Help! My finances are broken down and I can’t get going! What can I possibly do? Getting out of a mess is, in some ways, no different when the mess is financial than when it is personal. The first step is almost always start now! You have to start with a full understanding of where you are and how you got there. Next, you move to the things you must do to survive and thrive. The third step is to know where you want to be within a reasonable time frame. Finally, you need to know how to move and act to get from where you are to where you want to be.
These are four steps which, if taken one at a time, make it possible to visualize a future with hope. God made that a goal for us to reach out for.
11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.
13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
So, let’s take it step by step! The four steps are:
Learn where you are and how you got there.
Find what you must do to survive and thrive.
Know where you want to be within a reasonable time frame.
Finally, you need to know how to move and act to get from where you are to where you want to be.
1. Learn where you are and how you got there
It’s hard to have perspective without knowledge and an honest view of the past. If you are in debt, ask why. If you are deeply in debt, the importance of that question grows and grows. If you have been in debt, gotten out, and gotten back in debt again, the importance of understanding why and how becomes overwhelming.
I like a quote attributed to the German statesman and lawyer, Konrad Adenauer, “History is the sum total of things that could have been avoided.” You are trying to learn your mistakes in the hope that you can avoid repeating them.
While looking back is important to keep you from making the same mistakes over and over again, it will not tell you the future. To go from where you are to where you would like to be, it takes knowledge, understanding, a plan, and discipline. The plan and the discipline are both contained in your budget.
The word “budget” sounds so old-fashioned and rigid. Yes and probably yes! A budget is old-fashioned and a budget can be very rigid. Discipline is also old-fashioned and rigid. In the process of getting your finances under control, saving money and building a future not dependent on government handouts, old-fashioned, disciplined and rigid ways are necessary qualities. Rather than focus on the rigidity of the word budget, try looking at a budget not as something that keeps you from spending but rather as a financial tool that permits you to spend wisely and protects you against unwise spending. Hey, you (and not your mother, I hope) create and determine your own budget.
Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University teaches budgeting over two weeks of the course. The first week you do a simple and basic budget and then you add to it the next week. Even after that your budget will need adjustments and alterations as time brings about changes, price increases and hopefully, income increases. Crown Financial also has a budget guide that is very helpful. Click here to go to the Crown site so you can download the guide.
Other online sites provide a platform and assistance for starting a good budget. See, for example, SunTrust’s OnUp site.
Part of your budget that may seem like it should be left off until you get out of debt is giving to the Lord. While this advice is counterintuitive and counter-cultural, it is Biblically solid. Always give to God, at least if you want to survive and thrive.
2. What you must do to survive and thrive.
Start with giving to God. What? Give while I am in debt and trying to build savings? That’s crazy! No, that’s God’s way of teaching, stretching and growing us. We are made in God’s image – Genesis 1:27 – and He unquestionably thinks and lives outside our “logical” limitations. You don’t have to give. Surveys and studies suggest that even 40 to 50% of evangelicals do not give to the church or God, but giving opens a door to blessings that God wants to pour out on us. Malachi 3:10 and Luke 6:38. No, we don’t have to give, we get to give! We are blessed with the opportunity to contribute to God and His church and to become a partner with the Creator in His plan!
One of the best parts of giving is its transformative power. Actually, giving itself is not transformative. However, giving with a joyful heart allows the Holy Spirit to work His transformative and regenerative power in our hearts. Romans 12:2.
Is giving even in a time of financial stress illogical in the world’s eye and hard to grasp as a “good thing”? Yes. Go back and read Romans 12:2.
2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
We are not to conform to the world’s idea of logic. To use a common word picture, think outside the world’s box, color outside the world’s lines, have a Christian world view, not the world view of a humanist.
Never forget the promise given to us by the apostle Paul – God loves a cheerful giver! 2 Corinthians 9:7.
Give, give joyfully, give generously and give God an opportunity to show you His faithfulness. Malachi 3:10.
But thriving requires more than giving. It also requires something dreaded by most – planning.
3. Know where you want to be within a reasonable time frame.
Setting realistic goals with God in mind is anything but sinful. Actually, to refuse to plan is to presume upon God as much, if not more than to trust in Him. He has told us that it is wise to plan. Proverbs 16:3.
God has plan for us. Jeremiah 29:11 and Psalm 40:5. Noah built the ark according to a plan. Genesis 6. The tabernacle was constructed according to a plan. Exodus 25-27. The farmers of those days and even today had to have a plan for when to plant, when to cultivate and when to harvest. In Egypt, Joseph had to save grain to prepare the nation for seven years of famine. Genesis 41. The temple was built according to a plan. 1 Kings 6. Proverbs 16:3 tells us to plan. There are literally hundreds of other examples of planning that was either by God or at His direction. Much of the wisdom of planning can be summed up in one short passage of Proverbs. Proverbs 6:6-8 encourages saving by giving us one of God’s perfect examples, an ant.
6 Go to the ant, you sluggard;
consider its ways and be wise!
7 It has no commander,
no overseer or ruler,
8 yet it stores its provisions in summer
and gathers its food at harvest.
The ant is God’s illustration of a great steward and planner.
See Save $ in 2019 and It’s Time to Start Saving for ideas on how to start saving. Start with an emergency fund of one month’s living expenses. Then grow that to 3 months and finally to six months. Those three steps will be hard. Save what you can when you can – use every opportunity to save even small amounts. See 7 Steps for Financial Progress and Ideas for Living Better Through Stewardship.
If you can, set up an automatic transfer to a savings account. Your employer may allow a direct deposit of part of your paycheck into savings or, even better, may allow you to contribute to a retirement account or savings plan set up by the employer. If available, do it. Money that isn’t immediately available by debit card but instead requires an extra step to reach, is harder to spend. Retailers are trying to make it easier for you to spend. You need to counter their moves by making it harder to spend.
4. How to move and act to get from where you are to where you want to be.
The hardest part is actually starting, setting your mind and your heart on those goals and plans and taking the first step. The second hardest part is sticking to it. For that, I suggest an accountability partner with whom you can share all financial details and who will hold you accountable. For an illustration of how this worked in the life of Greg and Alison Baumer who were committed spenders, watch this short video.
Once you have accountability set and you are started, focus hard on your existing debt if you have any. Include in that debt on your home because the security of your home for yourself and your family is a primary need. Work to pay off all debt using the skills taught by Financial Peace University and Crown Ministries.
Take Financial Peace University at Idlewild Church. It includes guidance and help with paying off debt and other issues raised in this article. Alternatively, try Crown Ministries. Crown’s Money Map can get you started toward getting out of debt and it is free. Download your Money Map today.
Go to Crown’s Debt Snowball Calculator. Put in your basic information about your debt and how much you can put toward paying off that debt each month. The Calculator creates a payoff plan that you can handle.
About the Author
John Campbell has retired from a 40-year legal practice as a trial attorney in Tampa. He has served in multiple volunteer roles at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida, where he met Jesus. He began serving as the Executive Director of the Idlewild Foundation in 2016. He has been married to the love of his life, Mona Puckett Campbell, since 1972.