Circling the wagons: Your four Walls

Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. ~1 Timothy 5:8.

Priorities matter, and when things get tough, your first order of business is your four walls. Put simply that means to circle the wagons and protect you and your family. In the old west, the old wagon trains would circle the wagons to protect their interests when they were being threatened by an outside force. Or, at night, when they settled in to rest and sleep.

Circling your wagons is typically a defensive position to protect you and yours. Everyone in the group pulls together for a common cause. In modern terms, when you circle the wagons, you are protecting your four walls, which include:

  • Food.
  • Shelter.
  • Transportation.
  • Utilities.

Those are the critical things; they must be in your budget. Without them, you can’t function and you won’t be able to navigate other areas in your life.

Think about it.

  • No car/truck means no way to get to work, doctor, store etc.
  • Having no place to live means no place to come home to and finding another roof over your head.
  • No utilities mean you can’t cook, shower, wash clothes/dishes or even sleep well.
  • No food means…well, you know.

Even if you’re in a good place financially, these are still priorities because you never know when bad times may occur. Remember, bad times can be totally something not of your making: Economic downturn, job loss, extended family needs your help, or, umm, pandemic.

But if you’re struggling to pay the bills or working paycheck to paycheck, your four walls are critical. It’s time to prioritize and these items should always be first up in your budget.

Food. You can be frugal without being sparse. In other words, eat healthily and get your “three squares” a day. You don’t have to eat frozen dinners, and you shouldn’t be eating out often, especially if you’re trying to keep your head above water. If you have kids, make sure they eat well. You certainly don’t want to add that to your list of worries.

Shelter. That means your home. Not your vacation home, not your boat, not your timeshare. Your home, the one you and your family live in. In May alone, over four million people missed their mortgage payment. By the end of July, 32% of Americans missed their payment entirely or at least did not pay it in full. It’s not uncommon, even before the pandemic, but it’s a non-negotiable in your budget. It should be one of the first payments out. Stay current, at all costs. It’s your best investment and failure to maintain it breeds all sorts of chaos.

Utilities. Utilities mean your electricity, your water, your gas. What doesn’t apply as “utilities”? Your cable bill, internet, streaming services, propane for your patio fireplace or grill. Of course, if you work from home or your kids need it for school, you may include your primary service.

Transportation. You don’t need a BMW or Land Rover, but you do need transportation. Depending on your work situation or medical needs, transportation may be as important as the above three. If you’re struggling to make the payment, sell it and downsize to a clunker, but you must have some means of transportation. You shouldn’t depend on Uber or Lyft, because you need to be independent. Moreover, you may need your vehicle for that side hustle.

Key questions about your four walls and other finances.

  1. Do I keep building my emergency funds when I can’t pay my house note? Again, first things first. Before you start the baby steps — and the emergency fund is #1 — you should be current on your bills. That is especially true for your four walls. If you have money in your emergency fund, but you’re behind on rent, mortgage, vehicle, utilities and there’s no food on the table, you’re already in an emergency! Clear out the emergency fund.
  2. Should I borrow from my 401k to catch up my mortgage or pay off other bills? Don’t borrow from your future to pay for your current. But, to protect your current, you may want to stop funding your future. Essentially, pause your 401k contributions until your caught up on other payments.
  3. Does the tithe come before the four walls? Good question. If you take Malachi 3:10 literally, make sure you tithe. Many people have tithed their way out of adverse circumstances believing that God has promised to open the windows of heaven. But does it make sense to tithe if you can’t keep the lights on? Or if your car is one day from being repossessed. For me, the answer is always tithe, in good times and in bad.
  4. Should I give to the poor and others? The tithe is one thing, but giving — even to good causes — should be put on hold. It may sound harsh, but take care of your family before you try to take care of someone else’s family.

Your four walls are crucial. Protect them at all costs. Take care of them first, and they’ll help take you through a crisis. Circle the wagons. Protect you, your family and your four walls.


Have questions about your finances? Chip Bailey is a Master Financial Coach and a Dave Ramsey Preferred Coach and helps people live stress-free and debt-free. Email us with your question, or schedule a free 30-minute consultation.

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