Some personal thoughts on financial management

Yesterday on Meta-Manage I posted about how to manage your finances in 5 minutes or less per day. I’m always perplexed when someone tells me they don’t budget or look at their financial accounts regularly, but I know one of the reasons people don’t is because it can be daunting and seem like a lot of work. Hopefully that article will be helpful.

When I was young, probably around 9 years old, my parents had to declare bankruptcy. And they separated when I was 11 (for the second time) and divorced when I was 12. I never experienced homelessness, but there was a lot of fear that we were going to lose the house and near everything else. A lot of my financial decisions, from keeping credit cards paid off to waiting to have kids, have come out of lessons learned back then and a desire to stay out of the trouble my parents got into.

Since I started using Mint to manage my finances, I think we’ve made even better decisions with our money. After 6 years of using it, we’ve established some good practices and I have some predictability regarding our expenses. I’m now setting aside money for things we’ll need to pay for in a year or five years because I know those things are coming and I’ve developed the practice of planning ahead for them, and also because I’ve seen the benefit of doing it that way instead of having to put those big expenses on a credit card and then pay them off.

I’m looking down the road to retirement as well and making sure we’ll have enough income to live comfortably and not be a burden to our kids. That’s not something you can do if you don’t spend a bit of time thinking and planning. And in my experience, the amount of time has been less than you might think.

This seems very practical to me and worth doing for its own sake. But I also believe that God calls us to be good stewards with what He has given us, and that includes our income and our time.

We tithe 10% of the first fruits of our labor, as it puts it in the Bible, which in modern terms means we tithe off gross, not net income. When I got my first full time job, I was tithing 10% off net and started putting more money into retirement, and cafeteria plans, and other pre-tax savings, and I began to feel convicted to tithe based on gross income. It felt like tithing after all the deductions I was building up was like trying to find loopholes to tithe less. So we tithe 10% off the top, and we build that into our budget. Yeah, it hurts a bit to give that much, but it wouldn’t be a sacrifice if it didn’t.

God gives us everything, and asks for 10% back. I’ve written elsewhere about my thoughts on tithing, and one of the blessings I feel from it is similar to the blessing of saving for things in advance: because I have met my responsibilities and obligations, I can feel more freedom to spend money on fun things like going out to eat or buying a new game. And at the same time, by budgeting and managing my finances as I do, there’s no fear about money.

I’ve been told that we shouldn’t worry about money because God will time care of us, and I think that’s true to some extent. But I also thing that God commanded us to take care of what He gives us. See the parable of the talents: the person who did nothing wasn’t the person rewarded there. To some extent, there’s an imperative for us to do the work God has given us, and that includes managing the finances He provides through our jobs.

Being a good steward means knowing what’s going on right now, and also looking to the future to have an idea of what might happen. We can’t control the future, and that is where we need to have faith in God and live without fear. But failing to do the work of budgeting can contribute to our fear by way of increased uncertainty and instability. Increasing uncertainty and instability through our actions, or failing to act in this case, does not contribute positively to the Kingdom of God.

Last weekend, I dug a path to sink the paver stones in our backyard into the ground. My main motivation for this was so they would cause less trouble to the fellow who mows our lawn; he had expressed concern in the past about them sticking up and damaging his mower. When I got the pavers, I pretty much just dropped them onto the ground in a path and called it good, but his concern showed me that wasn’t sufficient. And I couldn’t stand the thought that my laziness and inattention might cause damage to someone else.

Managing finances is exactly the same. If I don’t pay attention and do the (admittedly small amount of) work to take care of them, I may not be able to meet our financial obligations. If I can’t afford to tithe, that hurts our church and the Kingdom. If I can’t pay the house payment, we could lose our home. If I don’t set aside money to eat out, we may miss opportunities to build community with people who invite us to a restaurant. There are consequences to failing in our duty to be good stewards.

Money isn’t everything. It generally takes a lot of hard work to make a lot of money, at least for those of us in the lower or  middle class, and maybe you’re not interested in doing that. That’s totally fine. I think prioritizing other things like spending time with our families and communities over making money is a good thing. But putting other things ahead of making money doesn’t mean we can wholly ignore our financial obligations. And the number one obligation is to God, and that obligation is to take care of what He gives us. To extend that a bit, we should likewise be responsible with our words, and our environment, and our relationships, and our health. God calls us to balance. Jesus taught us about all these things, and further back, God gave us laws to try and help us do the right things.

So that’s where I’m coming from. I like having the lifestyle that making a good amount of money affords me, but my priorities when it comes to money are to serve God and to serve others. I want to make sure my kids never have to worry about the things that I worried about. I have worked to be faithful to God, and He has been faithful to me.

Whether or not you’re Christian, I hope you manage your finances. Take a look at that article on Meta-Manage for some tips, and let me know if you have any questions.

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