8 ways to use the extra paychecks when you get paid every 2 weeks

If you get paid every two weeks, then 4 times a year you actually get 3 paychecks in the month instead of 2. If your first two paychecks are sufficient to cover your bills, then that 3rd paycheck almost becomes like a bonus. But how can you use it wisely?

Here is what I do know. If you do not have a plan for the money, it will disappear. You will get the extra paycheck and you’ll wake up 2 weeks later and wonder what happened to it.extra paychecks

So here are 8 things you can do to make that extra paycheck really make a difference.

Create an emergency fund

If you have no emergency savings, take the extra pay and stow it away for a rainy day. Many times we get ourselves into credit card debt because we are unprepared when Murphy comes calling. You know that guy Murphy? If it can go wrong it will and always at the worst possible time. Life happens to us all. Things break. Accidents happen. If you have an emergency fund to cover these bumps in the road then emergencies move from a crisis to an inconvenience. Ideally, you should have 3 to 6 months of income saved away. If you aren’t there using those extra pays to beef up your savings is a great way to make sure the extra pays are a blessing.

Pay off a debt

Do you have credit card debt? A car loan? Student loan debt? Medical debts? Use the debt snowball to list those debts from smallest to largest and use that extra pay to start knocking off some of those small ones.

Save for Christmas

Christmas is just around the corner. What if you saved that extra pay and used it to pay cash for Christmas? Wouldn’t it feel great to enjoy the holiday knowing that you weren’t facing 6 more months of payments as you try to pay off all you charged for Christmas? You can do it by saving for Christmas ahead of time.

Save for non-monthly expenses

Home owners insurance. Some utilities like water, sewer, and garbage. Taxes. Subscriptions. Membership fees. Birthday gifts. Auto registration.

These are just some of the items that are non-monthly expenses. These kinds of expenses used to really kill my budget because I hadn’t planned for them. Now I set aside a little each month to cover these non-monthly expenses so that when they come I am ready. You could use those extra paychecks to build up some savings on the side to cover these non-monthly expenses.

Save for a car

Most people believe the lie that you will always have a car payment. I know I did for much of my life.

The problem is the average new car payment in the US is just under $500 a month. I am convinced that car payments are one of the primary things that keeps most average families from ever making any financial progress.

But the reality is you really can save up and pay cash for a car.   It just takes a little planning. How about saving those extra payments in a car fund. What would it feel like to walk into the car dealer and lay down cash to buy your next car?

Make an extra mortgage payment

What if you used one of those extra pays to make an extra mortgage payment each year? Did you know that by making one extra mortgage payment each year, you can shave 7 years off a 30 year mortgage?

Give

Use some of that extra money to support a local ministry that is close to your heart. Help support a missionary that your church sponsors. Help out a neighbor that just lost his job. Buy some groceries for a single mom. There are lots of ways you can use that extra pay to make a difference for the kingdom of God.

Treat yourself

And lastly, it’s ok to use some of that money to buy something you have been wanting. There is nothing wrong with enjoying some of our hard-earned money. Just make sure you are also doing some other wise things with the money too.

Make your extra paychecks count

The key is to be intentional. The same principles apply to bonuses, inheritances, or any other found money. Make sure you have a plan. Without a plan the money will just disappear and you’ll wonder what happened to it. But if you have a plan, those extra paychecks can really help you jump-start some wise financial behaviors.

Best of the week – October 18, 2014

Here are some articles that caught my eye this week…

Free Printable: Chore Ideas for Kids

One important lesson parents need to instill in their children is the importance of work and the association that the way to get money is through working. Here are some age appropriate chores that you can use to teach your kids the value of a job well done.

10 Dumb Little Budgeting Mistakes You Need to Stop Making Today

Very often it isn’t the major things that get us in trouble. It is the combination of many small mistakes that gradually erode our ability to succeed.

More Money Won’t Solve Your Problems- Here’s What Actually Works

So often we believe the lie that if I only made a little more then I would just be fine financially. Then we get a raise and in a short time we start to think if I just made a little bit more it’d be OK. And so it continues, always thinking if we had just a little bit more. There are some people who have a legitimate income issue, but for most of us the amount of income we have isn’t the problem, it’s the person we stare at in the mirror each morning.

10 Things Children Will Always Remember

As parents we often fool ourselves into thinking we have to buy our children lots of stuff so that they’ll have great memories of their childhood. And yet the best memories often don’t come with a price tag.

How to convince your reluctant spouse to save for retirement

Have you had a discussion with your spouse regarding your hopes and dreams for retirement? Do your dreams lineup with your spouse’s dreams?

How Do Credit Report Errors Happen?

I have seen statistics that as many as 4 out of 5 people have errors on their credit reports. It is very important that you periodically check your credit reports. Some of these errors can be fairly minor like a misspelling on a former address, but some of them can be major like the presence of a debt that is not yours. The good news is it is very easy to get a free copy of your credit report once a year. If you find errors take steps to have them corrected.

How to find the true source of contentment

contentmentThere are several Bible verses that even those who have maybe never read the Bible could probably quote.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.

God helps those who help themselves

Oh, wait, that last one isn’t actually in the Bible, though some think it is.

Another of those scriptures that even non-Christians have probably heard quoted is Philippians 4:13.

For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.

We use that verse for many things. Athletes often quote it after some great achievement. People quote it when they are going through a particularly rough time in life. People quote it when they are faced with a difficult task.

None of those uses of the verse are wrong, but did you know the actual context of the verse?

How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.Philippians 4:10-13

Paul was actually speaking about contentment. He had found the secret to how to live in need and how to live with plenty. That secret was the strength that Christ gives him.

Contentment is perhaps one of the most important keys to financial health. In fact, I would suggest that without at least some degree of contentment you will probably always struggle financially.

And it is hard in our society as we are marketed to constantly. Everywhere you turn there are advertisements.

Understand that the whole key to marketing is to make you feel discontent: “I am lacking something in my life and this product is just what I need to fill it.” Now marketing isn’t evil (as long as it is honest). In fact sometimes there are products that really do make our lives much better and marketing that makes us aware of that is a good thing. Just be aware that the whole point of marketing is to convince you to buy something.

As we are faced with this constant barrage of marketing, we can easily be led down the road of thinking” I need just one more thing to be happy.’ But that road never ends. There is always a better, newer version. Our neighbor always has something with one more feature. There is no financial peace on this path.

So what are the keys to finding contentment

Knowing the finish line

Contentment does not mean we should always passively accept our circumstances. It’s ok to want a better life. To strive to learn new skills. Look for a better job.

The key is to define for yourself what is enough.

Gratitude

One of the surest ways to kill an attitude of discontent is to focus on gratitude. Most of us, even the poorest among us, have more wealth than a large percentage of the population of the world. While we may not have everything we want, few of us are lacking in daily needs.

And consider as well the blessings that money can’t buy. Good health. A spouse who stands with us. The hug of a child. The beauty of a sunset. Freedom. Grace. When you focus on all that there is to be thankful for, the discontent will quickly be drowned out by the chorus of gratitude

A focus on others

Discontent often comes from looking inward. What is it I want that I don’t have and I think I need? By lifting our eyes from our internal wants and desires, and changing our focus to those around us our perspective on contentment changes.

Spend some time helping out at a local homeless shelter. Volunteer to help out at a local pediatric hospital. Go on a short-term mission trip. There are many ways to shift our focus to those who are much less fortunate than we are. When you do this you will begin to see that the things that are causing you discontent are often just stuff. And stuff just isn’t that important.

The strength Christ provides.

Most importantly as Paul said the real secret to finding contentment is found in the strength that Christ provides. Psalm 37:4 says:

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

When I was young I used to think this meant that if we focused first on the Lord that he would give us what we want. What I have come to understand is that when we put our focus on Him, He changes us so that over time our desires come in line with His desires. The things that used to seem important to us often fade and we learn to desire what really matters.

Looking for contentment in all the wrong places

I believe the real root cause of discontent is often the fact that we are looking for contentment in the wrong place. We look for money, jobs, stuff, relationships, power, and many other things to fill the discontent we have inside. The problem is that hole is only filled by one thing, a relationship with Christ.

What is causing you to not feel content today?

8 of my favorite financial podcasts

I love listening to podcasts.

You can think of podcasts as free, on-demand, topical radio programs. There are podcasts available on practically any topic you can imagine including business, entertainment, sports, self-improvement, health, art and literature, politics and current events, technology, education, family, religion, and yes, financial matters. If you have a subject that interests you, there is probably a podcast on that topic. And the best part of listening to podcasts is that it is completely free.favorite financial podcasts

How to listen

With the advent of tablets and smartphones it has become easier and easier to listen to podcasts. The granddaddy of podcast directories is Apple’s iTunes store. When I first started listening to podcasts I subscribed to them through iTunes and synced with an iPod nano. Today there are many more options. Apple now has a Podcast app that can be used to subscribe and listen to podcasts on iOS devices. There are also a number of great third-party apps that can now be used. Stitcher, Downcast, Doggcatcher, iCatcher, Instacast, and TuneIn radio are just a few of the apps available.

My personal favorite is the Pocket Casts app. I prefer it because there are Android and iOS versions and they can sync with each other so regardless of whether I use my iPad or my Android phone to listen, my list of available podcasts is always the same in both locations.

Some of these apps are free while others have a small fee associated with the app. Most of these apps though are less than $5 and the podcasts you subscribe to are free.

For me podcasts provide hours of free entertainment and more importantly provide me a great way to learn new things.

My favorite financial podcasts

There are several financial podcasts I listen to regularly. Here are some of my favorites.

The Dave Ramsey Show

This was the very first podcast I ever listened to. Many years ago when we were getting out of debt I was searching for a way to listen to the Dave Ramsey Show when I wasn’t able to get it on the radio. I found that Dave puts out 1 hour of his daily radio program in podcast format and I have been listening to it ever since. While we followed Dave Ramsey’s baby steps to get out of debt years ago, I still enjoy listening to the program each day as it helps keep me motivated to remain on track and debt free.

The Money-Guy Show

Brian Preston is a fee-only financial planner in the Atlanta area and many years ago he started a bi-weekly podcast called “The Money Guy”. He currently co-hosts the show with Bo Hanson, another of the firm’s financial planners. While a large part of the shows focus on investing topics, they also frequently talk about other financial topics as well. Brian loves to be frugal and squeeze every last ounce of value out of each dollar he spends so often they talk about new ways to save, find deals, etc.

Money Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for a Richer Life

Laura Adams is the money girl and she does a short (usually 8-10 minute) weekly podcast where she tackles one specific financial question or topic. Recent shows have included things like when and why to incorporate if you are self-employed, what happens to credit card debt when you die, how to sell a house fast in any market, and tips for saving money on travel. I love the quick little self-contained, bite-sized chunks of financial education she provides.

Compass-Moneywise

Howard Dayton and his co-host Steve Moore host the daily Moneywise show. Howard used to partner with the respected Christian financial counselor, Larry Burkett. He and Larry founded Crown Financial Ministries and Howard left a few years ago to form Compass One. They have a daily radio program that is heard around the country and is made available  via podcast.  They usually start the program with a discussion of some financial topic from a Christian perspective and then spend the remainder of the program taking calls from their listeners. Howard provides years of financial wisdom with a strong Biblical focus.

Ric Edelman’s The Truth About Money

Ric Edelman is the chairman of Edelman Financial Services, one of the nation’s largest independent financial planning firms. He does a 2 hour weekly radio program that is also made available in podcast form. I find him very talented at explaining complicated investing concepts in ways that are easy to for the average person to understand. I disagree philosophically with his views on the benefits of a home mortgage, but other than that, I find his views and teaching to be very sound and educational.

You Need A Budget

Jesse Mecham, the founder of the popular YNAB budgeting solution, does a short weekly podcast where he discusses a variety of topics related to budgeting. He always gives me something good to think about regarding how I can best manage my money.

The Dough Roller Podcast

While not a new podcast, this is one I just started listening to fairly recently. Rob Berger posts podcasts 2-3 times a week on a variety of investment related topics. Sometimes he is a little more aggressive in his investing philosophy than I’d prefer. For example, I much prefer mutual funds or ETF’s over single stocks. But overall I find Rob’s podcasts enlightening and informative as I think he also does a very good job of tackling complicated investing concepts and explaining them in a thorough but simple way that makes them easy to understand.

48 Days to the Work You Love

While this isn’t strictly a financial podcast, it is a great career oriented podcast, and our careers certainly affect our financial situation. Dan Miller answers listener’s questions each week on a variety of career oriented topics. If you are not happy with your current career, Dan is a good resource for helping you move toward a career you desire.

Bonus:

Here are 10 more podcasts I enjoy that aren’t necessarily financially related.

The Entreleadership Podcast – Based off Dave Ramsey’s entreleadership concept (combining entrepreneurship and leadership). They have some great interviews with best selling authors and business leaders including people like Seth Godin, Jim Collins, Simon Sinek, Mark Cuban, Stephen M.R. Covey, and so many more.

Read To Lead Podcast – Dan Brown interviews an author each week about their latest book. Great place to get tips on things to read to make me a better person.

Chris Locurto Show -  Chris used to be part of Dave Ramsey’s Entreleadership team and left a couple years ago to start his own business. He has great insights on life, business, and personal development.

In the Loop with Andy Andrews – Two words come to mind when I think of Andy Andrews – funny and wise. His podcast consists mostly of him addressing questions sent in by his listeners on life, parenting, business, and many other things.  He is a little like that favorite uncle that always had just the right thing to say to make you think about a topic in a new and fresh way.

Southeast Christian Church – I love the pastors, Dave Stone and Kyle Idleman,  from Southeast Christian Church in Louisville Kentucky. Their weekly messages are an inspiration.

The Tolkien Professor – I admit my all-time favorite books are the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. Dr. Corey Olsen has taught Tolkien at the university level and I love to listen to his periodic podcasts on all things Tolkien.

The Portfolio Life – I just recently came across this podcast. Jeff Goins is something like a younger Andy Andrews. He always gives me something to think about and brings a wisdom more than his years.

This Is Your Life – Michael Hyatt is the former chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishing and has built a massive internet audience through his blog and podcast. He provides weekly insight into being an intentional leader.

1 Year Daily Audio Bible – Brian Hardin has been doing the Daily Audio Bible for many years now. He simply reads a passage from the Old and New Testaments plus a selection from Psalms and also Proverbs each day. Each year he reads through the entire Bible. If you are busy and on the go, it’s a good way to spend some time daily in the Word.

Your Website Engineer – Dustin Hartzler does a weekly podcast where he talks about the latest WordPress news as well covering a specific WordPress topic. If you are a blogger it’s a great way to learn something new about using WordPress each week.

A great free way to learn

The great thing about podcasts is you can listen to them while you do other things. For me, I have about an hour commute each way everyday to work. I could do something mindless to pass the time while I’m driving, but podcasts give me the great opportunity to use that time to learn new things.

If you have never listened to a podcast I encourage you to check one of these out. It is a great way to learn new things and find free entertainment. I encourage you to go find one of these podcasts and give it a try. You might just get hooked!!

If you are already a podcast listener, what is your favorite podcast?

October challenge: Review your insurance coverage

Insurance is one of those rare things we buy that we hope we will never use. As a result, it is easy to kind of set it and forget it.

There are three reasons you need to review your insurance at least one a year.

1. Your coverage needs may have changed. We buy the insurance but then fail to follow up periodically to make sure that the coverage we have is still appropriate.  The sad result is when the day comes we need to make a claim, we may be surprised to find that we are not covered nearly as well as we thought.

2. There may be cheaper options. It never hurts to shop your insurance around a bit. If you haven’t reviewed your insurance recently, you might find a few simple adjustments could save you big bucks over the course of a year.

3. Major life changes affect your insurance. Have you gotten married or divorced? Had a child? Experienced a significant change in income?  Made major renovations to your home? These kinds of life events can affect your insurance needs.

My October challenge for you, if you have not reviewed your coverage within the last year, is to schedule an appointment this month with your agent.

Life insurance

You should have at least 10-12 times your income in life insurance. The real purpose of life insurance is to replace your income in the event something were to happen to you. Would those who depend on your income be in financial trouble if you were no longer here? Then you need to have life insurance. If your income has changed significantly since the last time you reviewed your life insurance, you might need to adjust the amount of insurance you have.

A second very important thing you need to review is your beneficiaries. If you have changed marital status, had children, or had other significant life events, it is possible you may need to change your beneficiaries.

A third consideration is health changes. Have you lost a considerable amount of weight since you first qualified for your life insurance? Stopped smoking? Made other positive improvements to your health? It is possible you might qualify for a lower rate.

Homeowners or renters insurance

Have property values in your area changed significantly since the last time you reviewed your policy? Most insurance companies no longer offer full replacement coverage policies. Generally, they insure what they calculate to be the current replacement value with some increases for inflation over time. But if your home has significantly changed in value, you might not have the coverage you think. The last thing you want to happen is for your home to burn down and find out that the policy you bought 10 years ago only provides $100,000 in coverage but it is now going to cost $200,000 to rebuild your home.

Have you made significant upgrades to your home that would affect the value of the property? If so your covered amount may no longer be accurate.

If you are a renter, you must have renters insurance to cover your personal property. Your landlord’s policy does not cover your personal belongings. If you do not have renters insurance, you need to buy it today! If you do, you should review your policy and make sure your belongings are properly covered, especially if you have made any significant purchases.

Auto insurance

It is not a bad idea to periodically shop your auto insurance to make sure you are getting the best rates. Even if you choose to stay with your current company, there may be many ways you could save money. Good student discounts, changes in your credit score, changes in your driving patterns, multiple vehicle or multiple policy discounts, or safe driver discounts are just some of the ways you might be able to save.

If you have a good emergency fund, consider raising your deductible. This can be a great way of saving on insurance costs, but only if you have the money saved to cover the cost of the deductible.

If you drive an older car, check to see what it would save to drop collision. I do not necessarily recommend doing this. Often collision coverage is very affordable on older cars, but it is something to at least look at. Never, ever, ever try to save by reducing your liability coverage. That can be a quick ticket to bankruptcy court in the event you are in a serious accident.

Health insurance

October is often the month for benefit re-enrollment for those who have employer sponsored healthcare plans. Or for those who get their insurance through the Affordable Care Act it is likely coming up on the time when you will need to enroll for another year. Many programs will automatically re-enroll you for your current coverage. This might be your best approach, but take a few moments to look at your options. Make sure that your healthcare coverage is most appropriate for your situation.

If you are fairly healthy, a high deductible plan combined with a health savings account might save you a considerable amount of money. Like auto insurance though it is ok to look at ways to save by increasing your deductible, but you should never lower your maximum out of pocket expenses.

Umbrella policy

Finally, if you are doing well and are starting to acquire significant assets, you might consider adding an umbrella policy to your accounts. An umbrella policy works in conjunction with your homeowners and auto insurance to provide you with additional liability protection in the event you were to be sued. If you do not have many assets, then the standard liability protections your basic policy provide is sufficient, but once you start to accumulate more assets an umbrella policy can be fairly inexpensive and provide you with a great deal more protection. The last thing you want is to have a serious car accident or have a visitor fall at your home and suddenly you are at risk of losing a lifetime’s work of saving.

Take the time to schedule a meeting with your insurance agent

Insurance is an important part of a healthy financial plan because it protects you from disasters that could sink you financially. It is always sad to hear of someone who lost everything they had because they weren’t insured. Even sadder are the stories of those who thought they were covered, but found out too late they did not have the coverage they thought they had. Take the time this month to schedule an appointment with your insurance agent just to make sure you have the coverage you need.

Why your budget is like building a house

Let’s say I were to give you a half a million dollars to build a house. You can build any style house you want but you must use the money to build the house. What would you do?

Would you head down to Home Depot and buy some lumber, pipes, wiring, etc. and head out to the site and start  haphazardly putting something together?budget

Perhaps you’d be a little more organized. Hire a builder and tell him “Well, I want a kitchen over here, and I suppose 3 or 4 bedrooms. Maybe a family room over here. Well you get the idea. Just kind of do whatever seems right. I’m sure it’ll turn out ok.”

Would anyone really build a house that way?

No, of course not. If you had $500,000 to build the house of your dreams, you would carefully plan. You’d probably talk with several architects to make sure you found one that you had confidence in. You’d lay out very careful plans for exactly how you wanted your house laid out.

Then you’d search carefully to find a trusted general contractor to execute those plans. You’d over see the construction carefully to make sure everything was done exactly how you wanted it. After all, this is your dream home we are talking about.

Finding that $500,000

So am I planning to offer some lucky reader a half a million dollars? Sadly no. But where could you get $500,000?

According to recent US Census Bureau data the median income for families in the United States was $51,017. That means that over a 10 year period the average family has a little over $500,000 pass through their fingers. Many of us though reach the end of that 10 years and have no idea where that money went.

The problem is we approach our income like that foolish home builder. We don’t really have a plan so we spend a little here and a little there and wonder why our financial house ends up looking like a pretzel.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ – Luke 14:28-30

While in context Jesus was talking about understanding the cost of being His disciple, I believe there is a principle here that is just as applicable to our finances.

Just as you would never consider building a $500,000 home without first creating a plan, you need to have a plan when it comes to your spending. That plan is called a budget. John Maxwell says a budget is simply telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.

Managing what we have been entrusted with

If the median annual salary is around $50,000 that means over the course of a normal 40 year plus working lifetime most people will earn more than 2 million dollars.

Now I understand not all of that 2 million dollars is free to spend. Naturally there are things like taxes and insurance. You need to spend money on basic necessities of life like food, shelter, transportation and clothing.

My point is when we are making the little day to day purchases it is easy to not consider the big picture. But when you take a step back and consider just how much money you will earn over the course of a lifetime, it should make you stop and more carefully consider how you will spend your money.

As a Christian I believe that everything I have belongs to God anyway and I am just a manager of those resources. I want to manage those resources well and when I consider how much I have been given over the course of a lifetime, I realize just how important it is to have a plan.

I know many see a budget as something that will keep me from ever doing anything fun, and this is just one more attempt to shame me into not buying what I want. In reality, it is the opposite. The budget is a plan that we use to make sure that in the midst of spending the millions of dollars we earn over the course of a lifetime, we are spending it on what really matters most.

Take a few moments to add up approximately how much money you have earned and are likely to earn over the course of your lifetime. Are you happy with what you have to show for it?

Photo credit: Oregon Husky (creative commons)

How to put a HALT to your spending when willpower starts to fade

Have you ever bought something and then the next day wondered what in the world you were thinking? While we may be able to exercise willpower in most circumstances, will power has limits. There are definitely times when our willpower is not nearly as strong. Learn to recognize the circumstances that drain your willpower, and HALT your spending

Hungry

Have you ever gone grocery shopping when you were hungry? You intended to buy two or three things that were on sale and some how you came home with two or three bag of groceries instead? When you are hungry, everything looks good. It’s pretty hard to say no to that bag of Oreos when you are hungry.

Angry

I had a friend many years ago who was upset and frustrated by some potential impending layoffs at his workplace, so he went out and bought a new truck to make himself feel better. OK. Let me get this straight. You might lose your job, so you just took on a bunch more debt to make yourself feel better??

When we are upset, scared, or angry we can often do things that are pretty irrational if we really stopped to think about it.

Lonely

Another time when you are vulnerable to making poor decisions is when you are feeling lonely. I fell victim to this myself a few times. I was 34 when I married my wife, and I don’t regret for a minute waiting until I found her. But there were many times in the years leading up to when I finally met my future wife that I found myself feeling very bummed out about being alone. More than once I medicated my loneliness with a trip to Best Buy to purchase some electronic item I thought would make me happy. The happiness was short-lived but the credit card scars lasted for many years.

Tired

Lastly, our willpower suffers when we are simply tired. It is Friday night and it’s been a long hard week at work. You don’t feel like cooking, so it’s easier to just go out to eat.

There is nothing wrong with doing that once in a while, but if you make a habit of it you can easily sink your budget. This might be the most dangerous of all of the threats to our will power. When you are tired, it is just very hard to say no.

Understanding when to HALT your spending

So what is the point? Never get hungry, angry, lonely, or tired? Of course, that’s not realistic.

What you can do is recognize when you are vulnerable. When you know you are really upset and you are tempted to go shopping to make yourself feel better, stop and think about your motives. The first step in keeping these emotions from wrecking your budget is understanding what impact they have.

While making that purchase may make you feel better for a little while, ultimately you are just trying to medicate a bigger issue. And if you have to rely on credit for your purchase, you may feel even worse when the bills start to come due.

What steps do you take to keep from letting negative emotions lead you to spending decisions you’ll later regret?

How to find proper balance in our finances

In a very general sense, there are really only three things that you can do with money:

  • Spend It
  • Save It
  • Give It

If you are handling money in a healthy way, you should be doing at least a little bit of each of these. The problem occurs when we lack balance in our finances and any of these three areas get out of whack.balance in our finances

Spending

Spending is the most common place where we lose our balance. Some people struggle financially because of income issues or because of setbacks like a job loss or a significant medical situation, but if we are really honest with ourselves, most of us struggle simply because we spend money we don’t have.

As long as you are spending more money than you earn, you will never get ahead. The problem we face is the advent of credit cards makes spending more than you earn a little too easy. They can mask our overspending until we wake up one day in a hole that we find very difficult to climb out of.

Most financial sites focus on the problems caused by having your spending out of whack and much has been written. But while spending is where we often focus, we can also be just as unhealthy in the areas of Saving and Giving.

Saving

Almost no one would suggest that we shouldn’t save. We all know the benefits of saving for a rainy day or preparing for future large purchases or life events like college or retirement.

Saving is good and you should be doing it. But is there ever a time when saving is bad?

We should be savers but there is a line where saving and frugality can cross into miserliness.

Frugality to the extreme

If you have worked hard, you are living on a budget, you have a fully funded emergency fund and are saving for other future needs, there comes a time when it is ok to reward yourself with a little spending.

Sometimes when people have struggled to pay off their debts and build up their savings, they find it difficult to loosen up and make purchase. They have been working so hard to get ahead that it becomes difficult for them to spend.

The bottom line is if you are healthy financially and are making progress toward your savings goals there is nothing wrong with buying something you want. Just make sure it is in reason. If you want to trade in that old beater and move up in car a little and all your other finances are in order there is nothing wrong with that. But if trading up means buying a new Lamborghini, then, unless you are a millionaire, that would probably be a mistake. I exaggerate, but it really is about ratios.

Saving is good, but it’s ok to enjoy your hard work a little along the way.

Misplaced trust

There is another danger to saving.

If you are not careful, that savings nest egg can easily become where you place your trust.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21 NASB

Jesus spoke more about money than he did about heaven and hell combined. I believe the main reason for this is because money more than anything else in our lives has the ability to take the place of God.

Savings are good and in many places the Bible tells us it is wise to save. But, if we are not careful those savings can become our source of protection and provision.

You may begin to believe “I don’t need to trust God to care for me, because I have it covered with my bank account and my 401K.”  That is a dangerous place to be.

Giving

The third thing we can do with money is to give it away. There are few things that you can do with money that provide more joy than giving. As a Christian, I believe in tithing 10% to my local church and then giving after that as you feel led, but even something that is very good like giving can get out of balance.

Being too generous

I believe in giving. I believe it is part of managing well the things that God has given us. But that said, there can be times where it is possible to be too generous.

If you have a friend or family member who is constantly asking for money, you have to consider whether the gift is really helping or if you are simply continuing to enable behavior that is harming them. Giving a helping hand to a friend in need is loving; being an enabler of harmful behaviors is not.

Holding a closed fist

The opposite of this are those who have difficulty giving anything. They hold onto their money tightly as with a closed fist.

Whether it be motivated by greed or by fear, the root cause is often the same as those who are addicted to saving. It is a simple lack of trust that God will provide for our needs. “If I give money away, I might need it later, so I better keep it all just in case.”

It shows we have an unhealthy trust in money and also that we don’t really understand that we are simply managers of the resources that God has generously given us.

Keep all things in balance

The bottom line is all three of these items need to be a part of your financial world in moderation. How much largely depends on your income. If you are a single mom making $20,000 a year, simply giving a tithe to your local church may be a sacrifice. If on the other hand you are a millionaire, you might be able to easily give 25%, 50%, or more of your income and still be very healthy. The same ideas apply to spending and saving.

September challenge: Budgeting one category at a time

A recent Gallup poll found that only 32% of those surveyed follow a detailed written budget. I would suspect that of those other two-thirds who don’t budget, many know they should be. But budgeting can be a little overwhelming when you first start.

Part of the problem is if we have not been tracking spending, we really have no idea of how much to allocate for some items. Some categories are easy. It isn’t too hard to figure out how much to budget for our mortgage or rent, but there are many other categories that aren’t nearly so obvious.

  • How much did you spend on groceries last month?
  • How much did it cost to keep gasoline in your vehicles?
  • What did you spend on eating out?

Categories like these can be a lot more difficult to evaluate.

You can’t improve what you don’t track

One solution to this is to track your spending. A good place to start is is to simply write down every penny you spend for a month or two.

But that can be a little daunting too. Do I really have to record everything I spend? Sounds like a lot of work. (Actually, it really isn’t compared to the freedom and benefit of knowing where your money is going.)

September challenge: pick a category

If you are one of those 68% that doesn’t currently budget and you don’t really know where to start, here is my September challenge to you.

Pick one category of spending. It can be any category. It could be food, a hobby, entertainment, etc.

You can define it as narrowly as you want. Preferably though, it should be a category where you have some control over what you spend.

Maybe it is groceries, maybe it’s eating out, maybe eating lunch out with the work friends, maybe it’s money spent on the vending machines at work. You can decide to be as specific as you want, but it should still be broad enough to be meaningful.

Now for the month of September track everything you spend in that category. Just make sure you are honest. No cheating. And since we are only doing one category you need to make sure you track every penny spent.

Making the effort worth it

At the end of the month total up how much you have spent. Multiply that by 12 to get an idea of how much you are spending a year.

Suppose you spent $150 on lunches with co-workers. That’s $1,800 a year! If you could cut that in half, that’s $900 a year that you could be using to pay down debt or add to your savings.

Now that you have that information, brainstorm 3 ideas you could try next month to reduce that expense.

They say the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. If you really want to make a change in your finances, you must have a plan. If the thought of budgeting is too overwhelming, try budgeting one category at a time.

What expense will you track this month?

The two letter word that can change your finances forever

Definition of discipline: Making yourself do something you really don’t want to do, in order to get a result you really want to get. – Andy Andrews

A recent study  by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling found that 61% of people don’t have a budget. While there are many reasons why people don’t budget – too busy, think they don’t make enough, don’t know where to start – I think at the heart of many people’s failure to budget is the simple fear that if they had a budget, then they could not have what they want.

Let’s face it; our society isn’t exactly very good at telling ourselves no. The credit industry has made it so easy that there is very little need to think about denying yourself. Whether it is credit cards or 90 days same as cash deals, the message is buy what you want now and worry about paying for it later.vision

The power of “No”

That little word “no” though is one of the keys to financial success. But, (and this is very important!) saying no does not mean you can’t have what you want. In fact, by saying no to less important things, you make sure you will be able to say yes to what really matters. It is really about prioritizing your money. And that’s all a budget really is.

The key to being able to say no is understanding what you want to say yes to.

What helps give us the ability to say no is knowing what is at stake and having a vision of what could be. If you aren’t connected to the larger vision, then in a moment, you cave and say yes to something you really ought to say no to. Remember that when you say no you are saying yes to something bigger and more significant.

So what do you really want? What are your goals? What matters most to you?

Maybe it’s travel. Maybe you wish you had a bigger house or a house in a better neighborhood. Maybe it’s a hobby that you really love to pursue. Maybe you dream of being able to quit your job and stay home with the kids.

Maybe if things are really tight, you just really want to make sure you can continue to provide food and shelter for your family or perhaps you dream of what it would be like to be debt free.

Spend some time thinking about those dreams. What is really most important to you?

Write them down

Once you have decided on what your goals are, write them down. There is power in written goals. Goals that are not written down are just wishes.

Put them where you will see them

Once you have written them down, keep them somewhere that you will see them. Post them on the refrigerator or the bathroom mirror. Tack them on the wall at work. Attach then to the visor in the car. Maybe put them in your wallet next to that plastic.

By having it somewhere you will see it, when you are tempted to spend money, you have a reminder of what you really want most.

Create your budget with your goals in mind

Now create that budge,t but think about those goals as you decide how you will spend your money.

I can have the super-sized cable package with 546 channels, but if I do that I can’t save for that vacation I really want to enjoy with my family. Maybe I could downsize, as I never watch 90% of those channels anyway, or maybe I could do away with cable all together.

I can plan to eat out with my buddies at the office each day. But if on the other hand I saved that $100 a month I am spending on lunches, I could retire someday with more than a half a millon dollars in savings.

I could buy a new car like my neighbor just did, but if I have a $450 car payment then I won’t be able to pay any extra on my credit cards and I’ll be in debt for years. Or I could squeeze a couple more years out of my current car, buckle down, and knock out that debt.

Keeping the greater vision in mind

Andy Andrews defines discipline as making yourself do something you really don’t want to do, in order to get a result you really want to get. That’s really at the heart of successful budgeting. It would be nice if we all made so much money that we could have anything we wanted, but for almost all of us that isn’t the case. And so we must make choices.

Understand that every time you say yes to a purchase, you are also saying no to something else you could be doing with that money. That doesn’t mean you should feel guilty any time you buy something. But by having that bigger picture vision of what you really desire, you have a framework for making sure you say yes to what matters most.