On January 22nd, Katie and Andrew Amrine walked us through their financial journey and offered some tips and wisdom they’ve learned along the way. Here’s a brief overview of the conversation and some resources to explore.
For budgeting to stick, you have to make it work for you. There are lots of online options (Mint, NerdWallet, etc.). The Amrines have found a simple Excel sheet works best for them to visualize and direct their resources month-to-month. I’ve found a physical copy works best for me, so I use a sheet of graph paper to map out the month and then transfer highlighted categories to a whiteboard on our wall.
A couple keys to budgeting: 1) Be honest with yourself. 2) Follow through.
Do you love to buy coffee every day? Ok. Work that into your budget. Make a line for it, figure out what it will cost and set the money aside. If you decide the cost is too high when you put it down on paper, then make an adjustment. Maybe it would be cheaper in the long run to purchase equipment and brew it at home. Maybe you keep getting your coffee from the same shop, but you purchase a smaller size or visit less frequently. Or, alternatively you find another area to cut back on (if you just ignore your overspending, there’s no point to budgeting). What’s important is knowing your limits, knowing the information, and making wise, informed decisions about how to responsibly steward what you have.
If you’re budgeting for the first time, start by recording your expected income for the month (or week). Then list all the things you know you’ll spend money on—tithe, phone bill, gas, tuition payments, etc. Once you have the essentials covered, think about your savings goals. How much do you want to set aside each month to pay off debt or put towards savings? Setting this goal beforehand will help you know how much you’ll need to cut back on other budgeted areas.
Now that you have the essentials covered—fixed cost items and savings goals—you can start working in the extras: concerts, birthday presents, new clothing etc. The categories are up to you. Of course, these are the areas you’ll most likely have to cut back on at times to meet your savings goals.
Overall, the budget is a plan for where the money goes. If you don’t have a plan, you won’t pay attention to how you’re using the money, or if you’re making good decisions with it. A budget won’t automatically make you a wise steward, but it will provide you with helpful information and give you a framework through which to make smart financial choices.
Putting Money in It’s Place
The Amrines noted that tithing has been key to their financial health, even when they were driving beater cars and earning small paychecks. It’s seems a bit counter-intuitive…how can spending more money help you financially? The answer is it doesn’t—at least not directly. Tithing isn’t about increasing your capital; it’s about maintaining your spiritual health and growing as a disciple of Jesus.
You see, God doesn’t need your money—every resource originates from Him—but he desperately wants your obedience and your trust. Tithing, even when we have next to nothing to offer, reshapes our heart and mind. It prevents us from relying solely on our own strength, intelligence, and will to meet our needs, and is a tangible way that we can practice trusting God with all our resources, remembering that He is the one who ultimately provides for our every need.
In 1 Chronicles 29:14, when the Israelites are giving resources to build the temple, David reminds them in a prayer: “Everything comes from you [God], and we have given you only what comes from your hand.” Tithing is returning—giving back to God a small portion (10% is a standard starting place) of what is already His to begin with. Whatever income you have—whether it’s an Amazon gift card or a corner office paycheck—is a gift from God. By practicing tithing when we have very little, we choose spiritual health over economic gain, and trust that God will ultimately bless that obedience with long-term provision (note: This doesn’t mean that tithing will result in wealth. Tithing builds trust and obedience in God’s provision—whatever that looks like—even if God’s provision is not our ideal of comfort).
One of the keys of budgeting is managing the gap between what you have, and what you absolutely need because it’s that in-between money that you have the most influence over. When thinking about investing in your education, we have to practically think about that gap again, but in a slightly different way. If I invest $100,000 into my education, will that investment provide a reasonable return? Sometimes the answer is yes, and sometimes it’s no.
That’s not to discourage any fields or careers, or to say that economic output should be the guiding decision in choosing a vocation (in light of scripture, it absolutely shouldn’t…we’ll talk more about that next week), but it is an important thing to think through while deciding next steps after high school.
Student loans can be a big weight, and anything that can reduce that weight—scholarships, on-campus jobs, working in Residence Life, Running Start, attending a vocational school, etc—can go a long way to achieving financial independence more quickly. Again that doesn’t mean one choice is right and another wrong, it’s just important to think through the net investment and net return of each educational step as you take it.
The Economics of the Kingdom of Heaven
Ultimately, all money is no more and no less than an earthly resource. When placed at Jesus’ feet and stewarded responsibly—it can accomplish great good. This is why it’s important to take our role as managers and stewards seriously. On the flip side, if it becomes an idol—something that preoccupies our time and attention to the exclusion of God, something we worship, stress over, and celebrate—money can destroy us.
Know what it is (a resource); know what it isn’t (a savior); and know your role (responsible stewardship).
1 Timothy 6:17-19:
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
Interested in Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University? Talk to Joel about checking out this resource.