According to the Wall Street Journal, nearly 70% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. As Americans we have no problem spending money. We are the richest society in the history of the world. We are also the most marketed to society in the history of the world.
You can’t open a newspaper without seeing advertisements. You can’t drive down the road without seeing billboards. You can’t brush your teeth without noticing the type of toothpaste. You can’t cook a meal, get a snack, or even refer to a snack without marketing. Marketing is everywhere you look, it is on everything you touch, when you smell something you think of a brand name, when tasting you think of a company, you even recognize different tunes and associate them with products.
We are very good at ignoring all this marketing. We tend to overlook it. We don’t see it or just throw it in the trash.
This marketing is successful. The proof is all the money that is spent on it. It is successful because it tends to take our money a dollar or two at a time. We spend, spend, spend, and before you know it some marketing firm teams up with the Wall Street Journal to point out that 70% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck!
This is just one piece of evidence that tells us that as a society we spend too much. As Christians we live in this society and are subject to its same pressures. We too can easily get into the unconscious habit of spending money.
As stewards we are managers of God’s money. We need to be conscious of the pressures society places on us. We also need to be proactive in taking steps to ensure that when we spend our God given money, it is for his use and the advancement of his kingdom.
When a steward spends too much, this is due to mismanagement. The single most common type of mismanagement is of our resources.
Before we look at mismanagement, we should look at a unique case. There are those who manage properly but still need to spend more than they can earn. Those individuals can point to circumstances that could include a long history of poor health or lack of employment. To those people God gave the helping hands of their family and their church. God always provides for his own.
It is good to point out here that those who find themselves in a pinch financially have the church. God has given those who need relief the ministry of the diaconate. God, through his church, will make sure those that need support will get it. (On the other hand, if you are acting like a lazy schlub, they will make you get your act together!)
Mismanagement of resources and spending are often the same thing. Part of the reason there is so much spending today is due to marketing. Another part of the reason there is so much spending today is addiction to stuff. You could call this a spiritual disease called “stuffitis.” Stuffitis is the condition where you want more stuff, you think you need more stuff, you want bigger and better stuff, you want the latest and greatest stuff, you just can’t get enough stuff.
Stuffitis is a spiritual condition linked with covetousness. Covetousness is a spiritual disease running rampant in our affluent society today. Stuffitis is a physical manifestation of a spiritual reality.
The process is this. People are shown some stuff through marketing. People perceive this stuff as a “need.” Being constantly bombarded with this marketing, people cave in to this want and buy stuff. This stuff makes them feel good both because they own it and because they can show it off to their friends. The next week they perceive another “need.” They go buy more stuff. The cycle continues. There is no end to the spending.
This spiritual condition plagues our society today. Another statistic is that the savings rate in 2000 was -2.2%. People just can’t wait to spend all that they have and then some more! They are spending on things that are not necessities. Very few of the luxuries are helping out God’s kingdom. How can most people say, “I loved God and my neighbor with all my heart, and soul, and strength when I bought that”?
Stuffitis is a lack of contentment. When we see something we wish to have for our own, we borrow to buy it and justify it by saying, “I deserve a break every once in a while.” But we are instructed in I Timothy 6:6 , “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” The covetous man forgets the fact that the money is not his! The covetous man forgets that he is a steward.
Everywhere we turn we are mercilessly hit with marketing. We all have a weak spot. What can we do? How can we control our spending? There are a few practical things that we can do to manage our spending.
The first thing we can do is care. Remember Joseph; it took a lot of effort to manage the whole land of Egypt. Now, obviously God has not called us to manage a whole country, but we each do have an individual responsibility. If we do not show ourselves worthy in managing a few things, how can God trust us in the managing of greater things?
Look at the parable of the talents in Matthew 25 . Those stewards were given talents (money) just as we have. Some were given a little, some more, and some much. They, knowing their master, did not just spend all the money. There is no principle difference in the stewards of that parable and us. They had in their head who their master was and how he dealt with those who were unfaithful. We too, once we get in our head who our master is, will not find it difficult to stop spending all our money.
It should be pointed out that knowing our master gives us incentive. Knowing our master gives us motivation to care. We need to learn who the master is. We need to understand him. Once we know who he is—sovereign, creator, ruler, sustainer, good, loving, caring, and giving—we have no problem being motivated to obey. When we are filled with knowledge of him, we are filled with the knowledge both of our own shortcomings and how much he has done for us. With this knowledge it is easy to care because we are so thankful.
How can we show our thankfulness? As a steward we can show our thankfulness by doing a budget.
A budget is a tool used to help us manage what we own. Just like a carpenter uses tools to build a home, we need financial tools. You wouldn’t think of eating soup without a tool called a spoon, would you? So too, we should not think of managing God’s possessions without using a tool called a budget. A budget helps us figure out what a need is and a want is.
A budget is the essence of planning with money. Stewards need to plan.
Jesus advocated good long-term planning in Luke 14:28-30 . Count the cost of being a disciple of his. Be a steward who plans the future. He gives a very practical earthly example of a heavenly truth. When anticipating what may happen in the future, we would be foolish to not count the cost ahead of time.
We can prove to God that we are stewards who care by doing a budget. A budget will help us to understand our money. We will understand how much we make. We will understand how much we spend. We will also understand where we are spending. A budget is a means to an end. A budget takes work. It doesn’t come automatically. Money is fluid, and marketing is rampant; a budget takes work.
A budget is not a bad thing. It is good. There are rewards for budgeting. There are rewards for sticking to a budget.
The first reward for sticking to a budget is that managed money goes further. I experienced this myself. When I started budgeting I immediately felt like I received a 10% raise. When you budget you realize where your money is going. When you actively manage it you control where it goes. You apply it to where it needs to be most.
The second reward of budgeting is communication. When you do a budget you are placing your priorities on paper. It has been said, “Show me your checkbook, and I will show you what your priorities are.” You tell me where you spend your money, and I will tell you what the most important things in your life are. You write everything down. You think about the future. What bills are we going to have next month? It shows you how much you have coming in and going out, and it helps you manage what you have, making it go farther.
A budget is a great communication tool for those who are married. Both the husband and the wife get together and agree on the next month’s spending. By so doing they come into agreement on common goals. When they talk about these goals they are talking about the future. They end up communicating about their hopes, their goals, their fears, and their dreams.
The third reward of budgeting is accountability. Do you overspend? If you had every receipt for every purchase you made in the last year, could you take all of them and spread them out across the table for others to look at? God sees. It also creates accountability in the sense that when we have a written budget, it is then “in stone.” We are accountable to it, and if married, to each other.
The fourth reward of budgeting is giving. As our money is managed well, we can give more. Many times in the Old Testament we read of “tithes and offerings.” The tithe is a good standard to go by. As we manage our money well we are going to be able to take some of the extra and be financially able to offer it for the use of the kingdom.
To do a budget you need to figure out how much you really spend. Take away all the luxuries and get down to the basics. Start by asking yourself, “How little could I live on?” Although it is not my intent to show all the particulars on how a budget works, I will include the budget basics. (To look at any particulars of budgeting pick up a copy of one of the works cited books.) A budget has many parts.
Tithe. We start with the tithe. Remember, have faith in God. Place him first. He has proved himself faithful and deserves our firstfruits. “Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase” ( Prov. 3:19 ).
Food. Before you do anything else, buy food. Not Mc-Burgers, not fancy eating out, but food. Take care of this first. Eating out is not wrong, but before we spend luxuriously on ourselves we need to take care of first things first. We need to know how much we really need so we can do an accurate tally of how far our money will really go.
Shelter. You need someplace to sleep: a house or an apartment. No one, even in the USA, needs a 4,000 square foot house. Again, it is not wrong to have that, but it can’t be justified as a necessity.
Transportation. You need reliable transportation. Notice that I did not say a $38,000 SUV. In most cases, for most people, that would be an extreme luxury.
Utilities. Part of the basic necessities of life is having running water, having the electric bill paid, and having the trash picked up each week.
When we spend money on the tithe, food, shelter, transportation, and utilities, a lot of what we do is the same as those in society around us. So what’s the difference? Attitude. Why you do it. It comes from the heart. We are told to work for the Lord and not for men ( Eph. 6:7 ). That includes our spending: when we shop for food, when we cook the food, when we buy a home or a car, and when we pay our utility bills. Why are we doing it?
God cares about what house you buy, he cares about why you bought that car, and he cares about how you do it. All things must be toward God’s glory. God cares about your attitude when you spend money. He cares about your motive in spending money. This is what makes our spending different from that of the world. When we buy groceries or cook a meal we can be conscious of doing those things out of love for our family.
So think about why you are buying your next car. Are you doing it to look cool? Are you just sick of your old one (and not content)? Are you only looking at the payment and not the sticker price? Or do you need something safe and reliable?
When we spend God’s way we manage money wisely. We know what we are spending: God’s money. We know how much we are spending: enough to cover necessities. We know why we are spending: we are spending thankfully and out of love for those around us.
Larry Burkett, Your Finances In Changing Times (Chicago: Moody, 1993).
“The Christian and Money,” Southwest Summer Seminar 2002.
Crown Ministries, Inc., Practical Application Workbook (Longwood, FL: Crown Ministries, Inc., 1996).
Dr. David Jeremiah, Investing for Eternity (San Diego: Turning Point for God, 2003).
Dave Ramsey, Financial Peace Revisited (New York: Viking, 2003).