Taking the next step can be difficult. When I was a child, I took swimming lessons at the local pool. To pass the Beginner level, I had to jump off the diving board and swim to the side. I wanted to pass the Beginner level, but mostly I wanted the ice cream that my Mother was offering as incentive. I climbed up on the board, eased out to the end, and stood there, staring at the blue water three feet below my feet. I only needed one step to complete the task, but I froze.

Minutes passed, the embarrassment and calls from the pool deck were increasing, and so my Mom, ever the encourager, climbed in the pool and treaded water below me, thinking that would move me along. It didn’t. I don’t think that I jumped that day.

Eventually, I jumped off the diving board. Now, decades later, I remember both the feeling of shame when I backed off the board and the feeling of empowerment when I mastered the task. Committing goals to paper, and evaluating the steps needed to achieve the goals, can be a little like standing at the end of a diving board.

In a previous article, ‘The Big Picture,’ we walked through developing a one page summary of goals related to God, Marriage, Family and Career, and sorted them into ‘1 year,’ ‘5 year,’ and ’20 year’ time frames. Among other things, goals related to God include the steps we take to demonstrate our thankfulness to God and to strengthen our relationship with Him. Goals related to Marriage, Family and Career flow out of that primary relationship.

Now that the Big Picture goals are outlined, let’s identify the financial resources and time available for allocation to the goals.

1. What is your financial position today? Before committing financial assets to future goals, there must be money left over after paying current bills. Here is a quick approach to measuring the financial starting point.

What is your cash balance? Generally, this means the combined balance of your checking and savings accounts. Reduce the balance shown on the website (or account statement) by any outstanding written checks or any electronic checks set to go out of the account before your next pay date. Record the checking and savings totals separately.

If your checking and savings combined total is positive, congratulations!

If your combined total is negative, your first priority is to take steps that will result in cash remaining after paying bills. There are three approaches:
• Reduce expenses by making different spending choices. Start by reviewing your checking account for areas where expenses might be reduced.
• Increase income by adding work hours or finding a second job.
• Raise cash by selling an asset.

2. Do you have an outstanding balance on a credit card that is not paid in full each month? Credit cards are not, in themselves, a bad thing. However, they must be used properly. If you are carrying any outstanding balances on credit cards, they are significantly reducing your ability to focus on the Big Picture goals. The first step, before allocating money to any goal other than Biblical tithing, must be to eliminate credit card debt.

3. Do you have an emergency savings fund? At a minimum, you need to have savings equal to 60 days of fixed expenses- including tithing, housing, food, transportation, child care, insurance, taxes, and other regular monthly expenses. Set this amount aside, since it is already committed and is not available for allocation to Big Picture goals.

4. How do you spend your time? Take a minute and review your calendar for the last 90 days and consider areas where your time is spent. One of your Big Picture goals may relate to spending daily quiet time in Bible study and prayer, or devoting additional time to a family relationship, or volunteering. Your calendar review may identify time that could be reallocated.

If you have arrived at this point in the article, and have taken a serious look at your spending habits, my hat is off to you. Congratulations on being brave enough to challenge your current status for the hope of reaching a future goal. Take just a moment and envision what goals you might have achieved, if you had completed this process 10 years ago, or even 1 year ago.

Now, don’t dwell on ‘what might have been’ for more than a moment. Promise yourself that you will move forward with positive steps toward your Big Picture goals. In fact, record a date six months from today, so that you will remember to look back and reflect on your progress. Then, take the next step of the journey and jump off the diving board.

IRS Circular 230 disclosure: To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS, we inform you that any U.S. federal tax advice contained in this communication (including any attachments) is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code or (ii) promoting, marketing, or recommending to another party any transaction or matter addressed herein.

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