A number of years ago Forbes Magazine compiled their “Top 100 Money Quotes of All Time.” Here are a few of my favorites:
- Too many people spend money they earned…to buy things they don’t want…to impress people that they don’t like. –Will Rogers
- I love money. I love everything about it. I bought some pretty good stuff. Got me a $300 pair of socks. Got a fur sink. An electric dog polisher. A gasoline powered turtleneck sweater. And, of course, I bought some dumb stuff, too. –Steve Martin
- Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result misery. –Charles Dickens
- I made my money the old-fashioned way. I was very nice to a wealthy relative right before he died. –Malcolm Forbes
- We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. –Winston Churchill
- My formula for success is rise early, work late and strike oil. –JP Getty
However, lasting financial fitness requires more than pithy humor and insightful inspiration; it also requires a few consistent habits practiced over a lifetime. Every year in our Church for Monday class, we share these five practical reminders for financial fitness.
1 – Make a Plan
Whether you call it a spending plan or a budget, use cash envelopes or build your own custom, macro-laden spreadsheet, you will never experience consistent financial fitness without a plan.
A good plan will allocate money for regularly occurring expenses (groceries, gas, utilities, rent/mortgage, insurance) as well as periodic expenses (property taxes, vacations, Christmas presents, car replacement).
Identifying and then regularly allocating (read: saving) money for those periodic expenses is the real game-changer. Christmas comes on Dec 25 every year. It should never sneak up on us from a spending standpoint. Yet, how often do we rack up credit card debt in November and December buying Christmas gifts? If you spend $600 on Christmas presents each year, you can set aside $50 each month and have the money ready.
There are some great digital tools to help you manage a budget/spending plan including EveryDollar, Mint, and my favorite, YNAB.
2 – Minimize Debt
While Christians have a variety of perspectives on what it is appropriate to use debt for — from nothing at all ever to only a mortgage to maybe a car or always for education or a business startup — biblical wisdom always favors keeping debt to a minimum. A general rule of thumb might go something like this: Avoid debt whenever possible. Only take on the minimum amount of debt when necessary. Pay back debt as quickly as possible.
For the best teaching on debt under 3 minutes, click here.
3 – Create Margin
Margin is the key to eliminating misery in your money. That’s Charles Dickens’s point in the quote from the Forbes list above. If you make $50,000/year and spend/save/invest $49,500, you feel great. If you make $50,000/year and spend $50,500, you always feel miserable and behind.
It is that margin, that little bit of wiggle room in our finances that enables us to care for others, to be generous when unexpected needs arise. Creating margin is the key to having the capacity to help others in need. As Pastor Tom Nelson puts so powerfully in The Economics of Neighborly Love:
“If we have compassion without capacity, we have human frustration. If we have capacity without compassion, we have human alienation. If we have compassion and capacity, we have human transformation. We have neighborly love.” (p. 16)
When we are moved to help and we have the margin to help, we get to experience a joy we would otherwise miss.
4 – Monitor Lifestyle Creep
Lifestyle creep is what happens when we always increase our standard of living whenever we gain a new level of income. Sometimes when we get a better paying job, a raise, or simply a cost-of-living adjustment, every new dollar is absolutely necessary to meet basic expenses or pay back debt. But other times our current income is meeting our needs and the additional income puts a choice before us: Do we increase our standard of living? Do we buy a new car, a bigger house, nicer clothes, upgrade from only Aldi to only WholeFoods?
Increases in our standard of living are not necessarily bad. It’s good to celebrate and enjoy the good gifts we’ve been given. But we need to be aware of two things when increasing our standard of living.
First, we should do it intentionally, not accidentally. It is so easy to just start spending more. If you’re going to increase your standard of living, do it on purpose. Think about it. Pray about it. Ask close friends for wisdom. Make sure you won’t end up making choices that make you marginless and miserable, just at a higher standard of living.
Second, we have to recognize once you step up your standard of living it is really hard to step down. It’s harder to go back to driving an older car or living in a smaller house or taking less elaborate vacations, once you’ve upgraded. So be careful about going too big.
5 – Start Giving, Increase Giving
Jesus said, “It is better to give than receive.” (Acts 20:35) A generous life according to Jesus is the best life. But how much should we give? C. S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity:
“I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusement, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our giving does not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say it is too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot because our commitment to giving excludes them.”
A good rule of thumb rooted in the Scriptures and Christian tradition and practice is 10%. But what if you feel like there is no way you could give 10% and still make ends meet? Start somewhere? Could you give 6%? 3%? 1%? Start somewhere and then seek to increase. Likewise, we shouldn’t let 10% be a speed limit on our giving either. There’s no verse that says, “Thou shalt not give away more than 10%.” The goal is cultivating generosity and joy not fixating on percentages.
If you feel stuck in your finances, reach out to one of your pastors. We would love to pray with you and connect you with resources that can help you experience greater satisfaction and freedom in managing, sharing, and enjoying the financial resources God has entrusted to you.