Living With Less: Keeping a Balanced Checkbook

A couple of weeks ago our daughter Anne was having trouble getting her checkbook to balance.  She went over and over it and finally decided to go to the bank to inquire about some discrepancies.  She began to explain to the teller some of her concerns.  The teller was considerate and asked to see her checkbook.  When Anne opened her well-organized checkbook, the teller almost gasped.  She said, “you know, if more people would keep their checkbook balanced like this, they would save themselves sooooo much money!” 

In today’s debit card society, balancing a checkbook is harder than it was in the pre-debit card years.  Both husband and wife are using their cards to make purchases.  Sometimes it’s easy to forget to write down purchases that were made with the swipe of a card. 

Online banking has made access to our bank balance easier than ever, but many folks don’t realize that an online balance isn’t an accurate one.  The only accurate balance is when we write down every expense and every deposit on some form of a ledger.  And that ledger is only as good as the monthly checkbook balancing act we do when the statement becomes available to us once a month. 

When you are living with less money, balancing the checkbook isn’t an option…it’s a necessity!

Here are some strategies we’ve found helpful:

  • Enter daily purchases every evening. It usually takes less than 5 minutes.
  • Have a central location where all expense receipts are kept. 
  • Mark the date that the statement comes available on your calendar and actually schedule a time to balance the checkbook.
  • Use cash whenever possible…this greatly reduces the number of transactions entered into a checkbook.
  • Start somewhere.  If you haven’t been keeping your checkbook balanced, start by entering the transactions on your next bank statement.  Then sit down for five minutes everyday to keep it accurate with new deposits or expenses.

Personally, Mark and I have found Quicken software to be wonderful for keeping our checkbook ledger on our computer.  It does the adding and subtracting and makes record keeping so much easier. Our adult kids, however, are quite content using checkbook ledgers.  Either works fine! Like the bank teller told Anne, keeping good records saves people money!

What about you?  How do you keep track of your purchases? 

Living With Less: The Power of Cash

My walking partner, Crystal, and I were talking last night about the power of cash in a “less is more” budget.  It’s a lesson that Mark and I have learned the hard way, blowing budget after budget using our debit card and losing track of just how much we’re spending.

If you’ve never done the “cash only” thing, I challenge you to give it a try.  Here’s what we’ve learned about cash:

Cash limits.  Cash is finite.  It has an end.  It limits how much we spend because if you don’t have the cash for it, you don’t buy it.

Cash is freeing.  When we are committed to cash purchases, it helps keep us out of debt.  And having no credit card debt is freedom at it’s finest.

Cash matures us Seriously.  When you learn to wait for things until you have the cash to buy it, you build patience and practice delayed gratification.  These counter-intuitive actions build character which brings about maturity.

Cash increases communication in a marriage.  When we are budgeting out our dollars on a weekly basis, we are talking about money more.  This keeps money conversations more often proactive rather than reactive. 

Cash takes some extra effort on the front end, but when we take the time to manage our money with cash, we always stay true to our spending plan on the back end.

What about you?  What strategies have you found helpful in sticking to a budget or using cash?

Do I have any Florida Blog Friends?

Mark and I are excited to be part of the Focus on the Family “Celebrate Family” Tour.  We’ll be at the Orlando, Florida, event on Wednesday, May 19. 

If you live close enough to come to the Orlando event, we’d love to meet you!  It’s a FREE event at the Doubletree Hotel at the entrance to Universal Orlando. 

If you don’t live in Florida but have friends in Florida that might be interested in joining us for a great evening, please pass along this information to them! 

We’ll be discussing Living With Less So Your Family Has More!  Also featured will be musician Jonny Diaz.  You can find more information about the event HERE!

Focus on the Family WEBCAST Today!

Today I’ll be joining the discussion on the weekly Focus on the Family live webcast for moms!

This time, however, I’ll be doing so from the comfort of my home and the technology of Skype!  The topic of the one hour show will be “Family Finances.”  I’ll be sharing principles shared in Living With Less So Your Family Has More!

You can watch the webcast on the Focus on the Family site today by clicking HERE. This is once again an interactive webcast.  You can phone in or email questions during the webcast.

Webcast Times:

  • Pacific: 11am-noon
  • Mountain: Noon-1pm
  • Central: 1-2pm
  • Eastern: 2-3pm

I hope you’ll join in the discussion today!
(If you can’t join in live, you can always catch the archived show at a later time!) 

Wednesday’s Words of Encouragement: Money Management for Kids

Money Management for Kids
by Jill Savage

Every child has their own financial personality. Three of our children are savers. Two are spenders. Of course, they take after both my husband and me, who sit at opposite ends of the spending/saving spectrum ourselves.
Regardless of our default tendencies in money matters, it is vital that as parents we teach our children sound financial principles. Their ability to handle money as an adult will be influenced by the financial education we impart as well as the habits we model ourselves.
Because faith is an important part of our life, we base our financial education on the 10-10-80 principle: 10% to God, 10% to savings, and 80% for spending. This provides us a foundation for all of our money lessons. 
If you are trying to teach your kids good money management skills, here are some practical financial strategies to consider:
  • Resist making loans. Invariably, the kids will ask for an advance on their allowance or a short-term loan until their allowance or next paycheck and it is tempting to front them the money. However, this can plant the seed that borrowing is an optional financial strategy for short-term pleasures.
  • Teach them to spend based upon a budget rather than a paycheck. Help kids to identify budget categories like entertainment, future events (concerts, ski trips, etc), gas and auto expenses (if they are driving), clothing, and Christmas to allow them to learn the value of truly “managing” their money. If they sock away a certain amount or percentage into each category each time they are paid, then they will most likely have money for the things they want to do. This also teaches delayed gratification where they learn to wait for the things they want through short-term sacrifice rather than getting short-term gratification with long-term consequences (debt).
  • Open a checking account with your teen. Ideally this would happen a year or two before they go to college so they can learn to manage the account with your guiding hand. Teach them how to keep good records and how to reconcile their account each month. Set aside a regular time each week to financially “check in” with your teen, going over their register, checking the account online, and overseeing their reconciliation.
  • Rather than starting your teen with a debit card, ask the bank for an ATM card. There is a common misunderstanding that a debit card purchase will be denied if the bank account is overdrawn. However, a debit purchase is only denied after the account is already overdrawn and fees have likely been incurred. This is because the bank doesn’t know what purchases haven’t yet posted to the account. Therefore, it won’t stop a new purchase because it isn’t aware of recent purchases until it’s too late. An ATM card allows access to cash anytime, but keeps teens from overdrafting the account with unrecorded debit purchases. There is still a risk of overdraft with an ATM card if the teen is writing checks and not keeping good records, but the risk is definitely less than if they are using a debit card.    
  • Teach kids to shop wisely. Kids can use their fledgling math skills to divide the cost of a product by the ounces in the container to get a per-ounce price that allows them to make cost comparisons. Taking along a small calculator can come in handy.

  • Educate your kids about confusing marketing tactics, misleading credit card offers and hidden costs in purchases. Television commercials provide many examples of misleading marketing tactics that our kids need to understand. The dozens of credit card offers we get in the mail can become an instant lesson in the dangers of borrowing money and how the minimum payment keeps a person in debt for years. Online purchases include shipping and handling costs that kids need to figure into the final price for an item they might want to purchase.
Certainly our spenders need to learn to be savers and our savers need to learn how to spend wisely. However, the most important lesson our children need to learn is money can manage us or we can manage our money!

Our Debt Snowball

A year ago Mark and I decided to take Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace course that was being offered at our church. It was the best money decision we’ve ever made!

One of the things Dave talks about is the Debt Snowball. The concept is that you list your debts biggest to smallest. You pay the minimum payment on all your debts except the smallest debt. You pay at least the minimum to that debt and more if you can. Once it’s paid off you take the payment you were paying and add it to the payment you are currently paying on the next larger debt. Once it’s paid off you do the same on the next debt.

We committed to do that a year ago. And we’ve stayed committed. And this week we paid off that first debt!!! Wahoo! It took a year, but we’re experiencing the victory of the commitment! Not only that, but when I set up the online payment for the next larger debt’s payment next month, the new payment amount will now have the debt gone in 3 months instead of the 6 months it would have taken at it’s lower payment level.

We’re seeing the snowball work! We’re doing the happy dance here in Normal, IL!

I wanted to share this to encourage any of you who desire to find financial freedom. Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace course is excellent. You can see if one is offered in your community here.

Moving toward financial freedom is possible! Just ask the two people here in Normal, IL who are seeing their first victory! Sticking with the plan is hard…but so worth it! We made some sacrifices to make this happen–in fact it was a year ago that I also blogged about our “peanut butter and jelly trip” to Florida—a post that resulted in dozens of tried and true money-saving ideas that many of you shared!

Are you working toward financial freedom? Tell us how it’s going and what’s working for you!

Three more days!

I apologize for my delay in posting. Mark and I and our two youngest kids were in a traffic accident this week. Someone ran a stopsign and broadsided us. We’re all ok, but very sore. Unfortunately our van didn’t fare so well. They had to tow it away and we’ve yet to hear the cost of the damage. Luckily the driver who hit us did have insurance.

By the way, for those of you in the Chicago area, I’m speaking in Joliet on Thursday evening. You can find info if you click on “schedule” at the top of this page.

Now for another tip for making ends meet. This one is one that Mark and I have been transitioning to for the past few months after taking Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University ( If you ever have a chance to do Financial Peace—do it! It’s a wonderful learning experience! Here’s the tip:

Pay cash.

Pay cash for everything.

I’m amazed at how much it has saved us money! The biggest reason is that I’m far more conscious about my spending than I was when we used our debit card. As Dave says, cash is harder to part with so you evaluate your purchases and do without sometimes because you either don’t have the cash for it, or you don’t want to waste your precious cash on it.

I’ll admit there’s a bit of an inconvenience matter like when you fill up your tank with gas. I used to pop the debit card in the pump, fill my tank, grab my receipt and go. Now I fill up and have to go inside and pay. It takes a little longer, but the peace of mind it gives me to not be overspending or having more month at the end of the money is worth the hassle!

Anymore great ideas to share? Don’t forget to put your email at the bottom of your comment. If you are just joining in for the first time, check out the April 21 post to learn about the contest I’m running –it’s a great way to learn from one another about making ends meet!

More ideas!

Girls, I am loving these great ideas!

Today’s suggestion for making ends meet is to plan meals. I find when I plan my meals, I use my food more wisely, and we are tempted to eat out less! I’ve gone through different phases of meal planning. When my kids were younger, I had a monthly meal plan that I used. Then I moved to just planning out my meals each week–thinking through our activities and considering what ingredients I had on hand. Regardless of how I plan my meals what always stays the same is that when I plan my meals, we save money.

Keep the ideas coming in. And remember, to get the most out of this contest:

1) When you post, sign off with your email address. That way I can connect with you if you win!

2) Submit your suggestions as a comment to the April 21 post.

3) If you are not already subscribed to my blog, you can do so (see top right of the page) today. That way you’ll get the daily money saving suggestions I’ll be making each day.

4) Keep reading the comments on the April 21 post to be encouraged and learn from other moms and how they are making ends meet for their families!