What is the common thread between a bride and groom, interior design and barbershop singers?
A couple's love is built on whether or not they give their hearts to one another; guests are more likely to feel peace when a home's décor is made up of complementary colors and patterns; three voices harmonize to the melody of a fourth voice in an a cappella quartet.
Love, beauty and sound all depend on qualities that don't clash and disagree.
In a word, that common thread is harmony.
When we refer to people being "on the same page," we mean they have a common opinion about how to approach life, complete a task or reach a goal. And when we unite together, the end result is peace, serenity, and joy. That said, when we reflect on whether we have financial harmony, what exactly does that mean? More importantly, how do we achieve it?
On a basic level, it means agreeing on a family budget, working with business partners honestly or paying creditors each month. But finding true financial harmony is more than just making sure your checkbook balances each month; it means making financial decisions that are congruent with God's precepts. In other words, it begins with obedience.
We learn throughout the Scriptures that God is obviously not appeased by money or things. 1 Samuel 15:22 says, "Obedience is better than sacrifice," and Joshua 1:8 emphasizes that "obedience and meditation on God's Word brings one a prosperous and successful life."
God demands adherence to his commands in all areas of our life—even when days feel bleak and discouraging. Although the "health and wealth doctrine" has been alive and well for quite some time, the reality is God cannot be bought, so we must willingly give up everything to follow Him.
We hope this article series will help you discover a new or different financial mindset. We'd even go so far as to say that our goal is to positively influence your daily financial decisions: how much and what you buy, what you invest in and what you give to charity.
Why? Because we achieve a harmonious balance only when we take time to find out what God expects and then agree to submissively partner with Him; only then will we stay on the same page as our Creator.
My husband loves to catch crawdads, or as they say in some circles, freshwater lobsters. His foolproof method of snagging these crustaceans is to place the cage behind it. As he waves his hand in its face, the creature's natural defense is to back up—right into the trap.
Like crawdads, it's all too easy to unknowingly back into a trap—especially when it comes to money. If not careful, the spending decisions we make could back us into a corner—or worse…debt. I've listed a few of the money traps I've managed to escape from; see if you recognize them in your own spending habits.
Cell Phones. I don't know about you, but I've been surprised by unexpected charges on my cell phone. What lessons has that cell phone contract taught me?
First, I learned to make sure my cell phone plan met my airtime needs. If you choose a cheaper plan that offers fewer minutes, but then go over your minutes, you might pay more money than if you had purchased the plan offering more airtime.
I also learned to be mindful of the monthly or one-time charges for downloads (games, movies, songs), Internet connections and roaming charges. If you aren't convinced it won't add up, google news reports about Apple's iPhone; some shocked consumers received bills (over 3,000 pages long) that added up to thousands of dollars in roaming and Internet charges. Sure, this is an extreme example, but stop to think about how even an extra $50 bucks a month can send you over budget.
Fast Food and Frappuccinos. As a soccer mom who sometimes spends the entire day driving kids around, I'm often tempted to forgo cooking at home and pull into the local drive through. What I notice if I do this too much, however, is that my food bill skyrockets.
The same is true with my mocha craving. One too many of these specialty coffee drinks gives me an empty wallet and expanded waistline.
To combat these temptations, I've learned to look for creative time and money-saving alternatives. For example, freezing a double batch of lasagna or enchiladas saves loads of time. Defrost the meat and tada! It's a fast food meal without the drive-thru cost. I'll find an equally tempting option when that mocha craving hits. I mix my own delicious coffee drink to keep my monthly budget on track. I buy my coffee on sale, mix it with some powdered chocolate and low fat milk, and enjoy my snack at half the cost…and half the calories.
Shopping. Face it, we can't avoid this task (or hobby to some) altogether. Still, shopping doesn't have to turn into a snare for overspending. We're most often trapped when we buy stuff we don't really need. We go into the store with one item in mind; the next minute, our cart is full of items we never planned on purchasing.
The solution is to act proactively. Because God commands us to be good stewards of our resources, buying goods wisely should become second nature. How? Before going to a store—grocery store, department store and any place you might be tempted to whip out the wallet—make a list of what you need to buy and fervently stick to it.
We can avoid a second trap—paying full price—by shopping around for the best price. If a dealer offers you a car for half price, most of us perk up and listen. Yet, we often neglect to look for better deals. Grocery stores, for example, make it easy. Every week they send out the food ads, which highlight something called loss leaders. The store actually breaks even or loses profits on these items, but the goal of these ads is to get you into the store so you can buy other items at full price.
This and That. Perhaps the biggest trap is the dollar-here-dollar-there spending. Here's what we often rationalize: A pack of gum doesn't seem like much; a bottle of water is pretty cheap; those soft serve ice creams for the kids are less than a dollar each.
Add these items together, though, and you'll find five or more dollars less in your wallet.
There's nothing wrong with nickel-and-diming yourself; just don't nickel and dime your budget to death. I make sure I keep my miscellaneous spending in check by keeping a limited amount of cash in my wallet. Then when the money's gone, so is the spending. (Be sure and keep the receipts from these little expenses to see if you are staying within your allotment!)
The main thing to remember is that overspending is a trap, and it takes a great deal of planning to keep out of.
Luckily for us we're smarter than crawdads.
If God gave out financial advice, would you listen? After all, who better to predict market forecasts? Instructions on how to ride out a down market? Protect us from bad trades? Teach us how to best live in a bull market?
Fortunately, God offers a plethora of financial advice that extends beyond tomorrow's closing bell on Wall Street. His lessons are tucked away within the pages of Scripture. Here are few that you may want to add to your tip sheet.
Prepare for leaner times. The poster child for this one is Joseph. Through God's revelations, he forecasted Egypt's deadly famine—seven years before it happened. Knowing that it's pretty much impossible to grow crops without rain, he persuaded Pharaoh to tell the Egyptians to, first, cut down on how much they ate, and second, build storage bins so they would have enough food.
What is the modern-day application? Live modestly today in case of lean times ahead. Joseph understood this concept of going from feast to famine. In today's volatile economy, we'd all benefit from adopting this model.
Seek financial advice. Proverbs 28:26 emphasizes the importance of surrounding yourself with wise counsel; a greedy spirit, after all, can cloud the vision of even the most level-headed investor. Remember Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5? They relied on their own intuition instead of consulting other church members; then they fabricated a story about how much they really donated to the church. Consumed by their greedy impulses, God struck them down.
When seeking financial advice, approach a friend, mentor or someone else you trust; ask them to help you answer these two questions, “Why would I not want to do this?” and “What is the worst thing that could happen?” When you and your advisor have anticipated possible outcomes—and have decided you can live with the risk—then you've made your financial decision intelligently.
Be realistic. You've probably heard this age-old adage: "If it sounds too good to be true it probably is."
Proverbs 28:19 frames it this way: "He who works his land will have abundant food, but the one who chases fantasies will have his fill of poverty."
Advertisers and marketeers try and entice us with their lofty promises of riches and wealth—without even lifting a finger. Don't buy into it. Make money-making decisions with cold hard facts and numbers in mind. That doesn't mean you can't dream, or perhaps invest money into your dream, but do so knowing exactly what it is—a risk.
Plan ahead. In Luke 14, Jesus tells the cost of being a disciple.
"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower," he says. "Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?" (v.28).
Jesus wasn't talking specifically about money; still, we can use this as a foundational principle for money management.
It goes like this: If I make $1200 a month, and my rent, food, and car bills equal $1200 a month, what would happen if I take a trip to Disneyland and charge $400 on my credit card at 21 percent interest? I'm hoping that you've figured out that you can't pay off your credit card. It's just that simple.
Don't cheat the government. Besides giving to Caesar what is Caesar's (Matthew 22:21), Hebrews 13:17 admonishes us to obey our leaders and submit to their authority. 1 Peter 2:13-14 also commands us to "submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men," either king or governor.
By doing good deeds and living righteously, Christians set an example and silence foolish men. If we truly believe that God is the one who provides us with our needs, then it's ridiculous trying to justify stealing from the government in order to survive. Besides, eventually, your sins will find you out and compromise your witness for Christ.
Be Generous. You might think giving is an unorthodox money tip, but over and over again the Scriptures speak of taking care of the poor. Proverbs 28:27 promises us that God will take care of our needs when we take care of the needs of others, but "those who close their eyes to poverty will be cursed."
Finally, in Proverbs 11:25, we find out that "a generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed."
Doesn't this sound like the "what goes around comes around" principle? I worked for several summers at a homeless ministry. I have to admit there's nothing quite like working with people who make their homes out of cardboard boxes and sleep under bridges to make you appreciate what you own. It does something else, too. It makes you realize that money can help others, not just yourself.
Scott and Tiffany* married at age 23. Scott had just graduated with his Bachelor's degree and starting graduate school, while Tiffany worked full time at an insurance office. Just as it happens to many young couples, it took only a few weeks living under the same roof for them to realize their financial incompatibility.
Here is their story and how they eventually made ends meet.
Tiffany's perspective: One day Scott called me into the office of our apartment to talk about a budget. I thought a budget was something that involved congress or the president. I had no idea what a personal budget was.
Scott showed me a printout of all of our expenses—everything from gas and groceries to hair cuts and what he called "fun money," which is cash that we could spend as we wished.
"This is how much income we make each month," Scott explained to me. "And each item in the budget shows how we spend it."
I told him that I needed more fun money. $4 a week was nothing.
"Where should it come from?" he asked.
"I don't know, just add it in," I said.
"Budgets don't work that way."
I got frustrated and left the room.
Scott's perspective: Now that two people are living on one income, I tried to explain to Tiffany that we would need to budget our money very carefully. She doesn't get it at all.
The other day she came home from work and said, "Let's go out to dinner."
"But we went out last week," I said. "We don't have enough money to keep going out to dinner like that."
Then she came home last weekend with some new towels for the bathroom. We didn't have that expense built into the budget, either. If she keeps on spending like this, we'll run out of money before the end of the month.
I like to cook, so when I served her two pieces of bacon in a sandwich, she said she wanted five. I told her we needed to ration our food better if we want to make it until the end of the week. She freaked out and said she wasn't hungry any more.
Tiffany's perspective: Sure, I understand that we don't make a lot of money, but food is a necessity. And why can't we go out to eat once in a while? Scott told me that his family only went out on special occasions. My family went out three times a week.
Scott's perspective: In my family, we went through some really tough times. I remember eating canned hash for a week straight. I never want to relive that time again. I guess I could buy more food at the grocery store, but eating out is so expensive.
It's obvious that Scott and Tiffany came from homes with very different financial priorities. Tiffany never managed an allowance, let alone a family budget. Scott, on the other hand, worked since he was very young and paid for most of his own expenses. His difficult times during his childhood left scars that made it difficult to use money for entertainment, or even necessities; in contrast, the excessive spending in Tiffany's family caused her to have an unrealistic view of money and savings.
Over time Scott and Tiffany worked together to agree on a budget both could live with. They both found creative ways to socialize, such as inviting friends over for potlucks. Dinner out was budgeted so they could go for a special treat once a month; picnicking was another way to "go out."
Besides managing the food bill, they increased the fun money as a reward for Tiffany's labor after getting a raise. She continued to buy a few things for the home, but checked out books at the library on how to decorate for less money. She also shopped at thrift stores or made items herself.
Twenty-one years later, Scott and Tiffany have since learned to enjoy each other's differences.
Tiffany's perspective: I'm so glad that I listened to Scott's money-saving ideas. We have never had credit card debt in our entire 21 years of marriage. We have two paid-off vehicles and a manageable house payment. We enjoy going out to dinner once in a while, but embrace the times we can enjoy ourselves without spending money, like when we go on a bike ride together or sit at the park and visit without the kids. We also have plenty of food in the pantry that Scott buys on sale.
Scott's perspective: Tiffany has kept me from making money too important. I have watched God provide all of the things we need. We use our money for living, ministry and for fun. I'm also thankful that Tiffany understands the importance of staying debt free. (And I'm happy to say I've yet to eat canned hash!)
She's also found creative ways to make money on the side as a stay at home mom. I love how savvy she's become shopping the sales and negotiating for lower prices for household and clothing items. We enjoy much needed vacations, and I've become less frugal when I bring home the bacon.
When my children want to buy something at the store, I don't say, "No, you can't have it." Instead I ask, "Do you have any money in your checkbook?"
Before my children became teenagers, I decided to teach them about financial responsibility. I gave them their own checkbook ledgers. They recorded weekly allowances under the deposit column, while purchases were posted under payment withdrawal. Each Friday, they balanced their books.
I'm hoping this practice keeps them from becoming part of these statistics reported recently by Sallie Mae.
Of 13,000 college students, more than half had accumulated $5,000 or more in credit card debt while in school, and one-third owed over $10,000 in credit card debt. In light of this information, I decided I better start training earlier rather than watch them face their future creditors later.
As adults, we've become so accustomed to managing our own money that we often forget to introduce basic concepts to our children. How is money earned and deposited? What is the function of an ATM machine? What does it mean to balance a checkbook?
These are simple to us because we've been doing them for years; to your children, these are foreign concepts. We assume they know more than they do, but don't let them fool you. For example, a recent survey taken by the JumpStart coalition for Personal Financial Literacy of 5,775 high school seniors from 37 states, found that only 40.3 percent of the students realized that they could lose their health insurance if their parents become unemployed.
I decided one of the best ways to explain how finances work was to have my children make out the checks for our family bills each month. This way they can see how quickly Mom and Dad's paycheck is eaten away by mortgage, utility and phone payments. It also gives them a first hands look at what is required to make ends meet.
Besides handing over the checkbook, we decided to hold regular family meetings where we talk about our financial goals and review current budgeting decisions.
Of course the education process wouldn't be complete without incorporating godly financial principles. In our materialistic world, teens especially are inundated with media and their peers telling them they need to have more stuff; if they don't tread cautiously, they can become sucked into the false belief that "money solves everything."
Having regular finance meetings are a great opportunity to introduce many Bible verses that teach eternal truths about money, like what Matthew 6:21 says: "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Luke 16:13 and Ecclesiastes 5:10 are other great examples: "No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money" and "Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless."
These verses can provide a springboard to discuss how to best view money in God's economy.
You may be ready to move beyond convincing your kids about the importance of fiscal responsibility. Are you ready to help them develop sound financial habits? Here are some practical tips you can put in their back pocket:
Entrusting teens now with opportunities to spend and save money allow them to learn while under parental guidance and protection. Today's financial mistakes become teachable moments for better spending habits and responsible stewardship tomorrow.
It's an easy trap to fall into. When your child reaches for something he wants, you respond with the words, "We can't afford that."
Did you ever think this could send a negative indictment on God, the one who supposedly supplies all of our needs? Yet if you're a single parent and struggling to make ends meet each month, you may often wonder if, indeed, God has left you to fend for yourself.
Brenda Armstrong, President of Mercy Tree, a ministry geared to encourage single parents, says that even though they may feel like the odds are stacked against them, God hasn't forgotten them. In her book, Financial Relief for Single Parents: A Proven Plan for Achieving the Seemingly Impossible, Armstrong suggests single parents take these steps to create financial harmony in the home.
"First of all, realize that you can make it on one income," she says. "But it involves planning. You have to know what your needs are, then you'll know how to pray."
In addition to prayer, Armstrong suggests writing everything down relating to finances, from income and spending to debts and future goals.
"What does your family want?" she asks. "A vacation? College tuition? If you have recorded these items, when a child asks about an unplanned purchase, say, 'It's not that you don't have enough money. God always gives us what we need. It's rather that item doesn't fit into our goals.'"
Secondly, she says, forgive yourself.
"Many single [parents] think that their financial struggles are a result of something they did wrong. If they did sin, repent and move on. Forgive yourself. Isaiah 43:25 reads, 'I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.'"
Current financial struggles are what they are—an opportunity to regroup and reorganize the budget. Yes, the weight of carrying the burden for the family can be overwhelming, says Armstrong, but you can still make things fun.
"Involve the kids in creative ways to cut back and save money," she says. "Have a lemonade stand. Put a penny in a jar each time a child turns off lights or does a full load of wash to give a real visual of saving money. Have movie nights at home or with friends; share DVDs or bake cookies at home together."
Of course, one important step to financial freedom in every home is to live debt free. Armstrong suggests eliminating credit cards and revolving accounts. The freedom that comes from not having them is reward enough, but you're also creating a debt-free legacy for your children and will have more resources for the goals you have set.
Finally, Armstrong reminds single parents to get connected. Ninety-five percent of single parents don't attend church on a regular basis. There's a good reason for that. Trying to find a place in the church can feel like a monumental challenge for single parents.
"The career group is usually too young, the single's group often has the least amount of responsibility, while the single parent has the greatest amount of responsibility, and the married class is filled with couples who often discuss the marital relationship," Armstrong says.
Despite the social hurdles, Armstrong encourages single parents to seize the opportunity; allow God to use them as a voice for other single parents. In fact, you can help any church members—regardless of their age or stage of life—become educated about the needs of single parents.
All of these factors—goals, attitude and involvement—play an integral part in single parents' financial freedom. The key, however, is to remember that our Lord is impartial and will supply every need according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.