What Could You Give Up For Lent?

It’s that time of the year again when various treasured eating habits or hobbies are forsaken in the cause of self- sacrifice or a simpler lifestyle. While the clash with Valentine’s Day this year may have compensated shopkeepers in the sales of chocolate, many of us, whether we have a strong religious affiliation or not, will attempt in the season of Lent to make changes in our life style that improve us, whether physically, mentally or spiritually.

Lent is a time for self-examination of the things that motivate us and make us tick. It can also lead to permanent changes. Many years ago my teenage self gave up sugar in tea for Lent. It was horrible. On Easter Sunday morning my lovely Mum brought me a cup of tea in bed with two sugars. It was horrible!

So what would you like to give up for Lent?

How about Anxiety? Resentment? Anger? Frustration? Shame? Embarrassment? Or Fear?

Or maybe Insomnia? Headaches? Indigestion? High Blood Pressure? Or Stress?

The above are all physical and emotional symptoms of our relationship with money, particularly when that relationship is strained or going wrong.

The hardest part of getting our finances back on track is changing our mind-set and learning to think differently about money. It takes willpower to say no to things we can’t afford, to stop trying to do everything and to start building a nest egg or clearing down credit cards.

Developing that mind set can take time, and I’ve noticed that when people are in a bad relationship with their money, they tend to say the same things:

“I will focus on saving and clearing my debts when I get a pay rise and make more money”

This sounds like a great idea, but all too often people get caught up in a never-ending cycle of lifestyle inflation. Every time they get a new position or a pay rise they just end up increasing their spending too. Instead of blowing your pay raise on more unnecessary things, focus on maintaining your current spending levels and putting the rest toward paying off debts or saving for a rainy day. There’s less to declutter too!

“I work hard, I deserve it” This is a slippery slope. It is difficult when you work hard and you naturally want something to show for it, something more than the usual shop and the electricity bill. Factor treats into a manageable budget and don’t go overboard, or save for one special item or event rather than frittering away on lots of smaller things.

“My job is secure so I don’t worry about the future”

That may be true today, but when the economy faces a downturn lots of people who thought their jobs were secure face uncertainty about employment. Even people in ministry may experience changes such as their congregation being unable to pay expenses. Rainy day savings or a low level of outstanding debt will help to weather the storm.

“Debt is normal, everyone has it”

This is probably true for the majority of adults in this country but it really depends on the kind of debt. A mortgage secured on a property is a sensible investment but having debt because of unmanageable spending becomes a kind of imprisonment, and certainly having debt because other people do is the very worst of reasons. Don’t be a follower, be a leader. Leaders get to choose their financial lives. Followers get their financial lives chosen for them.

“I want to start saving (or clear my debts) but it is too hard”

First of all set yourself a realistic target. There’s no point saving £300 on payday if you draw the whole amount out three days later. Likewise you will never get free of debt if you use your overdraft to pay your credit card or vice versa. Start by planning a budget, prioritise debts and pay the ones with the highest interest or the greatest penalties first. Seek help if necessary and consider a consolidation loan if that makes sense. When saving, work out how much you can afford every month without needing to dip into it and aim to increase the amount by at a least £1 every six months.

“You only live once (YOLO!)”

This argument can be used to justify literally anything but is it really living if you can’t sleep at night? Or you feel sick at the thought of an unexpected bill or a knock on the door? Putting money away for a rainy day is part of living life to the full, not just for today but in the days and years ahead.

Time for a change?

If some of the above sounds like something you would say then opening a Credit Union account could prove a real help in the struggle to take charge of your finances. Credit Union members can save as little or as much as they can afford each month either through the bank or for certain employees, direct from their pay. Credit Union members also have access to ethical low cost loans that can make a real difference to their lives. Or as one of our members told us:

“My circumstances were taken into account on a human level rather than as a number. Last night, I had my first decent night’s sleep in a very long time and for that I am truly grateful.” S.C.