My wife and I once set aside $1000 for a close family member when he was born.
We allowed it to grow over time, planning to give it to him on his 18th birthday to use for college expenses. That investment increased to over $6000 during those eighteen years. I remember giving it to him with excitement, knowing it could be used to further his education and set him up for future success. And then I learned that the money was gone within a few months, spent on clothes, computers, games, beer, women, etc.
Honestly, I don’t know exactly what it was spent on, but those were the things that were in my head. Ugh. Frankly, I was pissed. Didn’t he realize how much trust we had given him to use the resources we gave him as intended? I can honestly say that it certainly didn’t encourage me to provide him any other gifts after that.
Over the years since then, I have felt God tell me over and over again, “Don’t you do the same thing to me? I invest in you and my priorities through you. Don’t you utilize the resources I give you differently then I intended?”
There is no question that I treat God the same way. I can so easily step into what I would describe as financial bear traps. Worse yet, I can step into the same ones repeatedly.
Here are some of the traps that get me regularly:
Forgetting that every dollar I have ever received is a gift from God. James 1:17 says “Every good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights (ESV).” Every good thing that has ever happened to me, been provided for me, fell into my lap, earned seemingly by my own gifts and efforts (which are also given to me) are from God. All of them. Too often, I can get caught up in how hard I work for what I get. It is a slippery slope from there into the land of “I deserve this.” Let’s be clear, I don’t deserve anything. God has just been good to me.
More often than I care to admit, I’m feeling either really good or really bad about myself based on who I’m comparing myself to. That is a disease that must be cured because there isn’t any good that can come from it. You know who I believe is rich and greedy? Anyone who makes more than me. Wanna know who I think doesn’t work as hard or isn’t as talented? Anyone who doesn’t make as much as me. That’s downright evil, and it is an impulse I find myself wrestling with often.
Neglecting the things that I say I value the most. While I would say that I’m a relatively disciplined person, it is because I’ve worked hard to learn it. Living as I’m naturally wired, I’m reckless and chaotic. I can also be extremely disciplined about the things that I don’t care about but downright careless (literally, I couldn’t care less how much I’m spending) on the things I desire.
Treating financial windfalls as a winning lottery ticket rather than a bonus gift from God. God not only gives gifts, he also invests in us. He grows us and matures us and then trusts us to be extensions of him in our communities. Imagine an investor that only wants $1 return on every $10 invested with no restrictions on the other $9. I don’t really want to debate the biblical relevance of tithing (giving 10% of your gross income to God). I see it as a starting point. Frankly, I’m glad it’s not 100%, which most investors require.
Here’s what has helped me most over the years:
Define what is important to you. If you’re married, include your spouse in setting your priorities. If you have kids, involve them so they can learn to be good investors. To be clear, kids are generally not mature enough to make large financial decisions for you or on their own, but they can be taught to do so over time.
Invest in what is most important to you. Our family’s highest priority is following Jesus, so we give 10%+ before any other expenses to the local church and to organizations that bring glory to Jesus. The next priority for us is having a roof over our heads, so the next payment goes to mortgage and housing expenses. We also value saving for the future and retirement, so that comes next. Our children’s education. And so on down the line.
Enjoy the leftovers. Once the priorities are established, enjoy the leftovers. God wants us to enjoy his gifts. How would I feel if, as a father, I gave my kids a gift I wanted them to have fun with only to find it years later still in the box collecting dust in the closet? Don’t have leftovers? Perhaps it is time to evaluate your spending patterns to see if they reflect your priorities. Did I spend too much on a house? Do I value comfort or pride or image instead of the things that matter? Can I go without or make do with less stuff?
I’m certainly no expert. I’m just a guy that has made many mistakes in my life and have learned from a few of them.