High on almost everyone’s list of worries is how to pay our bills. It doesn’t seem to matter what our annual income is. We all have monthly bills for a few items that could be considered “nice but not needed” and we all have many more monthly bills that are pretty much set in cement: housing, utilities, groceries, gas or other transportation costs, and hopefully a phone and medical coverage these days. The cost of each is relative to our lifestyle, and it doesn’t matter whether we’re considered well-off or not. The bigger the house, the greater the maintenance and repair costs, etc. The bills can be painful.
Cutting expenses and meeting roadblocks
When the checking account is looking bleak, when we have to get into the emergency fund to pay for things that just aren’t emergencies, then the “nice to have” activities get cut first. That’s basic survival. A roof over their heads and food in their stomachs are far more important for our kids than ballet lessons or weekly bowling, or even Netflix, or anything else. Not a happy prospect to explain to them but hopefully just until things get better financially. When things do get better, go get ’em, tiger!
In today’s dangerous world, however, karate lessons can be a wise investment of family funds and most parents will cut elsewhere in order to continue those, as long as the child is not feeling pressured to continue them. But if we continue karate lessons for one child, we’ll need to continue some special activity for the others, so we’re not sending the wrong message (that one child is more important than another).
Financial advisors usually recommend paying extra on the mortgage principal to pay off the mortgage earlier, possibly saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest over the long term. The problem with that is the banks cut us no slack for having prepaid an extra amount when we suddenly run smack-dab into a month when maybe we can’t make even the basic payment. Instead of giving us brownie points for being ahead on paying off our mortgage principal, they generally hit us up with late fees on the month we can’t pay. Gee, thanks, guys! There are so many reasons for trying to keep a small cushion in the bank that isn’t for emergencies, on top of the $1,200 for car repairs that we didn’t even hear coming. Sometimes we can build a cushion, sometimes we flat out can’t do it.
Self-employed people usually have an income that seesaws more than a teeter-totter. Graphic artists, photographers and writers are at the front of that lifestyle. Not only is the work sporadic when we’re not fortunate enough to be on retainer, clients do not always pay within agreed-upon terms. Due upon receipt may translate to “Pay in 30 days” in their accounting department. Or the client will say they only cut checks once or twice a month, no matter what the marketing vice-president agreed to. It’s all a way of keeping the funds in their own bank accounts to pay their priority bills first and to earn interest, even as low as interest rates are for most of the world.
Those who participate in a religion will know they encourage voluntary donations or even assess their members specific amounts to pay. Such believers will hear that they need to pay their offerings first and everything else will fall into place. God is enormously patient with our thousands of human frailties, and sometimes, His patience is stretched even further when donations can’t be made “on time.” But He allowed the financial challenges to pile up, even after we pleaded for relief from them.
Apparently God wanted to see how we would handle those financial challenges and if we were willing to make any changes in our life that needed to be made. IMHO it would be far better to play catch-up on the donations or tithing a month or two down the road than to write a check that bounces because you wanted to keep up appearances or “look good” to the local finance clerk (until your checks bounce). Besides, it’s against the law to kite checks, since it’s a form of bank fraud and penalties can be severe.
In addition, when it comes to actual tithing, if we own our own business, we won’t know until the end of the year if we have any net income on which to pay tithing. Many times, a year is a solid loss on the ledgers. And it had nothing to do with poor management. Due to the economic downturn, the customers simply were not there.
A dark cave
We all face daily challenges but financial strain can make us feel like we’re being backed into a dark cave. This is not what we need when we are being bombarded by the other normal problems of life: health issues, employment or unemployment stress, household maintenance, wayward kids, loneliness, transportation, insane wannabe politicians who do not listen to the needs of the people, let alone recognize the dangers of the people’s anger and frustration.
We need to do everything we can to cut back on expenses and improve our income. And yes, that’s awfully difficult to accomplish sometimes. But we need to try because the results will generally lower our stress levels and give us a positive outlook on life.
Another activity that will keep us on the positive side is planning day trips or stay-cations, eating out once a month (somewhere they allow doggie bags so we can take leftover food home), or taking the kids to the park. Some TV stations have a reporter who specializes in things to do “this weekend” and often there are free family events. We need to keep the fun in life, especially when times get tough and paying the bills is among our biggest worries.