“We are living in uncertain times…” I’ve heard this phrase almost every day for the last four weeks, and I’ve even caught myself repeating it at times. In a very short period, COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on our culture and economy. One of the most devastating impacts has been on the American workforce. The effect of this financial difficulty is tangible for many.
For the last year, I’ve had a startling chart of statistics hanging on my office wall called “The Average American.” This chart has reminded me, even before COVID-19, that:
- The total consumer debt in the United States is $12.73 trillion
- 78 percent of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck
- Seven out of ten American couples don’t budget consistently
- 66 percent of Americans will struggle to pay for a $1,000 emergency
These statistics tell me that many of us are facing serious financial challenges amid the continuing impact of COVID-19.
But what do you do when your income has been impacted? First things first, if you have never created a monthly budget, you need to start. Second, in your budget you will need to prioritize caring for yourself and your family (1 Tim. 5:8) by maintaining the four walls. Just as there are four primary walls that serve as the main structure of your house, your budget also has four primary walls that keep your family stable and safe. These four walls are the first financial priorities in providing for your family.
Wall 1: Food
Your family needs to eat, so your first financial priority during financial difficulty is putting food on the table. This does not mean going out to eat or buying luxury food items. By food, I mean basic, inexpensive, healthy foods from an inexpensive grocery store. Inexpensive essentials such as fruits, vegetables, bread, milk, and meats. This is not going out to eat, this is shopping at Aldi.
Wall 2: Shelter & Utilities
Next, prioritize paying rent or mortgage and the basic utilities of electricity, gas, and water/sewer. You need to keep a roof over your head and the lights on. For some, internet may be a necessary “utility” to continue working from home, but if you are in a financially tight situation, this is one bill you can cut. Note that cable, satellite, and streaming services are not utilities or necessities.
Wall 3: Transportation
Transportation is typically necessary to get to and from work, retrieve groceries/necessities, and care for those you are responsible for. The best financial situation is to own your vehicle free and clear with no monthly payments (Side note: The best way to buy a vehicle is with cash, not a loan or lease). If you are currently paying off a car, evaluate the size of the monthly loan payment; and if too high, consider selling the car and buying a cheap, yet reliable, used car with cash. Additionally, you will need to budget for gas and car insurance. If feasible, biking and walking are great modes of transportation that can help you cut down on expenses
Wall 4: Clothing
You and your family will always need clothes, but this does not mean buying new or luxury clothing. This wall is last on the list for a reason and only represents basic clothing you need to work and live.
Ron Blue reminds us that there are only four things you can do with money: give, live (the four walls are here), owe, and grow. Note the order—we live before we owe or grow. Maintaining these four walls takes priority over debts we owe; and if you are facing a challenging financial situation where your monthly expenses outweigh your monthly income, you must prioritize the basic four walls first.
As Christians, we must remember that “our” money is not actually ours—it’s God’s. We are merely stewards of his resources. And a huge part of stewarding God’s resources is caring for ourselves and our family by maintaining these four walls.