Frequently after a church has hosted one of my No Debt No Sweat! Christian Financial Management Seminars people are excited and ready to start their budgets (or, as I prefer to call it, their Personal Financial Freedom Plan).

But, remember, good things usually take time. And that is certainly the case when it comes to developing your PFFP. It may take three to six months before the various categories of your plan begin to work in harmony. You will have to put more in some categories, and take money out of others. Like a master craftsman you’ll gradually fine-tune your PFFP into a highly accurate, customized document. (Remember, as far as I’m concerned, it’s not a budget if it’s not in writing!) But if you stick to it, gradually you will develop an invaluable worksheet that serves as your financial map to a more predictable and secure future.

Six Tricks of the Trade

Let me share six ideas that will give you a real "leg up" as you develop and implement your family’s PFFP.

1) Devote your effort to God in prayer, and make at least a six-month commitment. It takes time and effort to change bad habits. As you launch into this new lifestyle realize that there is a spiritual battle going on. At present, the devil has you exactly where he wants you—frustrated, worried, at odds with your mate. Bring this new approach to controlling your money before God and give it to Him. Make up your mind not to become discouraged—not to turn back. Make a personal commitment to stay the course for at least six months. This will give you the needed time to get past the first few months of confusion. Also, it will give you time to begin enjoying the benefits of your new lifestyle.

2) Balance your checkbook every month! Nothing mucks up a financial management plan quicker than an out-of-balance checkbook. Developing a PFFP while your checkbook is out of balance is like trying to win a triathlon with an anchor tied to your waist.

3) Develop an "Agreement Purchase Amount" with your spouse. Happy marriages are marriages that have good communication. I have recently been working with a couple in a mid-western state whose finances are in terrible condition primarily because of the wife’s uncontrolled spending habits. Without her husband’s consent (and in some cases, even his knowledge), she has racked up over $30,000 in short-term debts—including a new car! I’m happy to tell you that, thanks to a lot of prayer, some good Christian counseling, and a lot of patience on the husband’s part, their marriage is on the mend. But the debt problems are probably going to require at least five years to repair.

I like to encourage couples to agree on a maximum amount of money that either partner can spend without the consent of the other. The amount will vary based on your age, maturity level, and financial capabilities. For instance, if you’re young newlyweds with very limited incomes, you might decide that any purchase over $20 requires mutual agreement. However, a wealthy, middle-aged couple might agree that it’s okay if one buys a car without notifying the other.

4) Avoid the "Impulse Market Mentality." It’s amazing how many budgets get blown out of the proverbial water because of what I call the "Impulse Market Mentality." This is the temptation to run into a quick market and grab a snack and a soft drink—or some other impulse item. This is a special temptation to folks who spend a lot of time in their cars, like salesmen. No, I’m not against snacks and soft drinks—but I am against throwing away $100-$200 monthly! Think about it. If you run into a quick market just two times a day—that’s sixty stops per month. And, if each time you buy a drink and a candy bar for $2.00—that totals $120 in the course of a month! That’s $1,440 per year!