"When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things." 1 Corinthians 13:11. "There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, give me my share of the estate. So he divided his property between them." Luke 15:11-32. "A fool and his money are soon parted." Proverbs 21:20.
You might wonder why this topic and why now? Well, the simple answer is; it is long overdue. At least for me it is. As the new year approaches we all (a lot of us) take stock and make decisions or resolutions about what we want to do better or differently in the new year. Honestly, there are a few things that I can critique, but I have been making some progress in the areas of weight management and decluttering (not enough, of course, but I am on the right path). So, I think it is time to keep moving forward to other disciplines that I have not given enough thought to but that have guided my life. I need to grow up around finances.
The Christmas season is upon us. As I was out shopping, I started thinking about my resolution from last year; that I would not be out there going crazy shopping. Okay, so I did not keep that one. But, as I was going over and beyond my budget, I started thinking about finances. Was I managing my money well? I answered myself, "no." Christmas aside, I thought about the way in which I spend, save or not save, invest or not invest. I came to the conclusion that I am after all these years a babe (baby) when it comes to handling money. And like the character Ralph Kramden in the sitcom, The Honeymooners; "When I had it, I spent it." A good lesson is that Ralph was never able to change his living circumstances as a result of his poor relationship with money.
As I look back over my life (I am not about to break into song), I do have some roots that might explain why I so easily depart with money. My grandmother told me not to hang on to anything so tight that I could not let it go. Like a child, I did not quite grasp the full meaning of what she was trying to tell me, I treated everything that way. Why save up money when at some point I would have to relinquish it. "Don't store up treasures here on earth where moth eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal." Matthew 6:19. The banks could crash, the markets could crash, etc., etc. I THOUGHT AS A CHILD. Don't get me wrong, I saved a few dollars, but as soon as I amassed to a good sum, I spent it (well not all of it, but a good portion). Again, childish.
In the scripture noted above, the prodigal son asked his father for his share of his inheritance so that he could leave and begin to live his life anew. He had no money management skills and no people skills; he certainly did not understand that money would attract short term friends that would hang with him until all his money was gone. Still true today. His father granted his request (young people can be persistent and persuasive) and off he went to live his life. Long story short, he spent his money foolishly and when he had dropped so low that he got a job feeding hogs, he decided to go back home and beg his father to employ him as a hired hand.
That young man squandered his wealth for many superficial reasons and that brought no lasting benefit (some of us have done the same). He swallowed his pride, humbled himself and went back home. It is a blessing that he had a loving father who received him back and celebrated him as though he was returning from the dead. That is not the case for many of us who find ourselves on the downside of letting money fly out of our hands or spending lavishly without thinking about future expenses. When we find ourselves in a "far country" (and that can be our state of mind in our living room when we realize that we are in the red where money is concerned), we have to then reckon with how we have dealt with our finances and make plans to recover.
God expects us to use our money wisely. Remember the parable of the talents? Matthew 25:14-30. We are to maximize what we have been given not only to take care of ourselves, but to bless someone else. You might think that you are barely scraping by and can't afford to give anybody anything. Think again. I remember going to live with grandparents after my mother had passed away, and each Christmas my grandparents would give each of us (me and my siblings) two dollars each in an envelope for Christmas. We were so grateful. I was elated; that meant I could buy my favorite eggnog ice cream cone and have change to spare. (I know I am dating myself, but that's okay). Now I know children today might not think two dollars is so great, but if two dollars is all you have to give, someone or some charitable organization will be blessed by it. The point is that you have to manage your finances so that you are able to give.
These are definitely different times, and we have to plan for a multitude of events that will take place over the length of our lives. We will not be young forever, neither will we be able bodied and able to work always and for some of us we will not be of sound mind. Tomorrow is not promised, but if you make it there, you do not want to be destitute. Right now, stop and think about your relationship to money. It is okay if you have not given it much thought up until now, but NOW is the time for that to change.
You (we) must learn to put money in perspective for it to serve you well throughout your lifetime.
1. Review all your sources of income. Write it down in a journal so that you can refer to it as often as you need to. This is necessary for everyone, but especially for those on a fixed income. There is a tendency for some to spend all of it knowing that it will be replenished each month. This is the same as living from paycheck to paycheck. Foolish. Those who work and receive a regular paycheck and spend all of it knowing that you will be receiving another paycheck; again I say foolish. Anything could happen between paychecks. I digress. By assessing all sources of income, you don't kid yourself that you have more than you do, and you can begin to honestly make plans for what you can do with your money. Write down your net pay. The gross pay is not what you have to work with.
2. Design a budget that you can live with and that take into account all of your expenses. List all of your expenses including tithing, all bills, food, clothing, carfare, entertainment (outings, trips, eating out, movies, etc.), savings, etc. I have found that an easy way to do this and, of course I read this somewhere, is to break up your income into tenths and allot or list each category that you want to address accordingly. For example, get ten envelopes and put a tenth of your income in each (you don't have to put the actual cash in there, but you should write on the envelope what you will be designating that tenth (amount) for and either spend it on that or put it in the bank to be spent for that purpose.
3. Secure the services of a financial planner. You cannot spend money wisely if you have no idea how to do that. Young people, start now to save for a "rainy day." I know that is what old people say, but if you have lived any length of time, you know that you do not have to be old to have a "rainy day. A "rainy day" can simply mean that you want to buy some property and you don't have the down payment. Go to the personnel department at your job and see if the company you work for offers any tax shelters like TDAs (tax deferred annuities), or 401ks. If they do, join immediately. I am grateful that this service was offered. If not, secure a financial planner that can show you how to get this investment service. And for the rest of us, who may have a saved a few dollars and who want to see our money grow, a financial adviser can provide different investment options. You also need to learn how to protect your money. The Lord forbid, but one day you may be facing the prospect of you or a loved one being placed in a nursing home. With the exception of $50.00 a month, all of your assets will be claimed by them. There is a way to prevent this, but you have to start early (at least five years prior) to plan appropriately. Get a free consultation from Connors and Sullivan, Attorneys at Law. Financial planners are readily available at your local bank or lending institution. It does not cost you anything to get information that will go a long way to support you in the expeditious and effective use of your finances.
4. Just Do It! Be an Adult around your finances. I have had to counsel myself in this area, and I am finally desiring to do better. Being on a fixed income does not exempt anyone from responsible spending. In fact, it is more important. Further, it is not too late to make some wise investments, not only to have what you might need for future expenses, but also bearing in mind that God wants us to do the best with what He has blessed us with. That includes helping others who are less fortunate. Whether or not we accept this finding, we can agree that we are blessed. Our finances may be smaller than others, but we can use them properly to get the most benefit. Limit spending and start saving. e.g. Make your own coffee and put that $5.00 in the bank! Start small, but be consistent.
5. Instant gratification is no justification for lack of preparation. You cannot have money and spend it at the same time. Fight the urge to keep buying things. You don't need another pair of shoes, pants, a new sweater, or a new dress, etc. Shop in your closet or do without it and put that money in the bank. As that money grows, resist taking it out (of course I am speaking to myself also) unless you are going to invest it for higher returns. Having money available for when you really need it will be satisfaction enough for being disciplined. Decide that you will get your finances under control.
In closing, remember the reason for the season: "For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6. God gave us the very best that He had. Look into your hearts as you shop; and pick up something for someone in need who you can bless with your generosity. At the most, give love this Christmas season. It's free. Wishing you all of God's best and better financial planning as we approach the new year.
Merry Christmas and Best Wishes for a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year!
For comments, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org