Focus on the Family

Financial Freedom God's Way

by Harvey Nowland

It is important to know why you want to become financially free. This may seem like a “no-brainer.” After all, why would you want to be in financial bondage because of debt? Freedom-from-debt freedom looks like the logical choice.

Nevertheless, your motivation for becoming debt free is important. Being released from the tension and anxiety of debt and being able to do what you want, when you want, might be high on a priority list.

But for the Christian, learning God’s biblical principles of finances, and practicing them in order to become debt free, actually is a path to know Christ more intimately and be financially free to serve Him. This means, however, that you must trust God and be willing to submit to His will and direction.

We say we trust God, but there’s a great difference between saying and trusting. Often we trust if it’s convenient or necessary as a last resort. God expects us to trust Him daily, in all things.

If you’re serious about becoming financially free, take these action steps:

Transfer ownership to God. Recognize that God really owns what you have and that includes your family as well as your time and things. Recognize this biblical principle or it will be impossible to free yourself financially. "The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it." (Psalm 24:1 NASB)

Get out of debt. Break the habits that keep you in debt – like spending more than you earn and borrowing. Save so you don’t have to borrow. "Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and turmoil with it." (Proverbs 15:16 NASB)

Accept God’s provision for you. God is wiser than you are and He will provide for your needs just as He promised. "Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ "
(Matthew 6:31 NASB).

Refuse temptations to make hasty financial decisions. Don’t buy into get-rich-quick schemes or be pressured to make quick decisions based on incomplete information. "The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, but everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty." (Proverbs 21:5 NASB)

Strive for excellence in all you do. Set high standards for yourself and your family. Humility doesn’t mean second best. "Whoever speaks is to do so as one who is speaking the utterance of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever." (1 Peter 4:11 NASB)

Seek contentment through your relationship with God. A discontented spirit produces greed and covetousness. Contentment results from a proper relationship with God based on accepting the lifestyle that He has made provision for in your life. "I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need." (Philippians 4:11-12 NASB)

Believe God’s promise that your needs will be met. Sometimes He’ll do this through the abundance of others; however, He never promises to provide equally for everyone. As a Christian, learn to accept God’s provision for you, because it is clear evidence of the role He has designed for you in His plan. Accept His provision without resentment because, "At this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality." (2 Corinthians 8:14 NASB)


Common Errors That Lead to Debt

There may be an endless list of errors that lead to debt, but two always seem to bob to the top.

by Harvey Nowland

Debt isn't the same as credit. If you have credit, it means that a mutual trust relationship exists between a lender and you, the borrower. The Bible doesn’t say that we cannot borrow, but God does warn against the undisciplined use of credit relationships, because they can quickly lead to uncontrolled debt.

It seems amazing — considering all of the financial related commercials bombarding us — that most people aren’t trained to handle money. A common attitude is: If I want it, I'll get it, because I deserve it. And, if I don't have the money, I’ll charge it. It’s the attitude that says we should "get what we want, when we want it." The concept of saving to buy something seems alien.

There may be an endless list of errors that lead to debt, but two always seem to bob to the top.

Buying too much house – Everyone enjoys a nice house, and a common practice is to buy based on how much monthly payment you can afford. However, a better test would be to determine just what you need, and not simply what you want, because things such as job loss and health issues can quickly impact that affordable monthly payment.

Buying too much auto – Larry Burkett used to say, "The best car to drive is probably the one you’re driving now." And unless it happens to be a gas-guzzling SUV — with today’s prices for a gallon of gas averaging $2.10 (as of March 2005*) and rising — you should probably plan to keep on driving it. If you must buy, a good quality used car from a trusted source will save you the thousands of dollars that you would lose when driving a new car off the lot.

Here are some other common errors:

Vacation – Everyone needs rest and recreation. The big vacation error is paying for your playing with plastic. The key is to have an affordable vacation budget. Then, plan a getaway that fits your budget and not one that is based on what your credit cards will allow.

Compare transportation and lodging prices on the Web. Even with today's gas prices, consider driving. Pack sandwiches, fruit, beverages and snacks, instead of eating in restaurants. Choose lodging with free breakfasts and swimming pools. Restaurants charge less for lunch than dinner, so treat yourself to good eating at noon.

Poor planning – A budget is a written plan for managing your money, and without such a plan — unless you’re one of the fortunate few with an endless supply of money — you could be setting yourself up for unnecessary debt.

Credit and credit cards – These don't cause financial problems, but abusing and misusing your credit and credit card does. This may sound strange, but don't automatically assume that you need more money if you're unable to pay your bills. More than likely, what you need is to regulate the way you’re managing your spending.

Don't borrow – Borrowing doesn't relieve debt. Home equity loans and transferring credit card balances to lower rate cards generally won’t solve your debt or overspending problem. You must treat the debt problem with disciplined spending habits, take on no new debt and pay off your existing debt.

It doesn't take much to get into debt, but the process of untangling yourself from debt's bondage can be daunting. When indebtedness shackles you to your creditors, you are not free to serve God fully.

Decide to get out of debt now — and stay out. With God's help, partnered with your discipline, you can. "A sensible person sees danger and takes cover, but the inexperienced keep going and are punished." (Proverbs 22:3 HCSB)


Budget Busters

Here are simple and commonsense strategies to help you avoid banging your budget to pieces.

by Harvey Nowland

Many Americans spend much more than 100 percent of their income! Can't be done, you say? Sure it can — it's called indebtedness.

Of course, everyone needs a place to live, food and transportation. But fail to control even one of these budget areas and . . . bang . . . you could produce a financial disaster.

You need to plan your spending based on your net income, not gross income. Net income is the money available to spend after taxes and tithe. If you plan your spending based on gross income, you're scheduling a financial catastrophe.

Housing

Housing is typically one of the largest budget problem areas. Total housing payments (mortgage, taxes, insurance, utilities, phone, maintenance) for a family with a moderate gross income of $40,000 shouldn't exceed 38 percent of net income (not gross income). Don't finance a second mortgage for a down payment, and never finance closing costs.

Food

Some families buy too much food. That moderate-gross-income family mentioned above shouldn't spend more than 12 percent of their net income for food. To avoid potential budget busting food problems, plan weekly menus, shop with written grocery lists and never shop if you're hungry or in a hurry. Avoid expensive prepared and frozen foods, and buy household cleaning and paper products at discount stores. Shop advertised specials, use coupons and try generic or store brand products (this isn't rocket science).

Automobile

If our moderate-gross-income family spends more than 15 percent of their net income on auto expenses (monthly payment, repairs and maintenance, gas, oil, tags, taxes, insurance), they are courting financial problems.

If the car you're driving can be repaired for less than six monthly payments on a newer car, think about repairing, not buying. If you do buy, pay off the car you have before purchasing another, buy quality used cars rather than new ones and avoid car leases.

Debts

If you're restricting yourself to five percent debt for credit cards, bank loans including home equity loans and installment credit, you're unusual because, unfortunately, the typical American far exceeds this amount.

Avoid potential debt problems. Get rid of credit cards you cannot pay in full each month. Establish a payment schedule to pay all creditors regularly and get your debts current. When an existing debt is paid off, reallocate that money to savings or to pay off another debt.

The rest of the budget story

Each of the following areas shouldn't exceed 5 percent of your net income.

Establish some savings in your budget. Otherwise, credit can become a lifestyle and debt a way of life. Savings allows you to purchase items with cash rather than credit.

Anticipate medical and dental expenses and set aside funds regularly to cover the expenses. Don't sacrifice your health due to lack of planning, but at the same time don't use doctors and dentists excessively. Prevention is cheaper than treatment or correction. Ask doctors and dentists in advance regarding costs. Shop around for prescriptions and ask for generic drugs.

Some families in debt must sacrifice in the area of clothing, because of excesses in other areas. Yet, clothing can be provided without great expense with sensible planning and buying. When possible, purchase during off-season and select outfits that are home-washable fabrics that can be mixed in multiple combinations.

Select insurance based on God's plan for your life, not on what someone else says you need. Find a well-informed, trusted insurance agent to determine the best possible provision for the money. If your employer doesn't provide medical coverage, consider buying major medical insurance rather than hospitalization. It's less expensive and can cover up to 80 percent of adverse medical expenses due to illness or injury

Don't use your creditors' money to entertain yourself. Some recreation and fun is necessary, but resist the urge to indulge excessively and control recreation and entertainment expenses.

It's up to you

These suggested budget percentages aren't chiseled in stone, but they could help guard against problem areas that might become financial calamities for you. However, no budget operates by itself. It requires effort, and living on a budget is essential in order to maintain a debt-free lifestyle and keep your finances from going . . . bang!


'Budget' Needn't Be a Dirty Word

There's nothing wrong with dreaming and desiring nice stuff. However, if you find yourself rearranging the need, want, and desire priorities it may take your attention from what's important and could get you into debt.

by Harvey Nowland

The word budget can strike terror in the heart of even the strongest man. Too many people think that a budget is a devious device invented to keep them from spending their money. If that’s what you think, how about taking a fresh look at the subject?

In fact, let’s not even use the “B” word. We’ll call it a financial plan. That’s right—financial plan. And you don’t have to be a professional planner to have one.

A budget (oops), financial plan, helps you organize and control your financial resources, establish and realize goals and decide in advance how your money will work for your benefit.

Without a financial plan, more than likely you’ll haphazardly spend what you have rather then designate where your spending should go.

Your financial goal should be to live within your means. So, you must:

Controlling spending also means knowing how to discern the difference between needs, wants and desires, and keep them in the proper order in every financial transaction. Larry Burkett defined the differences this way: Needs are the basic necessities of life: food, clothing, employment, and housing.

Wants require that you make choices about the quality of goods: designer label clothing versus discount clothes; steak versus hamburger; a new car versus a used car.

Desires represent goods we may dream about having, but they are choices that aren’t essential to our survival, safety or well-being.

There's nothing wrong with dreaming and desiring nice stuff. However, if you find yourself rearranging the need, want, and desire priorities it may take your attention from what's important and could get you into debt.

Income can become static or limited in some way. Often, this happens at retirement, when we discover that not everyone is able to spend the “golden years” globe trotting.

In fact, some find it difficult to make ends meet. Thirty percent of Americans 65 and older don’t have enough money for basic living expenses, according to Time magazine. (Looks like someone may need a financial plan.)

Often, people on very restricted incomes think they need no financial plan (budget), because there’s not enough money to plan with. This is a big mistake, since those with the most limited income are the ones who are most in need of planning their finances.

If that sounds like you, I recommend that you go online to www.crown.org and take advantage of the free online tools you’ll find there to help you get your finances on track. In fact, if you’re struggling financially, or suspect that you’re in the beginning stages of a financial struggle—go online to Crown Financial Ministries Web site and get help now!

Bill paying

Do you have a system for paying your bills? More and more people are taking advantage of online bill payments or funds transfers. I admit to making one monthly payment online, but my wife prefers a method she learned from her mother.

When the bill comes, it’s usually accompanied by a self-addressed envelope. She writes the date for mailing in the spot on the envelope where the stamp goes, then files by the bill in a small drawer. On the date for mailing, a stamp goes on the envelope and the bill gets paid. We’ve been married more than 50 years and we have never missed a payment—even when we’ve had a very low income.

That’s so simple that it seems silly to suggest. What’s the secret? It’s not a secret at all. Just live within your means, whatever that means may be, and pay what you owe—on time.

Home upkeep

Housing is the greatest expense most people incur, and home ownership could become a financial problem if it’s not properly maintained.

Many of us remember when, a few years ago, home maintenance wasn’t such a big deal. Ladders were easily climbed and trifocals didn’t interfere with our painting or light-bulb-in-ceiling-fixture changing skills.

Time sure flies but the house still requires proper maintenance, and you may need more help getting things done today than you did a few years ago.

Look over this brief cold weather checklist to determine if something around your house requires attention. If you need help with some of the items, be wise. Ask someone younger to help you, or hire a professional. In the long run, it’s cheaper than emergency room costs.

Indoors

Outdoors

None of this is nuclear physics, but a financial plan should include these maintenance items. Organize your resources with a budget, pay bills on time, live within your means and take care of what you already have. It’s called being a good steward.


Do You Shop 'Til You Drop?

To men and women who feel compelled to shop, any reason will do. You or someone you love may be one of them.

by Karen O'Connor

My Uncle Will died in his mid-80s, leaving his wife Madge over $20,000 in credit card debt due to his out-of-control Internet shopping.

Their garage was packed with boxes he'd never opened, yet he had continued to say 'yes' to a variety of products they had no use for. Without realizing it, he had shopped away their future. Now it is up to my aunt to pay off the balance.

Uncle Will, and millions like him, grew up in families where money, or the lack of it, was used to manipulate or control, to alter moods, to rescue, to reinforce certain kinds of behavior. As adults, they find themselves continuing the pattern. Some gamble. Others shop and spend and use credit cards to the limit, to pass the time, to make themselves feel good, to gain attention.

To men and women who feel compelled to shop, any reason will do. You or someone you love may be one of them. If so, you may recognize some or all of the following characteristics that seem present in the lives of people who 'shop till they drop.'

Taking Inventory

Men and women who feel out of control with shopping and spending answer 'often' or 'very often' to most of these statements.

For help with out-of-control shopping and spending habits, consider visiting a meeting of Debtors Anonymous in your area. For information about this 12-Step support group (similar in style and format to Alcoholics Anonymous) visit www.debtorsanonymous.org."

Common Characteristics

Grew up in an emotionally distant home.

Perhaps you, like my friend Ann, were quieted down when you became excited, or you were told to "cool it," or to consider others, or not to make noise or show your temper. Or you may have been rewarded, as my cousin was, for being the even-tempered one or the dependable child. In summary, adults in your life were telling you to stuff your feelings. They don't count. But the Lord says, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." (John 10:10 NIV)

Equate shopping with emotional or spiritual fulfillment.

When a sale occurs at a local store, you may be the first in line — perhaps not even sure why. Maybe you remember your mother taking you shopping for special outfits and then going out for lunch. You returned home filled up inside and feeling pretty or handsome on the outside. Today, you may be looking for that same emotional fulfillment, even if you have to spend money to get it.

But only the Lord can fill us up where we most need it. "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me will never go hungry." (John 6:35 NIV)

Feel worthy only when you spend on others.

If you grew up in a home where your mother was a full-time caregiver, then your sense of worthiness may be directly connected to how much you do for others and how little you do for yourself. Shopping for others, even when you can't afford it, makes you feel good about yourself. You may even feel you have to do it. But the Lord says, "...godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it." (1 Tim. 6:6-7 NIV)

Driven by a desire for instant gratification.

You've probably seen the bumper sticker, "He who dies with the most toys, wins." Imagine! Our culture has so inundated us with a desire for every latest gadget and gimmick that many of us unconsciously believe we cannot get along without them: computer, cellular phone, CD player, automobile, kitchen appliance, exercise bike and so on. This is especially challenging for those of us who grew up with unmet needs — spiritual, emotional or physical.

We somehow believe that if we fill up our lives with things, we will be happy, content, acceptable. But the Lord reminds us, "And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 4:19 NIV)

Unsure of your worth as a person.

You may be an expert on what other people need and want, but you feel unsure of what is good for you. Perhaps you never stop long enough to find out, and that keeps you from making wise choices. The truth is you are precious in the sight of God and you don't have to do anything to earn it. "The LORD your God is with you…he will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." (Zeph. 3:17)


Breaking the 'Spending Habit'

Unwise spending may provide some immediate satisfaction, but that seldom lasts very long, and it certainly never helps you achieve financial goals.

by Harvey Nowland

Buyer's remorse is a strange condition known to set in this time of the year. Many people overspend during the Christmas season, even though they determined last year that it would never happen for a second time. Then, here they are again this year — regretting their newly acquired debt.

Larry Burkett used to say that "spending is a habit." That being true, then we should add that the way we handle that spending habit can either financially make or break us.

Spending needs to be managed in such a way that you buy only those things you actually need now and save for future needs. Unwise spending may provide some immediate satisfaction, but that seldom lasts very long, and it certainly never helps you achieve financial goals.

You must consciously substitute desirable spending behavior for the out-of-control spending habits that may have gotten you into debt. Now, these desirable spending habits may not prove to be immediately gratifying, but they will allow you to reach your financial goals.

Here are some ideas to help change spending habits.

Establish self-discipline

Put all spending under God's control and recognize that you are the manager (steward) of God's resources.

Make all spending decisions based on real need and whether God would be pleased with the purchase. You may truly need a car. But, would God approve of your new gas-guzzling Humbugmobile with all of the bells and whistles, when a good used sedan would do just as well?

Avoid spending pitfalls when shopping by having a purpose, a time-limit and a list you've made before shopping; then stick to it. Limit the number of trips to the store or mall and never shop when hungry or depressed.

Under God's direction, control your money instead of allowing money to control you.

Then, once spending has been brought under control, you can determine how much needs to be spent each month in every area of an implemented budget — a spending plan.

Some say budget — some say spending plan

Call it what you will, a budget is a spending plan that helps you organize and control financial resources, set and realize goals and decide in advance how money will work for the good of your family.

The basic idea behind budgeting is to save money up front for both known and unknown expenses, and that means there must be a commitment to stick to the plan.

Every purchase should be considered in light of an established budget. That means buying non-budgeted items on impulse must be avoided, especially when you have to purchase it with a credit card.

Be cautious about your spending habits — develop a look-now-maybe-I'll-buy-later attitude.

Shop around before buying and learn to say "No". Keep a record of spending and purchases.

If you feel the need to buy something that's not budgeted, put it on a want-to-buy list. Then find two additional prices for the same item, to be sure it's a good buy. After a week's wait and checking prices, you may change your mind —or at least you should get the best buy on the item — but, do not charge it. 

Begin your spending plan

Remember, in order to have a budget/spending plan that works, you must have the attitude that God owns it all and you're only the manager of what He has entrusted to you. Without that belief, chances are that not much will change.

Your spending plan must be flexible. Do not make plans that are totally dependent on financial increases. Be patient, because sometimes God's will is accomplished by a loss rather than by a gain.

Your spending plan needs to be written, because a written plan:

A family budget shows you:

It's important to understand that very few, if any, families with financial difficulties have a written budget plan. Perhaps that's what God's Word is all about when it says:

"The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps" (Proverbs 16:9).

After all, how can God direct our steps if we haven't planned?

Develop realistic goals

The primary ingredients necessary to develop a spending plan are goals, and these are generally divided into short-range goals and long-range goals.

Short-range plans are basically day-to-day occurrences. Included in this day-to-day schedule should be some sort of plan for paying bills.

Long-range plans help you visualize your long-range financial objectives. Not every Christian will be wealthy, but everyone has a responsibility to plan well, to have sound objectives and to operate according to God's principles.

Who needs a spending plan?

Getting started on a budget/spending plan isn't always easy, but it is essential. Some families have the false idea that they don't make enough money to live on a budget, but they need a spending plan even more than others. Because when a family has to live on a low income, they must develop a budget that is as non-indulgent as possible, control their spending very carefully and live within the established budget guidelines.

At times it might become very frustrating, wondering how to develop a budget when there doesn't seem to be enough money to make ends meet. But that's exactly what makes a budget even more important for families with low incomes.

Whatever your income level might be, a well-developed spending plan should help you determine:

At first, it can be hard to make a budget work. Often, people with low incomes have to play catch-up, because they don't have the funds to set aside for the various budget categories. Even though it might take as much as a year for a family to get on solid ground with a budget, disciplined use of your money will eventually pay off. Best of all, as you chip away at it, bit by bit, God will honor your obedience.

Tools that can help

Perhaps you would like more information about goal setting and planning, and feel that you need some help and encouragement in getting started. Here's a suggestion — go to the Internet site of Crown Financial Ministries at www.crown.org and you'll find free online tools to help you develop your spending plan.

There you'll find calculators for:

While online at www.crown.org, visit the Budgeting Coaching section. If you have a brief budgeting question, you can chat online privately for 20 minutes with one of Crown's Money Map Coaches at no charge.

If you live in the United States and would like to have someone help you with an in-depth evaluation of your financial situation — income, spending, debt, saving, giving and so on — you can meet in person with a Money Map Coach in your area, again at no charge.