The Art of Managing Money
Summary: Realistic and reasonable desires and objectives are signs of a family whose members have sanctified their lives before God. This family will have a budget with a healthy financial structure.
Please, help me!
One day a church member who was single and had no children came to me and said, “I need financial counseling. For years I have struggled with financial problems, but so far I have not found the courage to ask anybody for help. You are a treasurer. Please, help me!”
I asked the man, “How much do you spend monthly, after tithe, for your living expenses? You know—your rent, utilities, food, clothing, gasoline, repairs for your car, toiletries, insurances, miscellaneous newspapers, books, and donations?”
“Oh, I have no idea,” he replied.
I knew it! I thought. If he does not know where he spends his money, how can he live within his means? I explained to him the necessity of having a financial plan for every month. We started by preparing a plan for the next three months. He also had to write down all expenses, classified in ten columns, and headed as home, car, food, et cetera.
After analyzing his spending for two months, I realized what his problem was: He was spending 20-25 percent of his net income for his car (gasoline, taxes, insurance, and garage expense) with no savings for deprecation. That was too much, of course. After understanding his problem, he sold his car and bought a more economical vehicle. Working together, and after some other adjustments, he learned how to manage well on his income without piling up any more debt.
Skills for managing money
To manage one’s income is an art by the grace of God. It has to do with (among other things) our personality; demands; and the influence of television propaganda, friends, and neighbors. It seems to me every generation finds it more difficult to handle expenses than did the generation before it.
We are tempted to compare our lifestyle with the lifestyle of well-to-do families in our neighborhoods, our church, or on television. The generation who experienced World War II is dying out, and with it a people who suffered hard times. Since then, we have seen 60 years of prosperity in the West. On the horizon, we recognize the signs of almost reaching the limits of our prosperous society. What will help with planning the financial future of our families?
Economical enterprises use reference numbers to measure the success of certain products or services. Worldwide accounting regulations have defined standard numbers such as EBIT (earnings before interests and taxes). In my experience, such figures can be useful within our families as well. I would like to suggest two standard reference numbers for families: cost for housing to net income and cost for transportation to net income.
Housing and transportation (car) are the two greatest expenses for a family. Bad investments in these areas may ruin the family financially, for the investment costs are high and maintenance costs are considerable. It is absolutely essential to calculate investment and maintenance costs before signing a contract or bill of sale. Families pay dearly for mistakes in these two areas.
Jesus took it for granted that if a person wants to build a tower, he will first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it (Luke 14:28). If a family pays more than 50-60 percent of their net income for their home and transportation, they have created a major financial problem. In some instances, a family may temporarily pay higher percentages for these two major areas, and this might be acceptable under certain circumstances. In the long run, however, an AIAHTT (available income after housing, transportation, and tithe) of 30-40 percent is very little to survive on without going deeper into debt.
Sometimes a situation turns critical when a family has to adapt to less income. If a member of the family loses his or her position at work, the family income may drop significantly while its expenses remain the same. As the AIAHTT percentage was already very high before unemployment, it may increase to 100 percent in the new situation, and no money will be left for food and clothing. This problem will be solved only if the family moves to a less expensive house or apartment, or, if possible, sells the family car. These actions can create a new financial balance.
If one is used to a certain standard of living, such a process of adapting to a lower level of room and comfort is a painful experience. Happy is the family who can say with the apostle Paul, “[We] have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. [We] know what it is to be in need, and [we] know what it is to have plenty. [We] have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Phil. 4:11, 12).
Realistic and reasonable desires and objectives are signs of a family whose members have sanctified their lives before God. This family will have a budget with a healthy financial structure. It is this simple: We can spend only what we earn, no more. Our earnings limit our desires. In this context, the family with an abundance of money may keep the biblical view of life in mind, “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it” (1 Tim. 6:7). However, the family that complains about how little money they have may consider the subsequent verse, “But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Tim. 6:8).
Written by Christian Goltz, former treasurer of the North German Union Conference