As the calendar flips to a new year, the desire for a fresh start echoes within us all. After a month of disruptions, from irregular sleep patterns to indulgent spending, the longing for routine and a renewed perspective is palpable.
While some embrace resolutions, others, like myself, find rebellion in committing to them. Statistics reveal that only 9% successfully keep resolutions all year long, a reality that reinforces my hesitancy to set them.
This year, I’m finding myself needing to reset and “clean house” in the area of finances. I ignored my budget in December, have some anticipated but unprepared-for-January expenses on the horizon, and want/need to feel a bit more in control of my spending.
For me it’s a stewardship issue. All that I have comes from God, and I am so grateful to have not just what I need, but lots of what I want. I don’t take that for granted, and want to make sure I am able to use the money he has entrusted me with in a purposeful way. Acknowledging that everything I have comes from God helps motivate me to reset and realign my financial choices with purpose.
Stewardship Grounded in Scripture
The Bible teaches us in Proverbs 3:9-10 (NIV): "Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine." This principle emphasizes the importance of honoring God with our resources and recognizing that our abundance is a gift from Him.
Luke 16:10 (NIV) reminds us, "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much." This verse underscores the responsibility we have in managing the resources entrusted to us, reinforcing the significance of wise stewardship.
Practical Stewardship Tips
I’m not an expert in budgeting, but I am very mindful of every dollar spent, adhering to a budget, saving, and tithing. Not to brag, because it has not always been this way, but instead to say there are plenty of resources and a lot of professional budgeters out there to help you create, maintain, and manage a personal family budget. I am not them.
I am, however, thrifty and attentive. I am hyper-aware of prices and I love a deal. Just last week I whipped out my $20 garage sale find UGG boots (if you don’t know, they are about $200 brand new) and gloated the entire time I wore them. I have been known to go to three or four grocery stores to get the best deal, and much to my kids’ chagrin, I will challenge the checkout person and have even returned something to purchase it cheaper at another store. Oh, the horrors.
Here are a few practical tips to help you gain a little ground this month so you don’t move into February in a deficit position and spend the next few months scrambling to catch up (been there, done that). I challenge you to apply one or more to see where you can make up some of those extra dollars this month.
1. Limit Eating Out
This is an area where it’s easy to be careless during the holidays. Whether it’s grabbing a quick bite because you are out and about shopping, or a fun dinner out with friends because it’s the holidays, it is really easy to justify.
Now is a great time to challenge yourself to limit or stop eating out for a period of time. Not only will your wallet thank you, but so will your waistline. Now before you bemoan the revocation of your “fun with friends,” consider this: your friends would love a home-cooked meal. They will likely even contribute a portion if they are like my friends.
Now is a good time to revisit realistic and affordable entertaining options, maybe even consider a supper club! Side benefit: hosting friends in your home fosters meaningful dialogue and authentic connection.
Your other point of protest may be related to your coffee habits. If you are regularly running through the drive-through for your pick-me-up, consider how much you could save if you made it at home. There are limitless options available out there for coffee, creamer, syrups, and gadgets, so you can certainly replicate your favorite coffee creations with limited expenditures. I purchased a $30 milk frother several years ago and it was life changing. Bonus: I can have fancy coffee whenever I want and it helps me justify my “mug collection.”
2. Pantry Shopping
Go shop in your own house. There’s no better time than January to go through your cupboards and check your dates, shift your canned goods, and use up some of the goodies you’ve been saving (or forgot about).
When was the last time you went through your freezer? If you are like me, you might stockpile on chicken and other meats when they are on sale, but they don’t last forever, even when frozen. What kind of magic can you make without leaving your house by just going through your current provisions? Bonus points: you practice contentment with what you already have.
3. Rethink Grocery Shopping
Approaching grocery shopping with intentionality reflects responsible stewardship. Meal planning, creating lists, and considering budget-friendly options align with the Biblical principle of managing resources wisely.
I’ve always been a conscientious food shopper, but here’s where I’m making some subtle changes to help manage my grocery budget in this time of inflation.
First, I don’t go to the grocery store as often as I used to. I still shop the sales and find the best prices, but if I’m in the stores less frequently, I’m less likely to make impulse purchases. Meal planning and list making are the keys to staying on budget—don’t wander! I also have friends who swear by the delivery services—not just for the time savings, but because it forces them to meal plan and stick to the list. A service like emeals helps you plan your meals based on your preferences, creates a shopping list for you, and can integrate with a delivery service. They have a free 14-day trial and a “budget-friendly” plan option so you can try it out before committing.
Secondly, I’m defaulting to whatever meat is the best cost that week vs. what I want to cook. If a recipe has a pricey ingredient, I find a different one or make a substitution rather than overspend or make another trip.
My go-to lately has been the $5 rotisserie chickens available at “clubs” like Sam’s or Costco. They are pre-cooked, tasty, and you can meal plan around them. Just make sure your blinders are on before entering a big box store! Here’s a tip: Save the carcasses in your freezer and use them to make a big batch of chicken broth.
Lastly, I’m using and eating leftovers more often than I used to. Leftover roasted vegetables may not be enough for tomorrow night’s side dish, but they are delicious in a frittata and I bet you already have eggs in the house. Leftover rice from one meal can be used for fried rice the next day with some frozen vegetables and some leftover protein from earlier in the week.
Speaking of low-priced food options, have you checked out your local Dollar Tree lately? Just for fun, I did a cursory run through to see, “If I had to, could I feed my family on a strict Dollar Tree budget?”
The short answer is yes, but they are lacking the fresh options of a supermarket. However, if you are really squeezing the pennies, there are some great options like dried beans, rice, canned and frozen vegetables, pasta, tomato sauce, tortillas, oatmeal, eggs, and baking ingredients, like corn muffin and biscuit mixes.
Believe it or not, there are lots of bloggers and vloggers who have suggestions on how to meal plan in the Dollar Tree—just do a quick YouTube search.
Dollar Tree may not be the healthiest option, but these days the availability of affordable, healthy options are more plentiful than ever. When I’m “eating healthy” I eat more produce and leaner meats, all of which are available at your local Walmart or my favorite: Aldi.
If you have access to an Aldi, you may want to check it out as they have some great organic ingredients and their produce and dairy are the most affordable in my area. Also consider shopping at your local produce stand for your fruit and veggies as most are comparably-priced and you will be supporting a small business. Check out this free resource from Medi-Share for more great money saving tips for eating healthy.
4. Check Your Subscriptions
Boy, do they add up fast. We don’t have cable so I find myself justifying the extra streaming services just to watch a show, then never cancel them. Those are the little costs, but some media or product-specific subscriptions can really get costly.
And let’s not forget the “special offers” that expire and leave you reeling from an unexpected increased charge. Consider an app like Rocket Money to help you identify and track all your subscriptions, as well as help you cancel services so you don’t need.
5. Shopping for “Free”
Not going to lie, January is typically prime shopping season for me. Christmas clearance, winter closeouts, and accessorizing those Christmas gifts, whatever they may be, are easily justifiable shopping excuses.
Feeling tempted this January? Cue the gift cards. I tend to hoard gift cards and reward savings/points so it’s the perfect time to use them to feed the need to get a deal. How about returning some of those unwanted Christmas presents for store credit?
Here’s one you may not have thought of: clothing swaps! Get together with a similarly-sized friend and achieve two goals—closet purging and some free “new-to-you” clothes! That shirt that has never been quite right (but was a great deal) may be perfect on your friend. Google “clothing swap” for more great ideas on how to plan a get together with a larger group and make it a party! The key to shopping for free is to get something for “nothing.”
A Stewardship Challenge
Whether you apply one or more of these tips, or have some tricks of your own, small changes do add up. I don’t expect any of these suggestions to be life-changing, but a combination of one or more may be just what you need to get back on track and feel more in control of your finances this month or in other months when faced with unexpected expenses.
Alternatively, you can apply all of these and still not make a dent in your deficit. If that’s the case, don’t be discouraged. It might be time to call in the budgeting gurus for some advice.
As you navigate the financial terrain of the new year, remember that setbacks happen, but each one is an opportunity to learn and adjust. Ground your financial decisions in the principles of spiritual stewardship, acknowledging that all you have is a gift from God. May this new year bring not just financial stability but also a deepened understanding of responsible stewardship in alignment with your faith.