Few people have an unlimited amount of money, but for most of us, there are times when it’s hard to cover what’s going out with what’s coming in. Sometimes it’s our own fault, such as when we decide to buy something we really can’t afford; other times, an unexpected illness or major repair throws us off for a while. No matter what the cause, when you find yourself in a situation in which funds are especially tight, there are some things you need to do.
First, you need a budget. That doesn’t mean you have to have a complicated document or spreadsheet, but you can’t take control of your income and expenses if you don’t have a clear picture of where you’re at. List all your sources of income and the amounts you receive from each, and then make a list of everything you spend in a month. That includes even the small items, like your daily stop at the fast-food place for a 99-cent Diet Coke. If you need help, Dave Ramsey has a great summary and some helpful free tools.
Next, you need to establish priorities. We can’t have everything we want, so we need to make careful choices. Necessities like food, shelter, clothing, and medicine should come first. Luxuries like going to the movies and travel should be near the bottom of the list.
One place where many families waste a tremendous amount of money is food. Most people eat out more than they should and spend more than they expect. With some planning and smart purchasing, you can make significant cuts to what you spend. For example, if you buy your lunch every day, try packing your own lunch instead. You may save $4 or $5 a day, which may not seem like a lot, but that’s around $100 a month you’ll have for other needs.
People also spend more than they should for groceries, because they choose pricey convenience items instead of turning to more affordable staples. If you’re trying to spend less, buying simple foods like beans, pasta, soup, and canned vegetables can help you cut your costs. Afraid you’ll miss your favorites? Use that as motivation to improve your financial situation so you can afford them again. And don’t be afraid to clip coupons to save even more (but compare prices carefully, because store brands may even be cheaper than coupon offers).
Cut back on luxuries like cable TV and expensive smartphone data plans. Instead, find affordable (even free) entertainment at your local library. Many libraries allow you to stream music and movies for free. Instead of taking expensive trips, spend time taking advantage of local parks. The key is that it all comes down to choices you make.
If you’re finding it hard to make those choices or discuss these issues with your spouse, talking to a professional counselor may be helpful. If you’re struggling with money and aren’t sure what to do, ask us for help. We may be able to guide you on the path to financial security.
Jeff Houvener is a businessman and financial counselor who has completed the Dave Ramsey Counselor Training and Pro Coaching programs. He and his wife lead the Financial Ministry at Connection Pointe Christian Church.