Thursday, June 12, 2008

Living Debt Free--Part 2

One important step in Living Debt-Free is living within your means.

Though this seems like a no-brainer, it isn't always easy, especially when you are just starting out.

In our third year of marriage, we were desperate to find a rental in a town where there are none, and we took the first thing that came along without realizing that it would end up costing more than our budget could handle since it was out of town (lots of gas), it was an old, windy shack (we burned tons of wood and used lots of propane just to try to keep us a little warmer than shivering), and the utilities were higher than we had expected. Nearly half of our income was going to pay for housing! Yikes! It's no wonder we could never get ahead and never saved and were just surviving paycheck to paycheck.

Moving into town was the smartest thing we could have done. We got a place with low utilities and free water that is very energy efficient and warm in the winter. It's about 2 blocks from almost everything we need in town, allowing for walking and biking. With King Jo's salary gradually going up, as we live in a place that only takes about 1/4 of our income now, we are able to save more and stay ahead when we know a big bill is coming. Though it's a tiny apartment that we will soon outgrow, with less privacy than I'd like, it has been a great option for our family in these years of just starting out.

Though it seems obvious not to spend more than you make, it's getting harder and harder with prices going up, but wages not necessarily going up. It takes LOTS OF WORK sometimes to stick with a budget, plan creatively, and cut corners so that it is possible. One of the biggest hindrances to living within your means is allowing yourself to believe that "you deserve more" or you "NEED" more. Many Americans today, especially those around my age, have a sense of entitlement, or a desire to start off with the wealth their parents have. It's important that people with this tendency sit down and think about what their true needs are and be willing to give up the things that are NOT necessary for survival in order to live on less than what they make. If you want to have fancy things and big toys, then you must be willing to put in lots and lots of work to get them (sometimes 20 years of work)!

It's always good to put things in perspective. When my folks came back from visiting my missionary brother, they told me that 45 Guatemalans could live in our apartment kitchen! Though they were exaggerating a bit, it was a good reminder for me that our idea of cramped might be a mansion for the majority of people in the world! When my sis-in-law was in Asia as a missionary, she said most families had 6 people in an average-size bed!

If you truly make so little that you can't keep from going over-budget, I would start praying that God would open doors for a new job, or some schooling or training so that you can work your way up to a higher-paying job. I have a friend in this situation and she manages by renting her home to other single women so the housing costs are shared, as well as by suplementing her income with odd jobs like pet-sitting and babysitting. She is also considering getting futher training to become a CNA so she can get paid more.

If you are tempted to be jealous of others who have more than you or you struggle with spending with an attitude of entitlement, here are some ideas for combatting that:

1. Train yourself to be thankful. Thank God for each little thing you have. Post notes around the house reminding you to praise God for His provisions instead of wishing you had more.

2. Serve others. Take the time to give, practice hospitality, and volunteer in places where there is true need and suffering. Serving those who are discouraged or less fortunate reminds us of how very, very blessed we are.

3. Stop watching TV (commercials) or reading secular magazines. I have a friend who made a choice not to read women's mags because of the discontent they bred in her for wanting to go on fancy vacations or have nicer home furnishings.

4. Cut up credit cards, stop using your debit card (if you spend more than you should) and go with cash only for a while. When you're out, you're out!

5. Learn skills that will help you live on less. Learn to garden, learn to coupon, learn to cook from scratch, learn to sew, or learn to do a home business skill that brings in extra money. Reading every day is a great place to start!

6. Watch your friendships carefully and don't allow your friends to influence you to be more materialistic. Over the years, certain friends I have had have influenced me to be more materialistic or to eat out more than I should have. I was wanting to "keep up" with their standard of living instead of influencing them to be more frugal. Once I got my priorities straight and back to living for God and not for man, I no longer cared what they had that I didn't have, but instead I wanted to be a light pointing them to the Lord and helping them to learn to save money and be content with less. Ironically, if you are honest with a friend and say you can't afford to go out every week or you can't afford what they can afford for their kids, the odds are that they will open up and share their financial struggles too and often they have admitted that they can't afford much either!

What is your biggest obstacle to living within your means?

Thanks to those of you who shared your stories in the Living Debt Free--Part 1 post. I was blessed by them!

1 comment:

Suzanne said...

I think my biggest obstacle is allowing others to influence me. I have a hard time "turning off" others' opinions on what I should or shouldn't be doing. I'm working on that! I need to focus more on God's opinion and less on the world's.
I agree 100% on the TV and magazine viewing. I've found that not reading magazines or watching TV has made me feel so much better about myself. I didn't realize what a bad influence the secular media was until I was away from it. (DH used to work in the media and it is so corrupt. There is definitely an agenda!)
I also agree about the friendships. I've had to reevaluate and actually end some friendships that were too negative and did not have a good impact on me, spiritually or financially.

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