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Mishandling money is an external manifestation that points to a root problem in the heart. Stewarding money is not only a privilege, but it’s a sober responsibility because of the temptations and snares that entangle too many of our brothers and sisters. Because of the seductive nature of sin and the culture’s encroachments into our lives, many Christians struggle to bring their finances under the Lordship of Christ. This problem is symptomatic of a deeper issue that needs addressing.
The selfish use of money is a worship disorder of the heart—crucial intel we must know when helping someone overcome fiscal irresponsibility. While it’s essential to address the external problem—financial selfishness, the root also needs scrutiny if we want to change. Money problems will not disappear without putting off bad habits and renewing our hearts (Ephesians 4:22-23).
It’s also true that we should deal with the behavior. Jesus was clear that we must cut it off if our hand is offensive (Matthew 5:30). We amputate behavioral sins while we mortify heart idolatries. Amputation speaks to external sins, while mortification speaks to the root of the problem in the heart. Many believers need a practical understanding of how to amputate fiscal irresponsibility. The mind map I have for you shows how to steward God’s money behaviorally.
When I work with folks on their finances, the typical person does not see how their financial stewardship is a responsibility that should have God’s glory as the main thing. Most of them tell me that they did not have anyone to walk with them, to envision them with this worldview. This typical response from folks motivated me to create this mind map.
I recognize that there are many ways to steward the Lord’s money. What I am presenting to you is merely one of those ways. I am practicalizing common sense, not telling you that the Bible mandates you to follow this plan religiously. There is “a” way of doing things, and there is “the” way. This exercise is suggestive; it’s one way for you to think about money.
The mind map is a roadmap to give you inspiration and a vision that you will need to tweak and implement according to your season of life, size of family, monetary situation, and age. Though your plan may not be exactly like this plan, the big ideas in this Mind Map are universal. I hope that what you read will spur you on, adapting these ideas to your life. Let’s take a look.
The first big idea is that our money is not our money. (See #1 in the mind map.) If we don’t start with this presupposition, we will not end with God’s glory in mind. Our beginning will determine our ending. If we fully believe every cent we have is God’s and it’s our job to steward those pennies, we have positioned our hearts in the right place as God’s Money Manager.
When someone asks you about your role with your finances, you can tell them that you are a Money Manager for God. It’s a sobering title, and there is not a pay grade higher than that one. Lucia and I think about finances this way. We have never thought about the money we have as being ours; we’re stewards of what He gives.
Perhaps prayer will assist in adopting this mindset. You could place a note on your bathroom mirror or refrigerator to help you imprint this worldview into your psyche. As you fixate on this overarching truth, you’re ready to follow your King to financial maturity. The next step is to follow your Father, doing His work on earth. (See #2 in the mind map.)
With steps one and two firmly under your theological belt, you’re ready to build a plan. (See #3 in the mind map.) This plan is merely suggestive, not a mandate for you to adopt. It does work. It has passed the field test: Lucia and I have followed this financial process our entire marriage. Nevertheless, the budget you create is your unique roadmap.
If you don’t have a map—budget—you will not know where you’re going. I have been doing financial counseling for many years, and I’ve never met a person who did not have a budget and knew where all the money went. The counselee says, “Oh, I have a pretty good handle on our money. I know where it goes.” It’s always a lie, even an unwitting one; the person does not connect what he says to deceit most of the time.
His response is nothing more than an attempt to soft-pedal his irresponsibility. At that juncture, I challenge him to make a budget. It’s a common-sense thing to do, but it does take diligence. A simple, albeit tedious, way to do this is to chart every cent you receive and spend for an entire month. You’d be amazed at some of the stories I have heard after folks did this.
They are always shocked at the amount of money they are spending. Most of the time, it’s on items like eating at restaurants. There are usually four to seven other categories that shock them. After collecting this data for a month, they are motivated to see how much they waste and how much they could be saving.
From this month’s worth of work, they begin developing categories or line items according to groupings of expenses. These line items become the categories from which they spend money each week, each month. Depending on how detailed they become, there could be as many as fifty of them. They can work from these line items for the rest of their lives.
The first time I went through this process was in the early ’90s. I had over 100 line items from my first month’s data collecting. I trimmed that list to about forty groupings. For example, I had three line items for food: grocery, eating out, and snacks. I did not have a line item for saving, which you must do. The goal is to work from 90 percent of your gross income. Though the New Testament does not teach giving 10 percent to the church, giving that amount is a good starting point (2 Corinthians 9:7).
You now have a good idea of how much comes in during the month and how much exits. You have also created most of the categories you will need. At this juncture, you start cutting back on your expenses and categories. (See #4 in the mind map.) Please do not create a miscellaneous item because it could turn into a black hole, which is tempting for the person who has been irresponsible with money.
The trimming part is usually fun, especially after seeing how the new budget has debt reduction and saving categories (Proverbs 22:7). Some couples have turned this process into a “financial game.” The addictiveness to spending shifts to an addiction to reduce debt and save money.
I recommend that you continue to track your expenses with meticulous detail, at least for the first year. No one month is the same. Birthdays, Christmas, and other costs show up at different times during the year. If you track the entire year, you will have a clear idea of your expenses and income. You will also create special categories to put aside a certain amount each month, which will level out those one-time expenses like Christmas.
One of the line items in your monthly budget is saving. Once you know your monthly income and expenses and have enough to cover your costs, you want to build an emergency fund. (See #5 in the mind map.) Ten thousand dollars is a good target. You can look at that amount as spilling into a fund until it reaches the desired amount. If you are paying your bills and can create a $10K emergency fund, you will begin to sense financial stability.
The purpose of this fund is, as the label suggests: it’s an emergency fund. There will be things that happen during the year. You will not have those things in the budget because they are unknown. But if your savings spills into the ” emergency bucket,” you will be able to cover your surprises. This fund absorbs those unexpected financial spikes.
For example, we had to buy a new range and a new dishwasher in the same year. We did not budget those things into our monthly expenses because we assumed those appliances were okay. Similar bumps in our finances have happened to our vehicles and furnace. It’s life. Whenever you tap into your emergency fund, you want to fill it back to whatever predetermined amount you decide.
After you get your emergency fund to where you want it, you want to create another category. (See #6 in the mind map.) We call this “untouchable money.” The implication is clear: the goal is never to touch it. But if something does happen that drains the emergency fund, you will have a catastrophic fund that will keep you sailing along financially.
You can put your emergency and catastrophic funds in something like a CD that renews every twelve months, each one renewing six months apart. If you put them on twelve-month renewals, you get better interest accrual, and if they renew six months apart, you’re never more than six months from cashing in one of them.
Once your catastrophic fund is where you want it, you begin to focus more aggressively on stewarding your future fund. (See #7 in the mind map.) While you should be investing in your future fund all along, it is wise to create an emergency and catastrophic fund to absorb the financial spikes. This fund could have a 529 college fund, Roth IRAs, 401K, Money Markets, Stock Market, Life Insurance, and Will. If those funds are in place, it will be an exceptional event to touch the “stewarding your future” category.
The money you give to the church, savings, and debt reduction are nonnegotiable budget categories. You do not see “debt reduction” in the mind map, though it must be a line item in your budget. As for debt, here are a few recommendations for your consideration. Pay off your smallest debt first. If you can knock out a few smaller bills, it will encourage and motivate you to keep going. Small wins are wins, nonetheless.
After you pay your smallest debt, take the money you were paying on that bill and roll it over to your next smallest debt. You were already paying this bill, so keep that same amount and roll it into the next one. You will retire it more quickly when you add the recently paid expense to it. Continue this process until you’re debt-free.
If you can pay something on your mortgage’s back end each month, you could save thousands of dollars and cut years off the overall house payment. You can find a mortgage calculator online to type in your monthly mortgage, interest rate, and what you want to pay extra each month. It will shock you at the amount of money you’d save just by paying a little extra. Also, I do not recommend buying a new car unless you can genuinely afford it. Automobiles are depreciable items and should provide only a practical purpose, not a reputational one.
Wisdom suggests you find someone you trust to speak into your money management practices. I have seen God do some amazing things in people’s lives as they have submitted their finances to Him while opening their wallets to a loving friend who was willing to serve them this way. Humble folks pursue accountability, and God rains down His pleasure on those souls (James 4:6).
Here are a few more Scriptures to serve you as you think about financial planning and management: Philippians 4:19, 1 Timothy 6:10, Acts 20:35, and Matthew 6:31-32. Let these verses settle in your mind as you thank God for His ongoing and all-sufficient financial care of you. You may not have all you want or need, but God does take care of His children.
There was a time when I picked up aluminum cans from the side of the road to buy food. It was pennies, and my debt increased, but the Lord was faithful through that dire season, which lasted ten years. I never went without, though the years were lean. If you’re going through a financial drought, keep leaning into your heavenly Father. He knows your need, and He will provide it. Let this season be the seed that motivates you when things change.
Our most vital need is for financial supporters. If you can help us, will you? We are doing more, and people are asking for more. To keep up, we must hire more while developing the resources to meet the demand.