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Fresh perspectives

Subtle shifts in how you think about money may make a large impact on your financial health

LaNette Kincaide of Colorado Springs, Colorado, strengthened her financial foundation through Thrivent's Money Canvas program..
Ryan Dearth

A new year can feel like a clean slate, a fresh start, an opportunity to make positive changes. If your goals for 2024 include saving money, spending less, paying down debt or just being more financially confident, consider trying on one or more of these ideas from Thrivent experts.

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Get vulnerable about your money.

LaNette Kincaide grew up in a family that didn’t talk about money. “You never let anyone know when you’re struggling; you never let anyone know when things are hard,” she says.

LaNette, who lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, was skeptical when she learned that one of the conditions of graduating from a local entrepreneur program was to complete three sessions of Money Canvas™, a free coaching service from Thrivent that empowers people to build healthier budgeting, spending and saving habits.

At her first virtual meeting with her Texas-based Money Canvas coach, Claudia Lopez, LaNette broke down crying. She was overwhelmed with credit card debt and monthly bills. LaNette was in the entrepreneurship program to strengthen the foundation of her writing academy, but her personal finances made it difficult to invest in her business.

Lopez, who immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico 10 years ago, could relate. Prior to joining Thrivent, she had been living paycheck to paycheck and carrying debt. Applying the Money Canvas approach, she paid off her debt and is now financially secure.

“It’s empowering that I can share my own personal journey through what we are teaching,” Lopez says.

With the reassurance from her coach, LaNette bared her soul and information about her bank accounts.

“Claudia is amazing,” LaNette says. “She made me feel comfortable in a way I wouldn’t ever imagine feeling comfortable talking to anyone. The confidence you hear now is me no longer being afraid of my money.”

Mike Olinger (“MO”), a Thrivent financial advisor with Quadrant Financial Advisors in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, considers himself a “financial father figure” to many of his clients in their 20s and 30s.

“I’m going to tell you what you need to hear, not necessarily what you want to hear,” Olinger says.

A former funeral director, Olinger is experienced with difficult conversations and helping people feel empowered and supported. Money can be an emotional topic, and he finds that many people are uncomfortable asking for help. He encourages clients to have a financial accountability partner such as a spouse, sibling, parent or friend.

“Open your soul. Look at your bank statements. Share everything you’re doing. Then you aren’t able to hide it from yourself,” he says.

In addition to having a financial accountability partner, Olinger encourages clients to cultivate a support network of experts who can help guide them in the most important aspects of life.

“Create a professional toolbox,” he says. “Make sure you have established face-to-face relationships with a banker, tax professional, attorney, medical professional, mental health professional and a financial advisor. Know them before you need them, so that when you need that ‘tool,’ the comfort and trust levels are already in place, and you can focus on the advice that you need.”

Open your soul. Look at your bank statements. Share everything you’re doing. Then you aren’t able to hide it from yourself.
Michael Olinger, Thrivent financial advisor

Use bank accounts strategically.

Decades ago, it was a common practice to have just two bank accounts: a checking account for spending and a savings account for saving. With digital banking, it’s easier than ever to organize your savings in a way that works for you. For many people, that means having multiple accounts.

Lopez encourages her Money Canvas clients to align savings accounts to their goals. She has five savings accounts herself: emergency fund, travel, health, home improvement and miscellaneous. For clients who are tempted to draw money from savings, she encourages them to open these accounts at a different financial institution than their primary checking account, preferably a bank or credit union that doesn’t have branches or ATMs in their neighborhood. This way, the money is still accessible when it’s needed, but a withdrawal requires forethought.

Olinger encourages his clients to set up “home accounts”—designated checking and savings accounts for their home, which they contribute to monthly. He recommends home accounts to married couples, as well as people who live with roommates or multi-generational families. The home checking account can be used for static monthly household expenses, while the savings account quietly grows. Olinger suggests a monthly home budget meeting, in which the adults in the household sit down together, perhaps over dinner, and review the previous month’s expenses.

There are also larger expenses in the life of a home. Furnaces fail, roofs need replacing, and water heaters don’t live forever. If you live in one place long enough, you’ll likely want to make improvements. The home savings account allows you to pay for expensive repairs and renovations without incurring debt or drawing on your emergency fund.

While Olinger uses the home account approach himself, he acknowledges that there are many ways to successfully manage a budget. His clients use various techniques such as writing checks to themselves, putting cash into paper envelopes, or tracking expenses on spreadsheets.

“What’s most important is having a structure, a framework in place,” he says.

Another way to use bank accounts in your favor is to automate your savings. Many banks offer features such as roundups (rounding your transaction to the nearest dollar and transferring the extra pennies to your savings account), purchase transfers (moving a set amount of money into savings with each purchase), and recurring scheduled transfers.

If you hate budgets, try buckets.

While some people appreciate a detailed approach to budgeting, others find it overwhelming: Is a cell phone a utility? Is movie theater popcorn “dining out” or “entertainment”?

Money Canvas simplifies cash flow into three categories or buckets: Save, Pay and Spend. “Save” is money that you set aside for future goals such as retirement, major purchases or emergency funds. “Pay” includes monthly bills and predictable, recurring expenses such as housing, childcare and charitable giving. “Spend” includes variable expenses such as groceries, shopping and entertainment.

“That one number for spend is really powerful,” says Claire Hevel, design manager for Money Canvas. “Some people want to categorize it more, but you don’t have to. If you isolate your variable money and know exactly how much you have left, you won’t risk overspending or debt.”

The priority of the buckets is important. Many people put saving last, intending to save whatever money is left after paying bills and spending on discretionary expenses. Often, they find there is little or no money left over at the end of the month. The “pay yourself first” approach starts with a fixed savings amount (usually 10-20% of income), then prioritizes bills and fixed expenses, and whatever remains goes in the “spend” bucket. This means that discretionary spending is the lever that affects cash flow, you only need to pay attention to that one number, and your future needs are cared for.

“Consider your future well-being as a bill you have to pay,” Hevel says. “It’s even better if you can pay it automatically.”

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Bills are not necessarily fixed expenses.

“There’s a misconception that your bills are set in stone and you have no control over them,” says Hevel. “That’s just not true.”

The Money Canvas curriculum includes more than 100 tips for reducing monthly expenses such as mortgage, rent, utilities, phones and debt payments. The solutions include small actions such as adjusting thermostat settings and fixing leaky air ducts to save energy, as well as bigger changes such as consolidating debt and downsizing one’s car or home.

“Shopping around for car insurance and saving $20 a month might not sound significant, but over a year or two that adds up,” Hevel says.

When LaNette and her husband looked at their monthly bills, they saw several opportunities to save money. She canceled her streaming subscriptions and signed up for a free movie streaming service and audiobook app offered through her local public library. She canceled her gym membership and began exercising at her husband’s military base, where she could use the facilities for free.

“Every bit of money I save goes to the credit card and extra mortgage payments,” LaNette says.

There’s a misconception that your bills are set in stone and you have no control over them. That’s just not true.
Claire Hevel, design manager for Money Canvas

Think about holidays all year long.

It can be discouraging to follow a monthly budget and chip away at your debt all year, only to find yourself pulling out the credit cards in November and December.

Olinger suggests having wish lists that are as evergreen as an artificial Christmas tree, scooping up bargains and creating homemade gifts throughout the year.

“Not only do you spread out the cost, but you can be original. Homemade gifts take time, but they mean so much more,” he says.

He also encourages his clients to consider non-traditional holiday experiences such as vacations and shared experiences with friends and family instead of exchanging tangible gifts.

For Lopez, vacation planning is a year-long activity. She loves to travel with her family and consistently contributes to her dedicated “travel” savings account. Her goal is clear, even when the destination is still up in the air.

“It’s a simple thing that changes my mindset from ‘saving is boring’ to ‘saving is fun,’” Lopez says. “You start to get excited about seeing your savings growing and think ‘Where can we go, and what can we do with this money?’”

Like her coach, LaNette knows the joy of saving for travel. She recently surprised her husband with a trip to Hawaii for their 20th wedding anniversary—a trip that she was able to pay for in cash instead of carrying the expenses on a credit card.

“It felt so good to use that card, then come back and pay it all off.”

Take care of yourself so you can help others.

LaNette is compassionate and kind, the person whom friends and family reach out to in times of crisis. Prior to working with Money Canvas, if someone called to ask for a loan, she didn’t think twice about sending them money, even if they were unlikely to pay her back. Meanwhile, her generosity led to missed bill payments and more credit card debt. When LaNette added it up, she realized she had given away more than $20,000 in the previous two years.

“After working with Claudia, I realized this money could be paid toward my bills,” she says. “I had to take a stance. I had to take my life back.”

Since this realization, LaNette has started a new job, achieved a positive monthly cash flow, and has paid off almost half of her debt. She also launched a business, Writing Coach LK, teaching people how to write and self-publish books. She feels a sense of purpose and fulfilment from helping others find and tell their stories.

“If you don’t make the change for yourself first, then you don’t have the ability to really help others,” says Lopez. “If helping is in your heart, then put yourself in a place where you are in a good position to really help.”

One small change can have a huge impact.

Trying to change multiple aspects of your life at once can be overwhelming, but sometimes starting with one small positive action can cascade into a virtuous cycle.

Before LaNette started Money Canvas, she never brought a list to the grocery store.

“When you’re wandering the aisles for an hour without a list, it’s easy to pick up impulse buys,” she says. “At the end, you’re hungry after all that wandering, so you pick up chips and an extra drink on your way out.”

Following advice from her coach, LaNette began meal planning for a week at a time. She found herself cooking healthier meals and buying less junk food than before. In addition to saving money, she saw and felt improvements in her physical health and overall wellness. The small change set off a chain reaction of healthy habits. She became more active, taking walks with her husband and joining a fitness class and volleyball team.

“LaNette took it to the next level,” Lopez says. “She felt so confident, so empowered to make changes. First she made a few changes, and now she’s a whole new person.”

Monica Wiant is executive editor of Thrivent Magazine.

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Additional ideas to slow down your spending

These five psychology-based tips from Money Canvas can help you spend less and save more.

1. 24-Hour rule.

If you find something that you absolutely must have, decide to put off your purchase by one day. This will give you time to cool off from the thrill of discovering your “must have” and will let you think about whether you really need it.

2. Digital detox.

Unsubscribe from retail emails and deal sites, delete retail apps from your phone, disable 1-click purchase, unfollow brands and influencers on social media, and adjust your preferences to hide targeted ads that show up on your feeds. If you must, take a time-out from social media altogether.

3. Wallet reminders.

Print a picture of your bigger financial goal (a new house, a new car, savings, no more credit card debt) and stick it in your wallet. Every time you use your spending money, hold your goal in one hand and your card or cash in the other and ask yourself if it’s worth it

4. Credit card time-out.

Unless you have a plan to pay off your card immediately after you swipe it, lock up your credit cards at home or give them to a trusted guardian. Delete stored payment info from all your devices; if you’ve memorized your credit card numbers, request a new card.

5. Positive reinforcement.

Surround yourself with like-minded people and groups. Follow social media influencers or bloggers who write about living simply; join freecycling newsletters or “no spend” groups on social media, listen to podcasts and read articles that offer advice and insight on living more with less.

The client’s experience described in this article may not be the same as other clients and does not indicate future performance or success.

Money Canvas™ is a free money coaching service from Thrivent that empowers you to build healthier budgeting, spending and saving habits. Money Canvas™ is available to anyone and is not exclusive to Thrivent’s fraternal members or Thrivent clients. No Thrivent products or services will be endorsed or solicited by your coach.