The word budget can strike terror in the heart of even the strongest man. Too many people think that a budget is a devious device invented to keep them from spending their money. If that’s what you think, how about taking a fresh look at the subject?
In fact, let’s not even use the “B” word. We’ll call it a financial plan. That’s right—financial plan. And you don’t have to be a professional planner to have one.
A budget (oops), financial plan, helps you organize and control your financial resources, establish and realize goals and decide in advance how your money will work for your benefit.
Without a financial plan, more than likely you’ll haphazardly spend what you have rather then designate where your spending should go.
Your financial goal should be to live within your means. So, you must:
- Spend no more than what you make on a monthly basis,
- Live on a cash basis, and
- Not use credit or borrowed money to provide for normal living expenses.
Controlling spending also means knowing how to discern the difference between needs, wants and desires, and keep them in the proper order in every financial transaction. Larry Burkett defined the differences this way: Needs are the basic necessities of life: food, clothing, employment, and housing.
Wants require that you make choices about the quality of goods: designer label clothing versus discount clothes; steak versus hamburger; a new car versus a used car.
Desires represent goods we may dream about having, but they are choices that aren’t essential to our survival, safety or well-being.
There's nothing wrong with dreaming and desiring nice stuff. However, if you find yourself rearranging the need, want, and desire priorities it may take your attention from what's important and could get you into debt.
Income can become static or limited in some way. Often, this happens at retirement, when we discover that not everyone is able to spend the “golden years” globe trotting.
In fact, some find it difficult to make ends meet. Thirty percent of Americans 65 and older don’t have enough money for basic living expenses, according to Time magazine. (Looks like someone may need a financial plan.)
Often, people on very restricted incomes think they need no financial plan (budget), because there’s not enough money to plan with. This is a big mistake, since those with the most limited income are the ones who are most in need of planning their finances.
If that sounds like you, I recommend that you go online to www.crown.org and take advantage of the free online tools you’ll find there to help you get your finances on track. In fact, if you’re struggling financially, or suspect that you’re in the beginning stages of a financial struggle—go online to Crown Financial Ministries Web site and get help now!
Do you have a system for paying your bills? More and more people are taking advantage of online bill payments or funds transfers. I admit to making one monthly payment online, but my wife prefers a method she learned from her mother.
When the bill comes, it’s usually accompanied by a self-addressed envelope. She writes the date for mailing in the spot on the envelope where the stamp goes, then files by the bill in a small drawer. On the date for mailing, a stamp goes on the envelope and the bill gets paid. We’ve been married more than 50 years and we have never missed a payment—even when we’ve had a very low income.
That’s so simple that it seems silly to suggest. What’s the secret? It’s not a secret at all. Just live within your means, whatever that means may be, and pay what you owe—on time.
Housing is the greatest expense most people incur, and home ownership could become a financial problem if it’s not properly maintained.
Many of us remember when, a few years ago, home maintenance wasn’t such a big deal. Ladders were easily climbed and trifocals didn’t interfere with our painting or light-bulb-in-ceiling-fixture changing skills.
Time sure flies but the house still requires proper maintenance, and you may need more help getting things done today than you did a few years ago.
Look over this brief cold weather checklist to determine if something around your house requires attention. If you need help with some of the items, be wise. Ask someone younger to help you, or hire a professional. In the long run, it’s cheaper than emergency room costs.
- Check smoke detector operation and change the batteries. Older houses usually have few or no smoke detectors. Battery-powered smoke detectors are cheap and easy to install. Have one in every bedroom and others centrally located on every level of the home.
- Install a carbon monoxide detector if you use propane or natural gas for anything in the home. These inexpensive, easy-to-install devices can save your life.
- Change furnace filters. Consider one with a higher efficiency rating than the standard inexpensive filters. Check the furnace owner's manual for annual instructions for belts, pulleys and other components.
- Clean and inspect the fireplace before building your first fire of the season. Clean the fireplace chimney or wood stove flue or hire an experienced chimney sweep. Ashes that are removed from the firebox must be placed in a fireproof container with a tight lid.
- Check weather-stripping. Gaps around doors and windows waste expensive heated air and create drafts. Check the condition of caulking around exterior door and window frames.
- Check and clean gutters. You’ll need the ladder for this one. Inspect for loose joints and use a gutter sealant to correct leaking connections. If the ladder bothers you, consider the service of a professional gutter company, it’s money well spent.
- Adjust exterior foundation. Be sure everything slopes away from your foundation to avoid costly problems with ground water. Adjust soil as necessary for good drainage.
- Turn off outdoor water systems. In colder areas be sure to shut off outdoor faucets and install freeze-proof faucet covers. Sprinkler and irrigation systems also need to be serviced properly before freezing temperatures set in.
- Examine roof, deck and porch. Inspect roof flashing, eaves, and soffits. Check decks, stairs and railings for loose parts or deterioration. If water has turned the deck dark gray, consider getting a professional to treat the deck.
- Cut back trees and bushes. Trim all vegetation that touches a structure. Limbs and leaves can cut into your home's paint and require repainting. A little trimming now can save a lot of money and time later.
None of this is nuclear physics, but a financial plan should include these maintenance items. Organize your resources with a budget, pay bills on time, live within your means and take care of what you already have. It’s called being a good steward.