If you walked into my grocery
store in Greenville, SC this week you'd find a massive "Slim
Fast" display of shakes and meal replacement bars right inside the front door.
If you drove past TJ Maxx on your way home from the grocery store you'd see
huge window banners advertising "THIS WEEK ONLY: ALL WORKOUT CLOTHES ON SALE!"
According to an ABC News Poll,
about 45% of Americans make New Year's resolutions to lose weight. While
actually maintaining diet commitments
is another matter altogether, it's certainly a widely held (and commendable!)
practice to commit to getting in shape after the holidays.
At the beginning of this New Year
it's important for each of us to add another fitness challenge to our list of
resolutions: that of becoming financially
fit in 2009.
There is no denying the fact that
our economy is in crisis – on multiple levels. I'm not sure I've heard a news
broadcast in the past three months that didn't begin: "And our top story tonight is the growing financial crisis on Wall
Street…" While it's easy to blame big government, big banks, or big car
companies for our current predicament, the truth is that many of us share
responsibility for the financial crisis, on one level or another.
January is the perfect time to
examine our hearts and our actions when it comes to money, and determine ways
we can become better stewards of the blessings God has given us. I'm certainly not
a financial expert or a perfect example of financial fitness. However, over the
past twenty-four months I've been given some excellent resources, advice, and
encouragement that have motivated me to get out of my comfort zone and reach
new levels of financial health. I'd like to share with you a few nuggets that
have helped me reach and maintain my financial fitness goals.
Become a Gazelle
Consumer debt is certainly a huge
factor in our current economic situation. Most Americans know that they should
spend less, save more, and avoid debt, yet unfortunately many people don't do what they know they should. Regardless
of the current state of your finances, I'm confident that each of us could
benefit from re-evaluating the choices we make with money.
Although there are numerous
sources of financial advice available to us in the form of books, CDs,
workshops, and online courses, I have personally found financial expert Dave
Ramsey to be the best source of motivation and practical help on the difficult
road to getting out of debt.
Dave's book and live seminar The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for
Financial Fitness (Thomas Nelson, 2007) has been the #1 resource that's
helped myself and many friends take a second look at our spending and saving
habits. My favorite version of Dave's Total
Money Makeover is the Book-On-CD version. Dave has an amazing ability to
motivate his listeners with real emotion and raw energy – which of course is
captured much better on the audio version of his book.
In The Total Money Makeover, Dave outlines seven easy-to-follow steps
that will lead you to a debt-free lifestyle. While his advice and
recommendations are certainly not easy to follow, he offers advice that is doable. Dave encourages his readers to "think like a gazelle!" As you'll
discover in his book, gazelles are docile creatures
hunted by the fastest animal on earth, the cheetah. The reason gazelles still
roam the face of the earth is that they've learned how to out-think and
out-maneuver the cheetah. Dave will teach you how to out-think and out-maneuver
credit card companies, the "debt cheetahs."
you're struggling with debt and looking for a coach to help you begin the
journey to financial strength, Dave Ramsey may be the kick-start motivation you
are looking for.
of caution: Dave Ramsey does speak about Christian and spiritual principles
which may not be compatible with the Catholic Faith, so please discern
While for some Catholics
"tithing" is a scary word, to others it's the foundation and bulwark of their
financial peace and blessing.
The 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia
defines tithing as: "the tenth part of all fruits and profits justly acquired,
owed to God in recognition of his supreme dominion
over man, and to be paid to the ministers of the church."
I do not intend to offer a
theological or biblical treatise on the importance of giving God a tithe of our
financial increase – this is readily available to us online, in the Bible, and
in the Catechism. However, I would like to share personal testimony of how
tithing positively affects my financial perspective and financial fitness.
In my life, tithing has more to
do with the condition of my heart than the condition of my bank account. Tithing
helps me acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord of my finances. It helps me
develop a grateful heart for God's gifts to me, a compassionate heart for those
my tithes can aid, and a purified heart of the greed that can come naturally to
us humans when we experience financial gain. There are times of financial
stress in my life where I've been afraid to tithe – afraid that giving God 10%
would mean I'd be too stretched in other areas of my life. And yet, it's always
been the case that if I am faithful with putting God first in my finances, he
always seems to help me take care of the rest.
I've witnessed not only in my
life, but in others, that God bestows special blessings on those who honor him
with the first fruits of their labor. I have one friend who, after being laid
off from a job early last year, continued to tithe each month the same amount
as if he was still employed in his former job. Now THAT is gutsy! Several
months later, God rewarded this man's faith with a job that was better suited
for his family, much less of a commute from home, and came with a significant
Tithing can be difficult and even
scary- especially if we have debts or lots of bills and other financial
responsibilities. And yet, tithing when it really hurts makes our act of faith
an even more beautiful financial and spiritual offering to God.
This New Year, I dare you to try
Examine Your Priorities
A third piece of advice that has
helped me become financially stronger is the urging to examine my spending priorities.
Americans like stuff. We like nice houses, nice cars,
nice boats, nice "toys," and nice clothes. We spend the money we do have to get stuff, and the money we don't have to get even more stuff.
While there's certainly nothing
wrong with having nice things (I'll be the first to admit I love having nice
things!), the smart practice is to think – and perhaps ask ourselves some hard
questions – before we buy.
I try to keep a "wish list" of
the things I need and the things I'd like to have. If I've met my tithing and
savings goals, I'll weigh certain purchases and try to prioritize and separate
the "needs" from the "wants" and determine what fits in my budget. I've asked
myself questions like: Do I really need
this new sweater? Do I really need to have this new CD right now? Is it
more important to go to that concert next month or should I purchase that new
pair of running shoes I need so badly?
Sometimes taking even just a few
seconds to ask yourself questions about your purchases will help you determine
what's important, what fits in your budget, and what purchases would best be saved
As you determine what purchases
are important to you, I'd encourage you to place high value on your need as a
single Catholic for community with other single Catholics. Purchases such as a
ticket to a Catholic singles conference, dinner out with your local singles
group, renewing your subscription to a Catholic singles website…these are
areas that I'd argue are extremely important because of our need for community,
encouragement, and support…things so very difficult to find in our society.
Renewing my Catholic Match subscription would be right up there with purchasing
a new pair of running shoes on my wish list, not buried somewhere under "DVDs
I'd like to buy."
Oscar Wilde once said, "Good
resolutions are simply checks that men draw on a bank where they have no
account." Unfortunately, statistics agree with him. Polls show that anywhere from
92-97% of New Years resolutions do not last for the long term.
Yet, financial fitness is one
area where we can't afford to crash and burn with our commitments and
resolutions. How can we become part of the 3-8% who actually sticks to their commitments? Pray…ask
the Holy Spirit for the grace of perseverance. Ask a friend or family member to
hold you accountable to whatever goals you decide to set for yourself. And seek
camaraderie and encouragement from those single Catholics who are walking this
path with you.