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Be Wise With Money

When is Enough, Enough?

Half of Americans spend more than they earn. Financial advice on how to live within your means.

Thrivent members share what "enough" is to them

Grace Braeger hangs on to things she likes. She’s had her membership at Thrivent for 75 years. And she’s had her 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air for 58.

Why does she still have her first car? “Because I didn’t need a new one,” says Braeger, who lives in West Bend, Wisconsin. For years, she has prayed, “Help me be satisfied with what I have.” Even now, Braeger says, “He continues to answer that prayer. I keep the old stuff until it is completely worn out.”

Half of Americans spend more than they earn, says a Rasmussen Reports survey. Not every American household has credit card debt, but Federal Reserve stats say that those who do owe an average of $15,600.

That’s a problem, according to Ron Blue, founding director of Kingdom Advisors in Atlanta, Georgia. Kingdom Advisors trains Christian financial professionals who work at a variety of organizations, including Thrivent Financial. “The Book of Hebrews tells us, ‘Be content with what you have,’” Blue says. “What ‘enough’ looks like is a faith decision that’s unique to every person and a matter of personal conviction. Most people never even ask the question.”

However, some Thrivent members have asked. And their answers have boosted both their contentment and financial security.

Frugal from the start When is Enough, Enough?

Thrivent members Erica and J.P. Wooley
of Oviedo, Florida, live with intentional frugality. J.P., 31, is a firefighter; Erica, 28, works as a legal analyst for a communications company.

They fund emergency reserves, put aside for a house down payment, clip coupons and save for things they want. For example, they paid cash for their cars.
“If we can’t afford it, we don’t buy it,”
Erica says.

They also delay spending decisions, so they can be sure that they really want something. Case in point? Erica set money aside for an exercise watch, but she hasn’t made the purchase. “It would be nice to have, but I don’t really need it,” she says.

These habits have resulted in substantial savings. The couple tries to live solely on J.P.’s salary and saves Erica’s for a home and retirement.

“I grew up in a single-parent home, just me and my mom,” Erica says. “I know what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck, and I grew up knowing that I don’t want to do that.”

Her husband’s parents modeled careful spending. “J.P. was that kid who got $10 for his birthday and put $5 aside,” she says. “If he and his two brothers wanted a video game, they pooled money instead of asking for it as a gift or expecting someone else to buy it.”

Determined to become wiser with money When is Enough, Enough?

Another pair of Thrivent members hasn’t always been thrifty – but they’re
changing their ways. 

Amanda and Richard Uhlmansiek “surprised friends with the lengths we
would go in order to reduce our debt,” Richard says.

Amanda, 30, is a part-time clinical
nursing instructor; Richard, 31, works
for a security systems integrator. With a
toddler and a baby on the way, the
couple recently moved to St. Louis.

Before they adopted frugal living, they spent money on experiences: bed-and-breakfasts, concerts, Cardinals baseball games. Explains Amanda: “We felt pretty positive about our spending habits because we didn’t have credit card debt.”

But the couple does have about $50,000 in student loan debt. And they had no day-to-day spending plan or long-term savings strategy. “I don’t think we were very good stewards of what God had given us,” Amanda says. 

This past year, the Uhlmansieks made some changes.

First, they made a budget. “We needed to see where our money was going,” Amanda says.

Then, they traded in their vehicles – a 2010 sporty car and a 2003 pickup – for a reliable 2002 station wagon. Total car payments went from $400 to less than $100 a month.

Next, the Uhlmansieks used the snowball system, in which debtors pay off their smallest loan, then apply the money to the next-smallest loan. An $8,000 loan for a water-softening system melted away. So did a $2,000 student loan and a debt for new flooring.

On a roll, they got even more aggressive. They sold their 1,300-square-foot house and rented a 1,000-square-foot apartment – for a total savings of $230 a month in utility costs and housing payments. They also sold things they didn’t want or didn’t have room to keep. “We’re really edging toward a more minimal lifestyle,” Amanda says.

Blue says dramatic changes may not be right for everyone. Still, everyone can ask themselves what “enough” looks like to them. “The idea of a finish line, an ‘enough,’ is absolutely critical,” Blue says.

And not just because it leads to wiser ways to manage money, but because it can help you live a more generous life.

That kind of thinking has fueled the lifetime of thrifty choices that Grace Braeger has made. “My philosophy is the less I spend on myself, the more I can give away, and my greatest joy in life is giving money away,” she says. 


Ingrid Case writes about business and finance for Financial Planning, Twin Cities Business, and Bloomberg L.P.

Check out the current issue of Thrivent magazine for more articles.

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