For the first three years of our marriage my wife and I didn’t have any outstanding credit card debt. Then the crap hit the fan. Between some unnecessary purchases, not making enough money, hospital bills, and a string of car repairs, we amassed ourselves some significant credit card debt.
Over the last two years we’ve been trying to be more conscious of how we spend and how we save. We’re finally starting to show some signs of progress. Of course, our adoption set us back this past year and we’re in the midst of paying that down. But the good news is that this week we finally paid off my outstanding seminary bill and due to the kindness of some friend we made some significant progress on that adoption debt.
I have become convinced that being in debt is not a necessary “part of being American.” At least, it shouldn’t be. I have talked with a number of people who have pretty much resigned themselves to always being the debt. This is too bad. While I think you could argue that in some instances, its unavoidable, its certainly not something we should settle on. In fact, we’ve got to get aggressive after debt! It’s a terrible thing that so many people in the church are strapped financially by debt payments that we can’t give our money away like we really want to.
If you didn’t make any credit card, debt payments each month, how much would you be able to give away to those in need? Kind of depressing isn’t it? Of course, this number should also be motivating! Imagine those you could help and the good you could do if you got serious (or kept on being serious) about paying down your debt?
For Melanie and I we’ve made progress but we’ve not done it alone. We’ve actually been meeting with two friends (another married couple in our church) for the past year. They’ve been holding us accountable in our finances and we’ve been doing the same for them. The problem with most accountability however is that its easy to lie and keep things back. This is always tempting. Especially with your finances, its really hard to be fully transparent. Not only is it hard to admit when you don’t spend your money well, but its just hard to keep track of and show someone else.
Opening your checkbook
I am a big, big fan of opening your checkbook to someone you trust. I mean literally. This means that they would have full access to every penny you spend. I’m convinced that one of the greatest lies that our culture teaches us is that money is a totally private matter that is between me and God. Jesus didn’t talk about money that way. For something that can be so threatening to the Christian faith, we need to be intentionally counter-cultural and “open our checkbook” to someone that we trust and give them the freedom to speak into this area of our lives.
Mint is a described as “fresh, intelligent online money management.” Basically, you pull all your accounts (including credit cards!) into your secure account and it gives you up to date balances on all these accounts.
That’s nice. But, the best part is that you categorize your transactions and it gives you a beautiful pie chart of your spending per category for a time period of your choosing. The categories are really “smart” so that once you use it for a few weeks the program gets really good at auto categorizing your transactions for you. So, you can easily get a quick glance of how much money you spent on coffee, how much you overspent on fast food and if you have any more money left in your budget to go out to the movies.
The best part about Mint is that you can access it from anywhere. This means that you can give your accountability partner your username and password and they can go on anytime and see where all your money has been going. Scary eh? Yes, its scary. But I’m convinced that is what it just might take for some of us to become better at managing our money.
Now, like any accountability situation, we can’t get legalistic about every penny and spend all our time trying to catch each other doing something wrong. The idea isn’t to control each other and second guess every single purchase. Rather the goal is to have someone to speak grace and encouragement and be able to ask you honest questions about the way you are spending your money.
I think the best accountability asks questions like, “was that a good decision?” and “are you happy you made that purchase” and “do you regret anything here?” Its not about keeping record of wrongs, its about helping us live more and more free.
So, open up your checkbook. One good way is to use Mint.
Why? So you can live in freedom. When we live in freedom, we’re not strapped to a job we hate because we have to pay our bills. When we live in freedom we are not giving all our money to debtors instead of those in need.