WISDOM THAT HELPS YOUR WALK
When evaluating family debt, a common shortcoming seems to run through all unmanageable debt experiences: the lack of thorough planning. Sometimes this deficiency is amplified even more by ignorance or indulgence. In order to recognize this shortcoming and then to change its progression, families must consider the two common errors and the three common expenses that lead to debt and seek to either avoid or control these errors and expenses. The primary method in which families can identify shortcomings and to do something about correcting the effects of the shortcomings is to develop a family budget and stick to it.
The two common errors that lead to unmanageable debt are allowing a get-rich-quick mentality to govern decisions and ignoring the advisor that God has given.1 The three common expenses that lead to debt are: home purchases, car purchases, and scheduled disasters.2
Allowing a get-rich-quick mentality to govern decisions
3. IGNORING THE ADVISORS THAT GOD HAS PROVIDED
It is very dangerous for a husband or wife to ignore the primary advisor that God has given them: their spouse. When there is a relationship as close as a husband and wife relationship, there will be problems. Since opposites tend to attract, they may not agree on a number of things and issues.4 But that’s okay as long as they communicate and try to reach a reasonable compromise. God’s Word is very specific when it comes to husband and wife relationships.
Husbands are to love their wives and listen to their advice before making any financial decisions that would change or affect the families’ financial state. Wives may give their advice, but the final decision is up to the husband. And whatever the decision, whether she agrees or not, she must respect him as the head of the family. God created husband and wife to function as a single working unit, each with different but essential abilities. Without the balance that each can bring to a marriage, great errors in judgment will most likely be made.
3. CAR PURCHASES
The second most common purchase that leads to debt is the purchase of a new car. Quite often couples who cannot qualify to buy a home buy a new car as a compromise. This is a major debt trap for couples, especially those who have a tendency to overspend, because they are generally not concerned with the overall price of the car—just the amount of the monthly payments.
A new car debt is actually harder to deal with than overspending on a home. In most areas of the country, homes can be resold at or above their original purchase price, because the market for used housing is consistently stronger than for new housing. But a family seeking to sell an almost new car to relieve debt is shocked to discover how little the car is worth on the open market. Most families owe more on a car that is one year old than its actual value. For families who can afford to do it, saving in order to purchase a good used car is a wiser decision than financing or purchasing a new car.
4. SCHEDULED DISASTERS
In order to plan a financial disaster, all a family has to do is fail to plan for predictable expenses that haven’t come due yet, such as automobile maintenance, emergency home repairs, or personal injury. Failure to plan for these is a major reason many families end up in unmanageable debt, because when the expenses occur they must be paid, so the only alternative available is often a credit card.6
Why do people fail to anticipate these expenses that are inevitable? Generally because when they try to work them into their budget they don’t fit. So they simply ignore them until a crisis occurs. To do otherwise would require adjustments in the other areas of spending, such as housing, automobile expense, or recreation. Therefore, credit card debt invariably grows in order to absorb these non-budgeted, but predictable, expenses.
Without some kind of written financial plan (a budget) families will not realize that they have a financial problem until it overwhelms them. A budget balances income and expenses and reports on the status of income and expenses every month. By maintaining a strict budget couples can identify shortcomings in their family financial picture, and by working together they can capitalize on each others strengths in order to avoid errors and expenses that led to unmanageable debt.
1.Larry Burkett, Debt-Free Living, Moody, 1989, pp. 97-102
2.Larry Burkett, Debt-Free Living, Moody, 1989, pp. 141-149
3.Larry Burkett, Biblical Principles Under Scrutiny, “ Avoiding Get-Rich-Quick,” Christian Financial Concepts, 1985
4.Larry Burkett, Money Before Marriage, Moody, 1996, pp. 27-28
5.Larry Burkett, The Complete Financial Guide for Young Couples, Victor, 1994, pp. 71-73
6.Larry Burkett, The Complete Guide to Managing Your Money, Inspirational, 1996, pp.492-493
Christians can best make financial decisions according to God’s plan for their lives by understanding His directives for their lives. Every decision requires a thorough understanding of God’s attitudes, and that understanding comes from studying God’s Word and communicating with Him. If Christians never ask God’s direction regarding investments of financial decisions, they will never receive an answer. There are some specific principles that Christians need to consider when making financial decisions: avoid speculation, keep finances current, keep Christian witness, give—do not loan, never cosign, avoid indulgence, prepare for decreases, and let peace rule.
COMMON ERRORS THAT LEAD TO DEBT
MAKING FINANCIAL DECISIONS
1. AVOID SPECULATION
Christians should seek God’s increase rather than trying to increase their financial worth through speculative schemes. Many times enticing programs and “guaranteed” money-making schemes are not only unethical but border on being illegal. They must assess every so-called opportunity with their relationship with Christ and not let others make financial decisions for them. Instead, every decision must be made in light of individual goals, whether the venture is necessary, and whether it fits into God’s individual plan for their lives. Precondition attitudes to avoid speculative “opportunities.”
2. KEEP FINANCES CURRENT
Christians need to always manage their finances on a current basis, making no provision in their financial planning to borrow money beyond their abilities to repay. If what is wanted or desired jeopardizes future financial freedom, forget it. Impulse buying, either investment or consumption, is disastrous to budgets. So, when evaluating purchases or investments, always consider the financial obligation in light of known income or available funds.
Plan for tomorrow by prudence today; make plans in light of present circumstances, not on some future event; and maintain the principle of staying debt free.
3. KEEP CHRISTIAN WITNESS
Consider every decision, especially financial decisions, on the basis of its effect on the work and reputation of Christ. Therefore God must not be placed into a financial corner and called on only during a time of economic crisis. To blindly pursue a course without a directive from God and then depend on Him to rectify any resultant financial disasters is not God’s will; nor is it according to His plan. As an example, if one must borrow outside of God’s people in order to remain in His will, beware! This course is not according to His plan. “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave” (Proverbs 22:7).
If Christians deal unfairly or unethically with any individual or any business, then it is the Christians’ witness that will suffer.4 Therefore, Christians must establish that, no matter what the circumstances are, they will tell the whole truth, keep their vows, make decisions based on God’s directive and God’s plan, maintain financial honesty, and preserve the integrity of Christ in every aspect of life.
4. GIVE, DO NOT LOAN.
Christians should avoid lending to those in need if giving is possible.5 If someone approaches a Christian, requesting financial help in order to acquire wants or desires, then that request and justification for the request should be seriously questioned. But if that person is in need and God has directed that he or she is to be helped, it is the Christian’s responsibility to supply that need.
5. NEVER COSIGN
To cosign means to pledge personal assets against the debt of another. It doesn’t matter whether it is personal or business, Scripture specifically forbids this whenever it speaks of surety or striking of hands.6 “My son, if you have become surety for your neighbor, have given a pledge for a stranger, if you have been snared with the words of your mouth, have been caught with the words of your mouth, do this then, my son, and deliver yourself; since you have come into the land of your neighbor, go, humble yourself, and importune your neighbor” (Proverbs 6:1-3). Of all the portions that warn against surety, or cosigning, in Scripture, this seems to be the one that is most explicitly warns against it.
6. AVOID INDULGENCES
Christians need to learn to discern the difference between needs, wants, and desires in every financial transaction. This applies not only to purchases of material goods but to investments as well. Before buying, determine whether the purchase is a need or desire; then check it against God’s principles. Before investing, determine the reason for investing and what will be done with the money if God blesses with increase.
Many Christians get frustrated because they cannot distinguish between luxuries and necessities. Consequently, they seek fulfillment through the same channels as non-Christians and then wonder why they have fruitless Christian witnesses. God wants us to live comfortably, but He does not want us to live lavishly.
7. PREPARE FOR DECREASES
Being prepared for unexpected decreases in funds is a vital part of keeping financially current. Evaluate all financial decisions on the basis of what would happen if there was even a small decrease of income or available funds. Could there be adequate adjustments made to live within new spending parameters without having to go into debt in order to maintain a current lifestyle? Do not operate at the upper limit of income or available funds. Instead, make financial decisions cognizant of the possibility that if there is a sudden drop in income, it may be necessary to reduce current living standards.
8. LET PEACE RULE
Often Christians are not responsive enough to God’s Word or to His presence to hear Him, except through an inner turmoil known as lack of peace. As a last resort, God will use this to provide direction. Accordingly, if He does not give peace, do not get involved.7 If a quick decision is required, do not get involved. Take the time to think and to pray about any decision, especially financial decisions that will affect the family, and be determined not to make any financial decision under pressure. “It is the blessing of the Lord that makes rich, and He adds no sorrow to it” (Proverbs 10:22).
Become sensitive to God’s guidance by becoming familiar with His directives and leadership procedures, through the study of His Word and by communicating with Him through prayer. He will always provide the right direction for those who seek it. Even when we fail to see the right path clearly in God’s Word or fail to hear Him in prayer, He will never fail to place an unrest or a peace inside that will confirm His preferred course and His will. If we are sensitive, we can usually avoid financial failures and bondage.
1.Larry Burkett, Your Finances in Changing Times, Moody, 1975, p. 123
2.Larry Burkett, Biblical Principles Under Scrutiny, “Avoiding Get-Rich-Quick,” Christian Financial Concepts, 1988
3.Larry Burkett, Debt-Free Living, Moody, 1989, p. 100
4.Larry Burkett, Using Your Money Wisely, Moody, 1985, pp. 138-139
5.Larry Burkett, Answers to Your Family’s Financial Questions, Living Books, 1998, p. 101
6.Larry Burkett, Biblical Principles Under Scrutiny, “Surety—What is it?” Christian Financial Concepts, 1986
7.Larry Burkett, Your Finances in Charging Times, Moody, 1975, pp. 127-128
2. ALLOWING A GET-RICH-QUICK MENTALITY TO GOVERN DECISIONS
Symptoms of get-rich-quick mentality are evident in many of the investment schemes in the world today. Unfortunately, many Christians find themselves caught in the get-rich-quick trap before they realize what is actually happening.
If investments in get-rich-quick schemes were limited to available cash, most people would be far more cautious about losing it. But somehow it is easier to risk borrowed money because it seems to many Christians to be almost free money. 3 Much like the same justification used when purchasing consumer goods on a credit card, it is easy to justify using borrowed money to invest, especially if the return is “guaranteed.” But speculating on the future not only is a practice in surety, which is warned against in the Bible, it also is presumptuous, because no one can rightly predict what will happen in the country’s financial markets over the next hour, much less the next few months or years. So, borrowing money in order to speculate on the future is both unwise and dangerous, placing the borrower in a position of potentially losing everything if the economy turns downward.
Another danger concerning get-rich-schemes is that most times investors know nothing or very little about the product, service, idea, system, or organization into which they are being solicited to invest. Christians are particularly vulnerable to being tricked by get-rich-quick schemes, because they tend to trust people who call themselves Christian, especially if they claim to have a special revelation or leading from God. So, stay with what you know and do not invest until you have completely and thoroughly investigated the product, program, or company. In addition, no decision should be made hastily. Always wait for at least one full day, and earnestly pray before making any investment decision.
4. HOME PURCHASES
Nearly every family in America dreams of owning their own home. But many times they try to buy a home too soon after marriage or pay too much for a first home and end up in financial trouble. Unfortunately, quite often these families don’t realize that owning the home created their financial problems, because it took too large a portion of their spendable income. Because of this, inadvisable home purchases are the number one expense that leads to unmanageable debt.
The percentage of an average family’s budget that should be spent on a house payment is no more than 25 percent of Net Spendable Income (after tithes and taxes). Add to the mortgage payment the cost of insurance, utilities, maintenance, repairs, and telephone, and the percentage climbs to about 38 percent.5 Unfortunately, many couples commit to as much as 60 percent or more of their budget to housing. As such, there is no way that the family can handle that cost. If a family can afford to purchase a home within their budget (budget should be based on one income only, not on the combined incomes of husband and wife), that makes sense. But to destroy the budget just to get into a home is not logical.
God says that if we pray for anything in His will, believing, it will be given to us. But God’s will and His ways are not always coincidental with ours. So, when we turn our finances over to God, we also must be willing to accept His direction. Too often we impatiently seek our own way without any clear direction from Him, sometimes even borrowing money to do His work. We forget that God says He will not frustrate His work for the lack of money (see Luke 22:35). There is nothing wrong with asking God’s direction, but it is wrong to go our own way without waiting for God’s answer. In order for us to recognize God’s directives, it may be necessary to first understand God’s view of money and how He uses it to enhance our relationship with Him.
1. HOW AND FOR WHAT PURPOSE GOD USES MONEY
GOD AND MONEY
Money is neither good nor bad: it is merely a medium of exchange. It is the misuse and abuses of money that cause the problems. Because God is so good, He uses money and for our benefit in several different ways.
1.God uses money to strengthen our trust in Him. It is often through money that God can clearly and objectively show us that He is in total control, if we will trust Him and accept our positions as stewards and managers of His possessions (see Matthew 6:32-33).
2.God uses money to develop our trustworthiness. This principle is important because our lives generally revolve around making, spending, saving, and using money. If He can trust us with money, then He can trust us with greater responsibilities and His true riches (see Luke 16:11).
3.God uses money to prove His love. Scripture tells us that God assumes the responsibility of providing the basic necessities for everyone who trusts in Him (see Matthew 7:11). By transferring all money to Him, He many times uses money to meet those necessities of life.
4.God uses money to demonstrate His faithfulness. Moses reminded Israel that it was God who would give them the power to make wealth. Our security is in God, not our bank accounts. Discovering His faithfulness though financial needs encourages reliance on Him.
5.God uses money to unite Christians in blessings. God will use the abundance of one Christian to supply the needs of another. Surplus money in our lives has been given by God for the purpose of helping those who are in need.
6.God uses money to provide direction. There is probably no way God can direct our lives more meticulously than through the abundance or lack of money. Too often we believe God directs our lives through the abundance of money, but He also will lead us down His directed path by withholding money.
7.God uses money to cultivate self-control. One of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control, a key aspect of successful money management.
8.God uses money to clarify spiritual maturity. Many temptations clamor for Christians’ attention. A great deal can be learned about our personal character and spiritual maturity by noticing how we handle money and determine financial priorities.
2. AREAS IN WHICH GOD DOES NOT USE MONEY
Just like there are several ways in which God uses money for our benefit, there are several areas in which God never uses money to influence our lives.
1.God never uses money to worry us. If Christians are worried, frustrated, and upset about money, God is not in control. God said that wealth without worry is His plan for our lives. In addition, He promises to meet the needs of those who trust in Him (see Matthew 6:25).
2.God never uses money to corrupt us. Many Christians have fallen into Satan’s trap and are being corrupted. Christians whose financial life is characterized by greed, ego, deceit, and other worldly snares are at enmity with God and His plan.
3.God never uses money to build egos. Frequently, Christians are trapped by financial ego in that they use money in an attempt to build self-worth and ego. However, in Christ all are financially equal because all wealth will pass away. What will remain will be those things that have been laid up in heaven—the true wealth.
4.God never allows money to satisfy our personal whims or desires. God does not expect His people to live in poverty; however, He also does not endorse lavishness. Surplus is provided so that God’s work can be funded and those in need can be helped. If the surplus is hoarded or wasted on lavishness rather than used for His plan and purpose, chances are the surplus will be removed.
God offers countless financial principles, intended to make our lives meaningful, because He’s interested in us and how we earn and spend money. Once we understand how God uses money and why He chooses to use it in a particular way, we generally become more familiar with His plans and purposes for our lives and are able to recognize and comprehend His directives.
1.Larry Burkett, Your Finances in Changing Times, Moody, 1975, p. 43
3.Larry Burkett, Your Finances in Changing Times, Moody, 1975, pp. 45-47