Thrifty Tips for Living Comfortably in 2014
by Dianne Barker
On the twelfth day after Christmas my true love said to me, “How much do we owe?” My answer did not usher in peace and goodwill. We were drowning in holiday debt…again. How did this happen?
I’m the spender in our marriage. Since opposites often attract, many families have a spender and a saver. While the saver can be annoying (even accused of being stingy), it’s usually the spender who causes turbulence. My impulsive spending and dependence on credit cards caused tension and stress.
I’d left a successful journalism career to be a stay-at-home mom to our two children. Although I continued writing at home, my earnings didn’t dramatically impact our budget. I kept one credit card for urgent needs. What was I to do when I had a need but no cash? Pull out the plastic.
My husband hates debt, and he didn’t think new school clothes for the children qualified as urgent. The monthly statement agitated him and showed I had little self-control at sales events. One day when the card balance was zero, I went shopping for a gift, intending to charge.
Suddenly I heard a whisper in my heart. You said you wouldn’t do this anymore, and here you are spending your husband’s hard-earned money on something unnecessary.
During another financial crunch, I retrieved the card and drove to the shopping mall. Before turning off the motor, I heard the words again. You’re spending your husband’s hard-earned money.
I could have argued about how much I contribute to the family. I’ve read the estimated financial value of a homemaker is over $113,000 annually. But I tend to become speechless when I sense the Lord is speaking. Again I drove home and put the card away.
Those two encounters—whether with divinity or merely a guilty conscience—prompted life change. I grew to hate debt and eventually took over the family budget.
Having a major credit card has become a necessity in today’s world—to reserve a hotel room, to rent a car, to shop by telephone or internet. Credit cards are a convenient way to track spending—if we pay the balance every month. A zero balance is sweet.
Consider these tips for thrifty yet comfortable living in today’s wavering economy.
- Set up a budget and stick to it. Learn to live by decision—your written plan.
- Give priority to paying off credit cards, starting with the smallest balance. Consult a Christian financial advisor if you’re head over heels in debt and need help designing a plan.
- Going forward, avoid using credit cards. An item isn’t a bargain at thirty per cent off if your card is nearly maxed out; the interest eats the savings.
- Deal with the problem of greed—always wanting more. The Lord said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15 NIV).
- Stretch the budget by shopping for bargains. Buy house brands at the grocery.
- Eat at home. I’ve done the math. The cost of one family meal in a restaurant buys enough groceries for several days.
- Budget for unexpected expenses such as appliance or car repairs. It’s only a matter of time until something breaks.
- Change your family’s lifestyle. Not wearing designer labels isn’t life-threatening.
- Be creative with gifts. Don’t yield to adult peer pressure, feeling you have to pay as much for a shower gift as everyone else. A hand-made gift is a treasure. Bake cookies or bread for a sick friend instead of buying flowers. A personal visit means more than the gift.
- Keep a gift box. When you have extra cash, buy items on sale to keep for unexpected invitations.
- Consider starting a home sales business to supplement the family income. But use wisdom when you’re invited to home sales parties, especially if your budget allows no excess for such expenses. If you place an order, choose an item that will be a suitable gift in the future.
- Control impulsive shopping. Ask yourself: Do I need it? Can I live without it?
- Beware of TV shopping programs. Many people shop wisely while others shop wildly. Stay away until you gain self-control.
- Make a decision—no cash, no purchase. Exceptions: home mortgage and auto loans. Having owned several new cars, I feel no embarrassment about buying “previously loved cars” that meet my need and budget.
- Don’t put your vacation on a credit card. Go camping in a tent. Your family might love it.
- Encourage your kids to excel at academics. College scholarships are the reward.
- Deny yourself—and teach your kids this life principle. My adult children laugh, remembering how I refused their requests for candy at the grocery checkout, insisting, “You have to learn to deny yourself.” Surely I helped them become good money managers!
- Don’t let Christmas drown you. Be honest with your kids. Explain you have to cut back. In today’s economy they’ll understand. Draw numbers for extended-family gifts. Give baked goodies to friends.
- Prepare for Christmas by saving monthly. Setting aside $50 a month totals $600 in December.
- Commit your finances to Christ. When we acknowledge him as Lord, he has a voice in our finances. Tithing his share is key to balancing the budget.
On the twelfth day after Christmas…our credit-card balance is zero!
Dianne Barker is a popular conference speaker, freelance journalist, radio host, and best-selling author. Twice Pardoned (life of Harold Morris), published by Focus on the Family, was number one on the national Christian bestsellers list in 1986. Her latest book, Cabbages and Kings—Reflections on Living Abundantly in Christ, is a collection of devotional-style articles originally published in a weekly newspaper column. She has written for numerous publications, including Marriage Partnership, The Christian Communicator, HomeLife, Baptist and Reflector, and Open Windows. She’s a contributing author to The One-Year Life Verse Devotional (Tyndale, 2007). A graduate of East Tennessee State University, Dianne hosts the weekly program “At the Library” on the Christian station WHCB-FM, Bristol Tennessee. She speaks for women’s events, teaching with passion about marriage, parenting, relationships, and abundant living. She and her husband James served for several years as marriage-enrichment leaders for Holston Baptist Association, Johnson City, Tennessee. They have two married children and one delightful grandson. Visit www.diannebarker.com.