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Finances Approaching Empty? Watch For These Four Amber Lights
Traffic lights are everywhere – red, green, amber. Green and red are obvious – go and stop. But what does amber mean? The behavior tells us: “speed up, beat the red!” It’s just that the amber light signals that we should prepare to stop.
Likewise, we have alerts about our financial health. We know when we have too much. We are safe when we have little. However, do we know when we are approaching empty? Like a traffic light, there are several signs that appear early on, signaling us to slow down and be ready to stop spending. Unfortunately, when these amber lights appear, people speed up, take on more debt, and later run into their financial institutions and their families while their health suffers.
Here are four amber lights that signal that your decisions are causing or will cause problems with your personal finances. Think about each one and be ready to react appropriately when they pop up:
- Giving to a church, charity, Christian ministry or other places or persons reduced or stopped.
- Routinely unpaid credit card balances.
- A capital fund or dedicated reserve fund has not been established.
- Budget or cost plan not used.
Giving has been reduced or stopped
Sometimes some people feel overwhelmed by their financial situation and feel that they need to cut back on spending. They know they’ve been spending more than they should, so they decide to cut back. The first area they cut is their giving to a church, charity, Christian ministry or elsewhere. Unfortunately, they react instinctively because it’s the most visible, easiest to cut discretionary item. They stop it or reduce it significantly, without a total review of all costs. And they continue to spend in other areas.
In these circumstances, when you are considering reducing your giving, understand that the pressure you are feeling is your amber light telling you to stop and review all spending immediately – the red light is here!
See your total budget, review your goals and plans, and remind yourself why you give. You know the lifestyle choices you’ve made, so it’s easy to understand the source of the stress you’re experiencing. Research your spending decision procedures and recent spending decisions.
This is the first and significant sign that your finances are under pressure. Be careful. Before you change your giving, think, pray.
Routinely unpaid credit card balances
A credit card gives you a minimum “grace period” from the date the item was loaded until the day you pay the full amount due. The Canadian regulations, introduced in 2010, Charge an effective minimum of a 21-day, interest-free grace period on all new credit card purchases when the customer pays off the outstanding balance in full.
Take this grace period as the total credit period. Pay the full balance monthly; if you can’t, this is your amber light. Observe it; stop using the card. Place it in a freezer bag and store it in the freezer. Don’t “speed up” to beat a red light; Stop yourself!
A capital fund or earmarked reserve fund has not been established
What causes the most stress on the family budget? Emergency cases. The car breaks down. The washing machine is dying. The microwave oven, stove or other household item stops working. You can’t predict when one of these items will disappear, but you can expect to spend on one of them regularly.
That’s why each of us needs a Capital Fund: A plan to avoid debt through organized savings for specific expenses with unpredictable timing. These are planned, targeted savings.
Typically, people take out loans using their credit cards or lines of credit to first buy, replace or repair major items such as cars, refrigerators, stoves, furniture, appliances. This is a stressful, expensive, erratic approach to maintaining and replacing items that Capital Fund is designed to correct.
The capital fund is a supplement to your operating budget. Simply, to replace a $1,000 item with a ten-year life, set aside $100 per year for ten years. At the tenth year, if you replace the item, repeat the procedure. If you don’t, keep setting aside funds. Anticipate major repairs during the life of the item and apply the same procedure. Imagine interest charges you wouldn’t incur if you used Equity to pay cash for everything but a home!
Don’t have an equity fund or equivalent? It’s an amber light that screams at you to stop and pay attention. Will you consider this today?
Budget or cost plan not used
Everywhere you turn, someone, a corporation, group or ministry is trying to get you to spend. In the shopping mall, in the supermarket, on TV, on the radio, there is an advertisement that entices you to buy this wonderful gadget, get a useful book or an amazing service. It may cost as little as $5.00, or as little as $2.00, or as little as $10.00; so you buy it. You forget that these “only” amounts are a large amount.
In essence, we let advertising drive our spending. This is why we need a money card to use as our road map. A money map, spending plan or budget is a guide that we draw up before an event or period to plan how to spend the available funds at that event or during that particular period.
When you leave home without a money card or budget, it’s like leaving home on your way to an unknown place without a road map. You will get lost.
Daily work without a budget is another amber light. Slow down and get ready to stop, or you’ll get further into debt. Decide today to start using a budget to allocate your limited resources. You’ll be glad you did.
When any of these amber lights start flashing, look at your lifestyle. You may need to change your behavior. Bankers, insurance agents, and other salesmen calling themselves financial advisors will look at the symptoms and present money-oriented solutions: remortgage, refinance, debt consolidation, all related to money instead of dealing with your attitude, behavior, and choices (ABCs).
Changing your ABCs is the only long-term solution to your financial affairs. Other remedies simply delay certain necessary changes in attitude. Are you ready to make the difficult lifestyle adjustments needed to restore your finances for the long term? Always remember that money management means lifestyle management.
Copyright (c) 2011, Michel A. Bell
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