It’s October and Christmas is coming. You look back over the past year and wonder where your money went and how you are going to afford gifts this year.
You ask your spouse “How much money do we have?”
You go to the ATM machine to withdraw money and there are insufficient funds.
Your fridge breaks down and you need to purchase a replacement but you don’t have the cash to do so.
These are all very common situations that many of us have encountered. Our personal financial situation can be a very frustrating and stressful topic and the cause of heated discussions among family members. When we don’t take control of our finances, they end up controlling us. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
We are all planners. Granted, some of us have a predisposition to planning things down to the smallest detail, while others are more inclined to let most things happen. Everyday we spend time planning. It could be for something quite inconsequential – like changing your route to work so you can do the drive through at Tim Horton’s – okay, not so inconsequential for some people. Or it could be planning the details for a family vacation or for retirement.
But when it comes to financial planning and budgeting – something that should be extremely important – we tend to “let things happen” rather than being in control. Whether you are the steward of a little money and feel like you are just “getting by”, or whether God has entrusted you with significant resources, it is equally important to develop and live by a budget or spending plan.
To many people, the idea of living by a budget feels oppressive. In reality, it’s freeing. A budget is simply a spending plan. It allows you to write out your expenditures and order them in terms of importance. It also allows you to plan for the future – to set goals – and provides a framework to help you attain your goals. You are its author.
If you don’t have a spending plan in place, this is a great time of year to start to develop one. As I’ve been speaking with people about stewardship, in particular their personal financial situation, I often hear “It’s too far into the year to start budgeting now. I can see starting in the new year.”
It’s now October 2006 and you probably aren’t too motivated to put a spending plan in place for 2006. I can understand that. But it is a great time to prepare a spending plan for 2007.
Begin by keeping track of your spending. Make a list of all your expenditures and order them in importance – most important first. This may mean keeping track of your spending over the next couple of months. I realize that with Christmas coming, your spending may not be “normal”. Don’t use that as an excuse not to keep track. Simply identify any “Christmas” expenditures as such. Not only will this help you track your normal spending, it will also help you see how much you are actually spending on Christmas.
It is best to keep track for at least two months. Our natural tendency is to change our spending habits when we start keeping track. So if you only keep track for a short period of time, you may not get a realistic picture of your expenditures. Tracking all your spending seems like a daunting task, but once you’ve done it for a couple months, you’ll see it really isn’t that difficult.
The beginning of a new year is a great time to revisit your financial goals. Take some time to pray about your financial goals and then write them down. Include things such as: giving, debt repayment, education, lifestyle (home, automobile, travel, etc), and savings. Some of your goals you may be able to achieve during 2007, others may be long term goals.
As you look at your financial goals, compare them to your current spending patterns. Are they in sync? Or do you need to change some of your spending in order to achieve your goals? This is where the freedom of a spending plan comes in. You will find your financial situation less stressful. Discussions with your spouse will be less contentious and more celebratory. By prioritizing your spending in terms of your goals, you will be in control of your finances.
Stewardship Ministries will be launching its website this fall. You will be able to access it through www.fmc-canada.org or directly at www.generoussteward.org. The website will provide additional information about personal stewardship, budgeting and financial planning. In the meantime, if you are interested in more information regarding stewardship or gift planning, please contact Joanne Bell – Stewardship Development Director.