Read an Excerpt
Financial Relief for Single Parents
A Proven Plan for Achieving the Seemingly Impossible
By Brenda Armstrong, Pam Pugh
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2007 Brenda Armstrong
All rights reserved.
Let's Get Started
Setting Financial Goals
Maureen was watching television one evening and came across a program that featured a wealthy motivational speaker who was telling his audience how they, too, could find riches and happiness.
"If you don't set financial goals," he declared, "you won't reach any. Remember: If you aim at nothing, you're sure to hit it."
Financial goals? Maureen thought. My goal is to get to payday with enough shampoo in the bottle that I don't have to water it down. Again. What planet is this guy on?
Setting and achieving financial goals might seem like wishful thinking, but it is the first step in gaining control over your finances instead of having them control you. By putting your current situation in writing and establishing some goals —even small ones—you will gain a better perspective of your needs and new hope for being able to manage your finances. God will honor your efforts to manage your money His way.
What motivated you to pick up this book? Was it to provide for your children's needs? Was it to get out of debt? Or maybe your goal is to find practical ways to better manage your money and stretch your resources.
By writing out your goals, you may find you have one primary goal in mind and several secondary aims. So find a piece of paper or invest in a spiral notebook (on sale, of course!).
Setting Your Financial Goals
The main financial goal for anyone should be to live within his or her means. This may seem impossible now, but it simply means to spend no more than you make. This kind of financial freedom is possible—it really is.
Think of what this mother meant when she said, "Being a single parent is a mixed metaphor. It's riding the seesaw all by yourself, taking some real hard bumps and running around a lot to hold down someone else's end as well as your own. But it's also sliding down the slippery slide by yourself, going as fast or as slow or as often as you want."
She said the slide part is that she doesn't have to see household money frittered away foolishly by someone else. Because she is the decision maker, she can set her own goals. And so can you.
Pray about your goals—not just in a quick, "Here's what I want from You" way, but as you spend time with God and grow in your relationship with Him, learn to hear His voice and follow His lead.
Maybe you're just beginning your walk with God, and it's a new concept to consider that God is interested in you and your family and your daily lives, let alone something like money.
Maybe you've been a Christian for a long time. Perhaps your circumstances have changed and you're looking to God to meet your needs in a new way.
Or it could be that you're just checking out spiritual things and haven't yet decided to follow Christ. Wherever you are, you can be assured that He knows you well and loves you. He is on your side. As one parent discovered, He is "Friend to the friendless. The number one pick for your team is Jesus. Reliance on Him is a slam-dunk; He won't refuse your request. Besides, He's on your team already."
As you begin to consider financial goals, ask yourself these questions and others that you can think of so you know how finances fit into your values:
* What place does education hold in my future or in my children's future?
* How important is home ownership?
* What are my career goals? What further training do I need to reach these goals?
* How much time, money, and effort do I want to give to volunteer activities?
* What character traits do I value and want to develop in my life and the lives of my children?
* Are my financial goals in line with these traits?
* What are my retirement goals?
* How soon do I want to pay off debt?
Some of your more immediate needs and challenges might include:
* Making housing expenses more manageable
* Improving credit
* Buying or repairing a car
* Buying or repairing appliances
* Getting a job that is more satisfying and/or pays more
* Finding better day/after- school care for the children
* Providing lessons, sports, or another activity for my child
* Pursuing hobbies
* Taking the family on vacation
You may think it is unrealistic to make goals when you don't have enough for basic expenses, but I myself have been in impossible financial situations and can confirm that goal setting works.
When my kids were young I worked full time, but my income was stretched to afford a rental so bad that it required daily tacking up of tiles that were falling in the bathroom! In the kitchen the peeling wallpaper from the fifties revealed layers of unprofessionally installed designs. One thing I knew when I moved in was where to hang my pictures, because the holes were already in place.
My old clunker of a car finally died, and I had to rely on the kindness of coworkers and friends until it could be replaced. When the cupboards were nearly bare and the kids were wearing a size too small in clothing, I knew something needed to change. My goal, although I didn't know how I was going to reach it, was to be able to take care of my family's basic needs. Later, as my situation improved, other goals were added, and we eventually took our first real family vacation that didn't consist of pallets on the floor in the home of family members!
Considering what's important to you and writing your goals down is a good first step. You won't even know how to pray for your finances until you face them. To work toward any financial goal you must learn to live within your means. To do that, you must first get wants, needs, and dreams in their proper relationship.
God has promised to provide your needs, and often takes your wants and dreams into consideration. But let's start with the needs.
Needs are the purchases necessary to provide your basic requirements, such as food, clothing, shelter, and health.
Read Matthew 6:25–34, which begins with Jesus Himself saying, "Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear" and assures you that "your heavenly Father knows that you need them." Look up this passage and read it through a few times. You might want to read it each morning and again at the end of the day. Get to know better this heavenly Father and the amazing certainty that He cares about your financial situation.
This truth is very comforting. God will provide for your needs. I often felt like my world was coming to an end. I remember crying out to God about what I did not have, and He would remind me that I had what I needed today—I had a roof over my head, I was clothed, and I had food to eat. I began to thank Him for those things, and I learned to trust Him to provide for my needs. "But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that" (1 Timothy 6:8).
Taking time to be thankful for the basics is pleasing to Him and reminds us that He has provided. Keeping the Lord's faithfulness before us gives us courage to know He won't forget us tomorrow—or even later today! He often surprised my children and me with many of our wants and dreams, even many we had never spoken to Him about!
During a Bible study, a woman named Annette once said that being thankful and keeping perspective helped her. "When I start feeling sorry for myself and worrying, I remember that a lot of people are worse off than I am," she remarked. "Yes," replied her wise friend Marge, "but that doesn't change your own situation." Marge assured her that God cares for her situation too. Do not think your own situation has to be the worst in the world before God takes notice.
List some of your family's needs. You might even enlist your children to work on this with you.
You've probably listed the very basics. What else do you need? What do you need to get to work every day? A hair dryer? A car? Good walking shoes? Bus money?
Wants involve choices that extend beyond basic needs and include the quality of goods to be used. It's not wrong to have wants as long as we keep them all in perspective. You need a floor in your house, and you might want better carpeting. If your children are doing this exercise, remind them that they need protein but might want ice cream!
List some of your wants. These might also be some of your short-term goals.
Dreams are choices according to God's plan that can be made only out of surplus funds after all other obligations have been met. When you learn to give your wants and dreams to God, He changes your perspective. When you begin desiring what He wants for you, He often supplies much more than you need.
Psalm 37:4 tells us, "Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart." Let's not assume this assurance is a ticket for anything material we might like. After all, we're also admonished to "not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15).
The "world" is the world's system that puts myself first, that says this life is all there is, and that does not mind lying or hurting others as long as I and mine get what we're entitled to.
What might the psalmist be telling us, then, and how might these words relate to our finances? As we become closer to the Lord, and as we become more like Him, our desires will be more and more in line with His. Your dreams can be things that right now seem impossible, such as sending your children to college or going to college yourself. Perhaps you dream of owning your own home completely so that you have the financial freedom to do something productive in your retirement years without financial worries.
When you consider money not as something God has rewarded you with, but as something He's entrusted you with, you might dream of how you can give out of your surplus. Perhaps you and your children can dream of the day you can begin to sponsor a child through World Vision or another organization for thirty or forty dollars a month. These are the dreams and desires of the heart that please God.
Obstacles to Reaching Your Goals
Now that you have begun to consider some of your financial goals and, perhaps for the first time, have seen that God is interested in this area of your life, we need to briefly address some of the obstacles that may trip you up in your pursuit of your goals and dreams.
One obstacle is the fear of failure. Some people are so afraid of failing that they fall short of trying. And if you have failed in the past, don't let this stop you from trying again. After all, "the only way to avoid failure at all costs is to do nothing." That's not what you want, is it?
Another hindrance is low self-esteem. There are some people who feel that they are entitled to much—"After all, I deserve the best"—and that's not admirable, but on the other hand, there are people who struggle with the idea that they deserve any success. Do you remember the story of the Israelites whom God sent out to spy on the land He had promised them? The story is in Numbers 13. Most of the spies saw the people in the land as giants and themselves as grasshoppers and became afraid. God didn't see them as grasshoppers, but that's how they saw themselves. If low self-esteem is an obstacle for you, begin to work on developing a healthy self-evaluation.
Some people think it's too late to begin setting goals, or that their goals will take too long or that they are too old. Remember that you can always improve and set new goals, no matter how old you are! Colonel Sanders and Mary Kay Ashe (founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics) were both well over fifty when they began their careers.
And finally, sometimes we're just unwilling to change. We'd rather stay where we are than make a change. However, that's not you! You've already taken positive steps by picking up this book and reading it this far ... and writing down or at least giving thought to the goals that are important to you.
* Have a positive attitude about being able to set your own financial goals.
* Look again at the lists on the previous pages and give serious thought to those things that are most important to you, both immediate and long term. Don't be afraid to dream!
* Recognize God's ownership: God's Word tells us that God is the Provider and we are the steward of His resources. He gives us the talents and favor to earn money, but it all belongs to Him.
* "Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven is yours. Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all." (1 Chronicles 29:11)CHAPTER 2
Put It on Paper
Creating a Spending Plan
Chris says, "When my daughter was in 8th grade, she asked me how much money I made. Now, back in the day when I was young and asked that question of my father, I was told in no uncertain terms that it was none of my business. Period. Amen.
"But I decided to handle this question differently. I showed her a pay stub. She did not think it seemed like a lot of money, so she asked me how much it cost to live in our apartment. Never one to miss one of life's little learning opportunities, I handed her a pen and paper and said, 'Let's figure this out together.'
"So she put down how much my rent was, then electric, etc., until we had a negative balance. She said, 'Mom, you ran out of money before you paid everything. How do you do it?' I told her I borrowed from Peter to pay Paul. One month we pay all the utilities and no medical bills, the next month the medical bills and no utility bills. I explained that this was a very stressful way of living, and I hoped that she would not have to live this way when she grew up."
Telling Your Money Part 1: See What You Spend
Chris's situation would have improved had she learned to create and stick to a budget and begun to understand God's math. What is a budget? As John Maxwell says, "A budget is telling your money where to go, instead of wondering where it went."
A budget is a plan—a spending plan.
We know how much money we make, and we certainly know we spend it, and we think we have an idea where it goes, but without a written plan, we don't know for sure where it went.
Some people fear a written plan because they already know they do not have enough money to meet their expenses, and would rather not face the truth. But what you don't know will hurt you in the end. Think of writing your budget as being similar to starting on a trip —you cannot set a course without first determining where your starting point is.
Keep reading! Don't give up before you start. Don't think of this as an exercise of futility—think of it as an adventure in futurity! Think of working on your budget as an investment. Yes, it will take some time, but it's time well taken, and you're going to have a feeling of great satisfaction just for going through this experience. If you think you don't have time to make a budget, consider what financial counselor and author Dave Ramsey says to that: "You don't have time not to make a budget."
If you make plans and carry out your plans, a budget can do several things: make you more peaceful about your finances; help you determine what's most important to spend your money on; give you a taste of financial success; improve your self-confidence; make you a smarter consumer.
And remember that your budget will become your financial lifestyle.
Facing the Figures
Let's take the first step, which is helping you see in black and white where your money is going now You can use the form at the back of the book, make your own, write on a piece of paper, or get a form from the Internet. You'll begin with your income from your job, but if you have other forms of regular income, such as bank interest, dividends, or child support you can consistently rely on to be paid, you can add those too. This will help you get a big picture of all available funds you have to use.
We'll work with your gross income; that is, your income before taxes and any other payroll deductions are taken out. If the amount you are paid is consistent from month to month, you can figure out your gross pay by multiplying your last gross amount times twenty-four or twelve or by however many paychecks you get each year.
If you do not receive a pay stub or your pay will not have changed significantly from last year, you can also find out your gross pay by looking at last year's income tax return.
Write down all of your income.
Keeping good records will allow you to see where you are; make necessary changes in your financial habits; and, having set goals, find encouragement in the progress you're making.
Keep reading. You might want to read all the way through this chapter before you write anything down to get an idea of what you'll be working on. The important thing is to keep going!
Now you're ready to determine how much you're spending. We're not quite ready to "tell the money where to go," but we're going to take a look at where it does go. Anything you pay out of your income is an expense, and each expense will be deducted from your gross income.
Excerpted from Financial Relief for Single Parents by Brenda Armstrong, Pam Pugh. Copyright © 2007 Brenda Armstrong. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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