Develop a game plan for finances

To succeed at something takes a combination of foresight, desire, strategy and solid execution. That’s true in sports, school, career and just about anything important in life. It’s also true with your financial life. In short, succeeding in life requires a game plan and the discipline to live out your plan. 

It’s odd. We plan for things every day, big and small. We plan for school exams. We plan parties. We even plan what clothes we’ll wear each day. But when it comes to making financial plans, many people choose to just “wing it.” 

Financial road map 

Failing to manage your finances properly will hurt you. You’ll find your money controlling you rather than the other way around. When that happens, you become money’s slave. Lack of planning leads to chaos. In marriage, a lack of financial planning leads to tension and arguments that can in turn lead to divorce. Planning as a steward of Providence will help you reach your financial and life goals. 

God is OK with the process of planning, as long as we always place our plans at his feet. In the Book of Tobit, we are encouraged to pray about our plans: “At all times bless the Lord God, and ask him to make all your paths straight and to grant success to all your endeavors and plans” (4:19). 

What is a financial plan? Think of it as a road map that helps you get from where you are today to where you want to be in the future, whether that’s next month, next year or 40 years from now. It’s a guide for developing and using the resources God has entrusted to you to meet the growing responsibilities you will have in future years. It includes understanding how you will generate income, prioritize expenses, grow assets and manage debts. 

Developing a financial plan isn’t rocket science, but there are a few terms and tools that are important for you to learn. I’ll touch on two of them here. 

Back to the basics

A balance sheet and a budget are two critical pieces of a financial plan. Think of the balance sheet as a snapshot photo of your financial position at one point in time. It is a summary listing of assets and liabilities. An asset is something of value that you own. A liability represents a debt that you owe. 

The makeup of your balance sheet should change dramatically over the years, with a growing base of assets to help pay for future responsibilities, and a declining debt balance as college loans and mortgages are paid off.  

A budget is a summary of income and expenses over a chosen period of time. My preference is to use annual budgets. Why? I want a time frame that’s long enough to see the big picture — one that makes it possible to capture all of the expenses I expect to incur during the year. Some people like to break budgets into monthly or even weekly amounts. But it’s a lot of work to break down irregular expenses into monthly amounts. I find the annual approach works fine. 

Power of knowledge 

My brother-in-law is a priest. He once shared a Latin saying with me: “ Serva ordinem, et ordo servabit te ,” which means, “Serve order, and order will serve you.” Those words contain a lot of truth! 

By developing and continuing to “work” your financial plan, not only will you always know where you are financially, but you’ll be able to anticipate where you need to be in the future, and what steps you should be taking today to get there. Great freedom comes with that knowledge. God love you. 

Phil Lenahan is the president of Veritas Financial Ministries (VeritasFinancialMinistries.com) and the author of “7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free” (OSV, $19.95). Submit questions for columns to askphil@osv.com.