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FIRST-PERSON: Living on a low income

GAINESVILLE, Ga. (BP)–People with low incomes — or interrupted incomes — often feel like they are living hand-to-mouth, and there always seems to be more month left at the end of their money.

When there doesn’t seem to be enough money to make ends meet, it’s frustrating trying to live on a budget. But that’s exactly why a budget is even more important for those with low incomes than for any other group.

All Christians are to be good managers of what they have, especially if they’re living on limited incomes — and a budget helps them do that.

There is no question about it, it’s going to be difficult when you first try to live on a budget and make it work, because you’re playing catch-up and may not have funds set aside for the different budget categories. However, the important thing is that you do it — and don’t give up.

It might take a while to get on solid ground with a budget, but your discipline eventually will pay off. Chip away at debt, live on your budget and God will honor your obedience.

The way you spend money is based on habit and you must bring your spending habit under control. Generally, some people are frugal and others are not. If this sounds familiar, what sort of spender are you? How can you manage your spending so you can buy the things you need now and also save for the things you need in the future?

In order to change spending habits, you must first understand how habits are shaped and the ways spending behavior can be changed.

In essence, you must identify spending leaks that give immediate satisfaction but do not help reach financial goals and, instead, substitute desirable spending behavior that may not be immediately gratifying but will allow you to reach your financial goals.

The Gospel of Luke, chapter 16, verse 11 says, “So if you have not been faithful with the unrighteous money, who will trust you with what is genuine [riches]?”

You need to learn to handle the smallest thing God has put under your authority — your money. Establish self-discipline and put all spending under God’s control. Do so and you become a manager of God’s finances and all spending should then be from the vantage point of whether He would be pleased with the purchase. With God’s guidance, any bad habit can be broken.

Learn to recognize the drive that places you in a spending situation. Then when you shop, avoid the spending pitfalls produced by that drive by having a purpose for the shopping, a time limit and a written plan. What was that? I said — make a list before you go shopping and then stick to it.

In addition, limit your number of trips to the store or mall and never shop when you’re hungry or depressed.

Consider this: Your money usually will go about as far as you want something. So you need to be in control of the money, under God’s direction always, instead of having the money control you by limiting what you do.

Once your spending is under control, determine how much needs to be spent each month in every area of an implemented budget. Since the basic idea behind budgeting is to save money up front for both known and unknown expenses, you must be committed to stick to the budget.

If you have difficulty with income equaling outgo, then cut some of your outgo. Look at your budgets realistically and see where you can start trimming.

A budget is a money plan. With it, you can organize and control your financial resources, set and realize goals, and decide in advance how money will work for the good of the family.

Because every purchase should be considered in light of the budget you have established, buying non-budgeted items on impulse must be avoided, especially if those non-budgeted items would be purchased with a credit card.

It might sound difficult, but low-income couples should try to establish their budget based on the husband’s income only. The wife’s income should be applied to one-time purchases, like debt reduction, vacations, furniture, car costs or to savings.

And while it may seem easier said than done, there’s a very good reason for doing it. If the wife’s income is interrupted by illness, pregnancy or a change in the husband’s employment location, financial problems will follow — quickly.

Although it may not be easy to establish a budget based only on the husband’s income, eventually it will provide relief toward debt freedom.

Of course, single parents don’t have the advantage of choice in this matter — one income is all she or he has. The financial circumstances of most single parents are very difficult. Many single mothers live on annual incomes of around $15,000. That’s tough even for someone who’s frugal.

That’s why if you’re a single parent, or anyone on a very low income, and you are handling your funds the best you can, but still can’t cover basic living expenses, you should share your needs with your church.

In 2 Corinthians 8:14, the Apostle Paul said, “At the present time your surplus is [available] for their need, so that their abundance may also become [available] for your need, that there may be equality.”

You might only need temporary help, so if you have a legitimate need you should feel free to share it with your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Crown Financial Ministries has many volunteer budget counselors who can also help. They’re located throughout the country and offer their services at no charge to Christians who want to establish budgets that’ll help them get out of debt and honor God with their finances. We really encourage you to call our counseling department at Crown to get this sort of help.

In the tough circumstances of today’s economy, low income is a serious difficulty for millions of people. That’s why we all need to adopt an “Apostle Paul attitude.” He said he knew “how to get along with humble means and how to live in prosperity.” The amazing fact is that this was written at a time in Paul’s life when, materially, he had nothing.

All local churches need to be more sensitive and proactive in their approaches to single parents and other low-income people in their congregations.

If you’re living on a low income, then you know it’s never an easy situation, but use these suggestions and do what you can. And remember that even when things appear darkest, and it may seem that we are incapable, God is always able.
Howard Dayton is CEO of Crown Financial Ministries. Dayton and the late Larry Burkett joined forces in 2000 when Crown Ministries led by Dayton merged with Christian Financial Concepts led by Burkett. The new organization became Crown Financial Ministries.

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  • Howard Dayton