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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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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Economy, Finance, Money Management, Personal Goals

Ask Chuck: The Secret to a Secure Future

By: Chuck Bentley, Crown Financial Ministries

Dear Chuck, 

I am burdened with the terrible things I hear in the news. I’ve become anxious and wake up worried in the middle of the night. I’m especially struggling with the fear of not having enough money in the future. I grew up in poverty and have worked hard to avoid that for my family. How can I feel more secure about the future in times like these? 

Fearful

Dear Fearful,

Thank you for your honest confession. Many live in fear of their financial future but deny it and continue to silently struggle. My father grew up in poverty as well. Like you, he worked hard to provide for his family. We lived in a government housing project early in my life. But Dad worked long hours, went to college in the evenings, became a CPA, and made many sacrifices in an attempt to give us a secure future.

Statistics are grim and that breeds fear. Since nearly 40 million households have no retirement savings, The Employee Benefit Research Institute estimates a nationwide retirement savings deficit of $4.3 trillion. Society has instilled in us the idea that we need to make a financial plan before it’s “too late.”

People worry about job security and whether they can pay the bills. As Larry Burkett used to say, “the ‘what if’s’ will rob us of all joy.” What if I can’t afford the cost of medical services, assisted living, or help my children with a college education? What if negative interest rates happen and hurt my portfolios? What if the stock market crashes? These types of negative scenarios are endless.

Refocus your Security

Many Christians literally rob God and sometimes their families as they live in the cycle of fear and worry. The growing mania for buffering ourselves against any possible future event is straight from the deceiver. Jesus told us to build our house on rock (Himself) and not sand (the world).  

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.  And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. (Matthew 7:24-27 ESV)

This parable points out the futility of placing our confidence in money. When our sandcastle of affluence comes tumbling down – and it will – our faith had better be founded in the person of Jesus Christ – not in material security. 

Symptoms of Fear of the Future

  • Self-preoccupation
  • Anxiety and sleep issues
  • Unhealthy frugality
  • Financial infidelity
  • Hoarding
  • Marital stress
  • Bitterness
  • Separation from God
  • Lack of Contentment 

 If you suffer any of these symptoms, I must ask a simple question: Do you really trust God? Circumstances are uncertain for all of us. God designed it this way so we would learn to become dependent upon Him. 

Breaking the Fear and Worry Cycle

Our thoughts impact emotions. We must choose to surrender our fear of the future each day. Otherwise, unrealistic expectations or “what-if” scenarios will cause you (or me) chronic anxiety. God is trustworthy and loves us beyond comprehension. He promises to work all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. (Romans 8:28)

  • List every resource you have and transfer ownership to God, recognizing you are simply a steward.
  • Align your mind and heart with God, the owner of everything.
  • Embrace God’s counsel from His Word for each decision.
  • Use His instead of my to bring Christ’s Lordship into the details of your life.

In Hebrews, we read of those who surrendered their will and acted on faith in God. They were rewarded by Him – but not the world. 

  • Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.  (Hebrews 11:1-2 ESV)
  • And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.  (Hebrews 11:6 ESV)
  •  And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:39-40 ESV)

So, regardless of how well you’ve planned for the future, you must trust God with it all one day at a time.  

How to Trust God

  • Seek God’s direction for your life – not someone else’s.
  • Make a conscious act of trusting God. Make a material commitment to express your faith by becoming more generous.
  • Be patient and develop an eternal perspective.
  • Pray diligently for faith to trust Him more.

Practical Steps

  • Set realistic goals
  • Release the past
  • Give to God first and increase your generosity
  • Save more, spend less
  • Establish an emergency fund – but cap it to avoid hoarding
  • Pay off debt
  • Write a will
  • Plug into a church
  • Seek Godly mentors

I pray that these simple steps are helpful to you and that they help to put your worries at ease. But most of all, I pray that as you grow to trust God more and more every day, you become deeply assured of the security that you have in Him. Trust Him to be your provider and protector through life’s uncertainties.  God is faithful even if all the money is lost. Ultimately, your faith (confident trust in Him) will prove of greater worth than silver or gold.

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Credit, Credit Cards, Credit Counseling, Credit Score, Goals, Money Management, Personal Goals

Turning Financial Resolutions into Regular Routines

By: Brittany Frost

We are now more than a month into 2017 which begs the question: how are your financial New Year’s resolutions coming along? What steps have you taken so far to reduce your debt or save money? Maybe you’ve been so busy that you have yet to make a financial resolution this year. If so, don’t worry! December isn’t the only time for resolutions. It is never too late to resolve to take control of your finances toward a better financial future. According to a NBC News article, the most popular resolution in 2017 was “getting healthy” with specific interests in gyms and fitness (Ref. #1). Don’t forget: financial health is also important! However, if one big financial resolution overwhelms you, it may help to set mini-resolutions that are more achievable and may be easier to keep. Switch them up so they aren’t so daunting. Start now! Trim your debt and get your credit in better shape! Choose at least one of the following tips to create your own mini-resolutions today:

  • If you haven’t done so in a while, go to annualcreditreport.com to pull your 3 free annual credit reports from Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Even if it’s scary, you need to know your credit in order to improve it.
  • Pay cash for gas each month to keep it off your credit card so your balance will be lower on the next statement. 30% of your FICO credit score is calculated based on “amounts owed” so pay with cash to help keep your balances low and do not use a high percentage of your available credit (Ref. #2).
  • Use a free app or paper to record every dime you spend so that the money is earmarked when you pay your credit card bill! 35% of your FICO score is calculated based on “payment history” so record and budget to pay ON TIME and in full if possible (Ref. #2).
  • Go to myfico.com to learn more about how your FICO score is calculated and use that as a guideline to improve your credit.
  • Try not to eat out for one week. “Brown-bag” it to save money.
  • Instead of paying for a baby-sitter, swap out watching kids for free with friends.
  • Negotiate everything; not just houses and cars but hotel rooms and other items. It’s always worth a try.
  • Don’t just take something at face value. Shop around to compare and find the lowest price before purchasing. For example, it may be cheaper not to bundle insurance. Instead, get separate quotes from an independent agent on auto, home, and life insurance to find the best price for each.
  • To keep the cost of holidays/birthdays down, give homemade gifts of baked goods or food instead of pricier, store-bought items.
  • If and when you get a tax refund this year, vow to put it directly toward bills or your debt with the highest interest. Resist the temptation to splurge! It will only hurt you in the long run.

You can make resolutions any time, but the sooner the better! The key to making and keeping resolutions is not to dwell on the past, but to learn from what DIDN’T work and focus on what DOES work. Even if they seem small now, forming healthy financial habits every day can make a big difference in a year. Give your finances the time, attention, and exercise they need to get back in shape in 2017 and, before you know it, your financial resolutions will turn into regular routines!

 

At Christian Credit Counselors, we help consumers battling credit card debt and desiring a more positive financial future. For more tips on how to quickly improve your finances with debt counseling, please contact us.

CCCc2abutton

 

References

  1. http://www.nbcnews.com/business/consumer/2017-new-year-s-resolutions-most-popular-how-stick-them-n701891
  2. http://www.myfico.com/credit-education/whats-in-your-credit-score/
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Budgeting, Christian Credit Counselors, College Debt, Consumer, Coupons, Credit, Credit Cards, Credit Counseling, Credit Score, Debit & Your Credit Score, Debt, Debt Consolidation, Debt Settlement, Goals, House, Kids & Money, Money Management, Personal Goals, Saving, Student Loans, Uncategorized

Use the Start of the School Year to Set the Stage for Your Child’s Financial Success

By: Brittany Frost

Where did the summer go? As the school year rapidly approaches, children are preparing for the academic and social journey of the next grade level while parents are bracing their financial situation for the costs of continuing education. Parents can take this golden opportunity to go above and beyond just shopping for school supplies at Wal-Mart and, instead, show their children how to budget, save, and spend their money in order to teach them how to financially prepare for school (which will undoubtedly come in handy for college).

Alarmingly, a study released in July by the FINRA Foundation estimated that almost two-thirds of Americans couldn’t pass a basic financial literacy test, including calculating interest payments correctly (See Ref. 1). When you pair that with the fact that public, in-state college tuition, room, and board has risen 1300% since 1971 (See Ref. 2) and a recent survey showing that 75% of U.S. workers have student loan debt so high that they contribute less to their retirement (See Ref. 3), it is easy to see why parents must take every opportunity to educate themselves and their children so they do not end up in pools of unmanageable student loan debt. It is never too early to avoid the debt cycle and teach your children to financially prepare for school. Think about it: Did you or do you still struggle with enormous student loan debt? Did you avoid college altogether because you couldn’t afford it? Or did you have the financial means or knowledge to keep your student loan debt to a minimum? Either way, think of your financial mistakes, trials, and triumphs and use the start of this school year to teach your children everything you’ve learned about financially preparing for school. Use your experiences along with the following resources and ideas as motivation to set the stage for your child’s financial success or, perhaps, to change your own path.

So how can you do this? Include your child in the financial process of preparing for school. Sit down and discuss with them. Educate them on the difference between a “want” and “need” so they can decide what they need for school. Ask for their opinion and listen. Use free online budgeting tools available on www.christiancreditcounselors.com to set a budget together. Discuss and research ways to stick to that budget by using free resources such as Passionate Penny Pincher’s Free Back-to-School Cheat Sheet for a complete list of back-to-school deals. Record and track your spending. Make back-to-school shopping a learning experience through mathematical games. In “7 Smart Ways to Save on Back-to-School Clothing,” Deacon Hayes also suggests tips like assessing your child’s current school inventory, visiting thrift stores first, and adding in a fun but frugal activity such as stopping for an inexpensive lunch or treat to make back-to-school shopping a happy experience (See Ref. 4). Above all, just enjoy spending time and working toward your financial goals together as a family. By doing this, you will not just be buying more pencils and notebooks, but you will be setting the stage for the financial success of your children AND yourself. Here’s to a successful school year!

References

1.       Farber, Madeline. Fortune. Nearly Two-Thirds of Americans Can’t Pass a Basic Test of Financial Literacy. 12 Jul. 2016. http://fortune.com/2016/07/12/financial-literacy/

2.       Jacoby, Jeff. The Boston Globe. Making college ‘free’ will only make it worse. 13 Jul. 2016. 18-20. http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.ncher.us/resource/collection/6E4F0103-05C8-4F48-844E-BEEAC285C10B/db0714_2016.pdf

3.       O’Connell, Brian. The Street. 75% of U.S. Workers Say High Student Loan Debt is Crippling Their Retirement. 12 Jul. 2016. https://www.thestreet.com/story/13627148/2/75-of-u-s-workers-say-high-student-loan-debt-is-crippling-their-retirement-savings.html

4.       Hayes, Deacon. U.S. News Money. 7 Smart Ways to Save on Back-to-School Clothing. 15 Jul. 2016. http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/my-money/articles/2016-07-15/7-smart-ways-to-save-on-back-to-school-clothing

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Thoughtful Money-Saving Ways to Celebrate Dad

Showing Dad you love him doesn’t have to mean sending him on an expensive golf vacation or buying him a new camera. The special day should be all about connecting with him, and there’s no better way to do so than by spending some quality time together. Here, we’ve rounded up meaningful activities you can do no matter where you live or what budget you have — all the activities are free or cost very little. Cheers to being fun and frugal with Dad!

Pack a Picnic
Picnics are for spending quality time with loved ones, and that certainly includes Dad. Take time to pack snacks you know he’ll like, and head to the park for a day of sun and making memories.
 
Play Tourist
Make like a tourist and see sights in your own city that you often overlook. If Dad grew up there, he might even share some stories of his younger days around the block.
 
Browse Books
Whether it’s at a local bookstore or public library, you two can get lost for hours surrounded by books. Discuss which genres are your favorites and why, buy one another a favorite book, or take home the same book so you can start your own book club for two.
 
Take a Cooking Class
Get ready to roll up your sleeves for some quality cooking time with Dad. Many culinary schools and even locals will open up their doors and homes to teach you how to make a delicious meal at a fair cost.
 
Play Mini Golf
He doesn’t have to be a big golfer (or a middle schooler) to appreciate the fun that comes with a good game of mini golf. Other similar and budget-friendly ideas include bowling or hitting the batting cages.
 
Watch Home Movies
Break out those VHS tapes collecting dust in your drawers and take a trip down memory lane by watching homemade movies with Dad. You’ll not only get to see how much you’ve changed, but you can also poke fun at Dad’s camera skills.
 
Tour an Art Gallery
You’d be surprised at how many art galleries — and even big museums — open their doors for free or offer discounts. Bond with Dad while strolling past beautiful paintings and sculptures.
 
Go For a Hike
There’s nothing like some fresh air and scenic views to enjoy the day. If Dad is someone who likes to hike a lot, ask him to take you on his favorite trail.
 
Go Wine Tasting
You don’t have to travel to the vineyards of Napa to enjoy some wine tasting with Dad. Do so right at home by looking up wine bars and clubs that typically offer samplings at an affordable cost.
 
Learn Your Family History
It’s not very often that we sit down with our parents to learn about their upbringings. Take this time to go through old family photos or mementos with Dad; ask him about his grandparents and to tell you all that he knows about your family’s genealogy.

By: http://www.popsugar.com/smart-living/Cheap-Father-Day-Ideas-30636652

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Budgeting, College Debt, Consumer, Credit Cards, Credit Counseling, Debit & Your Credit Score, Debt, Debt Consolidation, Finance, Goals, Holiday Tips, Money Management, Personal Goals

Stop Her Before She Shops Again

Originally posted at Christian Post February 5, 2016.

chuck-bentley

Dear Chuck,

I have a friend who is a non-believer and an impulse buyer, especially on-line. If I suggest to her that she cut up all her credit cards, I’m concerned that such a plan leaves her without a tool that she will sometimes need. But my fear is that she will also use this one credit card to continue buying things she doesn’t need. How I can help her stop buying things online that she doesn’t need? Help!

A Worried Friend

Dear Friend,

What a blessing it is for your friend to have a Christian in her life who cares about her, prays for her, and wants to help her get free from the bondage of impulse spending. Without help, she will likely suffer the consequences of excessive debt and continual stress.

One of the reasons so many of us struggle with spending is that it feeds something in our hearts, a need that we try to fill with things. Impulse spending or compulsive shopping, especially when it involves going into debt, is often driven by our emotional state. We shop to try and make ourselves happy.

I had a friend who went through several job interviews for a significant promotion. The day it was announced that he did not get the promotion, he left the office, drove to a car dealership and purchased a brand new car – that he could not afford. It was totally out of character for him. He told me later he was trying to cover his disappointment with something he thought would make him feel better about himself. The opposite happened. He grew to resent the car as he made payments month after month and eventually sold it for a significant loss.

The process for really getting free from this habit begins with a relationship with Jesus Christ, who first loved us, who died for us and who can teach us how to put the things of this world into perspective. Before you ask her to cut up the credit card, try a different approach that gets to the real root issue. I recommend that you meet face to face and talk as friends about having a relationship with our Savior. Let her know that you care and want her to experience the freedom you have found in Christ.

Without help, it will be difficult for your friend to let go of the kinds of desires that advertisers twist to get us to buy their products. She will remain vulnerable to trying to meet her emotional needs through stuff, with or without the credit card in her hand.

And then, rather than trying to talk her out of credit cards, let’s talk about budgeting. According to Gallup, two-thirds of Americans don’t budget. Your friend may find that she can understand how her spending is hurting her if she sees how it impacts her bottom line, and Crown can help. There are some great tools for creating a simple budget. And there are people trained to help you with a debt management plan, such as a Crown partner, Christian Credit Counselors.

You’re right that credit cards, in this economy, are often a necessary device. I’ve written about the right way to use a credit card in an earlier Ask Chuck column, but one important tip for all card users is to pay off your balance each month. That way, you have the use of an important tool without the burden of debt.

One of the things that you might be able to do to help your friend grow spiritually as well as in financial maturity is to invite her to share a Bible study with you, and maybe a few other friends, which examines what God says about money. This will provide a less stressful way to begin a conversation about money, about life and about why we make some of the choices that hurt us. You can learn more about that here, but the bottom line is that your time, invested in your friend, could change her life for eternity.

The real peace she needs is found in 1 John 2:15-17, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”

Credit cards can be a problem for many of us. But that debt is small compared to the greatest debt we have in our lives: the debt of the penalty for our sin that only Christ can repay. Start with Jesus … the rest will follow.

 

By: http://blog.crown.org/impulse-shopping

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Managing Your Student Loans Wisely: A Great and Unique Gift for Mother’s Day

By: Brittany Frost

What greater gift is there than the joy of seeing your child become financially responsible and independent throughout and after their college years? If you are looking for a unique and great gift to give your mother on May 8th for Mother’s Day this year, consider the gift of managing your student loans wisely. Instead of spending money on the gift, you’ll be saving it. Managing your student loans during and after college can help you avoid extra costs and interest as well as reduce your overall debt. Saving money and achieving your financial goals is not only a great gift to the mothers who are able to contribute to their child’s education, but also for the mothers who so desperately want to help but don’t have the means to do so. Here are a few tips to manage your student loans wisely this Mother’s Day:

 

• Before you even take out a student loan, apply for as many scholarships and grants as possible. This alone can save you (and your mom) a lot of money. Visit your school’s website or www.studentaid.ed.gov to view federal grants and scholarships.

• If you still need a loan, research loan types and repayment plans to make an informed decision. In general, federal student loans can have more repayment options and lower interest rates than private student loans. For more information on federal student loans and repayment plans as well as budgeting resources and calculators, visit www.studentaid.ed.gov.

• Budget and plan ahead. For more help budgeting for your student loans, contact Christian Credit Counselors at www.christiancreditcounselors.org.

• Use other free resources. According to the recent article Baylor University Partners with iGrad to Implement Online Financial Literacy Education Initiative by Jo-Carolyn Goode, Baylor will team up with iGrad, a financial literacy leader, to offer interactive workshops about budgets, scholarships, student loans, applying for jobs to help students pay for school, and a seminar for seniors to discuss loan payment options after graduation through iGrad’s financial literacy platform. For more information, visit www.igrad.com.

• When repaying your loan, consider an automatic payment deduction to save money on your payment. Also, put as much money as you can toward your payments. Each extra dollar paid toward your student loan payment each month can help overall.

• Since it is tax season, remember that student loan interest is tax-deductible and there are credits and deductions for parents and students. According to the College Board in Danielle Douglas-Gabriel’s article in the Washington Post entitled Paying for college? Have student loans? Here’s what you need to know before filing your taxes, the average family saved about $1,460 in education credits and deductions in 2013. To research various options of increasing your savings through tax credits and deductions such as the American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Student Loan Interest Deduction, refer to www.irs.gov. See how much you can save!

By using these tips and managing your student loans responsibly, you will not only save money but you will provide valuable peace of mind for you and your mother. That’s something that you won’t be able to buy at the Hallmark store!

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