In his day, John D. Rockefeller was one of the richest men in the world. For all practical purposes, his money was virtually limitless. Once, an interviewer asked him, “How much money is enough?” Rockefeller replied, “Just a little bit more!”
As outrageous as it sounds, haven’t we all been there? Whatever our income level, we think to ourselves, If only I had just a little bit more… Then, at last, our budget would have some breathing room and we will be satisfied with our finances.
But Rockefeller’s response pokes a hole in that theory. The truth is, control over money has less to do with how much we make, and a lot more to do with how we manage what we have. Financial health is important not only to our bank balance but to the atmosphere in our home. More marriages have blown apart over financial issues than almost any other factor.
We need to recognize that managing money is a spiritual issue. Did you know that Jesus spoke more about money than He did about any other topic? In fact, 15% of all the recorded words of Jesus are on the subject of money—more than His teachings on heaven and hell combined. Why did money matter so much to Jesus?
To Jesus, our attitude towards money is of utmost importance, because it is a reflection of our attitude towards God. As Larry Burkett said, “You can tell more about the spiritual lives of a couple by looking at their checkbook than by anything else.”
Everything we have comes from God. He owns it, and He entrusts it to us to use for His purposes. True financial success comes not from accumulating a large surplus in our bank account, but from following God’s plan for our finances. As we do this, He will provide for all of our needs.
Are money problems rearing their ugly head and causing tension in your family? Has it been difficult for you to manage your finances and to know where you really stand? If so, consider this simple three-step plan for successful money management.
1. Give to God first.
As Christians, our first financial priority, just as in every other area of life, should be God and His work. The issue of managing all of our gifts, including our finances, is of great importance to God. Figuring out how much to give as a minimum is fairly easy, as the Bible instructs us to give a tithe, or one tenth or our income back to God. This is a great starting point for Christian giving and should be calculated on the gross salary (or on net income before taxes for those in businesses for themselves).
Now, you may be thinking: How can we possibly do that when we are already struggling to make ends meet? I thought you were going to tell us how to get out of financial trouble, not make it worse! The truth is there will never be “enough” to give. If we wait until all of our needs and desires are met before we start to give, it will never happen. In fact, statistics show that in Canada , the more a person makes, the less they are likely to give, percentage-wise. The more we have, the more we think we need.
Interestingly, people today talk very little about their actual salary or how much they are worth. Like all secrets, this gives far more power to money than it actually deserves. Similarly, and more properly, people who tithe do not go around boasting about it. But I would like to challenge you to ask people you trust whether or not they tithe. If they do tithe, ask them about their experience. In all my discussions with people about money I have never heard anyone say that their financial problems started or got worse once they started to tithe. On the contrary, people who tithe seem to be better off than those who don’t. It is one of the many mysteries of how God works.
2. Set aside funds for regular savings.
An important second step is to establish the discipline of setting aside money for inevitable expenses and large purchases, such as the down payment for a home, college education, vacations and retirement. This will allow you to spend from cash resources and eliminate the need to borrow when that is not wise. You will be surprised by how much can be accumulated by a simple but disciplined savings program.
Do not plan your savings after you plan your spending, because experience shows that those who try this rarely succeed. You may decide to make this a percentage of your income, and this will probably change as you go through the various stages of life. All financial planners will tell you that the sooner you start saving the more you will be able to save, so plan to start right now.
The issue of savings is one that requires a balanced perspective. The Bible makes it clear that we are supposed to save, but it never tells us how much is too much or too little. The purpose of saving is to provide for legitimate future needs, and for some it will allow you to become one of those special people who can fund important needs of others.
3. Spend the rest on what you need.
The key to good money management is expense management. We need to learn to live below our means and be content with what God has given us. This is hard for all of us, but it is an important life lesson. The key is to develop a good budget, which is basically a spending plan. Invest the time in learning to use helpful tools, such as a computer spreadsheet or a financial program. If you have never had a budget, spend two or three months tracking your spending. Try keeping a log every time you spend money so that you can improve your budget understanding. Then examine your habits and determine how you would like to proceed and where you need to cut back.
Be committed to this plan and do not be discouraged if you do not see results for the first two or three months. It takes time to break old habits, and if you have gotten yourself into a financial hole it will take time to dig back out. Be patient and stick to your budget spending, because it really does work.
Finally, two more important points to consider:
Always discuss finances as a couple. One spouse likely has more financial skills than the other and will naturally take the lead, but this is no excuse for the other spouse not to be involved in the family financial situation. You both need to understand the issues that you are facing, and make decisions as a team. Financial problems are listed as a major cause of strife in the marriage relationship, and it often starts when one partner is being kept in the dark.
If you have financial problems, seek help before it is too late. Financial problems can be solved but it often means changes, some of which may not be that easy. A qualified financial planner can help you identify the problem areas and think through solutions that will work for your family.
Above all, listen to what God may be saying to you through your financial circumstances. Finances can be a dividing factor in marriage, but they can also bring you together in a new and deeper way, as you trust God together and follow His plan.
If you are willing follow this simple plan and begin to intelligently and prayerfully give away 10% of your income, I believe your financial situation will improve. More importantly, you will be storing up treasures in heaven, which is what really counts. After a few months, please write us and let us know what is happening to your financial position. I have never met an ex-tither and I would love to hear your story as you seek to control your finances and serve God in this way.
Used by permission of FamilyLife Canada. Copyright 2003.