Stretching Your Financial Resources

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   Many of us are feeling the results of the poor economy. Every day, newspaper and TV reports tell us about job losses, houses going into foreclosure, and people from all walks of life struggling with large amounts of debt. These are insecure times to be sure, but God has given us many precious promises and principles which can help us through these difficult situations. He has promised to give us wisdom (James 1:5,6) and to help us in our decision making. (Proverbs 3:5,6).

   The first principle I would like to share is also one of my most treasured Bible promises and is found in Malachi 3:10... “Bring the full amount of your tithes to the Temple, so that there will be plenty of food there. Put Me to the test and you will see that I will open the windows of heaven and pour out on you in abundance all kinds of good things.” GNV

   God asks us to put Him first in our lives. He asks for 14% of our time (A Sabbath day of rest and worship) and 10% of our income. Both are important to Him, and God always keeps His promises. 

   Jesus asked us to do the same, in Matthew 6:33: “Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

   I would hasten to add that God is not suggesting that He will make us wealthy when He blesses us. His blessings take many forms, and are intended to supply our needs, not our extravagant desires. God may simply keep our appliances and cars working long past their expected lifespan. He may help us find products on sale of which we would otherwise have been unaware. His blessing may simply come in the form of encouragement when we need it most, giving us the strength to serve Him, even in the face of want or persecution.

   “Put Me to the test” is God’s challenge. Have you ever tested God? In his book Over and Over Again Ronald Alan Knott tells one story after another of modern day people who did just that — they put God to the test by faithfully paying tithe. These inspirational stories tell of God’s faithfulness in keeping His promises to us.

   Having committed ourselves to putting God first in our time and our finances, let’s talk about some practical things we can do to stretch our financial dollars.

   For starters, evaluate how you are spending your money. Write down everything you spend money on for four weeks. Don’t try to change your spending habits at this time. The goal is to take a “snapshot” of how you and your family are spending money. Then record each purchase in a notebook with a separate page for individual categories, like heat, electricity, food, etc.  Without this information, you have no idea where your money is going. Once you have this information, you will be able to see where you are spending your money. Your goal will be to look at each category and “find” money that you can save. 

   Let’s take the food for example. Everyone wants to make sure that their family has enough to eat. Here are a few ideas on how to decrease your food bill. By choosing just one or two, you may find that you can easily decrease your food bill by $25.00 per week, or about $1200/year. The goal is not to decrease the amount of food that is available to your family, but to change how you purchase the food. By changing the way you purchase your food you have “found money” which you can use somewhere else in your monthly budget.

   A) Plan menus for your meals. Go through your pantry and plan to use the food you may already have on hand. Keep your menus in a file so you can use them again next month. 

   B) Make a shopping list. This focuses your shopping and helps prevent unwanted expenditures.

   C) Eat before you shop. We spend less when we are not hungry.

   D) Store brands or generic brands are usually cheaper then name brands. Remember, cents add up to dollars.

   E) Use your left overs. Remember the old saying: “Waste not, want not.”

   F) Join a Food Co-op to order your food. Prices are generally less than grocery store prices. To find a food buying club in your neighborhood search 

   G) Buy locally-grown food. Prices tend to be less for locally grown produce. Check the following web site

   H) Shop at farmers’ markets during summer and fall. 

   I) Plant a garden. 

   J) Save your garden produce with freezing and canning.

   K) Shop at discount or ‘bent and dent’ grocery stores for deals, such as the “Farmer’s Pantry,” (see ad on Page 22 of this issue of WCN).

   Keep track of your spending on a long term basis. For those without a computer, you can buy a “budget book” at stationery stores.  For those with computers, a number of programs are available to help with personal finance. One tool that has helped me greatly is the “Quick Books” program. You can record your spending on a daily basis by keeping your receipts and checks, and putting the information into the program. At the end of the month and the end of the year, you can total each category, and compare it to your desired budget (that you made around New Year’s day each year!) to see how you are doing in your spending. Then you can adjust your budget for the following year based on good data from your spending habits the prior year.

   A large area of expenditure for millions of Americans is the monthly credit card. These little gadgets are a wonderful aid when used correctly, and a terrible curse when not. They enslave millions of us! Many people have multiple cards, and carry balances on each card every month. The interest charges that accrue each month quickly make the “minimum monthly payment” all that one can pay.

   Have you ever wondered how much money you would have each month if you didn’t have an interest payment to make to the credit card companies? Take control of your credit card spending. Try using cash or checks instead. When you use a credit card, ask yourself how badly you need this item, if you will be able to pay this off at the end of the month, and if it is worth going into debt for this purchase. If you are going into debt for this item, it should be a clear “need,” not a “want.”

   Here is a suggestion to help you get out of credit card debt: pay the minimal on each credit card, but place an extra payment on the card with the lowest amount due. The extra payment reduces the principle on this card. You may not be able to make an extra payment at present, but have faith! God wants to help you (Matthew 7:7-11). Be creative, budget carefully, and ask for His help.

   By paying on the card with the lowest amount, you will soon have ONE card PAID OFF, and you will have eliminated one source of interest debt every month. The extra payment doesn’t have to be much, perhaps only $20.00, but you will be amazed at how much faster the card is paid off. 

   Once you have paid the first card off, put it away and don’t use it. Pick the card with the next lowest balance due and follow the same process, paying the minimum on each card but also paying an extra payment on the second card. Continue doing that until you have paid off all the cards. Then only use ONE credit card (the one with the lowest yearly card fee and lowest interest rate) with the understanding that you will pay off that card at the end of every month. Send your other cards back and save the yearly card fee!

   And here’s one more suggestion to get your credit card spending under control: Take all your cards and place them in a tupperware container. Fill the container with water, then place the whole works in the freezer. This effectively “freezes” your credit card spending, and eliminates impulse buying. Because, in order to use one of your cards, you will first need to thaw them out, giving you time to prayerfully consider whether or not the purchase is truly a “need,” or just a “want.”

   Meanwhile, begin paying as much as possible on your highest interest rate card. Continue until this card is paid off completely. Then move on to pay off the next highest-rate card, and so on. Before you know it, you will find yourself credit card-debt free!

   Let’s talk about another way to “find” money in your budget. Have you ever considered the cost of paying for cable or satellite TV?  Have you ever considered the effect it has on the spiritual life of you or your children? Have you considered the effect it has on your spending habits, by promoting products that you and your children might not otherwise consider buying?  Many of us can find news on the internet or radio.  We can borrow appropriate DVDs from the library. We can purchase or borrow past TV episodes by the year. We can do all this without the annoying commercials that entice us to spend more, and without the ever-evolving societal pressure to conform to unChristian values. The transition is not easy, but it is well worth the effort, both in financial terms and in time spent with your family and God.

   Another potential way to limit monthly spending is the phone bill.  Do you duplicate this service?  Do you need a land line in your home and a cell phone to carry? One option to consider would be to reevaluate whether you need all the services listed on your current land line bill. Another would be to look into for good rates on cell phone coverage and alternatives to expensive land lines. Those with internet can use Skype for economical communication, although this would not eliminate the need for some phone coverage.

   This process of reevaluating our lifestyles and distinguishing our needs from our wants can be applied to almost any category in our budget. We have looked at several specific items as examples, but the overall process is the same.

In summary:

1) Pay a faithful tithe of your money and time to God, and claim His promises.

2) Evaluate how you spend your money.

3) Keep track of your purchases on a long term basis.

4) Take control of your credit cards.

5) Reevaluate your lifestyle needs.

   May God bless you as you take Him at His Word!

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