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6 Steps Toward a Financial Fresh Start

Picture this: 9:30p.m. on a Thursday evening in late June 0f 2009. Four fans are running, creating a hum so loud I can’t hear myself think, and doing very little to cool the stifling room.

It is 90 degrees inside my house.

I’m nursing the baby and we’re both drenched in sweat.

Two of my children are sick and sad with the chickenpox, tossing and turning on the small mattress we’ve set in front of the window for them to sleep on. They are uncomfortable from the heat and the itch.

The air conditioning is broken, we don’t have enough money to cover the cost of the repairs, and we are just one more disaster away from the breaking point.

My whole family is sad, tired, and miserable.

We needed a financial fresh start and we needed it now. And, the only way to make that happen was to give it to ourselves; no one was going to come along and rescue us or bail us out. We had made this mess and we needed to get ourselves out of it.

Giving yourself a financial fresh start

Have you ever been in a bad financial situation like this? Have you lost sleep over money?

Or maybe you aren’t in dire straits, but you’re still feeling a pinch in your pocketbook. I think we all need to take a look at our money matters from time to time, and do a bit of tidying up.

Do you need a fresh start?

I’m not an expert, but here are some things that finally worked for us after years of making mistakes.

1. Face the facts.

To start, we wrote down every penny we spent. We couldn’t figure out which holes to plug in our sinking ship until we knew which were leaking the most water.

If your minivan payment is more than you can afford or your grocery budget is unrealistic, numbers won’t lie.

2. Don’t point fingers or play the blame game.

I can’t say it enough: get on the same page when it comes to your money and don’t waste time or energy blaming each other.

Our marriage isn’t perfect, but I do know that Christopher and I didn’t start making real progress until we stopped fighting about money and starting working together to fix our problems.

3. Honestly evaluate your financial priorities.

After you write down where you’re spending your money, it might surprise you. In our case, our spending wasn’t matching up with how we wanted to live.

It was a classic example of saying one thing, but doing another.

So, we re-set our priorities:

  • Starting with paying our bills (mortgage, utilities), making our first goal catching up on anything we were behind on,
  • then paying our debts (minimum payments at that point),
  • and then figuring out how to live on what was left (essentials only).

4. Learn to say no to yourself.

In our case, we were making enough to pay our bills and pay down our debt, but our spending was way out of control. We had to make some radical changes to our daily lives and exercise self-discipline.

It was intimidating, but together we brainstormed some ways to make it work.

I’ve talked about this more in depth here, but for us this looked like:

• Buying nothing new OR used. Non-essentials couldn’t be justified at first, even second-hand.

• Later, once we were on more solid financial ground, we adopted the motto of “make do, do without, or DIY,” and when those choices were exhausted, we sought out secondhand items to meet our clothing, furniture, and household needs.

• We ate simple food. We ate what we could afford, not necessarily local or organic.

• We said no to social events that required a gift and/or the expense of travel. A note expressing our best wishes was sent instead. This upset a few people, but most were very understanding. You’d be surprised how many people are also experiencing a hard time financially but just don’t talk about it.

• We became a one vehicle family. This took some getting used to, and understandably might not work for everyone, but dropping that extra car payment was a saving grace for us and any inconvenience was worth the savings.

Seedlings | Financial Fresh Start at the Art of Simple

5. Remind yourself of your goals, big and little.

If you’re married, make sure you’re on the same page, check in with each other often. Have regular budget meetings, talk about purchases, and go over your goals.

Celebrate those financial victories!

6. Keep working on the next step.

Life is going to happen, issues will come up. Open lines of communication and those “what if?” conversations help you work out a back-up plan for your back-up plan, which helps you sleep better at night.

Keep thinking about that next debt to pay down, that extra dollar you can save, any potential money pitfalls you can avoid or mistakes you can fix.

Keep your eyes and ears open for ways you can give, too.  No matter how bad your situation, there is someone out there who has less than you do.  You probably have excess in your life in some area.  How can you use that to bless someone else?

So, there you have it friends—the six things that have helped us when we needed a financial fresh start.

p.s. Try Tsh’s favorite budgeting software, YNAB.

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  1. Mel@857notebook

    Late last year I finally had the realization that our debts and related spending habits are keeping our family from the things we wanted out of life. The stress and frustration and anger bore down on us and it was our fault. Committing to changes and keeping your plan in plain sight to remind us everyday what we were working toward really helped solidify the commitment. When you wrote about this a few years ago, you sparked something that I desperately needed. Thanks you for sharing.

  2. Robin from Frugal Family Times

    A great list you have there, Kara! That’s exactly what we did to get out of debt too. It works when you do – as a family. 🙂

  3. Jen

    I am printing these to out for my husband and I to go over together. It can e so intimidating and overwhelming. Thank you!

  4. Allie

    Hi Kara,

    I always love your posts. You have such a great perspective . Good luck with your journey!


  5. Mary P

    A great post. I found a software program called YNAB (You Need A Budget) that has literally transformed my financial life. It isn’t free, but it is affordable and a one-time expense. It ‘s principles are pretty much right down the line with what you laid out above, and makes it easy to do it all in the same place. They offer a free 34-day trial so you can check it out before you buy.

  6. Jessica

    I really enjoy your posts on finances, Kara. They’re so practical and encouraging. I literally just turned down a wedding invitation today! It was hard and I had been questioning if I’d done the right thing, but now I feel sure it’s the right decision. I agree that money is tight for more people than we realise. I’d been worried about scaling down my gift giving to friends, but had noticed that many of them seem to be doing the same, home-made gifts or simple gestures has been a money saver for us all.

    • Laura Gail

      I turned down a baby shower invitation for a 3rd baby this week. It’s just not in our budget and our goal is to be debt free and we are measuring all activities by that.

  7. Aya

    Great post. About a year ago, we noticed that we were not very good about discussing the finances of our household. So, we started having “money talks” — every two weeks, we’ll sit down together and go over upcoming expenses, credit card balances, needs/wants so that we are both aware of what’s going on. It has been helpful in planning ahead and less fights over finances.

  8. dmd

    This is a challenging topic for me. We don’t live extravagantly and do a lot of the things you mention (buy used, eat simply, etc.). But our big problem is that for the last four years at least, my husband has been underemployed and at the moment he is unemployed. The bad economy plays into this, but he also does hold some of the fault of this. Because he is a lot older than I am, it’s that much more difficult for him to find a good position now. I am very very frustrated. I work full time at a reasonably good job but not enough to cover all of our bills. Once car would be unthinkable because he would not be able to even try to get another job w/o a car and I need a car for work. I’m fearful of having to sell our house – we flooded in 2005 and we put our heart and soul into getting our house back and losing it would not only break my heart, it would break my son’s heart. The principal of his school called yesterday to say my child is talking about how worried he is about the possibility of having to move (we would have to move out of our current neighborhood). After flooding and the aftermath, he really does not need more home trauma. I’m at my wit’s end and do not know what to do.

  9. Laura Gail

    I love it when I see money posts from you pop in my feed. I think I you are inspiring and real and I wish more people would be open about their situation because as you said – a lot of people don’t want to talk about it – but when one person opens up then it’s an invitation for a real and honest assessment and conversation.

    My last blog post – I spoke about getting out of debt. I frequently post about the things we do with our money and how to be frugal. We are currently leading a Dave Ramsey FPU class at our church with almost 50 people in it and over a million & a half in consumer debt totals. Our prayer is that all the families in our class will become radical – sell the expensive vans and tahoes, cut the cable and downsize their lives. There is so much peace that comes from living simply if people are just willing to take the plunge. Taste and see that the Lord is Good. Thank you for your ministry to encourage others in this area. It’s an area we are passionate about as well. Blessings!

  10. Shelly

    These are a lot of the ways that we’re able to get by with 12 people living on one income. It’s not easy, but it’d definitely doable, and you learn what is truly important and what is not.

  11. Alissa

    About 18 months ago, we realized we were doing a pretty good job on monthly expenses, but it was the bigger expenses that were killing us. We bought this house planning to remodel things, and it was just destroying our budget. Neither one of us wants to do things “part way” so when we needed to replace lighting, we verbally justified the expense to buy way more than was REALLY needed by saying “well, if we’re already spending money on part of it…” Ugh.

    Our solution was to take Tsh’s advice and set up about 6 different savings accounts with our online bank. Each month when my husband gets paid, we immediately transfer $$ into “home improvement” “vacation” “auto” and our other bigger spending items. It’s not a lot of money each month, but it has REALLY helped us to delay some purchases and projects. It doesn’t seem like a big deal to wait 3 months before painting the kitchen, but by waiting, we have the money saved up to do it without trashing our monthly budget. Just this morning the sink started leaking. My husband can probably fix it, but 2 years ago, we would have used that to justify putting in a new sink, faucet, plumbing, etc, etc, etc. Instead, we both said, “well, what to we have saved up?” There’s real freedom in that.

  12. Heather Cole

    I just lost everything I wrote….ugh..needless to say, Many of us live so frugal already, I don’t know how much more frugal I can become. Returning from teh mission field 9 years ago put us in the pit of poverty that I didn’t think we would ever get out of… And we are still paying…paying on a credit card that we had to use to survive to feed a family of four, to put gas in the car to get to a job making 6$ an hour, just to go home and sit on the floor because there were no seats, no tables, no changing tables, no dining room set, nothing… just a second hand bed for us, and one for my daughter. The rest of the apt was empty. Since that time it’s been like crawling up a wall of nails to get to a better place. But that better place is still a lon way off. This economy ensures poverty to those who choose a stay at home mom, with a husband who only makes low middle class wages, just over the poverty line. And there’s nothing left over. The kids don’t get to do a single sport, they wear the same coats two years in a row, they share gym shoes, we get ulcers every time a child grows out of their clothes and shoes… yea…all this advice is helpful, but sometimes I think people are starting in a better place to begin with?

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