Ask almost anyone what their financial goals are and you will get a short list of responses which will virtually always include making enough money to retire early – and securely. Believe it or not, that is possible, although it will take effort, planning and sacrifice. And that is a very reasonable and desirable financial goal.
However, just to make things interesting, change that question a bit. Instead of focusing on “financial” goals or security, just ask about security and see how the answers change. Security in this crazy world? Security in a social and political environment that is often as inviting as a minefield? Yes, and by that we mean real security.
Never lose sight of the fact that the time from even an early retirement to the end of a normal lifespan is short when measured against eternity. Don’t think just ten years into the future; instead look ahead to 100 or even 1,000 years from now. Temporal financial goals cannot mean much if they give a moment or even a few years of pleasure measured against an eternity in hell. If you want to really plan for a secure future, you need to start with your relationship with the God who gave you life and loves you. He loved you enough to make it possible for you to receive the free gift of His love – and the free gift of an eternity with Him – through His Son, Jesus. John 3:16.
Still, the desire for financial security here during this life is nothing new. In the Gospel of Luke in chapter 12 Jesus does not deny this desire for security. Instead, He points out that we must not place our real investments in stocks and bonds, but instead in the grace of God, the Father. See also Matthew 6:19-21.
A man interrupts Jesus, trying to manipulate Him into correcting his brother, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me” (Luke 12:13). This is nothing but a request for Jesus to cause the brother to give him enough to make him financially secure.
Rather than rebuke the man, reject the question, or even respond directly to the request, instead Jesus uses this as a teaching moment. He tells a parable about a man intent on a wise and secure financial future, one with a good retirement. That man was blessed with a particularly large harvest, so he built new barns to store up his plentiful crops and he made his plans to have a bright future. He said to himself, “You have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!” (Luke 12:19). That sounds like the normal answer to the question asked at the start of this article – save, invest wisely, accumulate wealth and live well. That also sounds like the typical American goal and a good one at that! Work hard, save, retire and enjoy life – the America dream!
The man does not share his good fortune with the less fortunate, he makes no tithe to God or mention of God, he treats this blessing as of it was all his and his alone, earned by him alone, with nothing to be offered back to God. He plans without a thought or mention of God and lives as if there is no future judgment; it is party time!
Not! Doubtless to his great shock, God speaks to him, and the man learns that he will die that very night. No treasure on earth and also no treasure in heaven for him. God has always had words for people who forget Him.
2 In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor; let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised.
3 For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the LORD.
4 In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”
Instead of security in money, a Christian should see security in Christ alone. John 14:6-7 and Romans 3:21-26. We have a God-given desire to be secure, and the answer to that desire lies only in God. Anything else is like trying to fill a round hole with a square peg. Being a Christian does not change that desire for security. Instead, it refocuses it so that we know that eternal security lies in Christ alone. When we see the incredible gift given freely to us by God, what we have here on earth can be more clearly seen as a gift we can and should offer back to God.
Know that reaching the finish line and retiring before the Social Security dates between 62 and 67 does not mean you should just grab a beach umbrella, a lawn chair and head for the beach. Retirement is an opportunity to give back, to serve, and to be a Godly witness as you give and serve during retirement. Let’s look at what is possible for you.
There are different ways you can give back. There is giving at the end of your life; making bequests in a will. That is a time where many chose to give only to their family members and loved ones. While there is nothing inherently wrong or sinful in that, omitting God from the giving is certainly not the best witness someone can give to his or her family. As we discuss in other articles posted on our website including Teaching Stewardship to Your Children and The Generous Family, giving is a means of witnessing and often, the act of giving may even be a better lesson about your priorities than what you have said during your life.
Giving back to God can and should happen during your life and not wait until death. Tithing is also a means of giving back. That is both an Old Testament and a New Testament calling to all believers.
That is giving while you live. The old quip “Do your giving while you’re living, so you’ll be knowing where it’s going” has an element of truth to it. Many people want to be assured that the money or assets they give are well-used and not abused. The Idlewild Foundation is a charitable organization founded under the leadership of Idlewild Baptist Church. We support ministries in need both within Idlewild and in the Lutz and Tampa Bay community, and the best part is that 100% of donations go to charitable purposes. The Foundation’s overhead is so low and is covered by designated gifts, making it possible to say that no donated money goes to anything but the benefit of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You can make a donation dedicated to a specific ministry and be assured that the law and our mission requires that your donation be used only for that designated ministry or purpose.
However, giving back includes a lot more than your money. Real stewardship is about far more than money. See What Is Biblical Stewardship? Stewardship includes all of your life, including your talents and time as well.
The lack of mention of retirement in the Bible could, in part, be due to the society and economy of the day. However, it could more likely be that God never intended that His people ever reach a point in their lives where they would do the cultural equivalent of pull weeds, trim plants and play games to pass the time. Senior adults have worked hard for a lifetime of experience and knowledge, if not outright wisdom. Experience wasn’t meant to be taken to your grave, but to be shared lovingly. You can hardly demonstrate love for one another by silence and by refusing to share; action is required:
1 John 4:7-11
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.
10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
If you have any uncertainty about how you can serve God, know that there are opportunities every day at Idlewild Baptist Church, where many ministries make service at all levels and areas a reality and a blessing. Teaching an adult or youth Bible Fellowship Class may not be a skill you believe you have, but facilitation of a home Bible study is far less demanding and equally a blessing. Not up for that? The recreation ministries of Idlewild offer year-round opportunities for hands-on expression of your faith and your love for others, through adult, youth and children’s sports. Not up for that? Service and be as simple as greeting at a door, handing out bulletins or directing parking on Sunday morning. Not up for that either? The opportunities at One More Child for volunteer service in a community in need are endless. The question is not, “can you find a way to serve?” The real question is, “are you willing?”
But service does not have to be at church or to strangers. Service also happens as you share your life, testimony, time and wisdom with your own family.
Living Godly in Retirement
As you live, give and serve into your retirement, this is not a time to relax in the area of your finances. In the uncertainty of a tangled world economy and rampant political manipulation, just to mention two risks out of many, there are no certainties or sure safety nets. Effort, planning and sacrifice remain necessary in considering your future, and you need to add caution. Effort, planning, sacrifice and caution are not just a means to an end that can be forgotten once you retire. They must become a lifestyle – a permanent part of your life. The earlier you get started, the better.
Try this! Imagine financial security – total and complete. Close your eyes and set firmly in mind your image of what total and complete financial security would be. Now think, what good is that if your health is so bad that you can’t enjoy it (although your children might inherit it!)? Or consider the value of “secure” wealth if ISIS, North Korea or Iran (or the next world threat, the next political or social manipulation, etc.), create a market crash. The endless list of risks and possibilities necessarily require you to be forever alert, aware, cautious and dependent on God.
The question “how can I reach a degree of financial security?” is only the beginning. The next questions after that make life far more complicated and interesting. Next, ask “what do I do with what I have?” and then end up with the real question, “What’s next?” Are those two a long way off? Maybe they are, but James, the brother of Jesus, blessed with wisdom from the Holy Spirit of God, saw how life was a “vapor” that could not be firmly grasped. James 4:14. (NKJV). James was right. The day will likely come when you will look back and reflect upon how fast life has passed.
Let’s look at those questions and their best answers.
I. How can I reach a degree of financial security?
Despite the certainty that God should always be in your mind and plans, it is time to address financial planning and security for the time you are here. Where you are in life has an impact on what you should do and how you do it. There is one truth that is certain; start early. A second truth is that you must have a plan and a list of priorities. What are your goals, what comes first and how are you going to get there?
Many tools are readily available to help you at least begin to create a financial plan. Many free and extremely useful tools, including calculators and links to non-commercial resources can be found at www.investor.gov.
Regardless of your age or financial status, you should start with attainable goals, priorities and a plan. What we suggest below works for all ages, but assuming you are young – in your twenties – you must start here:
Live below your means
This is not what most want to hear in our microwave world where instant gratification is the typical goal. We live in a world where media advertisers are scientifically studying how to create material desires and where media manipulation is powerful and almost unavoidable. The urge to have satisfaction and pleasure is in virtually every commercial or advertisement – “You deserve a break today,” just to mention one self-centered and focused ad. The same is true whether you are driving – billboards, web surfing – pop-up ads, or watching TV – don’t you love those commercials?
“If you can’t afford it, borrow and buy anyway” is the calling of our low interest rate economy. But if you spend and buy as advertisers demand and never save meaningful amounts, just guess where you will end up. You will perhaps be socially competitive with your neighbors and have lots of toys, but you will end up with a lot of broken toys and clothes that will wear out in a short time. You will also have a lot of debt, and very little true satisfaction.
This may be the most important first step anyone can take. To do it and do it well, you must budget, because without a budget, you can’t track your monthly expenses well enough to avoid running out of money before the end of the month. Budgeting allows you to plan giving, saving and spending and allows you to have at hand the information necessary to plan your finances as well as a disciplined way to stay on track despite the inevitable temptations. You will fail at times. But budgeting will call you back to financial discipline. Budgeting is by far the best way to financial independence.
You will have to delay or even forego some things you would love to have. The real question is whether financial independence and financial security are important enough to you to give up a few days of pleasure. Delaying the purchase of a new car, not taking that expensive vacation, not buying that new and bigger 4k TV may be necessary. Budgeting will make it obvious what you can do – and what you cannot.
Save regularly and systematically
Have a plan. Don’t just save what is left at the end of the month. Instead, plan out your spending with a budget, making sure that you have the following line items for expenses: tithing (giving back to God), saving for emergencies (giving to yourself), saving for a home and/or retirement (paying your future), paying debts, and paying bills. Each of those items, in the order stated, should be a part of everyone’s budgeted expenses. There is a good budgeting tool available at SunTrust’s Onup website. Or you can take Financial Peace University at Idlewild Baptist Church, a Dave Ramsey course that teaches budgeting as well as other approaches to financial responsibility.
How much do you give back to God and how much do you save? Literally the best answer is a minimum of 10% each. If you start early and save regularly, you will be amazed at how much you end up with after 7-10 years. If you can save more than 10%, do it! See It’s Time To Start Saving.
Give to God by tithing
This was mentioned above and is worthy of mention even again. Jesus Christ rebuked the religious leaders of His day because of they placed emphasis on appearances more than substance. But even as He rebuked them for their wrong emphasis on only having the appearance of righteousness, Jesus acknowledged that tithing should be done. See Matthew 23:23 where Jesus said to the religious leaders who were confronting Him, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.” (NKJV).
Those religious leaders were not living lives of compassion and love for their fellow Israelites. They had lost sight of God’s heart; God requires love from all faithful Christians, as in His command to “love our neighbors as ourselves” (Matthew 22:39). You should not overlook the fact that Jesus treated tithing as a part of life, we should not leave tithing “undone!”
Retirement requires careful long-term planning. There are many websites and tools than can be accessed without cost that offer guidance. As long as you avoid the advertised products and “low cost” services offered and merely use the free tools, you can get some assistance. For further information, call The Idlewild Foundation and we can help you find a qualified professional financial adviser who can help you approach saving and investing successfully.
One tool worth trying is an on-line calculator at Calculator: How much is enough? That leads is to the next question.
II. What do I do with what I have?
Now you have started budgeting and saving. How and where do you save and invest and not lose your money in the unreliable financial markets?
There is risk in almost any approach. There is even risk in putting your money under your mattress. In fact, there are two risks; one is a possibility and one is guaranteed. Theft is a possibility and losing value to inflation is a certainty.
You need to determine how much risk you are willing to accept, recognizing that often some risk is required to make reasonable gains over inflation. A good rule of thumb to use is that the younger you are, the more risk you can accept simply because you have more time to make up for market downturns.
Saved and invested money offers an opportunity, with risk, for increase through stock share increase in value as well as through dividends. Mutual funds and other investment accounts that diversify the investments reduce the risk of loss. Generally, it is very unwise to put all of your proverbial eggs in one basket. Invest across different markets and market sectors, including stocks as well as bonds. It is important for you to go into any investment in stocks, bonds or mutual funds with a full understanding that you could lose some or all of your money in any one investment. Historically, the stock market has provided around excellent annual returns, close to 6% or 7% returns reduced for the effects of inflation. However, there have been times when the market has lost substantial value, such as the 1929 stock market crash or the 2008 “great recession.” Those bad markets did recover, but not all investors did.
All of that being said, risk is never completely avoidable, but it can be managed. There are online investment advisers, many with little or no fee. Personal advice and help can come through many financial advisers, real persons.
The best way to protect yourself is to ask questions of anyone offering a financial product or service. Try such questions as:
What training as a financial adviser do you have?
What experience as a financial adviser do you have?
What research tools, services and support do you have available?
How long have you been in business?
What is your investment philosophy?
Knowing my situation, what investment philosophy do you recommend for me?
Do you take a lot of risks or are you more concerned about the safety of my money?
Describe your typical client.
While I recognize that historical data is not a good measure, what has been your historical rate of return for clients?
Can you provide me with references, people who have invested with you for a long time?
How do you earn income?
Based on a percentage of assets you manage?
Off trades or products sold?
How do you select investments?
Do you get paid more for selling your own firm’s products?
How much will it cost me in total to do business with you?
An investment adviser who has your financial future in his or her hands should understand:
your investment goals;
whether you’re saving to buy a home, saving or paying for your children’s education, or enjoying a comfortable retirement; and
your risk tolerance. How much money can you afford to lose and how much are you willing to risk losing to reach your goals?
An investment adviser you chose should only recommend investments that are suitable for you. The investment should make sense for you based on your other holdings, your financial situation, your risk tolerance, your goals, and any other information that your investment adviser believes is important.
III. What’s next?
You may have given some thought about what you want to leave behind. If you have children, you probably have given that question quite a bit of thought. Now think again, because leaving a true legacy is far more than leaving stuff or money for others!
Do you want to leave a legacy? Then define your legacy now. Start now and not later. There is no time to waste because a legacy is more defined by who you are than by what you what you leave behind in money or assets. The dictionary definition of legacy includes the vague and almost useless:
“anything handed down from the past, as from an ancestor or predecessor.” (Dictionary.com)
“Anything” is both overly broad and vague even if perhaps true. Better is a definition that conveys the concept that a legacy is a part of you that is left behind. A different and better viewpoint was written by Rick Beneteau:
The Legacy You Leave
All you will leave behind for the world to remember is your legacy, so ask yourself:
Will you have earned the respect of your peers and the admiration of your critics?
Will you have acted humbly at the peak of success and graceful in the face of defeat?
Will you have kept your childlike wonder and reveled in the beauty of the world and the small miracles that each day brought?
Will you be remembered for how often you laughed and brought smiles to the hearts of others?
Will small children and the elderly have been overjoyed to be around you?
Will others have trusted you with their inner most secrets?
Will you have forgiven and offered heartfelt apology? Will you have looked for the very best, and done your utmost to build worth, in others?
Will you have fed a hungry child or clothed a naked man or given hope to a stranger in dire need?
Will you have left this world a better place by the life you have lived?
What kind and shape of legacy will you leave?
Les Brown, an American speaker, trainer and motivator correctly wrote, “Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” That may be the best practical description of what a legacy really is.
To get to the point where you can leave a real legacy, you will need to start without delay. While it is never too late to start, sometimes it is very difficult to overcome the failures of the past – obstacles we have created for ourselves.
Start your legacy while your children are young. Check out Resources for You/For Parents, especially Teaching Money to Children and Youth, for ideas on how to start training up your children in the way they should go. Proverbs 22:6. Another legacy you can leave through your children comes from passing on your experiences and wisdom to them. Granted, many children want to make their own mistakes and many ignore their parents sage advice, but regardless, there are at least two areas where you should try; your values and your life experiences.
Values and life experiences
Who are you and what was most important to you during your life? You have an amazing opportunity to have a lasting impact on your family, loved ones and friends with words after your death. You have doubtless had life experiences that you have not shared but should so some of the special times of your life can be passed down and be shared with your family. Document some of the family events, traditions, stories and history that may be lost with your passing. Do this in an organized fashion, using a diary, notebook or carefully prepared audio or video recording. You cannot live forever on this earth, but allow some of your memories and experiences to live on.
This is Biblical as well. The entire book of Deuteronomy is a book of Moses passing on to the Israelites who will survive him stories of their history and God’s faithfulness to them.
1 “Every commandment which I command you today you must be careful to observe, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land of which the LORD swore to your fathers.
2 And you shall remember that the LORD your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.
Moses was making a legacy statement (or God was making one through Moses) so the Israelites would not lose hope and so they would not lose sight of their God. You can do the same!
A second area where you can leave a meaningful legacy with little effort is by taking steps to keep family members from having to make some of the hard decisions without guidance as to what your wishes and desires are by removing at least some of the difficulties through your advance directives and instructions to your family
One of the legacies of the Terri Schiavo tragedy in Tampa Bay was the raised consciousness to the need for advance directives at all ages and the disaster of families fighting over differences of opinion about what should be done. For thorough coverage of the type of advance directives and what they can and cannot do, see Documents (and Protection) Everyone At Every Age Should Have.
Granted, family fights break out even when the drafting of wills, trusts and advance directives is done by the best attorneys. Unfortunately, fights are inevitable with some people. But many of the disputes can be lessened or even avoided with clear expressions of your intentions and wishes.
One area where even the best documentation can fail is when there is a will and there are advance directives and there are funeral arrangements and instructions, but no one knows where they are or can find them. Give copies to a family member or close friend along with instructions on where your original legal papers are kept. Keep them in a safe and secure place, such as a safe deposit box or fire proof safe because in Florida a scribbled on, lost or destroyed will is the same as no will at all.
Consider leaving more than just the legal papers and instructions. Consider leaving an honest and open written testimony to your close family members. You may wish to consider leaving spiritual and emotional support for those who will miss you the most. This can even be done by video. You can quite literally leave a personal testimony of your faith even after your passing and perhaps play a part in God giving the gift of eternal life to a lost family member!
You also have particular items that may have special value to your children, to family or even to close friends. Plan on and make specific bequests.
Possessions of emotional value
There are a surprising number of disagreements that break out as family members try to decide who gets their parents’ wedding rings, or a particular piece of jewelry or furniture, family pictures, or items that may have very personal meaning and value to different family members. These are disputes best avoided by addressing them while you live, discussing them with family members either individually or jointly, and by making the decisions in a proper legal fashion such as in your will or in a properly prepared memorandum authorized by, attached to, and made a part of a will. Please know that your will must be prepared properly to allow such an attachment or accompanying document.
Last, and from an emotional standpoint, least, are the financial assets you may have accumulated, your financial wealth, your home and any real estate or items of particular value.
Assets and Real Estate
A properly and carefully prepared estate plan with a will and/or trust is best prepared by an experienced attorney. Pulling a document off the Internet is risky at best. In Florida there are highly technical requirements for the proper signing of a will; if signed wrong, the will is literally not worth the paper it is written on.
Additionally, there are many assets which are too complex to give without the advice of a skilled attorney. Conveying real estate often can be done even before death so that probate expenses can be reduced or even avoided. If you own a business, that also will almost certainly require legal advice to convey successfully.
An estate planning specialist can give valuable advice on some of the mistakes people make and the details they overlook. This advice can help your family and loved ones avoid some of the almost inevitable confusion, stress and distress of a death. Such an attorney will advise you on how best to share information on mortgages, debt, creditors, bank and financial accounts, investment accounts, stocks, bonds, vehicle titles, other titled assets, and real estate.
No one should have to clean up financial confusion. Giving clear instructions, account numbers, locations, and contact information for all assets and creditors will reduce the burden for the personal representative of your estate.
Having a plan to leave a true legacy is the necessary to if you want to leave a lasting and meaningful legacy. The earlier you start, the easier it will be and the greater the impact on those who come after you will be. May God bless you with success. If you have any questions or if we can serve you, please call us at The Idlewild Foundation, 813-264-8713.
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.