Question: Each new year I make resolutions to get my finances in order, but I can never stick to them. What advice do you have?
Answer: In a “7 Steps” small group I recently led, we were discussing how applying Catholic principles to finances helps us reach two important goals in life: growing in love of the Lord and achieving godly financial objectives.
One of the participants noted how important the word “applying” was. He said it’s easy to dream about goals, talk about them and even write them down. But, he noted, those aren’t the same as doing them. What did the Blessed Mother say to the stewards at the wedding feast at Cana? “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5).
With 2010 still fresh and new, it’s a great time to update financial goals and map out a strategy for reaching those goals. The “7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free” are built around a few basic principles that, consistently lived out, lead to success with your finances and success with life. Let’s review these core principles:
Be a good steward
It all starts here. Money plays a part in all of our lives, but life’s about a lot more than money. The most important resolution you can make to become truly financially free is to grow more deeply in your relationship with the Lord. Why? As you learn to better imitate Christ, your priorities will change, including the way you view your finances. You’ll recognize that the Lord has a plan for your finances that is balanced and good for you, and it includes:
- Being grateful to the Lord for the many gifts he has bestowed on you. All we have ultimately comes from him.
- Growing in generosity.
- Being cautious when borrowing. When debt is used, it is to be used prudently and productively.
- Saving with a purpose.
- Spending on things that matter in the long run.
- Having a plan that assists you in living out the above priorities.
How are you doing in your daily spiritual life? Deepening your relationship with Christ doesn’t just happen. Your love of the Lord should prompt you to know him better, and that is best done through the gifts he has given us through his Church. Frequent reception of the Eucharist and attendance at Mass, daily prayer and reading of Scripture and other spiritual writing, and regular confession are all ways that deepen our union with the Lord and guide us to being a more effective steward of providence.
Prepare your plan
It’s hard to reach your destination without knowing where you are starting from and where you want to go. Take a snapshot of your finances as of Dec. 31, 2009. Prepare a balance sheet that summarizes your assets and liabilities. Do you see any weak areas? These may include unproductive debt and a lack of savings for future obligations. Estimate the income that will be available to you in 2010 and develop a spending plan that addresses your weak spots. Use the free tools we provide at veritasfinancialministries.com to help develop your plan.
Save, reduce debt
For those dealing with unproductive debt and a lack of savings, setting achievable goals in these two areas is a simple but powerful step on the journey to financial freedom. Once you develop the savings habit by building your emergency fund, it becomes even easier to save for longer term needs like college and retirement. And with your emergency fund in place, you’ll be in a position to start tackling your debt.
Unproductive debt sucks the lifeblood out of your finances. Get aggressive today about eliminating it. This requires changing spending habits, and creating additional income opportunities during the repayment period. There will be some pain today, but the reward of being debt free is worth it. Take this opportunity to learn and apply the seven steps in your life. True financial freedom awaits. God love you!
Phil Lenahan is the president of Veritas Financial Ministries (VeritasFinancialMinistries.com) and the author of “7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free” (OSV, $19.95). Submit questions for columns to firstname.lastname@example.org.