My husband Michael, of 35 years, and I were riding home in our 15-year-old car when I asked him, "Hey, I need to write a blog; so what do you think are the five biggest budget busters? Without a pause, he listed them and why. I just took notes, and here they are!
NUMBER ONE--EATING OUT
No matter how you look at it, whether on vacation or simply at home,
eating out—any meal—cuts more heavily into one's finances than any other activity or item. The concept is rather simple, really. You have worked hard all day; you are tired, and you deserve a treat. WRONG. You deserve to keep yourself on your budget if you want to get ahead financially. Remember, “What you don’t spend here, you can give or save over there.”
Perhaps the strongest case for dining in that I know is Ben and Donna.* (Names changed to keep the sharers anonymous.) Ben had come to my daughter’s soccer game since he and Donna are wonderfully supportive. As we watched the game, he was lamenting that he didn’t feel he could ever retire because he and Donna just hadn’t saved what they need to. He is self-employed and excellent in his career; however, when I asked him why he shared that he could never retire, Ben stated it was because he and Donna eat out several times a week. He also added that when he and his wife have friends over, they all go out for dinner. All I could visualize was RED, in Ben's budget.
Here is a wonderful Godly man who has a wonderful Godly wife and wonders what his financial future will bring because of a consuming habit. What advice would you give?
Well, I told Ben how much Michael and I had enjoyed the two dinners we'd eaten at his house with Donna. Two meals of soup, salad, and bread. I thought both soup dishes were elegant. When you have friends over, they (or at least I) rarely remember what we eat; instead, we remember the fun, the laughter, and the shared stories. So with friends, set a nice table with some candles and serve whatever you have—something that won’t set you back financially. After all, as long as your guests don’t come down with food poisoning, they will remember the fun, not the food!
And what to do about having meals at home instead of eating out? Several ideas came to mind.
If you are watching your waistline, eating out is NOT a good option because, at least in America, dinners are generally larger portions than one person needs.
Have a few quick backup dinners in your pantry or freezer that are fast and easy. My favorites are canned pasta sauce, and dried noodles, canned soup, boxed macaroni and cheese with a can of tuna added, scrambled eggs for dinner, or a frozen pizza (or better yet, one you make using a bread machine). (Our bread machine cost $12 from the thrift store.) Come up with five of your quick favorites, and make sure you have them on hand. And for lunches that you want to eat out, get into the habit of “brown bagging it” or packing your own noon meal the night before. Big savings come from making lunches and dinners at home.
Have your child or children make dinners for you instead. Even if all they can prepare is peanut butter and jelly sandwich, make it into a fancy meal by adding placemats and candles—what a great way to get your kids involved in the family budget.
And if you must eat out, then order one meal for two people and ask for an empty plate. As senior citizens, Michael and I are keenly aware of how little food it takes to add pounds, and oddly enough, when we split a meal, we both feel full. If you need more food, then order an extra salad.
As I have written in other blogs, when you want to have a date with your significant other, then dine in! Use a previously prepared dish (of which you froze half), set the table, and stay home. Why put financial stress on your marriage or dating life when you don’t need to. Friends of ours with twelve children, The Breeden’s, used the practice of “home-style dating” by going into their bedroom for a meal and date while one of their older children got the younger ones to bed. Sharon Breeden even bought a small white wrought iron table and two chairs at a yard sale and kept them permanently in their bedroom. That furniture was a reminder that home-style dating never goes out of style!
NUMBER TWO—BUYING STUFF ON SALE
No matter what country or continent you are in, four-letter words seem to get the best of us all. But by now, you know that my favorite four-letter “F” word is “FREE.” But a second serious contender is “SALE.”
For the past fifteen years in Poulsbo, WA, a furniture store has always posted “Going out of Business SALE.” How one can go out of business for fifteen years is beyond me, but that “S” word was part of the front signage. Finally, they did go out of business, but I often wondered how many folks were suckered into purchasing because of the “SALE.”
And too often, buying items on sale equals buying “stuff” you don’t need. Even if it is on sale, you are still spending money, hard-earned money; it takes a lot of willpower, but stay out of stores, and you will stay away from sales.
NUMBER THREE—GETTING A NEW CAR EVERY THREE YEARS
Here in America, cars are a status symbol. And many people purchase or lease one every three years.
Whether we will admit it or not, most people turn their heads towards an expensive car and move their noggins away from a clunker. I personally notice BMW’s and fancy sports cars, but such cars come with more than just a high sticker price. They require costlier insurance, worry that someone will scratch or dent them just for spite, and a more expensive mechanical upkeep. Older used cars are just that—older and previously owned (dented and scratched). So what can be done if you are locked into getting a new car? Learn to live without, and here is why.
We recently purchased a small used car with cash to celebrate our 35 years. It will replace our other car, which is 15 years old, and our truck is 23 years old: total car years, 38. In my personal study of frugal millionaires, most have purchased used and have driven those vehicles to over 200,000 miles. Likewise, in their book The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley and William Danko, the authors state that many millionaires are used car shoppers. This type of millionaire says Stanley and Danko, “Inoculate themselves from heavy spending by constantly reminding themselves that many people who have high-status artifacts, such as expensive clothing, jewelry, cars, and pools, have little wealth.” And the authors have noted that for the average millionaire next door, “Success in accumulating wealth is based on living well below his/her means.” So a new or leased car every three years? If you want to build wealth from whatever income you are making, definitely not.
NUMBER FOUR—GIVING IN TO YOUR ADDICTIONS
Now before you visualize some poor soul living on the street, reformulate in your mind, if you will, as to what is meant by “addictions.” Addictions are too much of anything, and that can range from eating or drinking too much, to having too many activities, to too many things, or gambling too much. The bottom line is “too much.” The Bible is clear on this subject.
Proverbs 23:19-21 (NRSVCE)
"Hear, my child, and be wise, and direct your mind in the way. Do not be among winebibbers or gluttonous eaters of meat; For the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and drowsiness will clothe them with rags."
Similarly, Sirach 37:31 (RSVCE) warns of what will happen if you can’t or can control your addictions. It states, "Many have died of gluttony, but the one who guards against it prolongs his life."
We must determine what our “too much” is with prayerful consideration. Then with God’s help, we can regain balance.
NUMBER FIVE—REFUSING TO TITHE
"Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How are we robbing thee?’ In your tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house; and thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing." Malachi 3:8-10 (RSVCE)
Want to keep your budget and finances in the black? Then skim off that top 10% and live on the other 90%. Just think: God gives you the whole 90% and only asks for 10%, but if you refuse, then the enemy eats up the 10% and digs heartily into your other 90%. Your choice, but it is one with a promise. Who would not want the windows of heaven opened on them with an overflowing blessing?
As do millions of other Catholics from all financial walks of life, Michael and I know that you can never out-give God. The more you give to Him and trust in His providence, the more amazing your life will become. The Frugal Catholic says it this way. "Give to God His 10 percent due, and 90 percent blessed will He return to you."
So rethink these five budget busters and their significance in your life, then figure out your own best methods of busting back.
Martha Wild King, M. Ed., Author
The Frugal Catholic: Learn to live on less to give and save more.