My dad always encouraged me to save money. "Even if it's only five dollars a week, put it away and don't touch it," he'd tell me. Yeah, yeah, whatever, I thought. I have the rest of my life to save money.
It wasn't that I didn't have any money to save. I worked after school and on the weekends. And during the summer I put in a lot of extra hours. But I could always find other ways to spend my money instead of putting it away in a savings account.
I had that same attitude whenever I received money as a gift. Take my high school graduation, for example. I ended up getting around $2,000 from family and friends. It probably would've been a good idea to save some for my college living expenses, especially considering I had decided not to work during my first semester. But other options were more enticing.
Let's see, there was the trip to Florida with my friends, new clothes, a pair of Rollerblades (they were on sale), a new comforter to match my roommate's, more clothes. Saving was definitely an afterthought, to which I responded, "Don't worry, you can always find babysitting jobs when you need extra cash."
That was my mindset as I began college.
By the end of my freshman year, that mindset had begun to change—mainly because I came to the understanding that God owns everything (Psalm 24:1). Once I saw that everything I had was really God's, I took a hard look at how I was handling his money.
For instance, those clothes I'd bought last summer? Hardly worn—yet I'd been seriously thinking about shopping for a new wardrobe! As for my Rollerblades? Used only once during the school year, and I was thinking about buying a bike? If that wasn't enough, all I had to do was look through my checkbook register. I didn't like what I saw. My habits needed to change. I wanted to be more responsible with what God had given me. So I began to analyze my spending—trying to separate my needs from my wants. And I decided may be it was time to take my dad's advice and begin saving money.
Fortunately, Dad's advice didn't stop with savings. He also suggested I read a book about handling money. Of course, I didn't think I was so fortunate when he first mentioned it. In fact, I responded by groaning and rolling my eyes. But looking back, I'm glad he was persistent. The book was Financial Peace by Dave Ramsey. The advice was very practical. Here's some of what I learned:
Avoid stuff-itis. I loved clothes when I was in high school, and I spent a good portion of the money I earned on trendy fashions. The problem was I could never buy enough. There was always something else I wanted. Cutting back on my shopping not only helped my budget, it also helped me be content with what I had.
Give to others. My parents had taught me to give a portion of what I earned back to God, and I did that. But after taking a look at how much I was spending on myself, I decided I should give more. That didn't always mean more money. I went through my closet and loaded up clothes and shoes I didn't wear anymore, and took them to a local mission for the homeless. Doing this helped me think about my priorities. I saw I had been too focused on myself and my desires. Helping others changed that.
Learn to say no. Not only was it hard for me to pass up a good bargain at the mall, it was also nearly impossible for me to miss going out with my friends. Since eating out and going to the movies can add up pretty quickly, I had to learn to limit myself. That didn't mean I stopped hangin' out; I just had to be more creative to come up with inexpensive, fun stuff to do.
Start saving. I've already talked about my attitude toward saving money. Basically, I learned it just takes some discipline. Taking it out of my paycheck first thing really helped. That way I didn't allow myself to think too much about the other things I could buy instead.
Don't spend more than you have. It seemed like the moment I graduated from high school, every credit card company was after me. I got their applications in the mail every day! Frightened by the threat of debt, I avoided them. I used a debit card instead. That way when I made a purchase, the money was subtracted directly from my checking account. So I didn't have to wonder if I'd have enough money to pay the credit card bill at the end of the month.