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Ask Chuck: Frugal February can change your life

Ask Chuck your money question

Dear Chuck,

Last year was the first time I had ever heard of Frugal February. Our family of four plans to try it, and we welcome some of your ideas to make it work.

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Family Needs to Save More

Getty Images/designer491
Getty Images/designer491

Dear Family Needs to Save More,

Frugal February is a term that people have adopted as the month to focus on saving money. My guess is it was born out of what many experience as a Holiday Hangover too much spending on the three major events in November, December, and January. Whether desiring to pay off debt, build savings, or work toward a specific goal, February is the chosen month for the challenge.

I have had to learn to be frugal. My wife, Ann, has it in her DNA, but I am the opposite. I always spent more than we had, so progress was a challenge for years. The two of us have collaborated here to share some of our best tips since she is our in-house expert on frugality. We will start with her tip: make frugality fun! Yes, she sees this as fun, which is a very helpful way to get your family excited about it. Let’s get into some of our helpful tips.

Frugal families work together

Small adjustments in spending can add-up to make a big impact. Practiced over time, a frugal mentality helps financially strapped individuals and families make great progress. The challenge can actually be fun, so recruit friends or family to join you. Set some goals and rewards for the children to get excited about.

If you don’t already have one, establish a budget. Try Crown’s Quick Start Guide or NerdWallet’s list of free templates. Track your spending and aim to reduce variable costs as much as possible. Cut out all unnecessary spending. Do you really need every one of those streaming services, subscriptions, or apps? If you are paying $12.99 per month for one, that is $156 every year. Five services cost $779 per year. 10 services add up to $1559 annually! That money could go a long way toward paying down debt or funding an emergency account. In addition, try the following:

  • Cash in your credit card rewards.
  • Use your gift cards for necessary purchases or gifts.
  • Negotiate a cheaper cell phone package as well as home and car insurance.
  • Roll and deposit spare change. Then pay bills, fund an emergency account, or buy necessities.
  • See how long you can go without spending money — try a “spending fast.”
  • Avoid online and physical shopping sites to prevent impulse purchases.
  • If you must go to the store, analyze items by asking, “Is this a need or a want?”
  • Clean out closets and drawers. See how much you already have and what you forgot you had! Use it, sell it, or donate it!

Manage your food costs

Cut way back on food expenses by planning to eat at home. Weekly meal prep will save you the cost of eating out. Cook from scratch. Don’t know how? Invite an older friend or family member to teach you. Make your own coffee, carry lunch to work, and prepare snacks to avoid buying fast food. Eat out of the pantry and freezer. This is a great way to clean and save money! Prepare extra to freeze, to take for lunch, or to enjoy later.

Get creative. Google “frugal meals.” Have fun! Eat breakfast for dinner and give thanks. How about hosting a Frugal Potluck? Think about poor nations whose people are glad to have anything to eat! Do not complain. Instead, look forward to the extra money you will save during the month. When March comes around, you may have developed new habits that will enable you to continue saving.

Consider lifestyle changes

Perhaps this is the month you need to pray about and pursue major lifestyle changes to relieve financial stress and reach important goals. It is easy to get caught up in worldly things, but they will never truly satisfy. Ask the Lord to give you discernment and unity with your spouse in decision-making.

In addition to cutting spending, use the month to get your financial house in order:

  • Review or set short and long-term goals.
  • Set up bill pay to eliminate late fees and penalties.
  • Automate savings.
  • Prepare a Will and estate plans.
  • Analyze investment fees.
  • Gather paperwork to prepare taxes.
  • If receiving a tax refund, consider adjusting your withholding.
  • Try to participate in company perks like FSA, 401K, 403B, etc., if budget allows.
  • Plan now for home and auto maintenance and repairs and any other major expenses.
  • If marriage, a baby, or buying a car or house is in your future, make a financial plan.
  • Take steps to prepare for a debt-free vacation to celebrate your progress.

Cut the cost of entertainment by finding free (or low-cost) museums, parks, and cultural events. Invite friends over. With the money saved in less than 30 days, you can reduce your credit card debt, fund an emergency account, or save for a major goal.

Take the Frugal February challenge one day at a time and see how much a little self-discipline can work for you! Contentment is key. Don’t get discouraged because of a setback. You can be frugal in March, April, May, etc.! Seek to become a better steward of what you’ve been entrusted with, and post your frugal tips below!

“For I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.   I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11b–13 ESV)

Set and achieve your goals with the help of a personal business coach. Crown’s online Budget Coaching program matches you with a certified coach who will work with you to develop a customized plan to put you on the road to financial freedom.

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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