How do you find economic and inner freedom? How do you get ahead? How do you wrastle (that’s wrastle, not wrestle, if you say it with a southern accent it helps) the squealing pig of a budget and your spending. Budgeting is not easy. It’s not usually fun… not initially! However, when you learn how to work within a budget… when you begin to find the freedom it offers… you can’t imagine how you ever lived without it. A budget doesn’t make you less free, it makes you more free, more prosperous, and ultimately more generous.
Step 1: Find Out Where You’ve Been.
I have counseled with couples for years (six figure, five figure, and less) and the first step to a new financial destination is knowing where you’ve been. Where has your money been going? Pull out a pen and paper and track your spending… every single penny for 30 days. Most people (rich, middle class, poor) are shocked to see it on paper. If paper is too hard, buy a version of Quicken starter edition. It will sync up to most bank accounts. In about an hour of categorizing, you will have a bar graph displaying in rainbow colors where “it” is all going. Many are shocked at how often they go out to eat. Others are shocked at how much is being funneled to debt (house, car, credit cards, college loans). Some are shocked at how much going to the movies twice a month looks like at the end of the month. Bottom line: Until you know where you’ve been, you won’t know where you are going. I have tracked my finances with an envelope system since I was a kid, but was shocked when I uploaded Quicken for the first time. I was able to see -not where I thought I was spending it- but actually where it was ending up. Jesus instructed others to sit down and “count the cost” of where your money is going before you embark on a new project.
Luke 14:28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— 29 lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’?
Step 2: Build up a “You’ve got to be kidding” Account
We are all shocked when tragedy strikes. It may come in the form of a broken muffler, a busted dishwasher, or an emergency doctor bill. But we all have those “you’ve got to be kidding” emergencies. We need money set aside and put into a “you’ve got to be kidding” account to be ready for those moments. An account with at least $1,000.
Jesus told us to be ready. John 16:33 “In the world you will have tribulation”
Peter told us not to be surprised when bad stuff happen. 1 Peter 4:12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you;
Financially, a “You’ve Got to be Kidding” account is a very practical and Biblical way to put these warnings into practice. Peter tells us that we should stop kidding ourselves and wishing away tragedy. It will happen, so prepare for it.
Step 3: Stop the Bleeding and Pick on the Little Guy
When you see all the debts and credit cards you’ve accumulated, you need to stop the bleeding. Tear up, cut up, and shred the credit cards. Stop the bleeding. Stop them from adding to the problem. I’ve taught my kids for years to call all credit cards, “A trap!” Since they were 4 or 5, I’d hold up a credit card offer that came in the mail and ask, “What is this kids?” They’d respond, “A TRAP!!” While that may seem extreme in practice, I want them to be very very cautious of the trap credit often becomes.
After you’ve stopped the bleeding, then pick on the little guy. Find the credit card with the smallest balance. Stop eating out. Stop going to movies. Cancel the Cable TV. Have a Garage Sale. Cancel all vacations. Get a second job. Then take all that “new” money and pick on the little guy. Pay off the credit card with the smallest balance as fast as possible. Why the little guy? Because it will be the easiest to pay off. Whether it takes 3 weeks, 3 months, or 3 years. The littlest will be the easiest to pick off first. That will give you both hope and the emotional taste of freedom.
Step 4: Arm the Photon Torpedoes
Now with the little guy paid off, take on the newest little guy debt. Take all the money that was going to the previous card or bill and “arm the photon torpedo” (Sorry for all you non Star Trek fans who miss the allusion here). Fire all the money that was going to the previous bill at the second bill. You now have double the fire power to attack the debt monster, to wrestle this credit card cruncher. This will take diligence. This will take wisdom. Keep your eye on the target.
Proverbs 24:3 Through wisdom a house is built, And by understanding it is established; 4 By knowledge the rooms are filled With all precious and pleasant riches.
There are many more steps to financial freedom, but these four are a mouth full. Work the steps!! They work, IF you work them. They don’t work, if they just mold in your head like leftovers in a refrigerator.
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