As people consider what to do with their money, they need to have an idea about their financial future and set goals for the accomplishment of that end. Money is a tool that can be used to reach short-term and long-term goals. "Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, cease from your consideration of it. When you set your eyes on it, it is gone. For wealth certainly makes itself wings like an eagle that flies toward the heavens" (Proverbs 23:4-5).
Short-term goals are current lifestyle goals--debt reduction, savings, and giving. Long-term goals are those that will be accomplished over a number of years--funding education costs, saving for retirement, and giving an inheritance.
Luke 16:11 says, "Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you?" We must learn to handle the smallest things God has put under our authority--our monies. Unless we settle the question of how much is enough, we will never be satisfied with our lifestyles. The following guidelines can help control spending.
1. Establish self-discipline. Put all assets and all spending under God's control.
2. Once spending has been brought under control, determine how much needs to be spent each month in each category of the budget and stick to the budget.
3. Be accountable to someone (a spouse, friend, or pastor) for a period of time for everything that is spent.
4. Establish a "want-to-buy" list. Whenever you think you need to buy something that is not budgeted, put it on the list. Then wait seven days and find two additional prices for the same item, to be sure you are getting a good buy. If you still want the item after a week has passed, you will have thought about it and will be getting the best buy on it you can. Finally, you can only have one item on the list at a time, so if you find a new "want" during the week, you will have to decide between the two.
By setting spending restrictions now, you will be better equipped to resist the temptation to raise spending limits as income increases.
Another important short-term goal-setting area is the issue of debt. How much debt, if any, should we have? The Bible doesn't prohibit borrowing; it establishes specific limits on borrowing. If we are followers of principles established in God's Word, we must not take on debt that we have no reasonable expectation of repaying. If we get to the point in borrowing that we sacrifice our reputations or jeopardize our family's financial position because the loan cannot be repaid, we have gone beyond God's limit.
Spouses need to talk to one another and singles need to talk to a trusted advisor about their debt tolerance levels. Find out what the Bible says about debt (Proverbs 3:27; 6:1-5; 11:15; 17:18; 20:16; 22:7). If the current debt load exceeds your, your spouse's, or your family's comfort level, pray about finding ways to reduce it.
The third short-term goal is to decide how much money to save--either a dollar amount or an income percentage. Nevertheless, it's not the amount of money that is saved but how diligent you are about saving that is important. Every dollar you save today is a dollar that will be available for tomorrow's needs.
Each family should set specific guidelines about how much they need to save. They must stick to those guidelines and not allow themselves to get caught up in the world's attitude of spend and charge. The discipline it takes to save can be very difficult, but if it can be managed, emergency savings can give freedom and peace of mind when inevitable emergencies come up.
Every family should allocate a percentage of its income to savings. Savings allows families to purchase with cash and shop for the best buys. Without savings, if there were an emergency, families would have to rely on credit and, ultimately, end up deeper in debt. A family should maintain the equivalent of at least three to six months' income in their emergency savings account. For families that have seasonal or fluctuating incomes, the amount should be six months. Everyone in our society living above the poverty line can save something. Even $5 per month will eventually add up. Ideally, families should allocate 5 percent of their Net Spendable Income (income after paying taxes and tithes) to savings.
Perhaps the most important short-term goal, especially for Christians, is how much they want to give to God's work. Scripture offers no clear-cut answer about how much to give to the work of the Lord. The Old Testament Jews gave at least 23 percent, and the New Testament simply tells us to give regularly and with a cheerful heart (2 Corinthians 8-9). "The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered" (Proverbs 11:25). If giving habits are not established as a result of spiritual conviction, giving generally declines when more money becomes available to the family.
Setting giving goals helps to control impulsive or emotional overreaction. In addition, unless giving to the Lord is planned, there's a good chance that the money won't be available once all other bills are paid.
Planning is necessary, and it is scriptural. However, when it comes to giving, don't lose the spontaneity that comes with serving God. If God reveals a need, even though you may have given your planned amount, give as the Lord has prompted. "Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure--pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return" (Luke 6:38).
Copyright Crown Financial Ministries. Used by permission. All rights reserved. For more information about this and other financial resources, please visit www.crown.org.