Four Questions

In exploring how to make the most of the blessings God has given us, our finances can be a challenge.  Last time, I encouraged us to see our money and our stuff as an investment by God into us.  If managed wisely, we can enjoy whatever resources we have and bless others and God in the process.

I’m not saying it’s always easy, and I’m not a financial planner, but rather than parrot a lot of financial planning advice, I thought I might offer four questions to help us think about how we’re handling our money.  Now, this isn’t a quiz, and I’m not about to track you down and grill you, or anything.  These questions are simply an opportunity to consider making some adjustments.

Do we know where our money is going?

Such a simple question, but very important.  Take a few minutes and look at your bank statement for the previous month.  Break down your expenses into a few categories, like stuff you spent on the house, cars, insurance, utilities, clothes, food, medicine, education, entertainment, etc.  Whatever categories make sense for you are fine, because this is just about you reminding yourself how you spent your money.

Use a spreadsheet like Excel, a pen and paper, whatever you like.  Just do it!  One of the reasons to take this step is to open our eyes to any surprises we might find.  In this world of credit/debit cards, it can be a little startling to see how many trips I made to the “convenience” store.  Another reason to do it is to assess whether we’re currently spending more than we’re earning, which we can only do for so long.

If you’re not sure this one month really paints an honest picture of your finances, go back one more month and see if the numbers show you any trends.  If you’re like most people, it will.  We’re creatures of habit, after all.

Once you’ve got a good idea where your money is going, you can begin to ask the next three questions.

Is our spending enriching our lives and the lives of others as much as it could?

See anything that’s dominating your expenses?  Maybe those are some opportunities to make some adjustments.  Are you spending more than you’re bringing in?  If so, you definitely want to make some changes.  Once you get past the necessities of food, shelter, and clothing, you can begin to evaluate if your purchases are really benefitting you or others as much as they should, given the cost.

Put simply: are we getting our money’s worth?

Would you have more to spend on continuing your education if you cut back on your Starbucks habit?  (My apologies to all of you who are thinking about sending me angry replies.)  In my own life, my wife noticed how often we were eating out, and encouraged us to eat at home more, and the results have been amazing, for both our health and our pocketbook.  You and I get to choose how to spend our money.  We make choices every day, and every choice to spend on one thing is a choice not to spend that same money on something else.  Make sure your choices are making a difference in your life or someone else’s.

You might have noticed, I left out two of the categories everyone should be including in their budget when I recommended the list from above.  My last two questions concern those two investments.

Are we giving to support the ministry of the gospel?

The Scriptures, in both the Old and New Testaments, set the expectation that God’s people are expected to give, monetarily, to support the ministry of the gospel.  We are to give cheerfully so those who devote their lives to the ministry of the gospel will have the necessary support for the task at hand.

The Old Testament institutes the practice of tithing (giving one-tenth of our income for the support of the ministry.)  Later, Jesus tells the religious leaders, who tithed even their spices but didn’t love anyone, that they should have loved people and tithed while they were at it.  The early church, in the letters of the New Testament, really expanded the practice of giving a tithe to being willing to share whatever each person could with whoever had a need.

God actually tells His people to test Him and see if He won’t honor those who obey Him in this command.

That promise does not mean we ought to give something to get more back.  We should give because we are grateful for all we have been given and because our gifts might be used to help others come to faith in Christ.

Are we careful to save during the times of plenty to be ready for the lean times?

Just like Joseph in Genesis 41, who knew lean years were coming to Egypt and prepared for them, saving the kingdom, we ought to prepare ourselves for tougher times.  Set aside some money from every paycheck to keep for a rainy day.  Auto-deposit some money into a savings account if you can, or invest in your company’s 401k plan, if it has one.    Lots of companies offer matching funds for investing some percentage of your salary into the 401k.  (This is literally free money.)  Or, you can start your own retirement account without much fuss.

Oh, and If the 401k is free money, credit cards and debt are the opposite.  Avoid them whenever you can.

Not sure how to get started?  Do what you can!  Start saving or investing with 1% right now.  Move to 2% when you realize you barely noticed the first 1%.  Before long, you will build up enough savings to handle small emergencies.  Keep going, and you’ll be surprised how much your savings grow, and your stress shrinks.

A good rule-of-thumb is the 10-10-80 plan.  Set aside the first 10% of your income for God and support your local church, the next 10% in savings or investments, and use the remaining 80% for your living expenses.

So, there you have it… four questions to help us make better use of the financial blessings we’ve been given.  God wants us to have an abundant life.  That may not always mean we’re swimming in piles of money; but He will honor those who humble themselves and honor Him.