Let's talk money, Part 3: How should we spend money?
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After talking about money for the last few weeks we want to conclude this topic today. First we talked about Giving (see here), then we talked about Savings (see here). Today we will discuss what we are supposed to do with what remains. Some churches are generally pretty good in talking about giving (and unfortunately sometimes for the wrong motives). Not so many churches then talk about savings. But hardly any church actually talks about “what we are supposed to do with the money that remains after giving and saving”. So that’s our topic for today.
Let’s start with something that Jesus was saying:
Luke 14:28-30 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sits not down first, and counts the cost, whether he has enough to finish it? Lest perhaps, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.
Now, let’s be clear: In the bigger context of this passage, we have to admit that Jesus is NOT giving a financial teaching. He’s actually talking about “what it takes to be Jesus’ disciple”. This passage is only an analogy, pointing at something else. So yes, Jesus’ intention here was not to say: “This is how I want you to deal with money.” Actually, since He is using this example as an analogy, He’s basically saying: “You guys all know this. This is common sense.” So by using this example, Jesus is appealing to common sense. He’s saying: “You all know how to deal with money, you all know how to use it: Plan beforehand, make sure you have enough, before you start spending it.” Now I’m wondering if Jesus would still use this same analogy if He was preaching to a church in the 21st century. Because many of the people we know do NOT think that this is common sense. They simply spend money without any kind of planning, and then they wonder at the end of the month where their money went. So in my opinion, Jesus is appealing to a principle that was common sense at the time, but not anymore today.
Proverbs 21:5 The thoughts of the diligent lead only to plenty; but of everyone that is hasty, only to want.
This proverb is basically saying something similar to what Jesus was saying. This is not specifically talking about money, but about a principle that applies to all areas of life: Diligence (making plans, considering what is realistic, whether the plan makes sense,… then executing the plan and following through) leads to success. Impulsive, emotional decisions that are not thought through,… only lead to loss, need and regret. And I’m sure we all know someone who manages his/her finances mainly by emotions and impulse, and maybe we have seen how such a habit harms a person’s financial situation over time. We have definitely seen people who have ruined their whole lives simply because they didn’t plan their finances well.
So here are a few principles that can help all of us find financial stability. We don’t necessarily become rich. But when we apply these principles, we can be certain that God provides for all our needs, and we can experience financial peace from within that is not dependent on the amount of money in our bank account or the job we have or anything else. If we follow God’s principles, we can experience financial peace even if everything around us seems to go wrong. On the other hand, if we don’t follow God’s principles, it doesn’t matter how much money we have or how much we are making. No amount of money will ever give us the peace and security that we are looking for. Only Jesus can give us that. And to experience it, we need to follow His principles.
Alright, so far the big picture. Let’s get into the details. What are some principles that we need to put into practice?
1) Be realistic about your income
I still can’t believe how many people live in the illusion of “thinking they make more money than they actually do”. It’s something I simply don’t get. If someone has a contract with a fixed amount as wages, then why does this person often live like they earn more? People so often rely on a raise or a bonus or a gift,… that might come, but too often doesn’t come!? So they set their living standard too high, they expect that “soon I’ll have more money”. But if it doesn’t come, they eventually realize that they have slid into debt and no plan on how to get out of it again. From there they just sink deeper and deeper into trouble.
Be realistic about your income, and live accordingly. If the bonus or the raise comes, great. Then you can adjust your lifestyle for the future. But as of today, live with what you have and what you make today. Don’t live according to a future increase that might or might not come.
2) Be realistic about “what it takes to live”
Another mistake that many people make: They spend their money on “nice things” that are not necessary, and they don’t realize that they have just spent the money they will need for the bills later that month. And so they realize later that they don’t have enough.
Be realistic about “what it takes to survive”. We have rent to pay, we have utility bills to pay (electricity, phone, heating system, etc). We need money for transportation, getting to/from work, etc. This can of course be very different from person to person and country to country. If you are going to school and still living with your parents, then the parents will probably take care of most of this. If you are married and have children, then you are not doing this just for you, but you also have to make sure that the needs of the rest of your family are also considered. When we were living in China, we had completely different monthly obligations compared to living in Germany now. So this can be completely different from person to person, situation to situation,… But the principle is always the same: Be realistic about “what it takes to survive”. Plan ahead: Bills that need to be paid, events that are coming up (e.g. weddings where you want to bring a gift),… Look ahead, plan well, estimate what life will cost “just to survive”.
Now if we have to admit that “I have no idea how much life costs” then we can simply start the exercise of “writing down all the money I spend” for 2 or 3 months. We don’t need to plan yet or anything. We can simply start by saying: “Whenever I spend money, I’ll write it down”. And then have a look after 2, 3 months where my money is going. And maybe categorize into “necessary” (rent, bills, food, etc) and “optional” (things we could live without). Then we can look at “where our money is going” and make some adjustments for the future, if we are not happy with what we find out.
3) Choose what you want to do with the rest
Once we have taken care of all the other things, we can enjoy the freedom to spend the rest.
Have I been realistic about my income -> Check
Have I been faithful in Tithing -> check
Have I been faithful in setting a certain amount aside in Savings for the future? -> Check
Have I been faithful in repaying my debt (if I have)? -> Check
Have I covered all my necessities? -> Check
If we have covered all these areas, and there is still money left, then we can enjoy the wonderful freedom to just enjoy it, spend it the way we want. Some people will then buy something nice, something that they enjoy, but don’t necessarily need. Others will use it for outings, traveling, etc. Others will want to make their home nicer. Others want to put it in additional savings, maybe towards a specific goal in the future. Others might want to invest it or give it to missions. There are so many ways in which we can enjoy money. And there is nothing wrong with enjoying the money we have. But we do need to make sure that we cover the other areas first: Tithing/Giving first, then saving, then covering our necessities. And THEN enjoy whatever money is left.
So here’s our conclusion on this whole topic of money:
God wants us to enjoy money. But we have to manage it His way. If we choose to manage money “like everybody else” we will always have the fears, anxieties and worries about “will I have enough in the future?” But if we manage money God’s way, we will experience financial peace and the assurance that “God will provide for my tomorrow”.
I’ve done both. And I know which one is better. So … which way will you choose?
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