Spring feels like a time of rebirth! The flowers are sprouting, the weather is getting warmer and the days are getting longer. It invokes desires to clean and refresh in many areas of life, including, perhaps, your spending and saving habits, which greatly affect your daily life. Here are some tips to help you be a smart steward of the gifts God has given to you financially.
1. Pray. Saint Mathew the Apostle is the patron saint of money matters. Ask him to intercede and guide your financial decisions so you can be a good steward of God’s money. You can also pray to Saint Jude using the “Prayer to Saint Jude Thaddeus for Urgent Financial Help.”
2. Be prepared for an emergency. Do you have a savings account designated for emergencies, like medical catastrophes or losing your job? If not, this should be your priority. Save up about 6 months worth of essential expenses. That means $6,000 if you spend $1,000 per month on essentials like rent, utilities, food, health insurance, and commuting. It’s best to sock this money away in a high-yield savings account so you earn interest each month. The best rates were around 2.05% APY (that’s free money). Check NerdWallet.com to compare rates. My go-to is Synchrony Bank.
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3. Write down or keep a note on your phone every time you spend money this week (or in a 7-day window): rent, car insurance, random knick-knacks from the drug store, debt payments, everything. At the end of the week or the 7-day window, tally it all up. This creates awareness around your spending, and we all know that's the first step to changing!
4. Put yourself on a Gift Card Budget. Pick at least one area where you think you're spending too much money. Let's take a coffee shop, for example. You look over your credit card/ debit card statements and realize you spent $232 in one month at that one coffee shop. Put yourself on a budget of $100 or less per month. My favorite way to do this is to buy a $100 gift card to that coffee shop, and when you run out, you're done for the month! It's an easy way to see just how quickly you go through money at a specific place. (You can do the same thing with online shopping by buying an e-gift card to your favorite retailer.) If you struggle with eating out in general and not just at a specific restaurant, for example, withdraw $100 cash from your checking account, put it an envelope, and use only that money to pay when you go out. When you're out of it, you're done for the month.
5. If you have student loan debt, think about refinancing. It essentially allows you to lower the interest rate you're paying on your loans. For example, if you're paying 6 percent, you may be able to refinance the loans to pay 4 percent. In the long run, that can save you thousands of dollars! To get more information about this process and to see different rates, check out www. studentloanhero.com. (Beware—watch out for student loan scams. Unfortunately, there are people out there looking to take advantage of already-financially-strapped graduates! In general, don't do business with anyone who calls or emails you out of the blue about student loan refinancing or consolidation.)
6. Sell old stuff. Even if you've refinanced your loans, it's still a good idea to think about ways to pay off the debt faster. If you can't afford to contribute more to paying off debt each month, you'll need to find ways to make more money. In the spirit of spring cleaning, find stuff to sell that you already own! It could be clothes, textbooks, bags or accessories. I've made hundreds of dollars selling old textbooks on Amazon. Some consignment stores will pay you on the spot for your clothes, or you could use an app like Poshmark. Our faith has taught us that we will experience both joy and suffering. That suffering can sometimes come in the form of sacrifice. Now might be a season of sacrifice for you as you rework your finances.
7. Review benefits at work. Do you know what your benefits are? They can range from life insurance to gym memberships to commuting tax benefits. Does your company offer a match for contributions you make to your 401(k)? If so, make sure you're contributing that amount. It generally ranges from 1-6 percent, but could be even higher if your company is generous.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the best Catholic money management site out there—CompassCatholic.org. It is a nonprofit dedicated to helping people manage their money God's way. They also run Catholic bible studies on exactly this topic! Even if there isn't a bible study in your area, you can take advantage of their free resources online.