A Financial Plan That Works
My wife and I have done five things over and over again with our money for the last 20 plus years. We aren’t rich – but we are blessed. Our credit rating is in the top 3 percentile. We own a lovely (but modest) home. We wear nice clothing, drive cars that we like, and we don’t carry credit card debt. We don’t have everything we want, but we have everything we need, and a little more. We have done five things consistently over the past 20 plus years that I want to share with you. If you do these five things, you will be blessed. The reason I can say this is because it has worked for me and for many, many people I have ministered to over the years. And none of these things are original with us. We have learned them from others, and we highly recommend them to you.
1. We use a budget.
At the beginning of every year, my wife and I sit down and talk about the budget. We plan together. We pray together. And we make commitments together – about giving, and travel, and eating out (cutting back on that in 2011). We also use a budget software tracking program in Quicken. Every week my wife generates a report for us to briefly review to see how we are doing. There are a lot of great software programs out there for this; I highly recommend using one. Planning is encouraged in Scripture as a wise practice. (See Proverbs 21:5)
2. We give faithfully.
This is the number one item in our budget every single year. It is our conviction that honoring the Lord with the first of all he gives us acknowledges Him as the Giver of all we have and glorifies Him through the resources that are used in the growth of His church and kingdom. And WE are blessed through it. And when we do give – we also pray for “the Lord to provide all our needs.” We ask him to bless us every time we give. (See Randy Alcorn’s excellent book The Treasure Principle in the book section of this blog.) To those who are faithful givers, He promises to keep the wine flowing. (Proverbs 3:9-10) We have made a commitment to give 10 percent of everything God blesses us with, and then we have budgeted a little more as an offering. In the Scriptures this is called a “tithe” and an “offering.” We live in the richest nation in the world. I believe most Americans can afford to tithe. If you can’t, you can certainly afford to give a percentage of your blessings back to God. It has worked for thousands of years – and it works today. I commend this ancient practice to you. (Malachi 3:6-12 and cf.)
3. We get counsel.
I cannot stress how important this is. I use a financial advisor for important decisions and also get counsel on a regular basis from an elder in our congregation whose expertise is financial planning. Getting wise counsel is all over the Bible, especially the Proverbs. You can save yourself a lot of trouble and lots of money by taking the time to sit down and talk with a professional about your finances. For members of Calvary Church who cannot afford professional financial counseling, you can call our office and request to meet with a professional in our congregation absolutely free. (See Proverbs 12:15, 15:22)
4. We buy things we like (most of the time).
Now I know this sounds controversial, but let me explain because this really works for us. Too many people buy things they don’t like and then complain about them or get rid of them or simply leave them unused. We have found this to be a very wasteful practice. My wife and I have learned that if we do not buy what we like, it often goes to waste. Don’t misunderstand me. We don’t by everything we like – along with most people in the world we can’t afford that. But as a rule, we try to buy the things we do like when we make purchases. In other words, we would rather wait until we can save enough or until we find the item on sale to purchase an item that we like (car, clothes, entertainment, etc.). For example, if there is a place we have always wanted to go as a family, we would rather have two years of very simple vacations (creative, stay-at-home ventures) and the third year go somewhere really cool. Or, I would rather have 4 sweaters I love and wear them over and over again than a closet full of sweaters I don’t like. (I’m a guy and can get away with that!) Of course, my wife has become a “professional clearance-sale shopper.” She knows when and where to find the things we like (and like to do) for unbelievable prices. (I’ve seen her take a 4 day Caribbean cruise with her girlfriends for the same price as one night in a Chicago hotel or buy me a Ralph Lauren jacket for the same prince as a T-shirt. She’s good!)
5. We live carefully.
On the one hand my wife and I believe pleasure is good and should be enjoyed! (See Gary Thomas’ book Pure Pleasure in my book section.) On the other hand we live in a culture that tells us that we constantly need more to make us happy. We have rejected both extremes. We enjoy God’s blessings, but we do not live wastefully or lavishly. We have chosen a lifestyle that might be characterized as “simple with a touch of style.” We are not “outdated,” but neither do we feel like we need to constantly keep up with our “American neighbors.” Simple is “in” anyway! (See Proverbs 21:20)
Let me also add that it is important for us not to sit in judgment of the choices that others make with their finances. Certainly, some people deserve the criticism they receive because of their obvious greed, but others simply make lifestyle choices based on their personal preferences. For example, taking an occasional, very nice vacation with my family is important to me, and we’ve been to some pretty cool places. So, I may decide to drive one of my cars a little longer than I would like, and then take my family somewhere nice. Trust me, this takes more restraint than you may think. I really wanted to trade in my 2002 car this year, but I’m waiting until 2012 so our family can do some things together. (And I’m already doing a little shopping a year in advance for the 2010 car I want to buy in 2012!)