Manage Yo’ Self!–Pt. 1: Money

I know a guy who would talk about how he’s struggling to get by financially. It’s a hard economy no matter what the government says, his job only pays so much, and when you add in all the bills, it’s tough to get by. That’s true. Especially when you’re buying brand new sports cars and pimping them out, dishing out all those dollars for your X-Box LIVE super-mega-platinum-kryptonite account along with all the newest games and all their Downloadable extras, and your girlfriend is a fashionista who has to have a wardrobe to rival Sex and the City. I’m surprised you have a penny to your name.

If I didn’t love money so much, I would hate it. It’s a deceiver, a fickle mistress, and an opiate…and it’s absolutely necessary to our survival. Curses!

This is why I decided to make money the first part of my series on Managing Yourself, based on Proverbs 27: 23-24 (see the Intro post for more info on why this is so important).

You don’t have to be a Christian to know that people don’t know jack about money. The government is in, what, $15 trillion of debt? Close to it? And its people aren’t any better! Being overloaded with debt is as common as the flu and just as deadly. It may not kill you, but it will make you suffer. What’s really sad is that most of this is our own foolishness.

Take my friend who says money is tight, but blows all he has on video games and cars. I know a woman who used her credit card to completely revamp her bedroom, then wondered why she drowning in the debt. We don’t know how to manage our money. And that starts with not having our eyes on it.

Do you keep careful watch of your money? Not in a miserly Scrooge way, but do you know how much you have in and how much is going out? Do you have any idea where your money goes? What is your biggest spending area (food, clothes, car)? If you don’t know the answer to any of those questions, I’d say it’s time to get a grip on your money!

For Christians, this is extra true. Remember last week’s parable of the three workers (or the parable of the minas?) The master gave three servants money and told them to do business. When the first two did, he rewarded them. When the last did nothing, he was punished. God doesn’t just give us money to have it, he gives it to us to manage it!

Many Christians believe God doesn’t say much about money, or they think that their wallets are separate from their faith. On the contrary, God cares a lot about how we spend our money. Howard Dayton, a leading Christian financial adviser, pointed out that the Bible contains 500 verses on prayer, less than 500 on faith, but 2,350 on money! God cares how you spend it. Why?

One, how you handle money shows your character. Are you faithful with the five bucks you were given or did you blow it? Are you ravenous for cash or generous? Two, money affects our daily lives in a way few other things do. How many of us are desperate to clock out at the end of the day, but you’d work one more hour for $100? See the carrot being dangled in front of you?

If you do not get a grip on your finances, your finances will get a grip on your throat. Too many people have too much month at the end of their money, and I wish better for you. I don’t want to see anybody drowning in debt, wondering where their money went, because it’s all too common and all too destructive. Money problem is the biggest reason people get divorced. It’s a major reasons why friendships split and families explode.

The good news is that if you get the upper hand on money, all those problems melt away. Dave Ramsey says that money makes a horrible master, but a fantastic slave. If you’re telling your money where to go, what to do, you’ll find that it obeys you. If you stop giving it orders and let it to whatever, it’ll drown you.

And the better news its it’s very possible to get control of your money. It’s simple, yet but not easy. There’s not get-rich quick scheme, no five-day formula to riches. The principles to managing money well are extremely simple to understand, but they take sacrifice, which is why they’re so hard.

I’ve been studying money for a couple years and putting a few principles in my life that have been trying, but beneficial. As of this month, my wife and I are paying off one of our last debts. Adding up all the debts we’ve paid off since our wedding day in July of 2010, we will have paid off about $10,450. In two years. These things work, y’all, and from my experience and the stories from others, here is a summary of some of the most important things I’ve learned about money:

Make and Keep a Budget. Track where you money is coming from and where it is going. Write down every dollar that comes in and every penny that goes out. You have to start by seeing where you currently stand. Heck, June just started, so start today! Once you have a good month’s average, find out how much you WANT to spend on this, that, or the other thing and work your way to get there. You want to spend more on clothing? You may have to cut back on eating out. And vice-versa. You can’t manage your money if you don’t know where it is.

Sacrifice. Don’t buy stuff just because you want it. Evaluate your purchases. You want that new TV? How its your current one doing? Is it really that bad or are you just getting an itch? Do you really need a new car or are you just embarrassed by your old one? Do you have the money to go our with your friends, or do you need to change your plans? Learn to say no–to yourself, your family, your friends, whomever you need to. Don’t go bankrupt to please someone else.

Don’t Try to Keep Up with Others. Never use someone else’s standard of living as your own. You don’t have their money, their job, their bills, or anything like that. Focus on your own stuff. Don’t let people embarrass you into buying a fancier new coat or car or cell phone or whatever just because they think yours is outdated. Don’t try to make yourself look rich when you are not. Proverbs 13:7 says, “There is one who makes himself rich, yet has nothing; and one who makes himself poor and has great riches.” The truly rich people don’t act like it.

Know Thyself. What are your spending weaknesses? For me and my wife, it’s eating out. My wife is a phenomenal cook and we’re trying to be healthy, but pizza is sooooooo good. And McDonalds and Steak ‘n’ Shake, and the Cheesecake Factory, ooooh, baby. What’s your weakness? Cars, clothes, games, even taking people out?

Save Money. Finances 101, get some money in savings. Even if it’s just a little at a time, get into the habit. Start with an emergency fund of $1000. Most emergencies can be covered by this, and once you draw from it, fill it back up! And later on, when some of your debt is paid down, put more into this and save for those purchases instead of going into debt. It’s cheaper that way and less of a hassle. Only a fool blows through all his money without any thought to the future (Proverbs 21:20).

Become Generous. This seems contrary to gaining wealth, but God says to manage money, not keep it all to ourselves. Part of managing money like a Christian is being generous. If you’re a Christian, then tithe to your church. If you think tithing is an Old Testament thing, I have an argument for that, but let’s say I’m wrong. Say you don’t have to give money to your church. Why would that stop you? If you have a generous heart, as the Bible frequently tells us to, you desire to help the church that so helps you, and to help others, too. You don’t have to give every penny away, in fact, that’s foolish, but don’t become Ebeneezer Scrooge.

Enjoy Money. Don’t become so afraid of debt and so miserly that money is a drudgery. Yes, you should sacrifice and save and reel in your desires, but you should still be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Be wise and don’t go into debt for pleasure, but find a way to enjoy what you have. As the title of a Joyce Meyer book says, Eat the Cookie, Buy the Shoes. Find creative ways to enjoy the money you’ve earned. Go out for dessert once in a while. If you have some extra, maybe you can buy that outfit you really want. Be careful with money, but not fearful.

Remember who’s in Command. All we have is God’s and we are only the stewards. That’s the real reason we must manage our money: it’s not really ours. In Exodus 19:5, God says, “all the Earth is Mine.” Don’t get into the attitude of “this is my money and I don’t care what God wants with it!” That’s not only unChristian, it’s just plain incorrect. This also means that God is your source, not your paycheck or your boss. All good gifts come from God, so give thanks to him and lean on him, not your bank account. This is the most important thing I can tell you about money: trust God for provision, wisdom in spending, and filling the gap you cannot make.

I’m currently in ministry school and my wife is working two jobs, and it’s not enough. Every month, we have a $400 gap between what we make and what we need to meet our normal bills, groceries, and current debts. But we went into this because we felt God called me into this, and therefore he would meet our needs. And he has. We had a savings, but we hadn’t hadn’t been saving for all that long and only had enough money to last for 2 months. It’s been 9 months and that account still has money in it. God has been abundantly good to us. Not only has he prevented us from emptying our savings thus far, but last month we actually DEPOSITED money into it! And this month, we’re capping off a $10,000+ struggle and continuing with my last school loan. God is faithful.

Further resources: there is far more to be said on money, so I want to leave you with a few resources:

Anything by Dave Ramsey, especially Total Money Makeover. Dave Ramsey is a financial guru who has been rich, bankrupt, and rich again thanks to years of study and commitment. His books are based on Christian principles, but they’re not theological studies; they’re more practical, giving the “hows” and the practical “whys.” He is very wise and I’d endorse him to anybody.

Howard Dayton is another financial mind, but his study is more theologically based, heavier on scripture, and great for it. He really helps you understand the God principle in money more than the practical answers (though he has those, too). His book Your Money Counts is a very thin, easy read, but cram-packed with great principles for money.

My wife and I are also available; we’ve been working our stuff out for a while and starting to help others. We’re quite passionate about this subject, so if you have questions, comments, or concerns, please leave a comment and I’d be happy to talk to any of you.

I love you guys. Next week, we’ll be talking about managing your body, so shape up! 😀

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