Like many high schoolers coming into college, I was introduced to finance through a combination of internet memes about “stonks” and “The Wolf of Wallstreet.” I thought of the stock market as something that I would never understand and never really need to worry about. I was 18 years old, and personal finance seemed like something I really wouldn’t need to think about until I was in my thirties. That stuff was reserved for day traders and old men, like my dad. However, I realized very quickly how wrong I was when I had $400 worth of textbooks to buy and was absolutely broke.
I had gone ahead and spent my money without thinking about it. If my friends wanted to get food at a restaurant, I went. If I saw some clothes in the store that I liked, I got them. My thought was that as long as I could pay the bills, I was set. I knew I didn’t have much money in the bank, but as long as I wasn’t using a credit card, I thought I wouldn’t have any need to be concerned. I would think, “Why should I be concerned about saving lots of money in the bank anyway? When I graduate from college, I’ll be making plenty of money to save!” I relied on my parents financially and the gifts they had given me in helping with tuition and bills.
To me, I thought of money as ultimate freedom. I was blessed with assistance and guidance from my parents. However, I didn’t necessarily want to listen to what they had to say. I thought of money as something that had liquidity. I mean, cash is meant to be spent, right?
Being out of my family’s house, I was free to spend earnings from my summer jobs. I would think of how quickly money seems to be spent by characters in movies and TV. Money seemed to be about living in the moment and having the ability to enjoy life the way I want to. Financial planning seemed like something of a joke. I would remember memes and jokes I’d see on the internet about “stonks” and financial investing and just laugh about it. I remember how much I would roll my eyes whenever my dad would lecture me about saving, budgeting, and investing.
I realize now how stupid I sounded. When I had my fun and spent most of my savings, I found myself full of regret. I didn’t think about what would happen if I had an emergency pop up. What if there was something wrong with my car that needed to be fixed? What would happen if (OK, when) I needed to buy textbooks? I guess I just figured I could call home and ask my parents for money. (FYI: They just laughed at me.)
I knew I needed to fix my spending habits. I knew I needed to figure out how to budget and save my money. As a college student, I just didn’t really understand how to do that. I began anxiously looking for information to learn how to put myself in a good place financially.
I started to take advantage of guest speakers at the business school, get financial planning advice from the internet, and listen to tips from influencers on social media. What surprised me was that, just like me, most of these people I was learning from seemed pretty anxious about money too. I saw the houses they lived in, the cars they drove, and the clothes they wore. It was pretty obvious that they were wealthy individuals, so why were they so stressed?
It became apparent that I was looking for answers about how we should look at money in the wrong place.
I never thought to really look at the Bible for answers about finances. Besides a bag passing during services, I hadn’t had a pastor talk about how I can take care of my money. However, one evening in my dorm room, I thought I’d look on the internet to see what the Bible had to say about money. What I found shocked me. The Bible was full to the brim with teachings about money and the role it plays in our life! I spent quite a few years reading, learning, and talking with mentors to get a handle on how I need to look at finances.
I know many of us do not have the time to spend a few years to piece together some sort of “biblical doctrine for saving and spending.” Some of us are going through some very real financial hardship. I can’t begin to understand your specific situation, but I know how much you probably want that anxiety lifted from you.
Here’s the thing, God understands the frustration you are going through, and He does not want that for you either.
On the other hand, some of us are very blessed with financial resources. The urgency to fix how we look at money may not be there. However, I want to share some biblical truths and hard lessons I have learned that I wished I had realized sooner.
God has a unique definition of what being financially responsible means.
The first and most important biblical truth you need to understand about money is that God does not want it to be a point of anxiety. He doesn’t want it to be an obsession in our minds. God does not want all of our brain-power to be focused on creating the perfect investment portfolio. What He really wants is for us to keep our thoughts on Him and our relationship with our Creator.
Jesus talks quite a bit about how we center our mind and where we put our attention. Jesus knows that too often, we focus on money and material things rather than things that are eternally important. Here’s a bit of Scripture I think we should look at:
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. -\ Matthew 6:19-21
Jesus wants us to understand that we should look at money from an eternal perspective. As believers, we know that after our time on earth is over, we will spend an eternity in heaven. God wants us to recognize this and think about where we are investing our time, resources, and money. Are we putting attention to something that will only last during our brief time on earth?
Jesus talks a bit more in that previous piece of Scripture and says:
24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. - Matthew 6:24
When we devote our time, resources, and thoughts to achieve riches on earth, we think with a mortal mindset. We miss the whole point of our relationship with God. God wants us to think in an eternal mindset, where we devote everything to strengthen our relationship with Him. Having a mind that focuses on only your bank account is not compatible with having an eternal mindset.
Back to my story as a dumb college kid, I thought money was about freedom. When I heard the term “financial freedom,” I thought it was all about having the ability to buy what I needed or wanted, whenever I wanted. As a young, impressionable adult, this is what I thought was a healthy way to look at finances, and that is what my family, friends, and society told me.
However, God wants us to be free of our finances! God wants our attention on Him, on heaven, on an eternal kingdom. As a believer in God’s kingdom, I knew I needed to change my view on money. After some intense reflection, I realized that as a follower of Christ, I needed to view finances as a resource.
Stewardship, Not Stonks…
There’s this word that Christians will use to describe how we use our finances as a resource to glorify God. It’s called stewardship. Sometimes we can’t help but hear this word and think of how “churchy” it sounds. For years I would hear about stewardship, but I didn’t really understand what it meant. I just thought of it as some weird religious terminology that was created by pastors to get us to pay their salaries. However, stewardship is more than just man-made Christian vocab.
Stewardship is the idea that we have a responsibility to use the resources that God has blessed us with to expand his kingdom. This could be money, but it is also our talents, personality, upbringing, skills, and countless others. Just like how we can use the gifts God has given us, like skills of leadership or teaching, to expand our faith to the world, we can use our money as well. Our money is a gift from God that we can and should use to bless others with generosity.
Now, this doesn’t mean that we need to donate all of our money immediately if we want to have a chance at heaven! No. It just means that we need also to be mindful of how we take care of this resource of wealth God has given us. Is it something that is only a source of fun and ease? Or, is it something that can be protected, saved, invested, and grown so that we have the ability to readily bless others?
In some religious settings, I sometimes get the idea that we need to be recklessly giving up large pieces of our financial portfolio and greatly exceeding God’s tithe. There have been a few times where I get the idea that some religious folk view saving and investing as sinful. This is not the case! Remember, as stewards, we’re now viewing our money as God’s resource. We’re thinking about using this resource we’ve been trusted with to expand the kingdom! We’re stewards now! We protect, we save, we invest, and we grow!
Tips To Be A Financially Wise Steward:
You might be wondering, like I was a few years ago, “How are you actually supposed to steward money as a resource? What does God say about it?” Well, here are a few of my key, basic tips I’ve learned:
1. Avoid Unreasonable Debt
This seems like a very basic personal finance rule, but it has some biblical principles as well if we want to be good stewards. Look at this verse:
The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.
Plainly put, the biblical authors understand that when you are in debt, you are in a form of slavery. You are committed to repaying what you have borrowed. A vast amount of your available funds are going to be used to paying this debt. As stewards, we want to try to avoid these interest payments and have the ability to pump our money where it can grow. This investment in growth can be in a financial way, like an investment portfolio or in an “eternal kingdom” sense, like your church or ministry. Either way, it is a wise decision that lets us better steward our money.
However, when we choose to take on debt, we should be able to see a return on our investment. I know there are things like houses and college tuition that are necessary to take a loan out for. These are good things to be in debt for because if we choose a good major and study hard, we walk out of graduation with a higher income and a way to pay those loans off. A house can be invested into and improved to increase its value when you sell it. Additionally, property tends to increase in value over time. The type of debt we want to avoid are things that are unnecessary and do not return monetary value. For college-aged people, this normally happens when we choose an expensive school or degree, choose majors that do not give us the ability to earn, change our majors, don’t finish school, or rack up credit card debt. I know from experience that this is such an easy trap to fall into, but if we are trying to steward the resources God has trusted us with, this is something we should avoid.
2. Practice Humility
As a young college kid, I wanted to spend my money on going out to eat, hanging out with my friends, and pursuing some of my hobbies. To be honest, these are good things to spend money on, and God actually wants us to do this. However, that was where all my money was going. As stewards, we should have a healthy mindset of frugality with our money and how we can use it as a resource. This means we should really think about our capability to spend, how much we are spending, and if it’s necessary actually to buy certain things. The Bible is covered in wisdom and instruction about practicing modesty and humility in wealth. In regards to stewardship with money, here’s a simple principle:
Don’t just live within your means. Live below them.
In simple logic, this means you should think about lowering your standard of living. You might be able to budget and afford to get your latte at a coffee shop every morning, grab take-out for lunch, or work out at the fanciest gym. I will guarantee you that if you’re continually increasing your standard of living, there’s eventually going to be stress on your budget. You may be able to afford the mortgage on an expensive home, but at what cost? Are you going to be stressing about how you’re going to make the payments each month? Are you potentially going to have to work a job you don’t really care for just to get by?
Remember, God doesn’t want us to live anxiously about money. He wants us to be free of our finances. Also, we’re working towards being freaking stewards now! We should be making decisions that can grow the financial resources God has given us. If we have extra cash, it should be saved or invested, not spent to where we can barely pay the bills.
3. Live Generously
Unlike my other two tips that can help grow your wealth, this tip requires you to invest a different way. God wants you to use the wealth He has blessed you with to invest in His kingdom. This can be done through some more obvious things like giving a tithe to your church, financing ministries, or donating to other charitable organizations.
You can invest in the kingdom by giving somebody a gift, something small like a lunch or as big as a car. (And yes, there are people that will really give a whole car if that means they can share the goodness of God to others through generosity.) However, it can also be done in simple ways as well. Just taking a friend out to coffee and walking with them in something they are struggling with and show them Christ at that moment.
You don’t have to be a rich person or have your finances in the perfect place to show generosity. Many times, you just need to be responsible with what you have and use what God has given you to bless others. As a college student working as a part-time intern in ministry, I do not necessarily have the most money. However, I do have scholarships, parents that help with bills, and opportunities for side-gigs. I do not have much, but I still tithe and show generosity to others when God calls me to. Through this decision to give, I am poorer in wealth but, I feel free of my finances.
God wants all of you to be free of your finances, just like He has allowed for me. He wants to see us using the resources He gave us to invest in His Kingdom. If you’re a follower of Jesus, there will be a time when our time on earth will be done. We will experience our Father in Heaven and hope he says, “You have used the opportunities, skills, and resources I have given you, and you grew my Kingdom.” We hope that He embraces us, saying, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
Thrive Financially. Grow Spiritually.
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