By Jonathan M. Davis, AIF®
“A man is never more on trial than in the moment of excessive good fortune.” I’ll credit “Ben-Hur” author, Lew Wallace, with that statement. Regardless of our exact station in life or size of our bank account, the Bible instructs us to be good stewards of what is entrusted to us.
In our last article on “Cheerful, Sacrificial Giving,” Scott Marshall referenced, “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1). If this is in fact the case and our hearts are transformed by the Spirit, the ways we make use of our time, talents, and treasures become all the more important.
For many of us, this ongoing journey of “being a good steward” begins at home as we examine our own personal finances and spending habits. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).
According to the Wall Street Journal a few years ago, nearly 70% of all consumers live paycheck to paycheck. Perhaps a more accurate barometer, Oprah stated that according to her online survey, 70% of respondents had no savings at all.
These are pretty staggering figures, and I would argue a common thread exists—without something, some sort of “system” to help keep us on track, it’s all too easy to spend away what comes in each month as opposed to directing money towards priorities. Just as we need accountability in our spiritual lives, brothers and sisters in Christ who confront us when needed, we need accountability with our finances. Personal finance is 80% behavior and 20% knowledge. We need to instill good behavior and work habits as we handle our personal finances. The younger you start, the better.
It wasn’t until more recent years that my wife and I adopted our own system. I am proud to say, however, that in addition to regular living expenses, we can now recite much we spend on “Eating Out” and “Fishing.” Feel free to fill in your own blanks here. I am being a bit facetious and certainly not suggesting everyone should be able to duplicate this same feat, but I am trying to highlight that for a time, my wife and I “shot from the hip.”
We spent, saved, and gave in a more impulsive, sporadic manner and mostly kept track of “budgeting” in our heads. Further, because we had no set routine or system for discussing finances, communicating on money—an essential part of marriage—was more difficult. I’m suggesting today that if you find yourself, “shooting from the hip,” there are things you can do that will change your financial future and better equip you to be a good steward of your resources.
Many programs or budgeting systems exist (Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University provides a great one), but we encourage you to choose a system to your liking, make it your own, and stick to it. With our experience and regardless of age, those that use some sort of budgeting system or software make better progress than those without. We’re also referring to something more than a running tally of expenses each month. An accountability factor is a key ingredient. At the beginning of the month you “open” your household books, and at the end of the month you “close” them out, thus holding yourself accountable in the process and planning for the months ahead.
Tips for Monthly Budgeting
- Must be written or spreadsheet based.
- Give every dollar a “home.” As income is received into your bank account, designate each dollar to a specific category—giving, savings, future purchases, and fun money all count! Spend and save with a purpose!
- Agree with your spouse. Remember, budgeting should not be a form of control, but rather an avenue for discussing priorities as a team.
- Give it three months. Starting a new workout can hurt a little. It takes time to adjust to a new financial routine.
- Revise your budget each month. We all go through various seasons in life and our finances will fluctuate. Your budget system should be forward looking and adjusted for the month ahead.
Jonathan M. Davis, and his wife, Mary Linley, have two wonderful sons, Motte and Charlie, and live in Jackson, MS. They are members of First Presbyterian Church.