It’s no secret that with the economy the way it is in America, many are hurting right now. When one listens to the radio or watches television, economic issues are hardly escapable. Yes, financial matters are unavoidable—but money isn’t something that should to be feared. Here are some practical tips to help you intelligently, responsibly spend and save money in your everyday routine.
1. Understand Money’s Place
The best place to start is by examining the priority money has in your life. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that money is evil, but 1 Timothy 6:10 does say, "The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil" (TNIV). Money can become a problem if it is sought after more than God—when it, not God’s will, becomes the reason you go to school or work.
Money can also be problematic if you do not realize to whom it truly belongs. If you are a Christian, everything in your life is the Lord’s, even your money. How you deal with the money given to you is simply a part of your life, just as much as prayer and fellowship, according to Howard Dayton, president of Crown Financial Ministries, a ministry that teaches biblical financial principles. "That’s the huge mistake that most people make, that they don’t see handling money as a spiritual issue," Dayton said in an interview with ABC News. "It’s intensely spiritual."
2. Make a Budget
In Luke 16:13 Jesus said, "You cannot serve both God and Money." Being responsible with your money is a great way to serve only God, and one of the best tools for being responsible with finances is a budget.
Don’t cringe. Budgeting has a nasty reputation among twenty- and thirtysomethings, but if done properly, a budget does not control you—you control the budget. By simply planning out how much of your money you want to spend in certain areas of your life, true financial freedom is possible.
Dave Ramsey, creator of Financial Peace University, is a master at budgeting. He suggests an envelope system that could keep you from ever overdrawing that account again. Check out his budget form and try it out for yourself at www.daveramsey.com.
3. Think Before You Buy
It might sound simple, but think back to the last time you regretted buying something. How long did you mull over your purchase? Whether your purchase is small or big, defining your motive for buying might save you from wasting your money. Crown Financial Services uses a system of defining the purchase as a need, want or desire.
"Needs are the purchases necessary to provide basic requirements," the organization’s website says. "Wants involve choices about the quality of good to be used, while desires are the choices according to God’s plan that can be made only out of surplus funds after all other obligations have been met."
When you are conscious of what kind of purchase it is, you can better make the decision of whether to buy the item at all. Keep in mind that even if it is a necessity, it’s still possible to make unwise financial decisions.
4. Be Smart About Buying Food
We obviously have to eat. However, just because it is a need doesn’t mean you have free rein to spend, spend, spend. Cutting down on your food bill can be easy. Crown Financial Services gives a bevy of tips.
First, don’t go to the grocery store when you’re hungry. We all know that throws any hope of smart shopping out the window. If you have a favorite grocery store chain, ask if they have a rewards program. Always be sure to check out the in-store specials, and bypass name brands if you can. Avoid buying non-grocery items in a grocery store; those prices are usually hiked up. Finally, if you’re a person who eats out all the time, try taking a trip to your local grocery store.
5. Buy Clothes Intelligently
Clothing is also a need, but it’s one that can easily flirt with the line between need and desire. When you are browsing the racks, ask yourself if you are trying to fulfill some kind of emotional or identity need. If you are, you might want to reconsider the purchase.
When you do need to buy something, make use of outlet malls or cheaper stores. Purchase items that can be mixed and matched well and dressed up or down easily. If you’re artistic, one of the best ways you can keep clothing costs down is by making your clothes yourself; Crown Financial Services estimates you can save up to 60 percent by hitting the sewing machine.
6. Don’t Go Overboard with Entertainment
Having fun is not a bad thing. However, just as food and clothing costs should be monitored, so should the amount of money you spend on recreation. There are plenty of ways to save money and still have a great time.
When it comes to entertaining yourself, it’s true what they say: The best things in life are free. Most cities have some sort of entertainment publication; search it for any mention of free movie screenings, plays, art shows and concerts. Enjoy the outdoors by picnicking in parks. When you’re traveling, take an earlier or later flight. You could knock 20 percent off your flight fare, according to Crown Financial Services. If you’re a student, make sure to check out agencies like Student Universe to get the cheapest flight possible.
7. Pay with Cash
Those shiny plastic cards sure are tempting, but those who try to outsmart credit card companies seldom, if ever, succeed. One good rule to go by: Pay with cash whenever possible.
If you’re trying to make a big purchase but don’t have the money quite yet, Ramsey suggests to keep saving until you do. Credit card interest piles up quickly. Plus, when you bring in a wallet full of cash, vendors will be much more likely to give you a great bargain.
8. Take Care of What You Already Have
By simply maintaining the items you already possess, you can avoid serious repair and replacement costs. Seemingly small acts like keeping your car up-to-date on oil changes, changing your car’s air filter and defragmenting your hard drive will prevent an expensive visit to the mechanic or computer repair shop. This is applicable in other areas, too, of course. By working out regularly, eating healthy and getting enough sleep, for example, you’ll be more likely to steer clear of the doctor’s office.
"If you can perform routine maintenance and repair, considerable expenses can be avoided," the Crown Financial Service website notes. "Many people rationalize not doing these things on the basis that time is too valuable. That is nonsense. If every hour of the day is tied up in the pursuit of money, as previously defined, then you’re in bondage."
9. Do Your Research
When it comes to big purchases, like a car or computer, doing a little investigative work will help you avoid falling into a scam. Make sure to examine the long-term costs associated with your purchase, including its projected lifetime and number of repairs.
Another area that could benefit from a little digging is researching scholarships and government grants, especially if you’re looking for ways to pay for college. Money is available for almost anyone. Search online or go to your school’s financial aid department; you’ll be surprised at what you can find.
10. Have an Accountability Partner
If no one knows where you’re spending your money, no one can stop you from buying that umpteenth pair of shoes. Find someone you trust, preferably someone older and wiser in the ways of money, and ask them to help you make a budget. Then, ask them to check up on you and your spending habits a few times a month.
When you’re about to make a big purchase or sign up for hitherto foreign concepts such as health insurance or a retirement fund, this partner will help you make the decision that’s best for you. Being in community in this area of your life is probably the most helpful thing you can to do.
If money is something you’re struggling (or even if it’s not), try working these steps into your day-to-day. Start with one or two, then add slowly as they become a bit more natural. OK, so it may not be quite as enjoyable as satiating every sushi, latte, iPhone or cruise craving you get, but it sure beats the debt regret that will hit you hard later.