Spending Freefall

I mentioned a few weeks ago that my son Noah had started school. It has been such a good experience for Noah so far, but I have to admit, I have been a little in awe of the cost of sending your child to school. Between fundraisers, clothing, new shoes (since summer crocs and sandals aren’t an option), school supplies, backpack, a pillow for nap time (I did not know he needed one), lunch supplies for packing his lunches, it has just felt like the random surprise costs never end.

In a practical way, I have felt it the most on my grocery budget because I feel this “Mommy” concern that he won’t get enough to eat. I think that the feeling is universal because I remember always having left over food when my Mom packed my school lunch. I think it is just a Mom’s way of doing everything she can to make sure her precious child is taken care of. It is heart wrenching to think of Noah going hungry because I didn’t pack enough lunch. However, although my head knows it’s uneccessary, my heart keeps buying special treats for his lunchbox and making sure he has enough. I am innocent in my motives, but my actions are killing my grocery budget.

So here I am at the beginning of the month trying to reconcile my budget and my checking account and it is another reality to check as to how much I have actually spent. It is spending that mostly could not be helped, but it could very easily freefall from here. And in figuring out a plan to pay for it all, I am once again so thankful for our commitment to never carry credit card debt. It forces me to be accountable for what I spend. The slide in to debt is just too slippery otherwise.

It is on this slippery slide of debt that so many people lose their battle with spending. I was recently talking to a friend who has a significant amount of debt. I have been helping her to establish a plan for her debt, but as we were sitting talking about it she said, “I look at all of this debt, and honestly it just makes me feel like, ‘Oh well, what is another $20. I’ll just charge this shirt to the credit card.’ I find myself charging coffee or even groceries, or eating out because the mountain of debt is so huge, it just doesn’t feel like a big deal to add a little more.”

I think many of us can relate to this idea of “Oh well, I’ve already blown it. Why not spend some more?” However, this is truly a vicious trap when it comes to your finances. Every cent that you add to your debt sabotages you from ever coming out of that debt. It is not until you stop the spending freefall that you can begin to honestly assess the damage. If you are still recklessly spending, you will never conquer your debt.

For Matt and I, we don’t any have debt, but the temptation to get into that “Oh well” mentality is still there. When we have had a lot of unexpected expenses in a row, it is very tempting to just feel like, “well, we are already having to figure out how to pay for all of this other stuff so let’s go out to eat (for example).” Somehow, an unplanned expense on our credit card just invites more unplanned expenses. It is only through the practice of always having a plan for how to pay for things that we have escaped this slippery slide.

The best way to stop freefall spending is to sit down with your financial records (whether a check ledger, credit card ledger, or accounting software on your computer) and figure out how to pay for your unexpected expenses and attempt to bring yourself to a level place again. When I say level place, I mean a financial place where there are no expenses that you do not know how to pay for or where the money is coming from. Sometimes there is no other option than for the unexpected expenses to come from savings. For instance, like when you need an emergency repairman, or your grandmother dies and you have to travel to the funeral.

And other times, it is important to pay for your expense from another part of the budget.
For instance, I recently found a fantastic deal on a camera. My friend called me and I had to make a quick decision on whether or not I wanted it, and I did. However, on the other side of this unexpected expense I needed to figure out how to pay for it. So, because I bought it for it to be a gift, I took part of the cost from gift giving money, and the other part I took from my grocery budget for the following week because I am going to get a refund for the camera by the end of the week. Lots of details, but basically by immediately coming up with a plan for how to pay for it there was no opportunity for this expense to start a spending freefall.

It is amazing but miscellaneous expenses can quickly add up to hundreds and then thousands of dollars and it can all be made up of little charges like $5 at Starbucks for coffee, and $10 for lunch, and $15 for that present you needed, and $35 to eat out, and $25 in groceries and pretty soon you have an extra $100 that you need to come up with out of your budget.

Another way to stop the spending freefall is to never buy anything that would start with “Oh well, “ in your justification for buying it. Every purchase matters because unless you are getting it for free, you have to figure out how to actually pay for it.

So, if you have been on a spending freefall because either you don’t want to face the reality of your debt, or because unexpected expenses have sabotaged your budget, it is time to find your feet again. If you need to start at the beginning, then do it. Organize your bills and paperwork. Figure out what your current debt is and then make a plan for getting out of debt and for staying out. Every purchase where you continue to freefall takes you further and further away from what God has for you and your finances. However, it is never to late to repent (which simply means to turn from what you are doing), and to take God’s hand, and then ask Him for a plan for the unexpected.

Nothing surprises God, and He always has more than enough for whatever need you have. Don’t grow despondent just because you didn’t know the expense was coming. Your heavenly Father did, and just like a Mommy’s heart worries that her child will have enough lunch, God is always looking out for you and wanting you to be taken care of. So quit looking to your own strength and look instead to God’s amazing resources and what He has already given you. The incredible truth is that when you are focused on your heavenly Father, it is really difficult to freefall in ANY area of your life.