom you speak.

Thankfully, some utility companies have announced they won’t cut off services if they aren’t being paid. Be sure you know all of your utility and service providers’ stance on this, so there are no surprises. You don’t want to make any assumptions.

If you cannot afford your DMP payments, contact your creditors directly to request for deferment on your credit cards. This will prevent your account from falling (further) past due and help to maintain your credit score. Creditors are making payment exceptions on a case by case basis. If you are granted a deferment from your creditors, please contact your CCC representative so that they can adjust your DMP payments.

  1. Prioritize expenses

Expenses relating to food, shelter, and medicine should come first. This would include mortgage, rent, utilities, groceries, diapers, and medications. It also includes medical insurance premiums and homeowners/renter’s insurance.

If you need childcare to work, that is another essential expense. Next in line are auto-related expenses, including transportation, gas, insurance premiums, and car payments.

Loans that are secured by collateral (for example, mortgages and auto loans) are generally considered more important than those without collateral, like consumer credit card debt. For example, if you don’t pay your mortgage, a bank can foreclose on your property; if you don’t pay your car loan, the bank can seize your car. While not paying your credit card bills will negatively affect your credit score, credit card companies will not come into your house and take your personal possessions.

Federal student loans are currently not accruing interest until September 30, 2020, and can be put into forbearance so that no payments are due. If you have a private or institutional loan, you will have to contact the lender for other options.

If you struggle to make the minimum payment on your credit card, call CCC at 800-557-1985 option 5 to add the account to the program for a total consolidation of your outstanding debts.

Expenses for “elective” items, like gym memberships, streaming services, and other subscriptions, come last. Before simply canceling a contract, make sure to contact the vendor – canceling may come with a hefty penalty, but you may be able to temporarily “pause” the service.

  1. Pay your debts in the order of priority.

Now that you know all your expenses, have prioritized them, and know your payment options with creditors and lenders, it’s time to make the payments in order of priority.

It’s important to note that many are still or will be receiving their tax refunds, too. If you receive a refund, you can apply the same process to that extra income.

Remember, there is no prepayment penalty on your Debt Management Program! Contact your CCC representative to apply your stimulus check and/or tax refund toward your balances and pay off your debts.

If you are still unsure or are overwhelmed with where to start, use our decision tree for guidance on what to do with your stimulus check and/or tax refund.

 
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Budgeting, Money Management, Saving

Money-Saving Tips for the COVID-19 Pandemic

By: Crown Financial Ministries

The Crown team makes it a priority to “practice what we preach”. During this pandemic, as we recommend to cut back your living expenses by 25% for the next 90 days, we’ve made a list for you of the ways we’re doing that ourselves. There are some natural savings that happen when you follow social distancing rules, like spending less on gas, eating out, and entertainment. Below are some additional recommendations from the Crown team for cutting expenses and increasing your savings!

Cut back on any unnecessary or luxury subscriptions

Maybe Spotify free is the way to go for now. Here’s a video with easy ways to do this. Courtney said, “My husband and I both went through the last few statements of our bank accounts looking for subscriptions that we could cancel or downgrade. I didn’t realize I was paying for a few app subscriptions! That has saved us a few extra dollars a month.” Calvin and his wife have cut their gym memberships and are working out at home. They are also saving all discretionary dollars in their budget for a few months.

Negotiate cable and internet rates

You may be able to negotiate a better rate for your cable and/or internet. Businesses are wanting to keep their clients right now, so call to check if there are any special promotions you can take advantage of. “We contacted our internet provider and found that we could save 30% on monthly payment because they could move us to a new promotion package,” Alet said. Another one of our staff members canceled their cable TV altogether. Many streaming services are offering free promotions over the next few months, so be sure to look on Google for coupons before signing up for anything new.

Turn off the lights

Be mindful of your energy usage while you’re home. Do you have a habit of leaving the lights or ceiling fans on? Get up from your home office desk and make sure you’re not paying extra for that electricity!

Defer medical bills

If you need to, call your medical provider and set up a payment or deferment plan. Most will let you do this if you ask and work with them.

Slow down loan payments or stop paying ahead – for now

Several staff members have been paying ahead on their mortgage or student loans. For the next few months, their plan is to pay the required monthly balance as billed and use the extra to increase their savings.

Save on your phone bill

Handre called his mobile provider and moved to a less expensive package saving him each month on his family plan.

Activate the “pantry challenge”

Melinda and her family have challenged themselves to eat out of only their pantry and freezer before going out to eat. Once a week, someone grocery shops for a few fresh essentials for their meals. Other than that, they save money by depleting their stocked food and complying with social distancing rules.

Go meatless

Hannah said her family has moved to 3 meatless dinners a week. It has helped them to mix up their recipes and helped them cut back on their grocery bill!

Save on insurance

One member of the Crown staff said, “I contacted our home insurance company and asked if there were any discounts we could qualify for because of recent improvements we did to our home. A miracle happened – they lowered our yearly insurance amount by $400 and gave me $500 towards this year’s installment because we fixed the roof recently. We had already decided to give to people who were losing their jobs, and now our gifts have been doubled!”

Trusting God’s Promise

We know it’s not fun to take these steps, but we’re trusting in God’s promise that discipline now will pay off later. “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11 (ESV) Here are a few other financial steps you can take to find peace and freedom.

Pay off debt

Now is a good time to work on decreasing or eliminating debt. If you need help making a plan, contact our partners Christian Credit Counselors. They’ll help you consolidate your payments so you can be debt-free sooner!

Increase your savings

If you’re not in the habit of saving, now would be a good time to start. To make it easy, check out the Eli Savings App. It automates your savings for you and only saves what you’re able to afford.

Give generously

It may seem uncomfortable right now to think about giving, but it is in these times where we are able to truly show our faith and trust in the Lord. Share the resources you have with your neighbors and friends. Are you able to give more to your church when others might be holding back? Do you know someone furloughed or out of work that can use some help? Find a way to share.

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