I want to share my heart with you about living simply...being content in whatever financial situation God has place you in.
I would love to be given the trial of riches, but so far my Lord has not seen fit to send me this trial! I say that to be funny, but in many ways it is true. I can be so easily tempted to desire for more than I have been given. It's so easy to worry about tomorrow and how we will pay the bills and make ends meet. I am slowly learning that this is not what God wants me to be doing. He wants me to trust in Him, in His provision for me. I need to remind myself so often that He knows what is best for me and my family. If this means poverty, then so be it. If this means riches, then I hope that I will be a good steward of all He blesses us with. We seem to always be somewhere in the middle.
Money, finances and stewardship are talked about in scripture a lot:
Proverbs warns three times against being surety for another person (6:1, 11:15, 17:18) as well as warning against borrowing (Prov 22:7 "The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender").
Jesus told the parable of the talents (Matt 25:14 - 30) . Jesus also told a parable about the man who hoarded his wealth, storing it up in barns, yet he died before he could enjoy his wealth (Luke 12:17 - 12).
Paul stated emphatically in Romans 13:8 "Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law."
Paul also admonished Timothy of the potential evils of loving money in I Timothy 6:10 - " For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs."
Jesus said in Matt 25:29, "For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. "
First and foremost, I want to share with you about tithing. God required the Israelite tithe 10% of everything. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 9:7 that God loves a cheerful giver. Out of thanks in our hearts for all the God has provided for us, we should give back to God from our "first fruits". Give to God (via your church of Christian ministries) first from your income, then pay your bills, and live/save from what is left.Next, let's talk about debt. Going into debt to purchase something is really showing a lack of trusting in God. I know that sounds extreme, but I believe it to be true. If God had wanted you to get that item, He would have provided the resources for obtaining it without incurring debt. Being content with what He has provided can be a very hard thing to do, but it is so important. If there's something you need/want but don't have the funds to purchase, pray about it. Pray that God would provide the means to get that item, or that He would cause you to be content without it.
The one possible exception to this rule is that of housing. Owning a home is nearly impossible today without borrowing money, but some have been able to do it. I recommend looking at other ways to acquire a home without borrowing money, or borrowing as little as possible. Living in a low rent home while saving up the money for land, and then building using cash would be the ideal. You could even live on the land saving the money that would be spent on rent. This can be a very real sacrifice and can make the day to day living difficult at best, but I have known of people who have done this successfully. I have also known of people who have purchased a home that was in need of lots of fixing up, so the cost of purchasing was low, requiring little or no borrowing of money. Then they fix it up and sell it for a substantial profit once it is in great shape, and then they do it all over again, with a larger/better home. That way they work their way up into a beautiful home that meets the needs of their family. This takes a lot of hard work, but can be very rewarding. Living below your means, whenever possible is the ideal.
Keeping your living expenses below your income will keep you out of financial troubles. If you can save a portion of each paycheck, then you won't be caught when large expenses, unforeseen, show up. This can also prevent you from being tempted to borrow to purchase, as why would you borrow money if you have money saved up?
Keeping your living expenses low can be something you work at everyday - turning out lights when you leave a room, turning down the thermostat, making things from scratch instead of buying them store-bought (like bread, cookies, ice cream, pizza), staying home more/combining trips to lower fuel consumption, using cloth diapers, feminine pads, washcloths and napkins instead of disposables diapers, pads, paper towels (reduces waste too!), use natural and alternative medicines when appropriate to save on the cost of doctor visits, shop once or twice a month instead of every week, do without instead of making a special trip to the store for a missing ingredient, give up luxuries like eating out, espresso drinks and pedicures...look through your bank ledger and see where you are spending your money and be creative in trying to reduce all expenses. Make it fun - see how little you can live on, recording milestones like "our power bill just hit a new low record"!
Budgeting can sound like a bad thing, having to stay within your budget can be a downer if you don't have the right attitude. But a budget can be a powerful tool! I highly recommend using a computer software program like Quicken to keep your bookkeeping. There are many functions in the program for you to use to track your spending. I also recommend that you keep it up to date as much as possible - recording your expenses at least weekly. This can also help you plan for bills and recurring expenses, and allow you to project your income and expenses for the next week.
After tithing and monthly bills like rent/mortgage payments, power/gas, water, garbage have been paid, what's left is called discretionary spending. Discretionary money needs to be allotted for items like savings, food, clothing, household items, fuel/licensing for vehicles and such. Saving up money can be challenging at times, but if you make it a priority it will be such a blessing. I'd suggest you have an account set up that will automatically put a certain amount of money into your savings account every payday. Or use cash every week for shopping and put any left over money into savings (we never seem to have anything left over so that doesn't work for us).
When it comes to clothing, you can save so much when you get creative! I suggest that you never buy new unless you have tried everything else first! I also suggest that you make use of your local consignment store. Turn in clothes/toys that you don't use anymore, and use the credit to purchase what you need there, or take the credit out in cash and use it to shop elsewhere. Be picky about what consignment shop you use, as some of them are not reputable and may close their doors, take your stuff and cancel your credit (this happened to me once!). You can also store clothing that you are not using now, but might again someday. If you're a mom, then save the out-grown clothes that are in good condition to pass down to your younger children. When you need something, shop at the consignment shop where you have credit first, then go to the second hand stores like Goodwill or Salvation Army. You can also make use of garage sales, but they can be hit and miss as far as finding the right clothes needed, plus you might lose some of the savings if you use a lot of gas to go running around to the sales. When we went to garage-sales frequently, we'd check the ads and make a map of what sale we plan to go to, making the least amount of running around. This saved time and money! One other way to save if you can't find what you need second hand, is to go to the discount stored like TJ Maxx, Tuesday Morning or Ross where they have close out items marked way down, but sometimes it can take a lot of time to find what you need there. You can also get household items there as well, but go with caution as this can be a place of great temptation to impulse shop - purchasing something just because it's such a great price, but it's not what you were shopping for!
Another expense that can get out of hand quickly is groceries. I've heard that some people stop at the grocery store every evening to purchase what they need for dinner and the next days meals, or they eat out for every meal! Crazy! The best way to handle aquiring the needed food for you/your family is to plan ahead! Never enter a grocery store without a list and/or hungry, you will purchase items you don't need and waste your hard earned/saved money! Set aside one day a week to plan your menu (I do this the same day I do the bookkeeping), using your local grocery store ads/coupons and big store coupons to help you decide what you will have for meals. I have found it very helpful to have a list of the items I usually purchase at different stores and list the usual price. This helps with budgeting and I can also use it as a reference to find out if the grocery store "special price" is truly a savings over the regular price at the big stores like Walmart and Costco. I'd also recommend that you keep an inventory of what you already have, update that weekly, and try to make use of what you already have when you create your menu. I hope to install a dry erase board on the door to our garage to have an inventory in sight of the items in the garage fridge and freezer to help with this. It might also include a list of what's in the pantry too.
Once you are ready, put together your menu for the length of time between shopping trips, using your inventory and good deals to help come up with ideas for the meals. If you have an inventory item or great deal on something you are not sure how to use, go to the internet and search for recipes that use that ingredient - we did this recently and found a wonderful bean soup recipe - Pinterest is great for this! I like to include all meals in our menu, plus a list of snacks as well. Then you create your shopping list from your menu, making use of the sales/coupons that you have found. If you live far from the big stores like Costco and Walmart/Target, you might want to budget in such a way that you can make a big shopping trip once a month, or twice a month, and get only perishables at the local grocery store in between. This can save a lot of time and money, but it takes a lot of planning to have enough cash on hand to purchase so much at once! We also keep a running list on our dry erase board of thing we notice we need (especially staples like flour, salt, sugar or things like toilet paper that we don't purchase regularly), and use that to help us get everything we need each week, hopefully eliminating extra trips to the store in between shopping days.
Once you have your menu created, it's time to compile your shopping list. I like to use a computer spread sheet (Open Office is a great, free resource for this) for this using one column for the item name and the next column for it's approximate cost. This way I can program it to come up with the totals for each store for me and it makes for easy editing if the list goes over budget. I like to put my list for each store in the order that I usually shop - for example, putting the produce/dairy/dry goods all together and in the order I go through that particular store as this helps prevent missing an item or having to spend more time and energy to go back through the store for an item I missed. I often make up my lists by hand (not on the computer), but I usually end up writing it twice or it's quite a mess by the time I'm done due to edits or adding items missed on the first run through. When I think I'm finished with my list, I read through my menu again to be sure I have all the items needed for the meals, and take a quick look at our staples to try to make sure we have everything on the list that we need. Then it's time to see if the shopping list is within our budget. If it isn't it's time to get creative. You can reduce your grocery list to meet your budget by changing the meals selected to lower cost meals, removing items that are not truly necessary, purchasing smaller amounts (like getting a smaller pack of toilet paper from the grocery store instead of the huge pack at Costco). If your list is on the small side, consider just going to the local grocery store and then you can use what you save on gas for more food items (this works better if you live a ways from the big stores).
One way we have recently found to add to our available food, especially produce, is to join a gleaners group. We go there 1 - 2 times a week and come home with at least a box full of produce/breads for less than $15/mo! It takes a little time and effort, but it's well worth it as produce and breads can break you budget faster than anything (besides meat)! You can also find out where to glean in farmer's fields throughout the summer months.And then there is preserving of food. This is a great way to provide for your family! Purchasing produce and meats in bulk when the price is good/it is in season and then preserving it for future use is a great way to reduce your costs, especially if you can grow/raise it yourself or glean from farmer's fields! Canning, freezing and dehydrating are just some of the options for putting food up for later. If you haven't learned how to do these, or don't have the equipment, find someone who does and learn from them/borrow their equipmenc (or learn via the internet/Youtube videos) and work toward being able to do it on your own - it's well worth the investment of time and energy!
One last category of living expenses I'd like to talk about is that of vehicles - cars, trucks, recreational vehicles. I highly recommend purchasing your cars used and do not owe anything on them. You'll pay far less in car maintenance and repair than you would ever pay in car payments with interest. Also, by owning your vehicles outright, you are not required to have comprehensive car insurance on your cars and this lowers your insurance expense more than you can imagine. Due to the high price of gas, think twice before leaving the house, and try to use the most efficient car for errands whenever possible. I would recommend never purchasing a new car, or even a newer used car. Shop around, get a mechanic to look over a car you are interested in, and l Learn to do some of the repairs/maintenance yourself - oil changes, for example, can be done yourself and save a lot through the years, and find a local, reliable auto mechanic for the big jobs.. Shop around for the best deal in auto insurance if you are required to have that. I suggest that older children don't get a driver's license until they can afford to pay for their auto insurance so that they learn that responsibility goes with the privilege of driving.
There is one gift from God that we can all too easily take for granted and squander needlessly - Time. Many times in scripture God tells us that our time on this earth has been set by Him - we can not add to it, and no one can snatch us from His hand - no death is early as God is in control of our time. Living in fear of sudden death is unbiblical, but living like you'll live forever is too. Each day is precious, every hour priceless. No one knows how many days have been allotted for that lifetime - some live only a few hours/days/months, others live a hundred years or more. Live like everyday might be your last, because it just might be. Don't squander your time on fruitless activities (movies, video games to name a few) but try to make every moment count for your gain and His glory. Invest in the people in your lives, invest in the pursuit of godliness. I'm not saying that recreation is evil, and that you can't ever watch a movie, but be careful in the choices you make. Start every day asking God for wisdom to use your time wisely. Try to plan your day by making a list of things that need to be done, but also be willing to be interrupted, as God quite often will interrupt our day to bring blessings (like a little child wanting to go for a walk or a friend calling to get together), but if we are so set on our plan for the day we might miss out on a blessing.
Now I'd like to talk about stewardship for what God has already blessed you with. It's so easy to take for granted what you already have - your home, your vehicles, your furniture, your clothing, your food, your equipment, your time and your health. All of these are blessings from your Father in heaven and they each need to be cared for in order to preserve them and make the most out of them. Repair things when they are broken, mend clothing when they are torn, eat left overs before they rot, properly clean and care for your kitchen appliances, and use your time wisely. Exercise, take vitamins, get proper sleep and eat healthy to preserve your health. Thank God for His provision and show your thankfulness for taking good care of what He has given you to show yourself faithful and He will reward your faithfulness.
I saved this for last, but it really should be first. If you have a need, pray about it! So often we worry and fret over our budgets and things that we seem to need. Listen to what Jesus told us in Matthew 6:
as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on.
Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today
and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace,
will He not much more clothe you?
You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying,
‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."
I know how to get along with humble means,
and I also know how to live in prosperity;
in any and every circumstance I have learned
the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need."
Be creative, make do, stretch your resources, care for what you already have and learn to be content. Ask God daily for wisdom, self control and a spirit of contentment. Those are the keys to learning to be a good steward. I hope and pray that when you and I stand before my Lord and Savior that we will hear these blessed words: