Get a Grip on Your Finances
Are you held in the grip of financial woes? Do bills dictate your life? Do you worry about money? If so, be sure to read on!

Let’s face it: Most people today struggle with their finances. Under today’s rising costs, many worry and fret over this issue more than any other problem, regardless of how much money they make. Yet this worry robs them of the real happiness and joy God intended man to have. Even among God’s people, financial problems hold an oppressive grip.

Isn’t it time you reversed this trend and got a grip on your finances?

But how do you go about it? Where do you start?

The Idolatry of Materialism

There is a cause for everything in life. According to the United States Census Bureau, the median household income for 2003 remained unchanged at $43,318, but at the same time, the poverty rate in the U.S. rose to one in eight households. How can this be in an affluent nation such as the United States? What is the cause for such statistics?

This problem is not new to our time. For centuries, people have struggled financially. In the first century a.d., the Apostle Paul wrote the following, indicating a major cause of financial troubles: “For the love of money is [a] root [cause] of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:10).

Notice that it says “the love of money”—not money itself. The desire to have material wealth is what has caused many sorrows for those who “coveted after” it.

God is not opposed to riches. As a matter of fact, many of the biblical men and women whom God used were rich, such as Job, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon and Esther. God promises to bless us when we obey Him (Deuteronomy 28:1-9). However, God warns against a covetous attitude toward material wealth.

Drifting into materialism slackens our dedication to God and His Work. We cannot let the cares of this world control our lives. If we do, we may not be alert to the signs of the times—those events that indicate the imminent return of Christ and the establishment of a government based on the way of give instead of get. Christ Himself said, “[T]ake heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares” (Luke 21:34).

The obsession with physical pursuits leeches the supply of God’s Holy Spirit and will prevent us from reaching our full potential. “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (Galatians 5:17). Coveting will lead to more and more financial, personal and physical problems.

If God promised physical blessings for obedience to His commandments, wouldn’t it make sense that He’d specify what would happen if we let our minds drift from His spiritual law and dwell on the physical? Of course! “And thou shalt not go aside from any of the words which I command thee this day, to the right hand, or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them. But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee: Cursed shalt thou be in the city, and cursed shalt thou be in the field. Cursed shall be thy basket and thy store. Cursed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy land, the increase of thy [cattle], and the flocks of thy sheep. Cursed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and cursed shalt thou be when thou goest out. The Lord shall send upon thee cursing, vexation, and rebuke, in all that thou settest thine hand unto for to do, until thou be destroyed, and until thou perish quickly; because of the wickedness of thy doings, whereby thou hast forsaken me” (Deuteronomy 28:14-20). Letting materialism become our God will automatically reap these curses, “until thou be destroyed.”

Pursuing material wealth is a form of idolatry and if we go after it, we will incur these curses. One major reason people do not have control over their finances is their materialistic mindset that pushes God out of the picture.

Steps to Financial Stability

Jesus Christ taught that the wise handling of money reflects some of the wisdom, discretion, self-mastery and planning needed for success in God’s Kingdom. “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?” (Luke 16:10-11).

God is the multibillionaire who is eager to share all of His riches with us (Revelation 21:7), but we must learn how to manage our affairs now, so God can entrust us with such responsibility. In order to prepare for our future roles, God has given us dominion, or rule, over our physical possessions now.

Let’s examine five steps that will help us prepare for our future responsibilities and develop in us the characteristics of a wise steward.

Faithful Diligence

Our generation has lost the mastery of faithful diligence. God will bless our efforts; He did not say He would reward our idleness. God wants us to learn to work and said that “if any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). God does not give social handouts to those who are able, but unwilling, to produce.

Sadly, even among God’s people, some are not good providers. They rely on handouts from the government, fellow members or even the Church to supply their families’ need. God rebukes such behavior: “[I]f any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (1 Timothy 5:8).

Christians have an obligation to work hard in order to provide for their physical families. They should carry the burden for not just their immediate relatives, but even supply the needs of generations before and after them. They should take care of any widows in their family and lay up for their grandchildren (verse 16; Proverbs 13:22).

Hard labor will be rewarded. Those who apply this principle will prosper and be able to share their blessings with others. Through their first tithe they help God’s Church do the work. By their excess second tithe they provide a way for others to attend God’s festivals, and by their third tithe, twice every seven years, they provide social security for those who really are needy, the widows and the fatherless.

Such an individual is a credit to God’s Church and to his community.

Even in a depressed economy, a truly diligent Christian exercises the faith that God will provide a way to fulfill this role in which he can give to his fellowman. If unemployed, this individual will produce works of faith, searching diligently for employment—not afraid to work hard and to start wherever needed. Such an attitude will impress any employer.

Faith and diligence go hand in hand. Rather than wait for what comes our way, let’s take the much-needed first step to financial stability—an outgoing concern for others.

Know Your Finances

Millions of people worldwide hope to win the lottery, believing this would solve their financial worries once and for all. The plain truth is that lack of money is often not the major problem. Lack of wisdom, however, is. “Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished: but he that gathereth by labour shall increase” (Proverbs 13:11).

Notice this statement from Herbert W. Armstrong’s booklet The Seven Laws of Success: “Qatar is a little Arabian country jutting into the Persian Gulf. The big oil boom came to Sheik Ali’s little kingdom. It paid the country of 35,000 population $50 million a year, of which $12½ million went personally to old Sheik Ali, age 69.

“Now what would you do with it, if you suddenly came into $12½ million a year?

“The answer, in all probability, is that you would not do what you now think you would! That much money, coming suddenly into one’s hands, usually changes one’s ideas completely. That is what it did to old Sheik Ali. …

“Old Sheik Ali became so generous in his self- indulgences, that his debts, over and beyond his fabulous income, soon mounted to $14 million!

“The news stories filtered around the world of how the sheik just simply could not make ends meet on a mere $12½ million a year! …

“He found it harder to make ends meet on $12½ million annually than he did in comparative poverty.”

More money won’t solve our financial worries unless we keep track of how we spend it.

Be sure to read the article “Be a Good Steward” to learn how to track your spending according to a balanced budget.

Many argue that they don’t make enough to budget, but the truth is that the less income we have, the less room there is for squandering and the more necessary a budget becomes. Others think they can worry about budgeting once they are out of debt. All too often, these people don’t even know how far in debt they are. They have no view of their net worth. Determining your net worth can provide you with a realistic picture of your financial situation and motivate you to raise your net worth.

When you set up your budget, be tough on yourself, particularly if you are in debt. The more you slash from your outgo, the sooner you can be debt-free.

Reduce Debt Incrementally

When we violate God’s financial laws, we bring curses upon ourselves. Going into debt to finance our consumer spending is one way we set ourselves up for these curses. In this society, most people are forced to take out a mortgage to finance their home, but contrary to consumer goods, this is an asset that tends to appreciate over time. Cars, appliances, electronics and furniture on the other hand, all diminish in value and should preferably not be financed. If we have been financing our desires, God’s advice to us is to repent: To change and go the opposite way. Learn to patiently save until these items can be paid for with cash. True Christians are not immune from financial trial or debt. But we need to call on God in faith for help and deliverance. God promises us that “Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all” (Psalm 34:19). God does not want to see you struggle. He offers His help, but there are certain steps you need to take.

Proverbs 22:7 tells us that “the borrower is servant to the lender.” The way to reverse a debt trend is not to hide from it, but to face it and tackle the problem head-on.

Contact your creditors and communicate forthrightly and respectfully with them concerning your situation. Indicate your willingness to repay your debt and discuss a repayment plan. Creditors do not like to turn your case to a collection agency and lose up to 50 percent on the deal. Plead for time (Matthew 18:26), and suggest a schedule of payments. It will show your creditors that you are sincere and that you take repayment seriously.

A well-thought-out budget includes debt reduction and will stop the feast-and-famine cycle many families experience as they live paycheck to paycheck. Wise and balanced budgeting follows the tithing principle. When we receive an increase, we should set aside one tenth first (Proverbs 3:9-10; Malachi 3:10). You can apply this principle of allocating a set percentage of your income to work away your debts. Though it will not be easy, it is a principle that can help you reduce debt systematically. Using this method will set your financial affairs in order and ease tension with your creditors.

Don’t be sucked into paying interest only. The sooner you are able to repay your principal the better. For every dollar you are paying above and beyond the minimum payment, you will save money in the long run.

Even emergencies should not cause you to panic if you have a solid plan for debt elimination. Don’t be deterred from your repayment program. Only in extreme necessities should you ever change your plan. Let tact and wisdom guide you through tough times.

Start to Save

Financial advisers often encourage people to start to save even when they are in debt. Most people would reply, “But I cannot afford to save!” The key is to start small, even with a token amount of maybe $5 from each paycheck.

The advertising bombardment encourages us to spend before we’ve earned the money and lures us into thinking we can afford things by focusing on monthly installments. This is devastating to the principle of saving. There is a lot of wisdom in saving for less-prosperous times. Joseph was used by God to bring this to the attention of Pharaoh and, because of it, Egypt became a blessing to the entire Middle East during its years of famine (Genesis 41).

Today our money seems to burn holes in our pockets, and people feel they have to spend it now. This results in impulse buying, or covetousness—something God defines as sin, one of the leading causes of financial problems today (Exodus 20:17).

Make saving a foundational principle of your financial management, and you will see that you have more money than you first thought.

Seek Wisdom Early

God has placed ministers in His Church who can help give valuable advice and counsel on financial dealings, from a biblical perspective. Too often, however, they are confronted with people presenting to them the consequences of their ill-thought-out actions.

Plan to seek counsel early.

Beware of potentially volatile projects. Never get involved in any get-rich-quick schemes. These exploit the human weakness of lust for money, and as it says in 1 Timothy 6:10, this leads to you being “pierced … through with many sorrows.”

Other schemes to watch out for are those where you become a surety or guarantor for loans and financial adventures of other people. The Bible advises us against such relationships. “Be not thou one of them that strike hands, or of them that are sureties for debts. If thou hast nothing to pay, why should he take away thy bed from under thee?” (Proverbs 22:26-27). Certainly these types of engagements should not be entered into without proper counsel on both a physical as well as spiritual level.

Being joined in a business venture with another Church member is another area that demands abundant counsel. While well-intended, some projects may not be economically sound. A local minister can often offer sound advice after assessing the background.

When we don’t seek counsel, or ignore the advice given, we not only set ourselves up for financial disaster, but we can also strain personal relationships unnecessarily.

Career change is another area that can greatly impact your financial situation, and you’d do well to seek advice before you make any decisions here too.

Before deciding to be your own boss, or start your own business, be sure you have the discipline and expertise to follow through. Count the cost to be sure you can finish successfully.

One note on seeking counsel: In order for counsel to be effective, you must be totally open and honest with your counselors and yourself. Do not hide any facts or seek a certain desired outcome. Let your counselors help and guide you. Eventually, you will have to make the decision and live with the consequences. It is in your best interest to present as accurate a picture as possible.

The proper way to financial prosperity is to work diligently, to plan ahead, evaluate your spending habits and to invest wisely.

Take charge of your finances, and prosper as God intends you to.