Q My husband and I have been struggling with our finances for years now and we want to turn things around. We would like to get a handle on our debt and become financially stable — this is our “New Year's Resolution.” Do you have any concrete advice to get us started?
A Your resolution is a good one — and one that many families should make for the New Year. I would encourage you to set the following goals:
Put God first when it comes to your money — as well as other areas of your life. If you have not already done so, I encourage you to implement a daily spiritual plan of reading, meditation and prayer, and to focus on achieving a healthy attitude toward material things. In addition, by looking at your spending habits in light of the Gospel, you'll more effectively separate “needs” from “wants,” helping to overcome that habitual overspending.
Begin tithing and almsgiving. By giving back to God from your first fruits, you'll foster a closer relationship with God and experience the joy of assisting in building Christ's Kingdom here on earth.
Manage your checkbook. Keep it current and reconcile to your bank statement each month. Watch those cash advances from ATM's. Work to minimize these, but when necessary, at least make sure they get properly recorded.
Set a budget and track your expenses. If you need help with this, obtain a copy of our workbook, Catholic Answers’ Guide to Family Finances.
Create a debt repayment strategy that works with your budget. Debt can be a major obstacle in stabilizing one's finances. The emotional bondage that debt causes is a burden for millions of families (See Proverbs 22:7). By eliminating your consumer debt, you'll go a long way toward achieving financial “peace.” Here are some keys to becoming debt-free.
Commit to no further debt. If you can't pay off current purchases on your credit card cut them up.
Use a software program like Excel or Quicken to help calculate a debt repayment schedule.
Review your budget for spending habits that can be changed to allow for a more rapid debt repayment.
Be accountable to someone. Preferably, this can be your spouse, but if you don't have the discipline as a couple to stick with the plan on your own, bring in a friend, family member or pastor to help you stay on track.
Set up a visual system to show your progress, such as a chart on the refrigerator that shows your declining debt balances. Depending on the circumstances, it's not uncommon for a debt repayment plan to take from one to five years, so a visual aid, which tracks your progress, can help you persevere.
By implementing a solid financial plan right now, and sticking with it throughout the year, you'll find yourself well on your way to financial peace.
God love you!
Phil Lenahan is Vice President of Catholic Answers.