As I’ve mentioned, I grew up in a financially dysfunctional household.
My parents were wonderful people. I’ve always been proud of having chosen them to raise me.
But my father, particularly, was by his own admission the worst money manager ever. Usually he and my mother, who sometimes worked outside the home but mostly didn’t, earned enough that we might have lived a basic, middle-class life.
Instead, we seemed perpetually broke, teetering on the precipice of ruin, with bill collectors calling the house.
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I don’t say this to defame my parents, but to explain why, when I got married as a 22-year-old college dropout working a minimum-wage job, to an 18-year-old bride also working for minimum wage, I set about recreating the same disasters I’d grown up with.
A few years in, I decided there had to be a better way.
At the time, odd as this might seem, the only place I could think to look for a better way was the Bible.
I searched the Scriptures for whatever I could find about how to handle money wisely and avoid poverty. I wrote down hundreds of verses. Later, I expanded my study beyond the Bible. But the core of what I know even now about personal finance, I learned from the Scriptures.
My wife and I started putting those biblical principles into practice.
Ours was similar to the Dave Ramsey approach — although I’d never heard of Ramsey, the Christian financial guru.
For 35 years, I’ve followed these principles. I’m not rich; it was never my desire to be rich. I don’t care much about material things.
But following these rules turned my life around. They brought me financial stability, comfort and peace.
They’ve proved to me you don’t have to always be struggling to survive, always behind, always scared some unexpected expense — an emergency room visit, a fender bender — will hurtle you into bankruptcy.
I don’t adhere to the so-called “prosperity gospel,” and that’s not what I’m proposing here, but I also don’t believe God wants us to live 80 years broke, beat down and anxious.
Here are some principles I’ve tried imperfectly to obey:
▪ Tithe. To tithe is to give 10 percent of your income to God’s work. If you believe there is a God, it’s important to recognize he has his own divine economy. When you sow into his kingdom, by giving in faith to his ministries, then he rewards you. As St. Paul put it, “God loves a cheerful giver.”
▪ Live beneath your means. This takes discipline, especially if you’re already stretched. But whatever you earn, spend less. Cut expenses to the nub. If you bring home $100 a week, find a way to eke by on $80. Give $10 to your church. Sock $10 in the bank or a 401(k) — and don’t withdraw it, barring a life-or-death crisis.
▪ Save consistently. As I said, every time you get money, put some away. Save, save, save. It’s amazing how that nest-egg accrues over the years. A little leads to a bunch, which leads to freedom and peace of mind.
▪ Work hard, but not obsessively. Everyone who’s physically and mentally able needs to work. Yet in your attempt to stave off poverty, don’t become a workaholic, which is as destructive as being slothful. Set aside time for leisure.
▪ Defer gratification. Avoid impulsive spending. Go home and think about it a couple of days before you buy. Count the cost — literally. There’s hardly anything you have to have today, whether it’s a sweater or a sailboat.
▪ Whenever possible, pay cash or else do without. It wasn’t only Shakespeare who said the borrower becomes the lender’s slave. God said it first. Those credit cards will ruin you. Pay them off each month. Or cut them up.
▪ Pay debts quickly. Sometimes debt is nearly unavoidable, and occasionally it can even make sense, as when you’re leveraging your way into a thriving business. But once you’ve incurred debt, pay it off fast. Double up on the payments. Flee from slavery. Buy your freedom.
▪ Trust God to provide. No matter where you work, your employer isn’t the source of your supply. God is your source. You’re his child. He hasn’t let you starve yet, has he? If your factory is shuttered tomorrow and you’re laid off, that doesn’t handicap the Lord. The Old Testament says, “He gives to those he loves even in their sleep.”
▪ Be content where you are, with what you have. Everything you own is going to burn someday, if it doesn’t rot first. None of it will matter when your time to die arrives. If you have a roof over your head, enough food and someone to hug, be thankful. If you don’t have someone here to hug, then love on God. Choose joy.