Leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have counseled church members for decades to live within their means, to manage their money wisely and to stay out of debt. Carl Sandburg said, “Money is power, freedom, a cushion, the root of all evil, the sum of blessings.” So why are these influential men so concerned with money? People always talk about how you need to manage your money, but why is money management so important to our lives? How can we better manage our money?
Elder Marvin J. Ashton wrote in One for the Money: Guide to Family Finance, “How important are money management and finances in marriage and family affairs? Tremendously. The American Bar Association recently indicated that 89 percent of all divorces could be traced to quarrels and accusations over money. Others have estimated that 75 percent of all divorces result from clashes over finances. Some professional counselors indicated that four out of five families are strapped with serious money problems.”
With such a high percentage of marriages ending in divorce as a result of money arguments and accusations, we need to do everything in our power to develop and implement wise money management skills in our lives. This is something that anyone is capable of doing.
There are many ways we can learn to better manage our money. First, I would like to share with you 7 steps to take control of your money. These are what Dave Ramsey calls “The 7 Baby Steps”
- $1,000 to Start an Emergency Fund
- An emergency fund is for those unexpected events in life you can’t plan for. Whether there’s a plumbing issue and everything but the kitchen sink is draining, or your brakes are squealing at every stop sign, you can be ready!
- Pay Off All Debt but the House
- List all debts but the house in order. The smallest balance should be your number one priority. Don’t worry about interest rates unless two debts have similar payoffs. If that’s the case, then list the higher interest rate debt first.
- 3 to 6 Months of Expenses in Savings
- This step is all about building a full emergency fund. It’s time to kick debt for good, with 3–6 months’ worth of emergency savings. Sit down and calculate how much you need to live on for 3–6 months (for most, that’s between $10,000 and $15,000), and start saving to protect yourself against life’s bigger surprises. You’ll never be in debt again—no matter what comes your way.
- Invest 15% of Household Income Into Retirement
- Now it’s time to get serious about retirement. With no payments and a full emergency fund, put 15% toward the retirement of your dreams. Between your 401(k), Roth IRA, and Traditional IRA, you have a lot of options. Find the fit that is right for you. The money you were using to attack debt can now help build your future.
- College Funding for Children
- By Step 5, you’ve paid off all debts but the house, and you’ve started your retirement savings. Now it’s time to save for your kids’ college expenses. College tuitions and housing expenses continue to rise. Don’t let college sneak up on you. Saving now will put you ahead of the game when your kids graduate from high school.
- Pay Off Home Early
- There’s only one more debt standing in the way of freedom from all debt—paying off the mortgage. Baby Step 6 is the big one! Can you imagine life with no house payment?
- Build Wealth and Give
- This is the last step and, by far, the most fun. It’s time to live and give like no one else! Build wealth, become insanely generous, and leave an inheritance for future generations. You know what people with no debt and no payments can do? Anything they want! And it’s all because you had discipline for a few years. Now that’s leaving a legacy.
I really like these steps because managing your money can be a terrifying task, but when we break it down into smaller goals, or steps, it becomes much more attainable.
I am the kind of person who really likes being prepared. I was home for Christmas one year and I decided to have my dad teach me to drive a stick shift car. It was terrifying and amazing all at the same time! Now, as fun as it is (there’s just something about having that control of the car…), the real reason I wanted to learn was so I could be prepared. I had dated a guy the semester before that in college who drove a stick shift car. One day near the end of that relationship, it hit me that if something were to happen, maybe for example, we were out hiking and he sprained his ankle, or anything where it’s not an emergency, but he wouldn’t be able to drive home, I would have been unable and we would be stuck. The thought of being stuck in that situation with no way to get out terrified me.
This is why I love these 7 Baby Steps. The first and most important step is to set up an emergency fund so that you are prepared for minor road bumps. Because you are prepared, you can get yourself out of those situations. In my scenario, if I wasn’t prepared and that guy wasn’t able to drive home, I would have had to call someone to come pick us up. That would be money wasted on gas, and a lot of time wasted waiting for someone to come. If we aren’t prepared for financial road bumps, it will cost us even more money. You end up having to ask for help, take out a loan, or accumulate large credit card debts and you end up spending far more money than necessary with interest. In contrast, when we are prepared with an emergency fund, those minor road bumps don’t have to be devastating. Because I am prepared with my knowledge of driving stick, rather than having to go to others for help if I was stuck somewhere and needed to drive, I would be able to get out of that situation. Being prepared financially will save you a LOT of stress and unnecessary problems in the end.
Money doesn’t need to be something that holds us back. Money can empower us, but in order for that to happen, we need to be in charge of our money.
Now that we have our goals, The Baby Steps, how do we get there?
This brings me to what Dave Ramsey calls, “The dreaded ‘B’ word. Budget.” He goes on to say, “The other word that starts with ‘B’ that might generate a worse reaction in most people is the word bankruptcy.” The majority of households in the US don’t have a budget. A Deseret News article says, “For many Americans, however, budgeting is not a strong point. A new poll by Gallup says nearly one in three Americans (32 percent) prepare a “detailed written or computerized household budget” every month. The flip side means that more than two-thirds do not make a budget.”
There are many reasons people don’t budget. Some people fear what they’ll find, some feel like they’ll be tied down with a budget, some just don’t think they have the time. In reality, a budget is simply a plan that helps you spend your money with intention. Doing this will liberate you and give you more freedom. You create your own budget, if you’re married this needs to happen with your spouse, and then you live the budget. The point is to know where your money is going so that you can make adjustments where needed.
If you are married, having a budget can save a lot of guilt and even prevent arguments related to finances. If you both agree that she gets $100 a month to spend shopping for clothes, then guess what… she gets to spend $100 on clothes! Or if you budget $100 for them to go to sporting events, then guess what… they can spend $100 going to sporting events! Once you have agreed upon things in the budget and you know it will work with your income, you are relieved from guilt associated with overspending, and you avoid arguments because your spouse has already agreed that the money will be spent on a certain thing. The hard part is that once you decide on a budget, you have to live within it.
Your budget is something that is ever changing. The down side is that you need to sit down each and every month to modify it because every month brings different expenses. The bright side is that once you have a budget in place, minor tweaks each month won’t take much effort. To get you started, here are some of Dave Ramsey’s pointers on budgeting:
- Give it three to four months to start working. It won’t be perfect the first time you do it.
- Spend every dime on paper before the month begins.
- Over-fund your groceries category. Most people underfund that category. (This is so true! Learned this the hard way with my budget.)
- Husbands (if applicable) need to loosen up and quit using the budget as a whipping tool on their wives.
- If married, spouses need to do the budget together. The preacher said “… and you are ONE.”
When he says “spend every dime on paper before the month begins” that doesn’t mean you have $200 left over and Dave Ramsey said you had to spend it so you go and blow it on those surround sound speakers you’ve been wanting. This means that you allot every dime to something. Don’t forget to pay yourself each month (savings)!!
Money management is hard. That’s just the reality of it, but it is so worth it. Being in control of your finances will liberate you. Heber J. Grant once said, “If there is any one thing that will bring peace and contentment into the human heart, and into the family, it is to live within our means. And if there is any one thing that is grinding and discouraging and disheartening, it is to have debts and obligations that one cannot meet.”
Make the commitment today to change your life! Change is scary, but I promise, along with many others that it will be worth it.
I have really enjoyed the Mint app on my phone for budgeting. If you’re interested, check it out here: Mint: Money Manager. There are also some really neat things you can do on Excel for budgeting. Find what works best for you!
For more information on the 7 Baby Steps or other tips from Dave Ramsey, check out his website by clicking on the following link: Dave Ramsey
To read more from One for the Money: Guide to Family Finance, follow this link: One for the Money
The Deseret News article I referenced can be found here: New Gallup poll shows two-thirds of Americans do not budget
The actual study can be found here: One in Three Americans Prepare a Detailed Household Budget