The Nitty Gritty: When You Thought There Was Nothing Left to Cut

They don’t call me the Simple Steward for nothing! Wait…that’s a double negative…let’s try that again. I am known as the Simple Steward for a reason. That’s better! I am known as the Simple Steward because I have dramatically reduced our household spending by taking measures that most people don’t or won’t take.  Many of the ideas I present here will be read and given little thought (except perhaps that I’m crazy??).  

Seriously, though, one of the reasons our country and its citizens are in debt is because they don’t want to ask the difficult questions or make the difficult choices.  No one likes to have things taken away from them, especially in this age of entitlement when we believe that we deserve so much more than those who have gone before us.  Our ancestors have paved the way for us to have a better life so we need to honor that and enjoy it, and buy everything we want as part of that better life, right?

Sometimes, however, those “rights” come at a cost and rather than tackle that cost head on, we bury our heads in the sand and choose not to think about it until it becomes a dire situation.  Burying our heads in the sand in today’s day and age looks a little like this:  

Bank balance:  $32.74

Cell phone bill:  $259.86

Solution:  Pay with the credit card

The End

Except that it isn’t the end, it is increased debt—a downward spiral that will put us in bankruptcy court so fast it will make our heads spin.

If this looks anything like what you deal with month in and month out, run, don’t walk to your nearest Compass Money Map coach and get help. (Contact us here).  They will be able to look at your circumstances with a critical eye and offer ideas to get you back on track.  Remember that you didn’t get into this mess over night so you won’t get out of it over night, but at least you can have some peace about what your future holds because you have taken steps in the right direction.  Your Money Map coach will make suggestions for changes that can be implemented right away and recommend local resources like food banks, the Church, or even credit counseling if necessary.

If this is your situation, it is time to take a hard look at how you got here. Overspending is what got you here. Lack of accountability is what got you here. Credit is what got you here. You fill in the blank:  Job loss, medical bills, car repairs, etc. There are a lot of scenarios that take us from living within our means to going above and beyond them.  Knowing how that happened is a good place to start in hopes that history won’t repeat itself. Once you have identified how this spiraled out of control, it is time to take a hard look at what needs to happen in the short term so you can start digging yourself out.

In our workshops (It’s not about the Money…It’s about the change), we touch on several ideas that help people hone their money management skills such as the debt snowball, cutting up credit cards, tracking every penny they spend and developing a workable spending plan.  For the sake of brevity, I am going to assume that these ideas are already in place and you are still looking at ways to fine-tune the spending plan in order to find hidden sources of money to add to the debt snowball, the emergency fund, or to pay Uncle Paul back.

I have written several articles on the topic of grocery spending and the food budget because it seems like this is the area where most people are able to make the most dramatic impact.  However, there are quite a few other ways to dial down the budget and my philosophy is “leave no stone unturned” when it comes to saving money.

Hopefully at this point, the magazine and newspaper subscriptions have been cancelled, possibly the cable TV subscription has also been cancelled, dinner is made at home, not eaten at a restaurant or fast food place and you are working from a pretty bare-bones budget.  Now what, you ask?  Where can you possibly shave more off your budget after all these things have been eliminated?

I have done a little of this leg work for you because I made some attempts to reduce our electricity bill, our gas bill, and our water/trash bill.  Some of the more productive efforts included turning off our water heater in the summer months, exchanging our trash can for a smaller one, and ordering black-out curtains for some of the rooms of our house that get the most direct sun (or the coldest draft for you Northerners).  

For the most part, trying to reclaim water from the shower or A/C downspout had very minimal impact on our water bill and not pre-heating the oven didn’t have much impact on our gas bill.  Running our A/C during certain times of day seems to have had a positive impact on our bill, though so it might be worth checking with your electric company to see if they offer this type of program in your area.

Some other success I have had includes knowing where I can find the best prices on items that I need and limiting the quantities I buy when I’m in a tight spot financially.  While this goes against the stock-and-store philosophy somewhat, if paying off bills is a priority and you are looking at putting every last red cent toward debt-reduction, stocking up needs to take a back seat.  Use the savings in one area of your budget to compensate for a higher expense in another.  This applies not only to finding good prices on items you need for your household, but also unexpected “found” money such as bonuses, cash gifts or tax refunds.  Put everything you can toward paying off bills more rapidly and get out from under the black cloud of debt and the never-ending cycle of credit card dependence.

The most important thing is to take your efforts to prayer. It’s hard work, it’s not fun, it takes a long time but it’s well worth the sacrifice!  If you feel like it’s impossible for you to ever pay off your debt, remember: Matthew 19:26 ~ “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.’”

– The Simple Steward


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