Breaking the ‘Spending Habit’

By Harvey Nowland
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Unwise spending may provide some immediate satisfaction, but that seldom lasts very long, and it certainly never helps you achieve financial goals.

Buyer’s remorse is a strange condition known to set in this time of the year. Many people overspend during the Christmas season, even though they determined last year that it would never happen for a second time. Then, here they are again this year — regretting their newly acquired debt.

Larry Burkett used to say that “spending is a habit.” That being true, then we should add that the way we handle that spending habit can either financially make or break us.

Spending needs to be managed in such a way that you buy only those things you actually need now and save for future needs. Unwise spending may provide some immediate satisfaction, but that seldom lasts very long, and it certainly never helps you achieve financial goals.

You must consciously substitute desirable spending behavior for the out-of-control spending habits that may have gotten you into debt. Now, these desirable spending habits may not prove to be immediately gratifying, but they will allow you to reach your financial goals.

Here are some ideas to help change spending habits.

Establish self-discipline

Put all spending under God’s control and recognize that you are the manager (steward) of God’s resources.

Make all spending decisions based on real need and whether God would be pleased with the purchase. You may truly need a car. But, would God approve of your new gas-guzzling Humbugmobile with all of the bells and whistles, when a good used sedan would do just as well?

Avoid spending pitfalls when shopping by having a purpose, a time-limit and a list you’ve made before shopping; then stick to it. Limit the number of trips to the store or mall and never shop when hungry or depressed.

Under God’s direction, control your money instead of allowing money to control you.

Then, once spending has been brought under control, you can determine how much needs to be spent each month in every area of an implemented budget — a spending plan.

Some say budget — some say spending plan

Call it what you will, a budget is a spending plan that helps you organize and control financial resources, set and realize goals and decide in advance how money will work for the good of your family.

The basic idea behind budgeting is to save money up front for both known and unknown expenses, and that means there must be a commitment to stick to the plan.

Every purchase should be considered in light of an established budget. That means buying non-budgeted items on impulse must be avoided, especially when you have to purchase it with a credit card.

Be cautious about your spending habits — develop a look-now-maybe-I’ll-buy-later attitude.

Shop around before buying and learn to say “No”. Keep a record of spending and purchases.

If you feel the need to buy something that’s not budgeted, put it on a want-to-buy list. Then find two additional prices for the same item, to be sure it’s a good buy. After a week’s wait and checking prices, you may change your mind —or at least you should get the best buy on the item — but, do not charge it.

Begin your spending plan

Remember, in order to have a budget/spending plan that works, you must have the attitude that God owns it all and you’re only the manager of what He has entrusted to you. Without that belief, chances are that not much will change.

Your spending plan must be flexible. Do not make plans that are totally dependent on financial increases. Be patient, because sometimes God’s will is accomplished by a loss rather than by a gain.

Your spending plan needs to be written, because a written plan:

  • Provides a visible and objective standard to work toward, and
  • Helps you measure progress better and keep the plan on track.

A family budget shows you:

  • Where the family is financially,
  • How much the family is currently spending, and
  • How much the family can spend according to current income.

It’s important to understand that very few, if any, families with financial difficulties have a written budget plan. Perhaps that’s what God’s Word is all about when it says:

“The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

After all, how can God direct our steps if we haven’t planned?

Develop realistic goals

The primary ingredients necessary to develop a spending plan are goals, and these are generally divided into short-range goals and long-range goals.

Short-range plans are basically day-to-day occurrences. Included in this day-to-day schedule should be some sort of plan for paying bills.

Long-range plans help you visualize your long-range financial objectives. Not every Christian will be wealthy, but everyone has a responsibility to plan well, to have sound objectives and to operate according to God’s principles.

Who needs a spending plan?

Getting started on a budget/spending plan isn’t always easy, but it is essential. Some families have the false idea that they don’t make enough money to live on a budget, but they need a spending plan even more than others. Because when a family has to live on a low income, they must develop a budget that is as non-indulgent as possible, control their spending very carefully and live within the established budget guidelines.

At times it might become very frustrating, wondering how to develop a budget when there doesn’t seem to be enough money to make ends meet. But that’s exactly what makes a budget even more important for families with low incomes.

Whatever your income level might be, a well-developed spending plan should help you determine:

  • What kind of home you can afford,
  • The kind of car you can drive,
  • How much insurance you should have, even
  • What kind of clothes you buy.

At first, it can be hard to make a budget work. Often, people with low incomes have to play catch-up, because they don’t have the funds to set aside for the various budget categories. Even though it might take as much as a year for a family to get on solid ground with a budget, disciplined use of your money will eventually pay off. Best of all, as you chip away at it, bit by bit, God will honor your obedience.

Tools that can help

Perhaps you would like more information about goal setting and planning, and feel that you need some help and encouragement in getting started. Here’s a suggestion — go to the Internet site of Crown Financial Ministries at www.crown.org and you’ll find free online tools to help you develop your spending plan.

There you’ll find calculators for:

  • Budgeting,
  • Accelerated debt pay-off,
  • Mortgages
  • Fifteen vs. 30- year loan comparisons
  • and many more free helps.

While online at www.crown.org, visit the Budgeting Coaching section. If you have a brief budgeting question, you can chat online privately for 20 minutes with one of Crown’s Money Map Coaches at no charge.

If you live in the United States and would like to have someone help you with an in-depth evaluation of your financial situation — income, spending, debt, saving, giving and so on — you can meet in person with a Money Map Coach in your area, again at no charge.

Copyright 2008 by Harvey Nowland. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Harvey Nowland

Harvey Nowland is a happily married grandfather living in Gainesville, Ga. He is a freelance writer and a former senior writer at Crown Financial Ministries.

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