Focus on the Family

Getting Along Without Getting a Loan

byHarvey Nowland

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.


Spending Too Much

Let's be honest about it. Even in good economic times, whether large items like houses and cars or small things, overspending can still be the result of poor planning or bad decisions.

byHarvey Nowland

1. The problem defined

Without getting too close-up-and-personal, many would confess that part of the financial problems their families have are connected to the living-on-two-salaries phenomenon that often has us living beyond our means.

When our son, now a retired firefighter, married the schoolteacher love of his life my wife and I counseled them when they were about to buy their first home.

Like many young newlyweds, they wanted to have a house bigger and better than their parents. We told them they might have to wait and we strongly suggested that they not buy anything they couldn't afford on his salary alone. After all, we suggested, when a pregnancy, job loss or illness suddenly reduces you to a one-income family, a looming mortgage that's based on two salaries can becomes an indomitable problem.

They took our advice and five children later they're still in that small home. They have built an addition called the"boys' dorm," put one son through college, have a daughter in college and another son and daughter headed toward college after high school. Their oldest son is now a firefighter like his father.

This is more than bragging about our family — it's an illustration of living within one's means.

Let's be honest about it. Even in good economic times, whether large items like houses and cars or small things, overspending can still be the result of poor planning or bad decisions.

So, whether good times or bad, you need to break the habits associated with overspending, spending more than you make.

2. The biblical solution

Does the Bible really have anything to say about overspending?

Well, if you're doing a biblical word search for"overspending," chances are you won't find the specific word. But the principle is there in God's Word. Check these out.

· "The prudent sees the evil and hides himself, but the naïve go on and are punished for it" (Proverbs 22:3).

·
You ask and do not receive, because you ask with w[Lit wickedly ]rong motives, so that you may spend it on [Lit in ]your pleasures"
(James 4:3).

· "Who has given [Lit anticipated ]to Me that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine" (Job 41:11).

· In Matthew 6:24, Christ very precisely says we must either serve God or money. We cannot serve both.

If you're reasonably certain that you know God's will for you, and you've decided to live your life His way, then you'll have the sort of balance in your life that precludes any sort of habitual overspending or binge spending.

3. A Christian's perspective

Most people who have a problem with spending too much do so because they aren't living on a monthly budget. Let's face it, many people don't even like the word budget. Some who are reading this may be saying something like,"I've lived this long without a budget, why do I need one now?"

However, whether you like the word or not, a family budget facilitates the way you manage how you will spend your monthly income, because it helps you plan for regular expense payments as well as occasional and even emergency needs.

So, if you don't like the idea of having to live on a budget, then let's call it a monthly spending plan. Once you have committed to a budget/spending plan that allows you to live within the means that God has provided for you, you'll be amazed at what it does for your finances, relationship with your spouse, confidence and your general well-being.

One thing is certain: overspending produces debt problems that can compound themselves and things like family relationships quickly deteriorate under the pressures of payment deadlines.

It's no secret that the main source of debt is accumulation from credit cards. Overspending through the use of a credit card often is the result of poor planning or lack of time and may result in some families spending as much eating out as they spend on the food they eat at home.

You might discover that delaying those instant gratification impulses you occasionally get will reveal how little you really need the item. So, instead of giving in to instant gratification and charging something, plan and save regularly, and then purchase the item.

God always has an alternative to debt. But, of course, it may mean that you need to rethink and reset your living standards in order to resist any tendencies toward lavish overspending.

For some real-time online help with establishing your spending plan, go to www.crown.org.

You'll find a free online calculator and other free financial tools that will show you how to track your expenses and get started on your spending plan.

Stop overspending now—you can get along without a loan!

Next: Part three of the Getting Along Without Getting a Loan module –"Soaring price panic."
Harvey Nowland is a freelance writer living in Gainesville, Ga.


Soaring Price Panic

Combine practical biblical principles and specific assurances from God's Word and you'll discover that elevated prices need not cause Christians to become panic-stricken.

byHarvey Nowland

1. The problem defined

No one needs to tell us that prices are increasing. We've all experienced the crunch of fuel price increases that impact the average American, as well as other consumer goods prices that fluctuate as much with the rise and fall of stocks as they do with end-user demand.

We don't have to be economic wizards to know that those same increases we're facing as consumers have to be dealt with by those who produce goods too. And, whether it's food, building materials, or automobiles—you name it—the increases we experience in our personal families are faced by those who operate on the retail, wholesale, and manufacturing levels too.

It's more than just a cliché to say that a vicious rise in consumer prices can produce a rippling effect of financial problems at every level.

A mid-2008 Gallup Poll asked American consumers how they cope with rising prices and the results went something like this.

· More than 80 percent made an effort to find the cheapest price for products they buy.

· About 75 percent cut back on spending for eating out, recreation, and entertainment.

· Almost 60 percent tried to control spending with a monthly budget.

· Half were buying cheaper, lower-quality goods.

· Many shop more frequently instead of buying large amounts of consumer goods.

2. The biblical solution

Now, those responses from the poll are the sort of action that every family, particularly those on fixed and limited income really could benefit from by practicing that sort of lifestyle adjustment.

Then, combine that with practical biblical principles and specific assurances from God's Word and you'll discover that elevated prices need not cause Christians to become panic-stricken. For example:

· Looking to the Lord as your helper, rather than the economy or the government, will provide you with strong confidence in God.

"The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger: but they that seek the LORD shall not want any good thing” (Psalm 34:10).

· Living your life based on the righteous presence of God's Spirit within, will help avoid all sorts of self-imposed problems.

"
The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and His ears are open to their cry . . .

The righteous cry, and the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles”
(Psalm 34:15-17).

· Trusting God and His biblical principles to give you direction for your life prepares you to steer clear of unwise opportunities provided by the world.

"The prudent sees the evil and hides himself but the naïve [Lit simple ]go on and are punished for it(Proverbs 22:3).

· Abiding in the firm assurances of Jesus Christ Himself ought to give every Christian the awareness that God, not circumstances, is guiding us.

"I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you . . .
the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.
Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful”
(John 14:18, 25-27).

3. A Christian's perspective

Every believer needs to understand that God uses money in order to help us develop our trustworthiness.

This is important to understand. Just think of it—our lives revolve around making, spending, and saving money. When God knows He can trust us with the funds He provides, perhaps then He'll trust us with greater responsibilities (see Luke 16:11).

We must recognize that when Christians worry and become frustrated about money, it reveals that God is not in control of their lives.

Larry Burkett used to say that "God never uses money to worry us.” Instead, God promises to meet the needs of those who will trust Him (see Matthew 6:25).

So, accept the fact that God often uses money (or the lack thereof) as a tool to show us that He is in total control—as a means of seeing just how much we really trust Him.

Our responsibility is to trust the Lord and accept our positions as managers of His possessions—whether we have a lot or a little (see Matthew 6:32-33).

Depend on God and don't panic when prices soar or the economy tanks—trust God, because you can get along without a loan.

Next: Part four of the 4-part Getting Along Without Getting a Loan module – "Satisfying Lifestyle"

Harvey Nowland is a freelance writer living in Gainesville, Ga.


Satisfying Lifestyle

The marketers seem to have taken it upon themselves to make us feel guilty because we don't have what everyone else seems to have—or at least seems to want.

byHarvey Nowland

1. The problem defined

If you've ever moved, do you recall all of that stuff you accumulated and then tried to get rid of? Did you ever suspect that someone might be sneaking into your house and getting rid of their "stuff"?

Remember how exciting it was when you bought your first cell phone? And then you got the Bluetooth—a wonderful device that allowed you to become a hands-free menace in traffic.

But that first cell phone now has become a thing of the past, because now the latest is—by the way, what product are they marketing this week?

Do you find yourself an easy target for the sales pitches? Is the latest ultra-thin laptop really a necessary commodity? The marketing process may have the younger generation in their sights, but they'll take any of us that will bite the bait. And the convenient, easy-monthly installments that are promoted are only easy for those who receive your payments.

Is what you have ever really enough—or has our culture made you feel deprived because you can't go on every vacation, lease every new auto, or purchase every new gizmo you friend has?

The marketers seem to have taken it upon themselves to make us feel guilty because we don't have what everyone else seems to have—or at least seems to want.

Are you satisfied with your life—are you contented?

2. The biblical solution

Contentment doesn't mean you've thrown in the towel and are satisfied with the status quo, but it does mean that you know God's plan for your life. And because you know His plan—His will for you—you've decided to stay on track with Him and live your life His way.

And that is very important, because the Bible identifies three dangerous traps in 1 John 2:15-17 that can easily get us off of God's pathway.

"If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.
The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever."

Three traps:

1. Pleasure — "lust of the flesh"

2. Greed — "lust of the eyes"

3. Pride — "boastful pride of life"

"Hello! Can you hear me now?" The Bible says those three traps aren't from God. They're from worldly longings that are based on envy. And to what do the marketers make their appeals? Pleasure, greed, pride! When we fall into any or all of these three traps, they are bound to eat away at our desire to live a contented life.

The point is this: Money and things can't buy contentment and poverty doesn't provide it, because contentment is an attitude. So, on whatever financial level God has placed you, determine that you will live within the economic parameters that He has established and supplied for you.

When a person doesn't have this sort of balance in life, buying more things in order to become balanced simply will not work. In fact—remember when you moved?—those things you thought would satisfy you, those traps mentioned in John 2:15-17, ended up unused, broken or stored.

3. A Christian's perspective

God's plan for His children is for us to be contented, and Scriptures teach us about the dangers of material riches. However, the Bible doesn't suggest that poverty is His alternative. Money is simply a tool we can use to accomplish His plan through us.

In order to find true contentment, it's important to establish reasonable standards of living. So, develop your lifestyle based on conviction, not circumstances. Then, whether the economy is up or down, the market is bullish or bearish, your spending decisions that have been based on the sincere belief in God's leadership for your life will carry you through.

It's no secret that some Christians have a lot less than others. If you're in that "a lot less" group, you can prevent having an attitude of envy and discontent by praising God for what He has provided for you. And if you're in a "lot more" or "little more" category, don't look down on others. Don't you know where your "more" comes from?

As the saying goes—it's not about you—but it is about God and you. If you're unwilling to accept and be grateful for God's provision for you, then you'll never be content.

Think about it this way—you may need an attitude adjustment. The Apostle Paul had what we could call an attitude of gratitude.

"I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ" (Philippians 3:8).

If you want a satisfying lifestyle, then trust the promises that God gives us in His Word.

"The peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:7).

Contentment is an attitude of the heart. Save more and allow your contentment with the Lord to be a defense against overspending. Get that gratitude attitude and you just might discover that you really do have a satisfying lifestyle and that you can get along without a loan.

Harvey Nowland is a freelance writer living in Gainesville, Ga.