Sunday, January 25, 2009

Doing Right With What’s Left

Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.

-- Ecclesiastes 5:10

Money talks. And often it just says, “Good Bye.”

According to the Federal Reserve Board of San Francisco, that’s the reality in millions of American homes. Families live paycheck-to-paycheck as they dip into savings to cover the minimum interest payments on their maxed-out Visa and MasterCards.

We’ve also embraced a risky buy-now-pay-later approach to household finances. And the nation’s personal savings rate – the amount of money remaining after taxes – is dangerously low. The Commerce Department reports a 2006 personal savings rate of negative 1 percent, the worst showing in nearly 75 years! Obviously, this dismal performance will reap a bitter harvest as the nation’s population ages and approaches its retirement years.

What’s the cause of this financial mess? There are actually several. First, Americans have become more productive and are generally earning more. When they believe their increased incomes are likely to continue, they’re willing to spend more. Call it the wealth effect: folks who become richer or think they’re richer tend to spend more. And let’s not forget our access to easy credit. How many of us have fallen for those low introductory interest rate offers that flood our mailboxes each week?

So how can we climb out of this ever-widening money pit? As with the important things in life, it all comes down to priorities.

First, set aside the first 10 percent or more of your income for God’s work by giving it to the church. This tithe sets our priorities by putting God first in our lives and focusing our faith on Him to meet our needs. Next, set aside the next 10 percent or more for personal savings. Major expenses – like a leaky roof, auto repairs or doctors’ bills – are bound to happen. (And don’t forget about retirement!) But if you save little by little over a long enough period, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how your money has grown. And it will be there when you need it most.

This all leads up to the obvious question: After you’ve given to God and then to yourself, how do you handle the rest of your income?

The specific answer varies by person and his or her unique situation. But there are some general rules of thumb for being good managers of our resources. First, we need to discipline our desires and be satisfied with what God has given us. Buying the newest, shiniest and most state-of-the-art, must-have item is rarely necessary if last year’s model still works fine. We also need to acknowledge the reality of our situation. If we’re spending more than our income just to keep up with the neighbors, a good reality check can put things into much-needed perspective. Do you always need that $4 cup of designer coffee? Finally, draw up a specific plan by budgeting your money toward what counts most. (And then stick with it!)

When it comes to money, it really is all about priorities. How we handle what God gives us is a tangible test of our trust and willingness to make Him our Number One. And if we show Him we can handle just a little while honoring Him in the process, He can use us to advance His Kingdom on Earth by putting us in charge of much more than we can ever imagine.

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