1. The problem defined
In times of financial difficulty, freedom from money pressures seems to be for the fortunate few—the very few.
Sure, the idea of saving money during a dismal economy may appear to be out of the question for most families. But, just because it seems to be unattainable doesn't mean that it's impossible to accomplish.
The bad news about American's saving habits is that back in 2006 the U.S. savings rate fell to a somber negative one percent, the lowest since the Great Depression of the 1930s. And negative saving rates indicate that people are spending more money than they have.
However, there's some good news. Personal savings can climb out of the hole, as we proved it could in 2007 when national personal savings rates averaged about 2.5 percent—still a long way from the healthy average of nine percent during the 1980s, but much better than nothing.
Well, what's the big deal about having a small or a nonexistent personal savings plan? Unfortunately, not having personal savings usually means that individuals will have to borrow when emergencies arise, or charge for current general spending — sometimes even for the necessities.
More importantly, it might mean we're ignoring God's Word.
2. The biblical solution
Barns and crops
There is a clear difference between saving and hoarding. Saving is biblically correct and hoarding is not.
In Luke 12: 16-21, Jesus told of a rich farmer who built more and more barns to store his bumper crops of produce he was hoarding. Even though we might not be farmers with abundant crops, we should read that parable carefully because it contains wise biblical counsel, so consider how it might apply to your own life.
When a person hoards, money is set aside for no particular reason—in fact often the money isn't used even if it's really needed. Hoarding can become an easy practice to fall into, especially when one is on a limited income and economic times are tough.
Actually, the difference between saving and hoarding isn't really about crops or money—it's about attitude. Saving is:
· What a good steward does
· A hedge against specific future needs that are based on a well defined spending plan—a budget.
However, hoarding reflects a lack of trust in God.
Ants don't need snow shovels
What do ants have to do with a wise savings plan? Check this out—Proverbs 6:6-8 says:
"Go to the ant, O sluggard, observe her ways and be wise, which, having no chief, officer or ruler, prepares her food in the summer and gathers her provision in the harvest."
God seems to have imprinted ants with an ability to calculate what they'll need to get through the winter. During the summer and autumn, ants gather and store required amounts of provision in their anthill in order to provide for the entire colony during the winter.
Translated to a human scenario, that's what a personal savings is all about — looking forward to an upcoming requirement and then setting aside an amount necessary to meet that future need so that borrowing will not be necessary.
You may be thinking that would be easier to say than do. But maybe it's because you haven't determined to begin what the Bible advises us to do — save on a regular basis.
It's important to develop saving as a good habit, because it can help replace bad spending habits that we may have developed.
"There is precious treasure and oil in the dwelling of the wise, but a foolish man swallows it up" (Proverbs 21:20).
3. A Christian's perspective
It would be easy to simply blame the economy for our lack of personal savings. After all, we could say, we aren't alone. Not many seem to be thriving under the hammer of current economic conditions.
And we might plead that we're not the only ones borrowing and charging. But, does that make it the right thing to do? Misery might love company, but most of us would admit that we could do without that sort of misery or company.
Those with very low incomes frequently say they don't have enough money to budget. In fact, the lower your income the more important it is to have a budget — a money spending plan.
In a similar fashion, those with a minimum of surplus money think that it's impossible to save. That's an unfortunate view because everyone manages to find some money to spend foolishly once in awhile. Well then, why not find some to save too? Tell your bank to move a specific amount each month from your checking account to a savings account. Look at your savings as spending for you, and that's not foolish.
So, how should a Christian view personal savings in a difficult economic environment?
· First, remember the difference between saving and hoarding. Believers are not to operate with a "rainy day" philosophy, you know, to save just for the sake of saving. Sometimes it doesn't rain, so have an intentional savings plan.
· Plan to save with purpose. Saving should be specific, with the prospect of meeting a future need. That way, when we're regularly putting aside an amount necessary to meet an upcoming need, we won't have to borrow.
· Having personal savings also provides another positive—a blessing in fact. You can make it a matter of prayer to designate some of your surplus money for helping someone, perhaps in your church, who might have a genuine need.
Saving involves faith because it represents good stewardship, proper management of that which God has provided. On the other hand, hoarding eliminates faith in God and ignores faithful stewardship.
So, pray and ask God for the wisdom to handle the provision He's given you. And, be sure your savings have a purpose that reflects biblical stewardship so that you'll avoid hoarding.
As Proverbs 21:20 says, be wise and don't swallow up what God has given you.
Lilies of the field and sparrows of the air have nothing on us. So don't be anxious about tomorrow, but be sure you're following His directions, which are found in that leather-bound book you have called the Bible — don't neglect it.
Start saving. You can get along without a loan!
Next: Part two of the Getting Along Without Getting a Loan module – "Spending too much."
Harvey Nowland is a freelance writer living in Gainesville, Ga.