Ahead of our upcoming retreat for single mothers and their children, we would like to share with you a piece written by Mrs. Edna King, intended to help single mothers (though it can apply to any struggling parent), approach finances and saving from both a practical, and an Orthodox Christian perspective.
3. Face the reality of your current situation.
Most of us would rather not really see just how bad our finances are, but as often happens when you face your fears; they might not be as scary as you thought. What’s your income and expenditures? Start by creating a list of what financial resources you have including all forms of income. Next, create a similar list of all your debts and monthly expenditures. Do you have piles of unopened bills? If so, find them, open them, and throw out the ones that are not needed. Make a list of all the debts like this:
Or you can organize them on a spreadsheet like this:
Seeing your debts can be scary, but try to see it as the first step in conquering them because it is!
Examine your results and look for any flexibility. I know, you just yelled at me and said there is none. I understand, my mother once examined my budget and told me I couldn’t even afford shampoo. That was a few years before the coins in the couch episode. Even in the tough times, my needs were always met and yours will be too.
Sometimes we have to be creative. If you can’t cut your budget, think creatively about how you can increase your income. I found ways to earn extra money by babysitting and temp jobs. Usually, there are thing we can cut back on. Look honestly at your spending. When my son was a baby, I made my own clothes. I was a terrible seamstress and fortunately I discovered thrift stores.
Later, I was insecure about my life situation and wanted to have the things my non-single parent friends had, so I over spent on things like clothes. I didn’t realize how rich my life really was just because I had my child in it! Our attitudes shape our spending. Don’t let insecurity or resentment cloud your thinking and drive you to buy things you don’t need and can’t afford. Buying extra things or unnecessary items for your kids will not fill a hole in the family; don’t let guilt or feeling sorry for their losses goad you into spending what you don’t really have. In our culture, we often think we need things that we really don’t and this can be a major problem for all of us.
Ask God to help you transform this problem into an opportunity to trust Him, to lead a more simple life, free from the constant need for excessive material things that plague us in modern life. Find the “golden mean” for your family’s needs.
Jesus constantly warns against having anxiety about material things, even food and clothing. God knows and provides everything you need, but most likely you have taken your needs and exaggerated them beyond what are your basic necessities. To follow Jesus, He asks you to abandon your attachment to possessions and the priority you are placing on things of this created world, and to take on a simpler lifestyle focused on God where you are not encumbered with excessive demands to accumulate material things for your happiness. The key is a balance. Plato and Aristotle taught mankind, hundreds of years before Christ, that the ideal is a golden mean, which implies a path through life that is neither burdened with excess nor with deprivation. By slowing down or simplifying our lives we are not talking about being less productive or rejecting the whole of this material world. We are simply being more effective, balanced, and doing what we do with much greater care, which includes the exercise of the moral imperatives that God has laid down for us.
- Set reasonable and achievable goals
Look for opportunities and try to make the most of them. Ask yourself questions like these:
- What talents and resources do I have?
- What would I like to improve in my everyday life?
- What are five things that I can cut out to save money or stress?
- Where do I want to be in five years (think of your job, housing or other personal goals)?
- What can I do to start working on my goals? What is the first step?
- How can I get my kids to help me along the way? How am I planning to help them learn to manage their finances and resources?
- Examine your answers and see if there’s a pattern. Make a plan to get where you want to be. Identify the first steps on that plan.
Sometimes our own heartbreaks, losses, and resentments can block our progress towards healing and becoming closer to what God created us to be. None of us have the life we thought we would have or what perhaps we think we deserve to have here on earth, but truly if we did it would be but a pitiful and sad existence compared to the glory that God has prepared for us. Focus on the eternal, then your inner perspective on your current problems will change.
The chief end of our life is to live in communion with God. To this end the Son of God became incarnate, in order to return us to this divine communion, which was lost by the fall into sin. Through Jesus Christ, the Son of God, we enter into communion with the Father and thus attain our purpose.
– St. Theophan the Recluse, Letters to various people, 24
Whatever life goals you set, the most important one is becoming ever more Christ like. Having financial plans are good, but setting a spiritual course to heaven builds the foundation for your eternal life. To the degree that we see God’s provision as abundant, even a simple bowl of soup becomes something to be thankful for. God gives us what we need each day. What we have is enough for that moment.