I was not always a good steward of my finances. To make a very long story short, a year after graduating college, I found myself $36,000 in consumer credit card debt. It was easily the loneliest I’ve ever felt.
Years passed as I struggled to get out of debt. And then I turned my life over to the Lord; I surrendered not only my heart, mind, body and soul to Him, but also my wallet. And since that time, I’ve lived with a mindset of “It’s all his, and I’m just a steward of it.” And that mindset has served me well.
My husband and I have been married almost nine years, and we carry no debt other than our mortgage.
In a culture that screams consumerism, essentially encourages debt, and often tells people to “Go for your dreams no matter the cost!”… my family felt called to a countercultural way of living when it comes to our finances. Living debt-free, saving for the future and giving generously play a large part.
While debt-free people surely are not a monolithic group, I can almost guarantee that most of these practices are the practices of people who live debt-free.
But do not fear -- you don't have to be DEBT-FREE to enact these types of habits or practices.
Not at all, in fact. These are the types of practices that you can put into place hopefully before you're $36K in debt. The sooner you start taking control of some of these things, the sooner you’ll find yourself taking control of your finances and being a good steward of the resources God has entrusted to you.
1. Debt-Free People Budget
Debt-free people know every. single. cent. that comes IN and goes OUT of their bank account. When every last penny is present, accounted for and tracked, they don't overdraft their accounts. They don't incur silly and unnecessary fees. They are able to plan for every dollar and make their money work for them. It's so important and the basis of ALL good money practices!
You control the budget. You decide what gets spent where. But once you set the budget, stick to it.
2. Debt-Free People Save
Even if you only save a little bit each month, that little bit eventually adds up to alottabit. Debt-free people are able to save for emergencies and those times when unexpected expenses arise.
If someone loses a job and you’re out of work for six months, you’ll have money saved to float your family though until a new opportunity is found. Saving is a VITAL part of good financial health. Don’t know where to start? Start saving for a emergency fund -- three to six months of living expenses. It may take a while to save, but you’ll be thankful for the net in case something unexpected happens.
3. Debt-Free People Closely Monitor Their Finances
When I was in huge debt, and even when I was working to get myself out of debt, I NEVER checked my bank account. I was always way too scared to log in and see how little money I had or how much I'd overdrafted or what fees I'd incurred.
So, there were times when I had overdrafted my account four or five times, and I'd incurred all these fees, and I had no idea for a few days when all of a sudden my debit card was declined. Trust me, I know firsthand the stress and anxiety that can come with checking your bank account and statements on a regular basis. It's awful!
People who are debt-free or good with money closely monitor ALL of their activity in their bank account and on their financial statements.
My husband logs in to our bank account every day, and he notices if even 1 cent is off. He can tell right away if there's a funky transaction that doesn't look right, or if a fee got charged that shouldn't have been, or if a restaurant put in the wrong dollar amount on the check, etc. And consequently, he's got me in the same habit. Once it's become habit, money becomes much less stressful.
4. Debt-Free People Give Generously
We give because God gave -- and that includes finances. I am incredibly passionate about tithing to the local church (even when it might not make sense) and giving generously to charitable organizations. And I’m incredibly passionate about giving cheerfully. I LOVE GIVING!
“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:6-8, NIV).
Being generous with your money makes you appreciate it that much more. I was always someone who "wanted" to give but came up with excuses for why I couldn't. Finally, when I decided I needed to make a big change and take ahold of my money, I started giving ... EVEN when I didn't really have money to give. And suddenly, my entire perspective on, attitude about and outlook on money changed. Now I LOVE to give. We love to give. Whether it is our monthly tithe to our local church or our monthly Compassion International sponsorships, we truly love to give.
It gives us no greater joy than to bless someone or something with our finances. We look forward to writing the tithe check every month. Debt-free people are generous with their money.
5. Debt-Free People Are Goal-Setters
People who want to win with their money are people who set goals, create a plan of attack and execute that plan. It’s vital to set financial goals -- at ANY stage in your personal finances. Whether it's to become debt free, save for a car or house, save for retirement, buy that big TV you've wanted, go on that trip, etc. … goal-setting is vital because it makes you value your money even more!
6. Debt-Free People Are Patient
You're rarely going to find a debt-free person who is a chronic impulse buyer or spender. (Unless they're like bajillionaires and money is of no concern to them) Most debt-free people are are wise with their purchases, are thoughtful with their purchases, and take the time to shop around, pray about or wait before they spend that money. Impulse purchases just rarely happen. When you're looking to save or spend money wisely, you pretty much take impulse purchases out of the picture.
Small, incremental changes may not seem like enough. But the journey toward gaining financial freedom comes one day at a time, with small decisions that make your bank accounts happy. You can do it!