Ahhh, Christmas is finally over! Now you can relax and… wait for all the bills to start dropping in! For many people, the pressure of post-Christmas bills is greater the stress of the busy holiday season itself. Credit card payments from Christmas spending pile onto the car payments, utilities, data plans, TV packages, mortgage (or rent), and all the other bills you already feel buried under. Time for a change! The Bible is immensely practical (among other things), and one of the most practical books in the Bible is Proverbs.
Proverbs, the book of wisdom, has much to teach anyone willing to learn about how to use money wisely. Consider, for instance, Proverbs 27:23-27. Verse 23 instructs a farmer, “Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds.” In this little passage of Scripture, the flocks and herds are the farmer’s livelihood. It is wise for him to know how his flocks are doing. How many sheep are there? How many lambs will there be this year? Do they have enough food? How much wool will they produce this year?
Why is it important for the farmer to know the condition of his flocks? Verse 24 gives us the answer. “For riches do not last forever, and does a crown endure to all generations?” What the farmer has today may be gone tomorrow. Who knows whether a drought will wipe out his crops or a new king will tax him into the ground? Verse 25 teaches the farmer to carefully manage his pastureland and crops in order to ensure his flocks have enough food to last the winter. And verses 26-27 describe the benefits of his work: when the future comes–whatever it brings, the flocks will provide wool, milk, and meat (think income).
In these verses, we find three very important principles for how to use money wisely. (1) Know your spending. (2) Plan your spending. (3) Control your spending.
Know your spending.
I’m always a little amazed at how many people don’t “know well the condition” of their finances. So many people have no idea how much money they spend on gas, TV, groceries, coffee, eating out, entertainment, etc. They get to the end of the month and wonder, “Where did it all go?” The first time I monitored my spending I was shocked. I had no idea how much money I was wasting on little things, and quickly realized why I was struggling to pay my bills. One of the most valuable things you can do financially is track your spending.
Plan your spending.
You will either control your money or your money (and your bills) will control you. Knowing what you spend your money on is good, but it’s not much help unless you also “give attention” to how you’re going to spend your money. You need a budget (yes, I said the “b-” word). If you don’t create a budget, you’ll waste money, and when life throws you a curveball, you won’t have any resources to get you through. There are many budgeting tools available, and I use a program called “You Need A Budget” that both tracks my spending and helps me plan it each month.
Control your spending.
This third principle is super-simple, yet almost no one does it (especially the government). The basic idea is this: spend less than you make. If I bring home a paycheck of $1500, and I spend $2000, what happens? I end up $500 short, which I probably end up putting on a credit card. If I do that every paycheck, pretty soon I’m going to be thousands of dollars in debt with little hope of ever digging out. But what if I make $1500 and I only spend $1250? I end up $250 ahead. Do that for a little while and pretty soon I’ll have thousands of dollars in the bank! As simple as it is, it’s not easy. It means saying no to some things you want. It means saving to pay cash for something instead of putting it on a credit card. It might mean canceling your ESPN package so you can pay your water bill, or downgrading your data plan so you can actually give a tithe (10% of your income) to your church.
Here’s my challenge to you as we approach the New Year. Consider the practical wisdom of the Book of Proverbs when it comes to money. Either you will master your money or your money will master you. In a notebook, track and know all your spending this month, even little purchases. Mark which items were unnecessary expenses, and prioritize. Download a budget worksheet from Google and plan your spending for the next month. Then, stick to your budget. Control your spending and it won’t control you! And, when you get the chance, give a little of what God has blessed you with to someone in need (ask your pastor for ideas).