With almost 8 in 10 people saying they never or rarely balance their check books, it can come as no surprise that organizing finances is few people’s passion, especially in a month in which many grappled with the ugly reality of taxes, wrestling with a code comprised of an epic 74,608 pages in 2015. April is National Financial Literacy month, a time to consider whether some financial education might make life easier, and for those looking to increase their skills, there’s no better place to begin than the Bible.
As head of a non-profit helping people and businesses get free from financial bondage, I know that dealing with money is hard for many. In fact, a survey by the American Psychological Association found that money and work are the leading causes of stress in America (at 67 percent and 65 percent) regardless of income.
A good financial plan begins with some timeless advice proven reliable and certain. The Bible provides that and more, outlining some life-changing financial truths. Here are five of them.
1. Ignorance is NOT bliss. Ignoring how much you are spending or being unaware of where your money is going will not alter painful realities. It’s important to know where your money is, where it is going and whether it is growing. At a time when many people’s money and assets were tied up in land and cattle, the Bible puts it like this, “Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds; for riches do not endure forever, and a crown (or job) is not secure for all generations.” There are many free tools for building a budget, which can help you understand where your money should go rather than wasting time trying to figure out where it went.
2. Debt is death to a budget. A report from the Pew Charitable Trust found that 8 in 10 Americans are in debt (including mortgages), with about 40 percent holding credit card debt. In a healthy budget, consumer debt takes up only five percent of income because as debt goes up, options go down. Proverbs 22:7 notes, “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.” Before you take on an obligation, calculate your income and the size of the potential debt to be sure you can minimize all borrowing as much as possible.
3. Be generous to others. The primary goal of income is not just to get a fat bottom line that benefits you alone. We must overcome selfishness. The Bible is very clear that we are to share our resources with those around us. Paul, in Acts 20:35 notes, “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" Giving to help others should be one of our top financial priorities, which not only benefits the community; it is also a good deduction on your future taxes.
4. Save in the Good Times. With all the talk of safety nets and government-run social programs in this election year, it’s easy to forget that making preparations for the future is a job given to everyone, to the best of their ability. In fact, saving for future needs is a principle you can learn even from nature. “Go to the ant, you slacker!” says Proverbs 6:6-8. “Observe its ways and become wise. Without leader, administrator, or ruler, it prepares its provisions in summer; it gathers its food during harvest.”
But to be ready for a crisis – natural disaster, job loss, illness or dangers unknown – consider the advice of Joseph in Genesis 41, who told Pharaoh to save 20 percent in the good years to be ready for the bad years, after the leader of Egypt had a troubling dream about a coming famine. Setting aside $1,000 in an Emergency savings account is a good place to start.
5. Put first things first. But perhaps the best financial advice in the scripture is to remember what is truly important. Proverbs 23:4-5 advises, “Don’t wear yourself out to get rich; stop giving your attention to it. As soon as your eyes fly to it, it disappears, for it makes wings for itself and flies like an eagle to the sky.” Jesus himself warned in Luke 15 that running after money alone was a trap, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
With the right perspective, financial education and personal discipline money can become just a tool for your use, not the goal of your life or your biggest stress.