We live in a spender’s world. There are a few folks promoting the idea of saving in articles, but I rarely, if ever, see that idea of saving money in any advertisement on major network, online, or in a magazine. It just isn’t advertised or promoted. And that’s a shame, because in America we need a shift from our spending culture to one that at least accepts the idea of saving as something good.
That would be quite a change if it happened. As of February, 2019, the average credit card debt per household was at $5,700. If you remove those households which pay off all charges every month and never carry a balance, the average debt rises to $9,333.
Credit card debt has grown astronomically. In 1983, credit card debt was “only” $120,000,000. Now revolving debt, largely credit card debt, is over $1 trillion, nearing ten times as much debt as 40 years earlier. About 41.2% of American households carry a balance forward on their credit cards. Sadly, but predictably, the highest debt households are those with a zero or a negative net worth. Revolving debt is the most damaging and harmful debt because interest rates are the highest and committed spenders get hooked on spending.
At the same time, personal savings are low. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, personal savings rates were between 5 and 7%. However, those high rates decreased to a 1 to 3% range after the year 2000. There was a brief peak of saving during the recession from 2008 to 2010, but as the economy started recovering, spending began to soar again. As of March 2018, the savings rate in the United States is 3.1% according to Investopedia.
We need a change in the American spending culture that has developed. Why? There are many reasons ranging from financial freedom, wise planning for retirement, wise preparation for emergencies and hard times, peace of mind, along with just being better stewards of the wealth and resources God has entrusted to us.
Many people will recommend saving 10% of your disposable income. That is simply too low. See Save More, 10% Isn’t Enough.
The inevitable challenging question is, “How can I save even 10% much less more than that?” The equally inevitable answer is “by spending less, a lot of discipline, and a little sacrifice.” Here are a few more ideas with more detail than just those few words.
The only way you will ever reliably save over the long run is if you are fully committed and engaged in saving; get out of the habit of spending and get into the habit of saving.
Before you make a purchase, always ask yourself five questions:
- Does this fit within my monthly budget?
- Do I really need this?
- Do I have room for it?
- Will I really use this?
- Are there long-term upkeep, maintenance, parts or repair expenses or costs associated with this and can I afford those expenses?
Before you make the purchase, walk away. Wait a minimum of 10 minutes and then address the five questions. If all (yes, I said all) of the answers to the five questions are favorable, (four “yes” and one “no” is a “no”), only then should you consider making the purchase.
Write the questions down and put them in your wallet, taped to your credit card, or save them in your phone and always open them before making a purchase. But what about buying a soft drink? Yes, even that. There is even a long-term cost associated with soft drinks and food – exercise (and those things aren’t free). Those many little expenses add up quickly into budget breakers.
Another tip for you is this, set a weekly or monthly savings goal.
A final tip for creating this saving habit, leave your credit card at home and pay cash. This is far more important than you may think. Forbes Magazines says that multiple studies have shown that people spend more, a lot more, when they have the “convenience” of a credit or debit card or a pay app on their phone. Psychology Today agrees. That convenience has a cost, convenience results in spending a lot more, twice as much or an even greater amount that that based upon studies.
Saving needs to be as automatic and invisible as you can make it. In the past people had government savings bonds purchased directly out of their income before they got their check. But government savings bonds are no longer a typical investment (nor should they be). However, the idea of having the money seamlessly go to an investment or savings account and never make it to your bank checking account is a great idea.
Some articles suggest that all savings and investments should be done by hand because automatic transfers do not develop a habit. That is a reasonable concept, but I believe the greater concern is the temptation of having money visibly in your account.
When a paycheck is cashed, it is just too easy to keep $10 or $20 or even more as “spending money.” The funny thing about “spending money” is that it never gets saved and is always spent.
If a sum goes directly from your employer to a savings account (perhaps your emergency fund) or into your 401(k) or some other saving fund, it is much harder to spend. If you are doing well and get a raise, put the entire raise into savings too.
Budget and cash flow tracking
You can best follow what you spend if you keep a cash flow record that tracks every expense. See Where Does Your Money Go? to see how to get started with a cash flow analysis and budget.
This will be work and it will take time. Just know that the result will be worth it and after a few months you can relax and be less stringent because you will have developed better spending and saving habits and practices. You will also be able to see the savings add up!
After you have an emergency savings account, your savings need to go in a different direction. No one ever became wealthy on the savings rates paid by banks (except the banks themselves). To make progress against the inevitable power of the rate of inflation which is compounded annually to your detriment, you need to invest, and the best opportunity to stay ahead of inflation is the stock market. Isn’t that risky? Of course, there is risk. But read Aren’t Stocks a Risky Investment? so you can see that there is a certainty of loss if you do not invest at all.
Cutting expenses and costs needs to become equally automatic. The idea is not to be Draconian about it and not to put yourself in total self-denial. Your goal is not to deprive yourself of enjoyment of life, but keep this one fact in mind: overspending today does deprive you of enjoyment of life and spending ability in the future. Every dollar not saved today is two dollars you won’t have in the future, when you may need it much more.
For ideas on cutting expenses, see Ideas for Living Better Through Stewardship, 7 Steps for Financial Progress, It’s Time to Start Saving, Planning Your Financial Future and …, and Save More, 10% Isn’t Enough. There is no area of your spending that can’t be reduced; be creative and persistent.
If you have debt that can be consolidated with a lower net cost to you, seriously consider consolidation. First see Debt Consolidation, Maybe and Maybe Not. Your goal is to be debt free, out of the bondage of being a borrower.
Once you are out of debt and any loan payments stop, put the former loan payment money into your investments. Don’t just increase your spending, instead, increase your investment in your future.
Year, every household should do a financial check-up. Life happens and we begin to slip into spending patterns and habits that waste small amounts of money very easily.
How can I keep this up?
There are two points to make to answer the question, “how can I keep this up?” The first is that like any discipline, it gets easier as you develop good spending and saving habits. If you are consistent and regular with your budget and saving, you will find the pressure of the spending mindset decreases. You become more adept at spotting the subtle pressures encouraging frivolous spending and you also begin to see results as your savings and investments increase.
The second point is even more important. Your disciplined financial management is more God-honoring than the spending mind-set. For a good lesson on this point, read God and Money by Greg Baumer and John Cortines. Greg was a spender and John was a saver. Together they learned stewardship and Godly handling of money. Which rises the final issue.
What are you saving for? If you save for 20 or 30 years and accumulate a large portfolio, so what? Being out of debt is important, but only for a short time when eternity is considered. Our lives were never meant to be just about ourselves, our comfort, and our satisfaction. We were created with a purpose, Ephesians 2:10, and that purpose is not to serve ourselves. Don’t ever forget God who made your ability to earn money and build savings possible, Deuteronomy 8:18. Don’t leave Him out of your financial plans or your life. We are called to be servants of our Creator and to be generous with the money and gifts He has given us. 2 Corinthians 9:11-13.
If you would like to earn more about your purpose and how your financial blessings (and even your financial struggles) can fit into God’s plan, give us a call at The Idlewild Foundation at (813) 264-8713.
About the Author
John Campbell has retired from a 40-year legal practice as a trial attorney in Tampa. He has served in multiple volunteer roles at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida, where he met Jesus. He began serving as the Executive Director of the Idlewild Foundation in 2016. He has been married to the love of his life, Mona Puckett Campbell, since 1972.