Keeping Family Finances in Check

By: Diane Lang

I stated in disbelief at the notice from the bank. We simply could not be overdrawn. After all, I was working on my Master of Business Administration degree, and M.B.A.’s don’t make such misjudgments.

According to my figures, we had several hundred dollars in our checking  account. I rechecked my calculations; everything added up perfectly. Relieved, I wondered how the bank could have made such a stupid error.

I was rehearsing the smug speech I would deliver to some poor, unsuspecting bank teller when I noticed that two pages of my checkbook register had stuck together – and those pages weren’t blank. They were filled with checks of various amounts that I had not subtracted from my balance. Panic! My husband Bob and I spent the next few days trying to figure out how to bring our account positive and keep it there.

To help us keep our sanity while juggling family finances, we’ve learned to follow some simple practices. You’ll find them helpful also.

1. Make a budget.

It may sound like old-fashioned advice, and it is – but that doesn’t make it outdated. A monthly budget gives your family spending guidelines to follow. Everyone knows what can be spent where. I didn’t say they’d all like it. but at least they know!

2. Make finances a family affair.

Involve the kids in budget planning and bill paying. Older kids can help decide where the money should be spent – I said help decide! Even the little ones can help by licking stamps and sealing envelopes.

3. Don’t buy from telephone solicitors.

No need to be rude. Simply say, “I don’t buy anything over the phone.” Most salespeople don’t have a comeback for this. You will save not only your hard-earned money, but also your precious family time.

4. Check your accounts.

Take a good look at your bank accounts. Are you getting interest on the funds in your checking account or at least receiving the service at no charge? Does your account provide all the services you need? If not, do some shopping around. Many credit unions now offer very attractive checking accounts. Look for an account that really fits your needs.

5. Don’t be a big spender.

Carry only a small amount of cash with you, just enough to cover emergencies. If you don’t have it, you won’t spend it.

6. Cut credit cards.

Try to restrict yourself to only one major credit card. Your expenditures will be easier to keep track of, and you won’t have as much credit tempting you. When asked why she always pushed the store’s credit card, a clerk said that customers with credit cards spend 15 percent more than those who pay by cash or check.

7. Stay away from automatic teller machines (ATMs).

Don’t memorize your secret code. Leave it at home in a safe place and use it just for emergencies. Not only is it easy to withdraw money on a whim, but most banks have also started to charge for the use of their ATMs. If you use an ATM, don’t forget to record the withdrawal in your check register!

8. Cut back on television.

It sounds crazy, but think about it – what is the purpose of all those commercials you see on TV? To get you to buy more things. And what do most TV shows feature? People who’ve bought a lot of things – great role models, right? One family I know says cutting back on TV was the biggest single thing that helped them balance their budget.

9. Shop with a purpose.

Make a list and stick to it. Don’t shop for groceries when you’re hungry or for clothes when you’re depressed. It’s too easy to spend money attempting to satisfy needs that money can never satisfy.

10. Subscribe to your favorite magazine.

Then you won’t be tempted to buy them off the newsstand, where they are two or three times more expensive. But only subscribe to those that you read regularly.

11. Plan your splurges.

Even if your budget is tight, it should include something special each month: a family trip to the yogurt stand or the bookstore, for example. Something simple and fun that you can enjoy together.

12. Recycle.

Yes, it’s good for the environment. But it can be a fun family financial activity too. Bottles, cans, and newspapers can all be turned into cash. Use the money for a special project. And watch for bonus specials at your local recycler – extra pennies per pound or a free-pizza premium.

13. Start a change jar.

Empty your purse or pockets of change each day. Any time you find change lying around, add it to the jar and watch your fortune grow! Caution: be sure to keep enough change in your pocket for the parking meter.

14. Teach your children how to handle money.

The best way to teach your kids to be good money managers is to set a good example and then give them money of their own to learn with. And let them make mistakes; they’ll learn faster.

15. Give your money away.

Doesn’t sound like good financial advice? Well, it is! The blessings of helping others and giving tithes and offerings to God cannot be measured. Your family can enjoy the discipline of sharing the blessings that God has given you.

16. Save for a rainy day.

All right, so I can’t write an article about finances and family without this basic advice. Set aside some money each paycheck, even if it isn’t much. You will be better prepared when the car needs new tires or the kids need braces.

And if you manage to avoid such emergencies for a while and build up a tidy sum, all the better. You can take the family to Disneyland or splurge on the new swing set.

17. Don’t do anything without talking it over with your family.

Use these ideas to discuss your family’s financial strategy. Make the session fun. Have the kids come up with their own ideas. Keep the ideas that work for your family and throw out the ones that don’t.

And, by all means, keep a can of Static Guard on hand for stubborn checkbook register pages!


So you think you have some financial savvy? Take this quiz and see how much of a wizard you are!


Have you made a budget in the past 12 months? _____ _____
Do you have a will? _____ _____
Do you include your children in financial decision
making and bill paying? _____ _____
Do you use only one major credit card? _____ _____
Do you use credit cards for convenience, rather than
as a means of credit? _____ _____
Do you have a list of all the credit card you own,
with the addresses of the issuers and your account
numbers? _____ _____
Are your shopping trips carried out for a specific
purpose? _____ _____
Do you shop from a grocery list? _____ _____
Do you carry a calculator with you when you shop, to
keep a running total of your purchases? _____ _____
Is your bank account free of service charges? _____ _____
Have you given God His share? _____ _____
Are you careful to set aside part of each paycheck for savings? _____ _____

How many times did you answer Yes?

9 – 12 You’re a financial genius – maybe you could write the next article!

5 – 8 Pretty good! Just keep pinching those pennies and smiling.

1 – 4 Well, it’s always nice to have plenty of room for improvement. Reread the article – it may save you from some costly mistakes.

(The above material appeared in an April 1992 issue of Signs of the Times.)Christian Information Network