New year, new budget

Have you considered where you are headed financially in 2014? Too many people take a passive role when it comes to setting financial goals. As Stewards of Providence, it is incumbent on us to look ahead, consider the responsibilities the Lord has entrusted to us, develop a plan that honors the Lord, and manage our responsibilities in a faith-filled manner. Here are tips to help you manage your resources well in 2014.

One of the most important financial steps you can take is to recognize that all you have ultimately belongs to the Lord. He is the Creator of the universe and entrusts us with resources to be used as his Stewards of Providence. This teaching is life-changing. Our focus shifts from a possessive attitude to one of responsible stewardship. This is especially powerful in the context of marriage as husband and wife get away from thinking of things as “his” and “hers,” or even “ours.” All they have is the Lord’s (Dt 10:14).

One aspect of being a faithful steward is living a life of generosity. Financial planners often talk about paying yourself first. I agree with the need to save for future needs. And I agree that this savings should be planned. But the Scriptural principle is to pay the Lord first — from our first fruits (Prov 3:9) — not ourselves. I was recently visiting with a man whose grandparents were farmers. He spoke of how his grandparents used to take the best of their initial crop and give it to the Church. This captures the sense of what our attitude of giving should be.

budget
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Putting God first in your finances is probably the best thing you can do for your marriage as well. It’s also important to keep the lines of communication open regarding money issues. I recommend “family budget meetings,” where husband and wife set aside time periodically to set goals for the future, and monitor progress toward those goals.

Trying to manage your finances without a budget and without tracking your activity through the year is a lot like trying to take a cross-country trip without a map. Part of being a good steward is making responsible decisions with the resources we have. A budget helps accomplish that. Proverbs 27:23 speaks of the importance of assessing where we are financially, when it says, “Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds.”

When you budget, you begin to tell your money where it should go rather than have it disappear on you. Make sure to factor changing circumstances into your budget, including any impact from the Affordable Care Act. There are many tools available today to help you with such a plan. I recommend Intuit’s Quicken program.

If you have unproductive debt, especially credit card debt, one of your immediate goals should be to eliminate it as soon as possible. Proverbs 22:7 tells us that “the borrower is the slave of the lender.” To have true financial freedom and the peace that comes with it, you need to be free of unproductive debt.

As part of your overall plan, you’ll want to establish savings goals. These goals should focus on meeting appropriate needs. It’s important to avoid the attitude of hoarding the Lord warned about in his parable of the rich man (Lk 12:16-21). But saving for future needs such as college and retirement is entirely appropriate, and if you are going to do it effectively, you need to build it into your budget. Using direct deposit is a way to make sure it happens.

God love you!

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