A Guide to Financial Freedom
Christian Financial Concepts
CBN.com — It is important for a Christian to be able to recognize financial bondage, but it is equally important to know how to achieve freedom. Financial freedom manifests itself in every aspect of the Christian’s life – relief from worry and tension about overdue bills, a clear conscience before God and before other men, and the absolute assurance that God is in control of his finances.
This is not to say that a Christian’s life will be totally void of any difficulties in the area of finances. Often, God will allow the consequences of earlier actions to remain in order to reinforce the lesson; also God does not promise to remove every difficulty. But no matter what circumstances are encountered, God promises peace.
When God manages our finances, we have nothing to worry about. He is the master of the universe. It is His wisdom that we are seeking. We’re still human beings and subject to making a mistake at any moment, for even when we understand God’s principles, it is possible to step out of His will, as we all do from time to time. But as soon as we admit the error and let
God take control again, we are back under His guidance. Once a Christian truly accepts and experiences financial freedom, there will never be a desire to stay outside of God’s will. Perfect peace is what is promised and perfect peace is what God delivers.
In our society, there are some who have found financial freedom, but I have never met a non-Christian who had true freedom from worry, anxiety, tension, harassment, or bitterness about money. Once someone experiences and lives financial freedom (meaning freedom from the bondage of debts, freedom from oppression of others, freedom from envy and covetousness or greed and freedom from resentfulness), that person stands out like a beacon at sea.
Steps to Financial Freedom
How can we achieve financial freedom? What must we do according to God’s plan?
A Christian must transfer ownership of every possession to God. This means money, time, family, material possessions, education, even earning potential for the future. This is essential to experience the Spirit-filled life in the area of finances (Psalms 8:6).
A Christian must realize that there is absolutely no substitute for this step. If you believe that you are the owner of even a single possession, then the events affecting that possession are going to affect your attitude. God will not force His will on us. He will not put His perfect will into our lives unless we first surrender our will to Him.
If, however, we make a total transfer of everything to God, He will demonstrate His ability. It is important to understand and accept God’s conditions for His control (Deuteronomy 5:32,33). God will keep His promise to provide every need we have through physical, material, and spiritual means, according to His perfect plan.
It is simple to say, “I make total transfer of everything to God,” but not so simple to do. At first, anyone will experience some difficulty in consistently seeking God’s will in the area of material things because we are so accustomed to self-management and control. But financial freedom comes from knowing God is in control.
What a great relief it is to turn our burdens over to Him. Then, if something happens to the car, you can say, “Father, I gave this car to You; I’ve maintained it to the best of my ability, but I don’t own it. It belongs to You, so do with it whatever You would like.” Then look for the blessing that God has in store as a result of this attitude.
Freedom from debt
A Christian must get out of debt altogether. Let me define a scriptural debt. Debt exists with any of the following condition:
Payment is past due for money, goods, or services that are owed to other people.
The total value of unsecured liabilities exceeds total assets. In other words, if you had to cash-out at any time, there would be a negative balance on your account.
Anxiety is produced in the area of financial responsibility when the family’s basic needs are not being met.
Six steps to becoming free from debt
1. Written plan
A written plan is absolute necessity for everyone who is in financial bondage.
Use a written plan of all expenditures and their order of importance. The order of importance is crucial because we have lost the point of reference between needs, wants, and desires. Let’s examine the difference between a need, a want, and a desire.
Needs. These are the purchases necessary to provide your basic requirements such as food, clothing, a job, home, medical coverage, and others. “And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content” (1 Timothy 6:8).
Wants. Wants involve choices about the quality of goods to be used: dress clothes versus work clothes, steak versus hamburger, a new car versus a used car, etc. a point of reference for determining wants in a Christian’s life is given in 1 Peter 3:3,4: “And let not your adornment be merely external – braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses: but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.”
Desires. These are choices according to God’s plan which can be made only out of surplus funds after all other obligations have been met.
We read in 1 John 2:15,16, “Do not love the world, nor the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.”
2. Living essentials
A Christian in debt must stop any expenditure which is not absolutely essential for living (Proverbs 21:17). Look for services around the home that can be done without outside cost. Also begin to develop some home skills. By utilizing individual skills, you can begin to cut down on some of the expenditures which are not really essential.
What I’m expressing is an attitude of conservatism. Begin to eliminate expenditures which are not essential, remembering that many expenditures are assumed to be essential only because of our society. Fifty years ago almost all the labor supplied in the home was through family members – not professionals who charged for it.
Christians who are in bondage must begin to assess what things they can do for themselves and stop the frivolities. Once a Christian has begun to do these things, whether in debt or not, it will become fun and will help stabilize the family life.
3. Think before buying
A Christian who is in debt (and even one who is not) should think before every purchase (Proverbs 24:3). Every purchase should be evaluated as follows:
- Is it a necessity? Have I assessed whether it is a need, a want, or a desire?
- Does the purchase reflect my Christian ethics? (For example, Playboy does not reflect Christian ethics.) Can I continue to take magazines, encyclopedias, or book and record subscriptions while I owe others?
- Is this the very best possible buy I can get, or am I purchasing only because I have this credit card?
- Is it a highly depreciable item? Am I buying something that will devaluate quickly? (Swimming pools, boats, sports cars all fall into this category).
- Does it require costly upkeep? (There are many items that fall within this category – mobile homes, swimming pools, color television sets.)
4. Discontinue credit buying
A Christian in debt should also begin buying on a cash basis only. Often someone in debt, with an asset that can be converted into cash, will ask, “Would it be better to sell this asset and pay off the debts?” This is a possible option, but it would only be valid if a person first learned new spending habits; otherwise it only treats the symptom rather than the problem.
For example, I remember a couple who were in dire financial bondage from credit card debts. They owed over $20,000 and paid in excess of $4,000 a year in interest alone. In our planning, it seemed reasonable for them to sell their home and apply the money to their debts, which would have then been paid off. They did so, but less than a year later they were back in again with about $6,000 in credit card debts and no home this time.
What happened? They had treated a symptom rather than the problem. The problem was an attitude dealing with credit cards. I had their assurance that they would not use the credit cards; but without having worked out a plan to discontinue the use of those cards, they fell right back into the same trap again. As soon as they needed something and lacked cash to purchase it, out came the card.
The principle to observe is this: If you are in debt from the misuse of credit, stop – totally stop – using it. One of the best things to do with credit cards when in debt is to cut them in two. Then mail the cards back to their respective companies and ask them to mail you no more. Include in your letter the plan for paying that credit card debt, and then commit yourself to buying solely on a cash basis.
Once good habits have been developed and the bondage from the misuse of credit cards has been broken, then evaluate the feasibility of converting assets to pay off the debts. In that way you won’t simply be treating the symptom. Once someone has overextended his finances, it is necessary to sacrifice some of the wants and desires in life to get current; otherwise he will continue to borrow and only get deeper into bondage.
5. Avoid leverage
When in debt, avoid the use of what is called “leverage.” Leverage is the ability to control a large asset with a relatively small amount of invested capital.
For example, if you bought a piece of property that cost $10,000 and required $1,000 down, that represents a nine to one lever. You have invested 10% of your money and borrowed 90%.
Borrowing money to invest is not a scriptural principle. For when a Christian invests and borrows the money from a bank to do so, the repayment of the bank loan is dependent on the investment making a profit. But if a profit is not made and the investor can’t make the payments, he loses the investments and still owes the bank. The result? Financial bondage.
6. Practice saving
A Christian should practice saving money on a regular basis. This includes those who are in debt. Even if it is only $5 a month, develop a discipline of saving.
This does not mean to store up a large amount of money while failing to pay your creditors, but one of the best habits that a young couple can develop is saving a small amount on a regular basis.
Everyone in our society living above the poverty level has the capability to save money, but many fail to do so because they believe that the amount that they can save is so small it’s meaningless. Others believe that God frowns upon a Christian saving anything. Neither of these two reasons is scriptural. “There is precious treasure and oil in the dwelling of the wise, but a foolish man swallows it up” (Proverbs 21:20). The common attitude presented in the Bible is to save on a regular basis, and it is important that Christians develop good habits to replace bad habits.
All told, to get out of debt, a Christian must utilize these points we’ve just discussed; there is no alternative under God’s plan for being debt free.
Establish the Tithe
Every Christian should establish the tithe as the minimum testimony to God’s ownership. How can anyone say that he has given God the total ownership mentioned earlier when he has never given testimony to that fact?
It is through sharing that we bring His power in finances into focus. In every case, God wants us to give the first part to Him, but He also wants us to pay our creditors. That requires establishing a plan and probably making sacrifices of wants and desires until all debts are current.
You cannot sacrifice God’s part – that is not your prerogative as a Christian. “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6). So what is the key? If a sacrifice is necessary (and it almost always is), do not sacrifice God’s or your creditor’s share. Choose a portion of your own expenditures to sacrifice.
Accept God’s Provision
To obtain financial peace, recognize and accept that God’s provision is used to direct each of our lives. Often Christians lose sight of the fact that God’s will can be accomplished through a withholding of funds; we think that He can direct us only by abundance of money. But God does not choose for everyone to live in great abundance. As stated before, this does not imply poverty, but it may mean that God wants us to be more responsive to His day-by-day control.
Each Christian must learn to live on what God provides and not come under the pressure brought on by driving desires for wealth and material things. This necessitates planning life-styles around the provision that God has supplied – it can be done.
Every Christian, to achieve financial freedom, must avoid the indulgences of life.
The range in which God’s will can be found is between Luke 9:23, when Christ said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me,” and John 6:27, “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man shall give to you, for on Him the Father, even God, has set His seal.”
Does your lifestyle fit within this range? Are you willing to trust God and deny yourself some indulgences? As you do, He will supply you even more. Unfortunately, most of us are self-indulgers, rarely passing up a want or desire, much less a need. But, in light of the needs around us, it is important that Christians assess their standards of living. Most of us can reduce our expenditures substantially without a real reduction in living standard.
Seek Christian Counseling
It is important to seek good Christian counseling whenever in doubt. “Without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22). God admonishes us to seek counsel and not to rely solely on our own resources. In financial planning, many Christians become frustrated because they lack the necessary knowledge and then give up. God has supplied others with the ability to help in the area of finances. Seek them out.
The following material is provided as a practical guide to help you establish a family budget.
Steps to Making a Budget
In making and using a budget, there are several logical steps, each requiring individual effort. A sample form for budgeting is shown at the end of this section. Use this form to guide your budget preparation.
List Expenditures in the Home on a Monthly Basis
1. Fixed expenses
- Federal income taxes (if taxes are deducted, ignore this item)
- State income taxes (if taxes are deducted, ignore this item)
- Federal Social Security taxes (if taxes are deducted, ignore this item)
- Housing expenses (payment/rent)
- Residence insurance
2. Variable expenses
- Outstanding debts
- Insurance (life, health, auto)
- Entertainment, recreation
- Clothing allowance
NOTE: In order to accurately determine variable expenses, it is suggested that both husband and wife keep an expense diary for 30 days. List every expenditure, even quarterly purchases.
List Available Income Per Month
- Income tax refund
NOTE: If you operate on a non-fixed monthly income, use a yearly average divided into months.
Compare Income vs. Expenses
If total income exceeds total expenses, you have only to implement a method of budget control in your home. If, however, expenses exceed income (or more stringent controls in spending are desired), additional steps are necessary. In that case, an analysis of each budget area to reduce expenses is called for. These areas are outlined below.
“Budget busters” are the large potential problem areas that can ruin a budget. Failure to control even one of these problems can result in financial disaster in the home. This area is evaluated by typical budget percentages for a $12,000 – $18,000 income. Naturally, these percentages are not absolute and will vary with income and geographical location.
1. Housing (32% of the net income)
Typically, this is one of the largest home budget problems. Many families buy a home they can’t afford, motivated by peer pressure or some other pressure. It is not necessary for everyone to own a home. The decision to buy or rent should be based on needs and financial ability rather than internal or external pressure.
2. Food (15% of net income)
Many families buy too much food. Others buy too little. Typically, the average American family buys the wrong type of food. The reduction of a family’s food bill requires quantity and quality planning.
Hints on grocery shopping
- Always use a written list of needs.
- Try to conserve gas by buying food for a longer time period and in larger quantities.
- Avoid buying when hungry (especially if you’re a “sugarholic”).
- Use a calculator, if possible, to total purchases.
- Reduce or eliminate paper products – paper plates, cups, napkins, etc. (Use cloth napkins.)
- Evaluate where to purchase sundry items such as shampoo, mouthwash, etc. (These are normally somewhat cheaper at chain drug store sales.)
- Avoid processed and sugar-coated cereals. (These are expensive and have little nutritional value.)
- Avoid prepared foods, such as TV dinners, pot pies, cakes, etc. (You are paying for expensive labor that you can provide.)
- Determine good meat cuts that are available from roasts or shoulders and have the butcher cut these for you. (Buying steaks by the package on sale is fairly inexpensive also.)
- Try house brand canned products. (These are normally cheaper and just as nutritious.)
- Avoid products in a cyclical price hike. Substitute or eliminate.
- Shop for advertised specials. (These are usually posted in the store window.)
- Avoid stores that give merchandise stamps if their prices reflect the cost of the stamps. (Not all do – some simply substitute stamps for other advertising.)
- Purchase milk, bread, eggs, etc. from specialty outlet stores if available, as prices are usually 10-15% lower. (Keep some dry milk on hand to reduce “quick” trips to the store.)
- Avoid buying non-grocery items in a grocery supermarket except on sale. (These are normally “high mark-up items.)
- For baby foods, use normal foods processed through a blender.
- Leave the children at home to avoid unnecessary pressure.
- Check every item as it is being “rung up” at the store and again when you get home.
CONSIDER CANNING FRESH VEGETABLES WHENEVER POSSIBLE. Make bulk purchases with other families at farmers’ markets and such. (NOTE: secure canning supplies during off seasons.)
3. Automobiles (15% of net income)
The advertising media refers to us as “consumers” but that’s not always the best description. I believe that P.T. Barnum had a more apt word: suckers. Often we are unwise in our decision making when it comes to our machines – especially cars.
Many families will buy new cars they cannot afford and trade them long before their utility is depleted. Those who buy a new car, keep it for less than four years, and then trade it for a new model have wasted the maximum amount of money. Some people, such as salesmen who drive a great deal, need new cars frequently; most of us do not. We swap cars because we want to – not because we have to. Many factors enter here such as ego, esteem, maturity, etc.
4. Debts (5% of net imcome)
It would be great if most budgets included 7% debts or less. Unfortunately, the norm in American families is far in excess of this amount. As previously discussed, credit cards, bank loans, and installment credit have made it possible for families to go deeply into debt. What things can you do once this situation exists?
- Destroy all of your credit cards as a first step.
- Establish a payment schedule that includes all creditors.
- Contact all creditors, honestly relate your problems and arrange an equitable repayment plan.
- Buy on a cash basis and sacrifice your wants and desires until you are current.
5. Insurance (5% of net income)
It is unfortunate to see many families misled in this area. Few people understand insurance, either how much is needed or what kind is necessary. Almost no one would allow someone to sell him a rolls Royce when he could afford only a Chevrolet; yet, many purchase high-cost insurance when their needs dictate otherwise.
Insurance should be used as supplementary provision for the family, not protection or profit. An insurance plan is not designed for saving money or retirement. Ask anyone who assumed it was; the ultimate result was disillusionment and disappointment.
In our society, insurance can be used as an inexpensive vehicle to provide future family income and thus release funds today for family use and the Lord’s work. In excess, this same insurance can put a family in debt, steal the Lord’s money and transfer dependence to the world.
One of your best insurance assets is to have a trustworthy agent in charge of your program. A good insurance agent is usually one who can select from several different companies to provide you with the best possible buy and who will created a brief, uncomplicated plan to analyze your exact needs.
6. Recreation/entertainment (7% of net income)
We are a recreation-oriented country. That is not necessarily bad if put in the proper perspective. But those who are in debt cannot use their creditor’s money to entertain themselves. The normal tendency is to escape problems, even if only for a short while – even if the problems then become more acute. Christians must resist this urge and control recreation and entertainment expenses while in debt.
What a terrible witness it is for a Christian who is already in financial bondage to indulge himself at the expense of others. God knows we need rest and relaxation, and He will often provide it from unexpected sources once our attitude is correct. Every believer, whether in debt or not, should seek to reduce entertainment expenses. This can usually be done without sacrificing quality family time.
- Plan vacations during off-seasons if possible.
- Consider a camping vacation to avoid motel and food expenses (Christian friends can pool the expenses of camping items.)
- Select vacation areas in your general locale.
- Consider swapping residences with a Christian family in another locale to provide an inexpensive vacation.
- Use some family games in place of movies. (Like some of those unused games received at Christmas.)
- Consider two or more families taking vacation trips together to reduce expense and increase fellowship.
- If flying, use the least expensive coach fare (i.e., late night or early morning usually saves 10-20%).
7. Clothing (5% of net income)
Many families in debt sacrifice this area in their budget because of excesses in other areas. And yet, with prudent planning and buying, your family could be clothed neatly without great expense. This requires effort on your part in terms of:
- Saving enough money to buy without using credit.
- Educating family members on care of clothing.
- Applying discipline with children to enforce these habits.
- Developing skills in making and mending clothing.
Learn to be utilizers of our resources rather than consumers. How many families have closets full of clothes they no longer wear because they are “out of style”?
Many families with large surplus incomes spend excessively in the area of clothes. Assess whether it really matters that you have all of the latest styles. Do your purchases reflect good utility rather than ego? Do you buy clothes to satisfy a need or a desire?
- Make as many of the children’s clothes as time will allow. (Average savings is 50-60%)
- Make a written list of clothing needs and purchase during the off season as much as possible.
- Select outfits that can be mixed and used in multiple combinations rather than as a single set.
- Frequent the discount outlets which carry unmarked ‘name brand’ goods.
- Frequent authentic factory outlet stores for closeout values of top quality.
- Select home washable fabrics in new clothes.
- Use coin-operated dry cleaning machines instead of commercial cleaners.
- Practice early repair for damaged clothing. Learn to utilize all clothing fully (especially children’s wear).
8. Medical/Dental expenses (5% of net income)
You must anticipate these expenses in your budget and set aside funds regularly; failure to do so will wreck your plans and lead to indebtedness. Do not sacrifice family health due to lack of planning, but at the same time, do not use doctors excessively. Proper prevention is much cheaper than correction. You can avoid many dental bills by teaching your children to eat the right foods and clean their teeth properly. Your dentist will supply all the information you need on this subject. Many doctor bills can be avoided in the same way. Take proper care of your body through diet, rest, and exercise, and it will respond with good health. Abuse your body and you must ultimately pay through illnesses and malfunctions. This is not to say that all illnesses or problems are caused by neglect, but a great many are.
Do not be hesitant to question doctors and dentists in advance about costs. Also, educate yourself enough to discern when you are getting good value for your money. Most ethical professional men will not take offense at your questions. If they do, that may be a hint to change services.
In the case of prescriptions, shop around. You will be amazed to discover the wide variance in prices from one store to the next. Ask about cash discounts, too. Many stores will give 5-10% off for cash purchases.
9. Savings (5% of net income)
It is important that some savings be established in the budget. Otherwise, the use of credit becomes a lifelong necessity and debt a way of life. Your savings will allow you to purchase items for cash and shop for the best buys, irrespective of the store.
- Use a company payroll withdrawal, if possible. This removes the money before you receive it.
- Use an automatic bank withdrawal from your checking account.
- Write your savings account a check just as if it were a creditor.
- When an existing debt is paid off, reallocate that money to savings.
10. Variable household expenses (6% of net income)
These can include a myriad of items. Some of the expenses occur monthly while others occur on an as-needed basis (such as appliances).
One of the most important factors in home expenses is you. If you can perform routine maintenance and repair, considerable expenses can be avoided. Many people rationalize not doing these things on the basis that time is too valuable; that is nonsense. If every hour of the day is tied up in the pursuit of money then, as previously defined, you’re in bondage. A part of care and maintenance around the home related to family life, particularly the training of children. When they see mom and dad willing to do some physical labor to help around the home, they will learn good habits. But if you refuse to get involved, why should they? Where will they ever learn the skills of self-sufficiency?
Some men avoid working on home projects because they say they lack the necessary skills. Well, those skills are learned, not gifted. There are many good books that detail every area of home maintenance. As previously mentioned, at some point in the future many of these skills will be necessities rather than choices.
Living on a budget is not only prudent, but it can be fun. As you have successes in various areas, share them with others. Challenge your children as well.
You now have the necessary tools to establish a budget. The rest is up to you. God’s blessing rests upon those whose lives are lived “Properly and in an orderly manner” (1 Corinthians 14:40).
THE FAMILY BUDGET GUIDE
GROSS INCOME PER MONTH ___________
1. Tithe ___________
2. Tax (Est. – include
NET SPENDABLE INCOME ___________
(Income per month minus tithe and tax)
3. Housing (38%)* ___________
Mortgage (rent) ___________
4. Food (12%)* ___________
5. Automobile (15%)* ___________
6. Insurance (5%)* ___________
7. Debts (5%)* ___________
Credit Cards ___________
& Recreation (5%)* ___________
Eating Out ___________
9. Clothing (5%)* ___________
10. Savings (5%)* ___________
Expenses (5%)* ___________
12.Miscellaneous (5%)* ___________
Toiletry, cosmetics ___________
Laundry, cleaning ___________
Allowances, lunches ___________
13. School &
Child Care (8%)* ___________
Day Care ___________
14. Investments ___________
TOTAL EXPENSES ___________
INCOME VS. EXPENSE
Spendable Net Income ___________
Less Expenses ___________
15. Unallocated Surplus Income ___________
* Percentage of net spendable annual income of $25,000.
** This total should break even or show a surplus. If total expenses are greater than net spendable income you must cut back on expenses. Percentages for fixed and variable expenses may be adjusted but total should not exceed net spendable income.
INCOME BUDGET CATEGORY MONTHLY ALLOCATIONS
1. Tithe ___________
2. Tax ___________
3. Housing ___________
4. Food ___________
5. Auto ___________
6. Insurance ___________
7. Debts ___________
8. Entertainment/Recreation ___________
9. Clothing ___________
10. Savings ___________
11. Medical/Dental ___________
12. Miscellaneous ___________
13. School/Child Care ___________
14. Investments ___________
15. Unallocated Surplus Income ___________
Discipline in following your budget will produce financial freedom in your home.
By Larry Burkett