Money, Debt, Stewardship, and Your Family
Let’s face it. Money is a problem in families, and most of us do not have as much as we want. Families are often more focused on money problems than they would like to be. I think it is partly because of poor decision making and planning. Families with a huge weight of debt are families who struggle. In general, families who handle their money properly—whether or not they are rich, poor, or in-between—are much happier, healthier families.
The decisions we make as parents about our financial health often play a major factor in our family’s overall lifestyle. Jesus summarized it so well in the Sermon on the Mount: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). A few sentences later in that most incredible sermon, he went on to challenge His listeners with these words, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (v.24). Isn’t it true that the amount of light that gets into any room depends on the state of the window through which the light must pass? With this in mind, the light that gets into our soul depends on our focus. For many, what we focus on is what we become.
Basically, there are two economic systems batting for our family’s soul. The world’s value system places emphasis on things and stuff. God’s value is invested in people, stewardship, and beauty. The problem lies in the fact that the world system influences all of us; the balance of money and things of the Spirit is not only a problem for parents but for children as well. According to Jesus, we pay most of our attention to whatever we treasure. Our hearts are drawn to our treasure.
The answer to the money-pit issue is to be a faithful steward of your resources. Financial counselors Ron and Judy Blue define stewardship as “the use of God-given resources for the accomplishment of God-given goals.” The Blues list four stewardship principles to live by:
- God owns it all.
- There is always a trade-off between time and effort and money and rewards.
- There is no such thing as an “independent financial decision.”
- Delayed gratification is the key to financial maturity.
Stewardship is a spiritual issue. Martin Luther is known to have said that a person cannot be truly converted unless his or her heart, mind, and pocketbook are converted. Here are some stewardship concepts that have helped Cathy and I to become more faithful stewards with the resources God has given our family. I hope they will help your family as well:
Spend Less Than You Make.
Most Americans don’t spend less than they make. At last count, individuals in America alone owe more than $3.5 trillion. The fact is that we are drowning in a sea of debt, and as a result we are bound to have serious financial, spiritual, and family casualties. However, there is an answer. Go against the grain of our culture and have the discipline to spend less than you make.
A Budget Is a Must.
In one of the most popular financial books of the 1990s, The Millionaire Next Door, the authors set out to find the millionaires in our country and document what they do and how they make their money. The authors were shocked at what they discovered. The millionaires didn’t all live in the most expensive houses. They were people who lived fairly ordinary lives with a couple of key principles that brought them wealth. Although they followed the principle “Spend less than you make,” the most common ingredient was that they lived with a budget. If you don’t have a budget, you cannot possibly know if you are winning or losing the debt war. A budget is a map to help you stay on track with your finances and be a faithful steward of the resources God has given you.
Debt is Slavery.
Credit, interest, and debt are just poor stewardship. Take Del and Elaine for example. They buy two brand-new mountain bikes for $475 a piece. With tax, their investment is a little more than $1,000. They put their new purchase on a credit card that offers 18 percent interest. Two years later, they are still paying for the bikes they have ridden only twice, and now the cost of the bikes is approximately $1,400.
Here’s what the Bible says about debt: “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender” (Prov. 22:7). With debt you literally become a slave to the lender. Debt even extracts a physical toll. Debt often increases stress, which contributes to mental, physical, and emotional fatigue, which in turn stifles creativity and harms relationships.
Delayed Gratification Is the Answer.
What would have been the better use of Del and Elaine’s money? As much as they desired the bikes, they didn’t have the cash to buy them, so they should have waited. They either could have developed a savings plan for the bikes or “bike fever” would have gone away and now they would not be strapped with a large bill and no place to put the bikes that they seldom use.
Give 10 Percent and Save 10 Percent of Your Income.
This may be an oversimplification, but I have never met anyone who consistently has tithed on his or her income and saved another 10 percent of his or her income and has had a major financial problem.
Several years ago I helped run the annual stewardship campaign for our church. It was an enlightening experience to say the least. A few of us read the pledge cards, so for that season I was in the know regarding who gave what to the church. It was a most humbling experience. As I looked at the families who were generous with their gifts, I noticed that they were by no means the wealthiest. I also noticed something else: They were many of the healthiest families in our congregation.
If you don’t currently have a savings plan, start small, but start this week. If you don’t regularly give a percentage of your income back to God, then start today. It’s a great reminder that all of your treasure ultimately comes from God.