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Ask Chuck: Best financial moves for the New Year

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Unsplash/micheile dot com

Dear Chuck,

We want to start the New Year right when it comes to our finances. Beyond a “get out of debt” resolution, what are the best moves to get us on track?

Looking for Financial Tips

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Dear Looking for Financial Tips,

My best tip is to practice the simple but powerful act of daily discipline.

For example, years ago, I struggled to cut back on my sugar intake. I was frustrated with my physical state and knew that I could do better with a little discipline. So, on January 1st, I resolved to eliminate as much sugar as possible from my diet: no desserts, candy, or sugary beverages. Each day, I learned to say no to what I wanted (sugar) to gain what I needed for tomorrow (better health).

I renewed my resolution each morning for the entire year. This small victory brought great rewards and taught me to exercise self-control in other areas of my life. Let me repeat that daily formula:

Saying No to What I Want Today = Gaining What I Need for Tomorrow

Start Small 

If you can be disciplined in just one area of your life, you can learn to be disciplined in all areas of your life, But it must start with one. This principle directly relates to your finances. To reach financial goals, you must start with a simple discipline that you faithfully practice one day at a time. This small daily effort exercised over a long period of time will enable you to achieve more than you can imagine when it comes to your financial goals. Stated another way, “Little habits have big results.” 

Spiritual discipline

1. Be faithful to the Lord. Set goals that are compatible with Scripture. If you can be faithful in small things, God will entrust you with more. 

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” (Luke 16:10–11 NIV)

2. Don’t do it alone. Pray, and dedicate your efforts to the Lord. Ask Him to motivate you and guide your steps.

“Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” (Proverbs 16:3 ESV)

3. Ask for supernatural help. Seek to be more disciplined, and pray for daily self-control. Self-control is a fruit of abiding and trusting in the Lord. Learn to be content as you delay gratification.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”(Galatians 5:22–23 ESV)

What, why, how, celebrate

The ultimate purpose of a believer's financial goals should be to glorify God. Goals will take on greater significance if you aim higher than simply keeping yourself afloat. Put your spending plan on paper, a spreadsheet, or a banking app in order to view your finances more clearly. 

Determine what you want to achieve in 2023. The "why" of your plans will keep you motivated. Write down your "why" because intentions only become plans when written down and acted upon. Then write down how you will make progress every day. Next, plan to celebrate once you achieve each step of your goals.

Remember, faithful steps will become lifelong habits.

Financial goals to consider

Here is the step-by-step plan I recommend, in order of priority. 

1. Give first, regularly, and joyfully a portion of all of your income. Start with your church, and make it a priority to always honor God with whatever He provides. I believe 10% of your gross income is a good starting point.

2. Save money every pay period. If you do not have an emergency fund, save $1,000 first. This will help you avoid new debt when unexpected expenses arise. Then steadily work toward accumulating 3–6 months of living expenses. Determine your long-term savings goals.

Practice this habit: give first, and save second. If you do this before spending, your finances will begin to dramatically improve.

3. Reduce debt with a plan. The snowball or avalanche method will help you pay down existing debt. If you have overwhelming credit card debt, get in touch with Crown’s trusted partner, Christian Credit Counselors.  

4. Retirement goals: Once you are giving regularly, have an emergency fund, and have paid down consumer debt, you can think long-term. Determine what percentage of income you can save and invest for the future. Take advantage of your company’s 401(k), open a Roth IRA, put it into CDs, or open a money market account. You can still save without an employer-sponsored plan.  

Don’t Give Up!

Give yourself some grace to learn new disciplines and establish healthy financial habits. Imagine that you are flying a plane from point A to B. Even if you zig-zag or get off course, you don’t give up; you make course corrections and keep the plane flying!

Godliness with money requires sacrifices in order to act and grow in faithful stewardship. As you humbly depend on the Lord, you’ll experience a closeness to Him that will motivate you even more.

Keep an eternal perspective. This is not our home, and our mansions are not to be built on Earth. God promises true riches that money cannot buy and eternal rewards that we cannot fathom. Immerse yourself in Scripture, and renew your mind on Truth to overcome the temptations of this world. Focus on the Source of all strength, hope, and peace—He will be your greatest treasure in the new year.

Maybe it will encourage you to know that I am in a group of nine who have committed to another year-long fast from sugar. Disciplines are easy to lose, so I am back on the formula of saying no to what I want today in order to gain what I need for tomorrow.

Stay in touch, and let us know how we can help. We have great budget coaches if you need some extra support.

Happy New Year to you!

Chuck Bentley is CEO of Crown Financial Ministries, a global Christian ministry, founded by the late Larry Burkett. He is the host of a daily radio broadcast, My MoneyLife, featured on more than 1,000 Christian Music and Talk stations in the U.S., and author of his most recent book, Economic Evidence for God?. Be sure to follow Crown on Facebook.

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