Examining ‘big picture’ priorities for your faith and finances in 2011

The new year traditionally provides an opportunity to review our lives — looking back at where we have been and, even more important, ahead at where we are going. This sounds a lot like an “examination of conscience,” and is a very Catholic thing to do. 

I am an advocate of getting the big picture right. When we do that, it makes it much easier for all of the little things to fall into place. What are the big picture items in your life that you should be examining? 

Here are a few to consider: 

? Your relationship with God. Are you growing in your faith by utilizing the gifts he has given through his Church? Consider making a Lenten retreat in 2011 to advance in your faith journey. 

? Your relationship with family. Do you have the good of your spouse, children, parents, brothers and sisters at heart as you live each day? 

? Are you taking care of your health (mind and body), remembering that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit? 

? Financially, are you fulfilling your responsibility as a steward of Providence?  

Of course, it’s not unusual for resolutions to be “broken” within a few weeks. Don’t let that stop you from setting them. The Lord knows we are weak, but he expects us to make the effort. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “Self-mastery is a long and exacting work. One can never consider it acquired once and for all. It presupposes renewed effort at all stages of life” (No. 2342). 

When it comes to your finances, here are several steps you can take during 2011 that will help you fulfill your God-given responsibilities. The first and most important is to thank God for the many gifts he has bestowed on you, and to accept the awesome responsibility he has given you to grow those gifts and use them in accord with his will for your life. One of the best ways to express your thanks is to grow in generosity. Review your charitable giving over the past year and consider whether it reflects an appropriate level of gratitude to the Lord.  

Plan of action 

Managing finances well requires planning. Proverbs 24:27 says, “ Complete your outdoor tasks, and arrange your work in the field; afterward you can establish your house.” Assess your current financial condition (net worth), and compare it to what it should be at this stage in life. While computers have made this process much easier, it’s still up to you to define your goals and objectives. What should you be saving for today — a down payment on a house; a replacement car; a Catholic formation and education for children; seed money for a business; retirement? Until you know what you should be saving for, you can’t build those needs into your plan. 

Once you’ve assessed your net worth (balance sheet), you’ll need to establish a cash flow plan (budget) for 2011 that uses resources in ways that move you closer to your long-term goals. Reviewing how you spent your resources provides a good starting point, but you’ll want to make adjustments for the financial impact of major life events that you can reasonably anticipate will occur in 2011 and for spending habits that are getting in the way of reaching your long-term goals. 

Unproductive debt is one of the greatest impediments there is to reaching your financial goals. If your past spending habits have generated unproductive debt, now is the time to correct those habits. In addition, you’ll want to eliminate your unproductive debts as rapidly as possible using the Accelerator Repayment Plan. 

I hope that 2011 will be a year that you confidently move forward on your journey to true financial freedom. 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.