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Steps to better money habits

The McGarity family of San Antonio, Texas
The McGarity family of San Antonio, Texas

Marissa Simon

It’s never too late to become more financially savvy

We’ve likely all heard similar advice about money. Guidance such as spend less than you earn, be generous, use debt carefully, save more. We know it works. Yet many of us, in various stages of life, can find ourselves struggling at times to make healthy money choices, even if we have financial clarity.

While sometimes it’s because we don’t seem to have enough money, more often it stems from how we use the resources we’ve been given. And that’s where our emotions may get involved, tending to drive the choices we make with our finances.

“Feelings of insecurity, lack of knowledge and procrastination are some of the biggest things that hold us back from making healthy money decisions,” says Heidi Renteria, a guide with Thrivent’s Money Canvas program. “We may feel that making those healthy choices will take away the fun in our lives. We also make decisions based on limited knowledge or how we saw our parents manage money.”

“Often we know what we need to do,” Renteria says. “We have the answers within us. We just don’t get around to or know how to incorporate them into our lives.”

Sometimes people just feel overwhelmed and simply don’t know where to start, says Charlie Gallagher, Thrivent financial associate in Irvine, California.

“They don’t know how to build structure, get organized,” Gallagher says. “And that’s where having a guide to come alongside them and ask them key questions can help.”

Rick Boxeth, a professional chef and client of Gallagher’s from Santa Ana, California, found himself in debt after using credit cards to buy what he needed to start and run his two companies—Catered Courses and Santa Ana Sweets. Gallagher suggested debt consolidation, and Boxeth reached out to the Thrivent Credit Union for guidance.

While Boxeth took out a loan to consolidate his debt, he also admits that it’s way too easy to fall back into old habits. He felt like he was having the same money conversations with Gallagher each time they met, and he wasn’t making the progress he wanted.

That’s when Gallagher recommended Boxeth meet virtually with Jenifer Sykora, a guide with Money Canvas. “We talked in real language about where I was financially,” Boxeth says. “I actually cried because I could finally see there was a way out. I learned that having a strategy saves time, money and stress.”

In addition to helping change Boxeth’s mindset about his finances, Gallagher says, the Money Canvas sessions helped get Boxeth on the same page financially as his wife, Tracy, a high school teacher. Like many married couples, the two view money differently.

“A concept called the Money Wheel provided a picture that both he and his wife could understand,” Gallagher says. “Even though his numbers were upside down, they were finally speaking the same money language and they could work on this together.”

It’s been a fantastic change. Boxeth, along with some new partners, continues to grow his businesses. The additional revenue from expansion helps pay debt down faster and is enabling the couple to save more. They continue to work with Gallagher on a retirement strategy. “This is a powerful process,” Boxeth says.

Rick Boxeth, professional chef & Thrivent client
Rick Boxeth, professional chef & Thrivent client

Skewed perceptions

Everyone’s story of why they took on debt, aren’t saving, or got behind in their finances is different, says Sykora. And so is every person she guides. People often have the misperception that those with unhealthy money habits don’t make much money or are not educated.

In reality, low income is not always to blame for financial challenges. Only 20% of people facing financial hardship fall below the poverty line and make less than $40,000 a year.1

“I meet with people in every life situation, every income level, from just out of college to retired,” Sykora says about her work with Money Canvas. “Just because you have a healthy income doesn’t mean you have good money habits, and sometimes it just means your unhealthy money habits have a bigger price tag.”

Gallagher also points to the lack of financial education in schools and the propensity, especially for young adults, to do what their parents have done historically with money.

“Each generation has to plan differently because the economic environment around them has changed,” Gallagher says. “What worked for their parents or grandparents may not work for them.”

We talked in real language about where I was financially... I could finally see there was a way out. I learned that having a strategy saves time, money and stress.
Rick Boxeth, professional chef & Thrivent client

Ways to change unhealthy money habits

Sometimes the biggest challenge to change unhealthy habits to healthy habits is simply starting. “It all begins with small practical steps,” says Daajsha Cooley, Money Canvas guide. “And practical is key. Don’t pick something too hard for you or something you’d never do. Make sure your goals are realistic and that you can measure them.”

Accountability is another key piece—identifying someone who can help you, Renteria says.“You won’t want to reach out to the uncle who has tons of credit card debt or has made poor choices,” she says. “But you may reach out to an aunt that is on target for retirement.

And if you don’t have a family member or friend, there’s nothing wrong with reaching out to a money guide to figure out how to make changes happen.”

Tanisha McGarity of San Antonio, Texas, found out about Money Canvas from a friend and signed up for a session with Renteria.

“We’re not terrible with money, but we could have been better,” says McGarity, an educator. Her husband Jason is a machine operator, and they have five children. A 21-year-old niece also lives with them. “Heidi asked us about our goals and what we’re trying to do. During the pandemic, we were stuck in the house and knew we could start working on our financial goals. We started with baby steps.”

Those initial steps led to big gains. In a year, the McGaritys have been able to pay off more than $32,000 in debt while also finding room to bump up their retirement investments.

“We now have a savings account, an emergency fund and a retirement account,” McGarity says. “We’ve paid off credit cards and the contract for our security system. We also ended up refinancing my car, which was a huge bonus, dropping the interest rate by 15%.”

They’ve set aside money so their family can go out to eat periodically, and they started a savings account specifically to cover expenses for their cars and house.

“People say that being financially disciplined is hard, but it is manageable and doable, especially if you take it 30 days at a time,” McGarity says. “We’ve always saved money, but with the changes we’ve made, the impact is amazing.”

Acknowledging your feelings about money, establishing accountability and beginning with small, consistent steps are key.

“People think they have to stop their unhealthy money habits cold turkey or go straight to their end goal,” Cooley says. “Start small. This isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon. Take your time and build the muscle you need to succeed.”

People say that being financially disciplined is hard, but it is manageable and doable, especially if you take it 30 days at a time. We’ve always saved money, but with the changes we’ve made, the impact is amazing.
Tanisha McGarity, Thrivent client

Time to start is now

As Zack Czerwonky, financial associate in Carmel, Indiana, meets with clients, he refers those who currently don’t budget or who struggle to be on the same financial page as their spouse, to Money Canvas. He’s seen the benefit this Thrivent program can provide and how it complements the advice he’s giving to clients.

“It’s really important that people can talk about money,” he says. “If they can find a win at this level, they are in a much better spot to understand what winning in retirement is for them.”

It’s never too late to start making healthy money decisions, and really, the sooner the better. “The consequences may have a greater impact the later you start, but it’s important to start,” Czerwonky says. “Think of it as a house and this is part of the foundation. You can’t build the rest of house without the foundation. You can stay in the foundation your whole life, but if you want to start building the framework, developing healthy money habits is a non-negotiable step.

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Thrivent resources to guide you

Money Canvas

Money Canvas is a free one-on-one coaching program offered by Thrivent to help people see their money in a new way and build healthier budgeting, spending and saving habits. The approachable personal finance guidance, through three virtual sessions with a Money Guide, can help participants build confidence and offers practical actions they can take with their finances. The program benefits anyone who manages a personal or household budget and wants more breathing room in their finances.

Money Canvas is open to Thrivent clients and non-clients of all ages and income levels. Sessions are offered in English and Spanish and flexible scheduling is available. Money Guides do not have financial expertise, and they are not licensed or authorized to sell products. They are trained on cash flow management and have tools to effectively coach participants on budgeting and saving.

Thrivent financial advisors

Thrivent financial advisors can help you align your goals and values with your financial strategies. With access to a variety of interactive and collaborative tools, they can help you understand your current financial situation and identify savings and spending strategies and solutions you can feel confident about.

Thrivent Credit Union

Thrivent Credit Union offers its members access to money management tools that will help them be more intentional with their money. These tools enable them to view their financial institution, investment and retirement accounts; track spending; create budgets and see spending and saving habits. It also provides opportunities for refinancing or loan consolidation to help save more or streamline bills.

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10 smart money habits

Consider incorporating the following smart money habits, identified by Money Canvas Guides Heidi Renteria, Daajsha Cooley and Jennifer Sykora, into your life:

  • Track your spending habits/cash flow.
  • Set SMART goals—specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-framed. (Review and reset as needed.)
  • Develop a budget.
  • Automatically transfer money into accounts you’ve earmarked for goals.
  • Analyze needs vs. wants.
  • Take small, practical steps.
  • Spend mindfully.
  • Learn from your mistakes; don’t repeat them.
  • Be generous.
  • Find a financial advisor or coach to guide you.
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Author Donna Hein is editor of Thrivent Magazine.

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1MarketWatch Report, 2017.

The members’ experiences may not be the same as other members and does not indicate future performance or success.

Deposit and lending services are offered by Thrivent Credit Union, the marketing name for Thrivent Federal Credit Union, a member-owned not-for-profit financial cooperative that is federally insured by the National Credit Union Administration and doing business in accordance with the Federal Fair Lending Laws. Insurance, securities, investment advisory and trust and investment management accounts and services offered by Thrivent, the marketing name for Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, or its affiliates are not deposits or obligations of Thrivent Federal Credit Union, are not guaranteed by Thrivent Federal Credit Union or any bank, are not insured by the NCUA, FDIC or any other federal government agency, and involve investment risk, including possible loss of the principal amount invested. Must qualify for membership in TFCU.


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