Focus on the Family

Achieving Financial Harmony

by Lynne Thompson

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.


Money Traps

Are you falling into a financial trap? See if you can escape these common money mistakes.

by Lynne Thompson

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.

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.


Money Tips From God

If God gave out advice about money would you listen? Here are a few ideas you may want to add to your tip sheet.

by Lynne Thompson

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.


Story: Reconciling Budget Differences

Scott was a money saver. Tiffany was a weekend spender. How one couple worked through their financial differences.

by Lynne Thompson

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.

The problem as newlyweds

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.

Analysis

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.

Solution

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.

Present Day

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.

*Names Changed


Teaching Your Teen Money Management

Help your teen download the facts about spending money – before they leave home.

by Lynne Thompson

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.


Steps to Financial Freedom in the Single Parent Home

Finances can be especially tricky for single parents. Here are a few steps to lead you down the path to financial harmony.

by Lynne Thompson

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.

Learning to set goals

"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.'"

Reevaluating your attitude

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.

Getting involved in a church

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.


Achieving Financial Harmony

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