How to prioritize your spending, and three questions to help
I've noticed that money is not ever the sexy thing to talk about, but based off of my latest talk on money, it seems to be a needed one. Because of this, I have decided to periodically start sharing personal tips and tricks about our approach towards money: spending, saving, investing, and the like. I am NOT a trained financial professional, but I am passionate about living a life free from the worship of money. We are designed to LIVE ABUNDANTLY (if you haven't had a chance to check out my new and improved 🙌 about me, I've updated my missions statement on why I write and what I believe in). Part of this is to race towards freedom in every area of our lives. Jesus knew what he was talkin' about when he said that one cannot serve both God and money (Matthew 6:24). Does that mean we shouldn't talk about it or invest time thinking about it? Heck no! I think strategic discipline is the way to freedom in this case. I don't care if you've just headed off to your freshman year of college, or are finally able to retire: the topic of money will always be relevant. We have to get rid of the notion that if we climb high enough and fast enough, finances will no longer be a concern.
I remember when we took a Dave Ramsey class during our first year of marriage, and the leaders asked us to participate in an exercise where we all anonymously wrote the amount of savings we each had on a piece of paper. Each number was added up for a grand total, and we were then told how much savings we had as a whole in the class. Cal and I were so proud, because we had 1/3 of all the savings combined in the 15 person class. At that time, I had no idea that we would move to one of the most expensive cities in the country for Cal to go back to school, which would require us going into debt for the first time ever. All I knew is that at 24 years old, we were coming out "on top". My naïve self thought it would always be like this because heck, Cal and I worked harder than a lot people I knew. Surely two hard working people with good jobs wouldn't ever struggle with finances?
I don’t use us as an example for any other reason than to say I get it. As a young adult, it’s hard to imagine going anywhere but up when it comes to money. But the point is this: each season brings new financial challenges and blessings. Money is always fluid, meaning we always have to be flexible in our spending habits.
There isn't a "one size fits all budget", but rather one that will fluctuate depending on the season. Obviously, there are smart spending/saving habits across the board (tithing, setting aside money for a 401k, tucking away money to save, investing (when that debt is squared away), paying out of pocket when you can, etc)- but the capacity that you are able to commit to each of these areas will shift with the changing of seasons.
Our habits won’t only determine how much money we have saved in twenty years, they are also the foundational choices that help determine the rest of our lives, and not just when it comes to money. The way we choose to spend our money lays the groundwork for generosity, hospitality, and discipline. When our fists are clenching every last penny, we are gently reminded that money can easily breed many idols.
As a twenty-something and somewhat newly minted adult, Cal and I are preparing our roots now.
And it feels like investments are pulling every which way.
Buy a house!
Why throw money down the drain on paying rent?
Now is the time before you have kids…
Try that new restaurant.
After all, sharing a meal builds relationships.
buy all organic groceries
because don’t you want to be healthy and live until you are 1,000 years old?
Get that new DSLR camera
- you should pursue your hobbies!
You should absolutely splurge on buying new furniture for your house
- it helps to make it homey, and ultimately will make your home more hospitable.
Get that new car
- it’s a steal! You need two solid cars for more reliable transportation.
Don’t know what you want to do?
Maybe you should just go back to school.
The list goes on.
And on and on and on.
The problem is that ALL of these can be good investments to make.
And since one size doesn’t fit all when comes to spending, how do you decide?
It's easy to make a financial decision for your family, and then expect everyone around you to follow suit. But, since this only leads to judgement and frustration, it's absolutely essential to remember that every person/family has different priorities when it comes to finances.
We can call each other into wise living, but ultimately we can't deem what is wise in one another's life.
Learning how to prioritize spending boils down to examining your own personal inner workings, instead of looking for an across the board solution. When we are entering into a new season of financial shifting, I always have to ask myself three questions to allow me to process and decide what to prioritize in that particular season.
1. Am I willing to sacrifice for this?
A few weeks ago, Cal and I made the decision to take an overnight trip to a little mountain town in Colorado. It was over a four hour drive, so we decided to spend the night. Since we were going to be there for two whole days, we also had food to factor into the budget. We went with the intent of doing a late anniversary celebration and it was also a priority for us to find restaurants based off the quality, not the cost. Each factor added up was going to cost us about $200. Since we are still in a season of tight spending, we had to decide if it was worth it. Of course it was IMPORTANT to us to spend time away together, but was it the best time to be spending that money? Traveling wasn't a necessity, but we did feel it was something that our marriage needed before Cal started school and our schedules flipped upside down. So, we decided to drive for uber eats to pay for the trip. We sacrificed several evenings away from each other to make it happen. We were willing to put forth the extra effort and time because it was that important. Working extra was a small price to pay to get away together.
2. Am I willing to wait for this?
How many times do we go to the store, find the *perfect* top, and immediately buy it, only to suffer buyers remorse when bringing it home? I'm the worst at this because I'm the poster child for wanting instant gratification. We tend to get caught in our heads when it comes to purchases. The stars seem to align in the moment, but after a full nights sleep, we realize it may have not been right for us. As hard as it is, I try to make myself sleep on any purchase over $30 for at least one night. If we are willing to wait until a better time to take that trip to Europe or to bring home a new puppy, that's an indicator that it's something of high priority for us to purchase. A lot of times, we buy right away without fully weighing the pros and cons, which lands us in a spending cycle that's difficult to pull ourselves out of.
3. Am I willing to give up other dreams to make this one come true?
When Cal started to voice that he wanted to transition his career, I knew it would be a huge sacrifice.
We had a lot of dreams in Indiana before we left. We were super plugged into our church and community, and were starting to talk about buying a house. We wanted a family eventually, and felt called to pursue foster care. We wanted to continue to invest in the city of Indianapolis, and build a stable home there. This is what we envisioned for our lives, and this is what we were content with.
But, for Cal to pursue his dream of becoming a pilot meant we had to give all of this up, at least temporarily. Not only would we have to move for his training, we would go to living on two salaries to one. Cal would have to go back to school, meaning we would have to take out a size-able loan for the first time in our lives. He would have to give countless hours to studying, which meant we wouldn't be able to build a social circle in a new city as fast as we might like. Not to mention, he would be starting over completely in his career. Meaning no promotions for awhile, base pay, and starter jobs. I only use this as an example because his dream to become a pilot was THAT worth it for us.
It was worth the anxiety and fear that comes from stepping into a new season, and it was worth it to put other dreams on hold. Our entire lifestyle will never be the same, and that's okay. THIS is how we knew that going back to school was something that we should invest our money in because, in the end,
it was well worth the sacrifice.
I don't use myself as an example because I'm not that great with money or spending or making wise decisions. My whole life will be spending learning how to grow in this area. I personally, however, learn the best when others share openly and honestly about how they got to where they are, and my hope is that these examples will bring life to my words.
I hate feeling guilt tripped when it comes to money. Growing up in a frugal home forced me to learn discipline when it came to spending, but also brought the baggage of not “being allowed” to spend any cash on anything I wanted. I never want to come across as preachy in this area because, frankly,
I have difficulty as well.
My personality type tends to fluctuate quite a bit when it comes to discipline and overindulging. I struggle to find a balance- one week I refuse to spend any money anywhere, and the next I justify buying unneeded items or experiences. As in any other area of life, guilt in spending just causes us to eventually throw up our hands in despair and stop trying. So, I never want to put pressure on a wound that can easily be derived in Christian conservative circles. But, I do believe in discipline, and because money is a silent matter to the outside world in most households, I also believe it's so important to think about and talk about.
So- let's have the important conversations. Let's open ourselves up to understanding our inner most being. Let's be willing to shed light on parts of our hearts that may seem better left in the dark. Money is a-moral; it's neither good nor evil. Instead, it's our hearts that make it one or the other. The digging will lead us to financial freedom, yes. But even deeper than that, I have found that this journey will open up doors and break down walls in our hearts that leads far more freedom than we dare dream.
It's worth the trip.