Jackie Mason once quipped, “I have enough money to last me the rest of my life, unless I buy something.” A veritable credo for many entering adulthood, this is the sort of joke that prompts a quick laugh followed by bitter weeping and gnashing of teeth once reality sets in. “That’s a bit hyperbolic,” you might say. “At least it isn’t oxymoronic,” I would reply. But then we would be getting off topic.
As twenty-somethings, my fellow Millennials and I are currently at that stage of life where we are just starting out. So, apart from a fortunate few, when most of us hear discussions related to money, we are inclined to reply in one resounding accord, “What money?”
Whether we have little or much, though, Christian Millennials have a divine injunction to steward their finances well. In the Gospel of Matthew, we are presented with the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) in which a wealthy man entrusts three servants with three different amounts of money before departing on a journey. In his absence, two servants exercise good stewardship. The third, not so much. I would not want to spoil the story for you, but suffice it to say the wealthy man is pointedly less pleased with the third servant. Similarly, God has entrusted each of us with varying resources and expects good stewardship of us all. Here are a few basic financial principles that I stole from Dave Ramsey strive to practice, and hope will help you pursue right stewardship.
First, acquire a source of income. In other words, get a job. There are two primary reasons for securing employment. On the one hand, man was created to work. Adam was, after all, placed in the garden to tend to it (Genesis 2:15). On the other hand, and more to the point, you will have no money to manage without a job to earn it. To the greatest extent possible, income also needs to be in a consistent state of influx. Why? Because life will not stop coming at you just because you are between paychecks or jobs. You are going to need money during those times, which brings us to saving.
As we begin to earn income, we must avoid the temptation to spend all we have. There are certain expenses that must be paid, of course. Please do not shirk rent, insurance, phone bill, and groceries. However, be careful not to lose all discretionary funds in the pursuit of fine frilled frivolity. Gadgets, knickknacks, concerts, and going out with friends are all worthwhile fun, but they should be tempered by moderation. Outlandish though this may seem, we should be putting at least as much into savings as we are into fun—though I would encourage much more. Scripture reminds us, “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6). While this is directly speaking to giving, it can also be applied to saving. When we save much, we are more prepared for that most unpredictable of necessities: the future. We are also more equipped to meet our responsibilities no matter the circumstances, avoid debt, and still be able to enjoy life. To that end, I would recommend considering three different forms of savings.
First, and most important, is emergency savings. Your car might break down, you might need an unforeseen medical operation, you may need to fix something in your house or apartment. For the most part, you will not be able to predict such emergencies, but with emergency savings you can at least be prepared.
Second is long-term savings. Think of this as your retirement fund, because with the precarious state of Social Security, it very likely will be. You will not be able to bring in income forever. When you are ready to stop working, having a savings account in which you have accumulated a large sum over a long period will help sustain you through the rest of your years. The crux of long -term savings is consistent growth, which means always putting money in and never taking money out until your hair is gray or gone.
Third is short-term savings, or goal-oriented savings. These will be smaller sums accumulated over short periods of time in order to meet a certain goal. Whether that goal is a new phone, a trip to Europe, or even a new car, short-term savings will allow you to work toward it and then enjoy it without going into debt by paying for it with money you have not yet earned (vis a vis, credit card tomfoolery).
Speaking of debt, strive to avoid it. If you already have any at all, attack it with wrathful vengeance. I mean really go after it. Romans 13:8 admonishes believers to “let no debt remain outstanding.” Why? Because debt is the antithesis to all things responsible, secure, and thriving. Moreover, you will never achieve financial success or even independence with unpaid debt. Debt will do its utmost to enslave you. Fortunately, if you are in Christ, you are more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37). So do your utmost to conquer debt. To do this, you are simply going to have to sacrifice. For example, if you have debt, you need to postpone that trip to Europe. Continue setting aside for emergencies and long-term savings but make debt elimination your priority. Pour all of your short-term savings and as much discretionary spending as possible into eliminating debt.
As you go about attacking debt and avoiding more, you will necessarily miss out on certain things. You are going to have to budget well and live below your means. That is to say, keep track of all of your spending and only allot the minimum of what you absolutely need for necessities such as food or bills. Treat yourself in small ways every now and then, but do not go beyond your budget. If you only make $30,000 a year, you have no business treating yourself to a Lamborghini. You can enjoy life, and even enjoy having nice things, without accumulating more debt or spending more than you save. There is a difference between living well and living extravagantly, or, for that matter, living poorly. Proverbs 13:7 encourages this sort of financial humility, saying, “One pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.” Live humbly, budget carefully, and spend sparingly. I believe that if we do these things, then we can live well.
Thus far, all of the financial principles we have discussed are focused on self. However, we are to imitate Christ in all that we do (Ephesians 5:1-2), and He was anything but self-centered. The pursuit of financial principles in light of Christ means we must be exceptional stewards of our own finances, but also means we must not forget the care of others. To that end, do not forget to give. Now, I get it. You just graduated from school, or you just started a new job, or you are looking for a new job. You have new bills to pay, and student loans to pay off. However, if you allow yourself to fall into the habit now of holding on to everything you have, even if for worthwhile reasons, then you will later be stuck with the habit of holding on to everything you have for the wrong reasons. Keep yourself accountable, but also keep it small and simple. I am not talking about giving thousands of dollars away each month. Some of us, myself included, were not even making thousands of dollars each month immediately following graduation. However, assuming you are gainfully employed there is no, I repeat no, reason you cannot sacrifice at least five dollars a month. Take the hit and go without that fast food meal one time, or without those two Starbucks coffees you get to treat (or sustain) yourself. Luke 21:1-4 tells the story of a woman who gives what little she has in the company of others who were able to give much more. Christ is pleased with her sacrifice, though, and will be with yours also.
The final principle I strive for is to consider the pursuit of financial stewardship as an act of worship. Whatever we do, we are to do to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Financial stewardship is not a matter of mere pragmatism. It is an act of worship, of gratitude, rendered unto the One who has richly blessed you. And so in carrying out the principles discussed here, take heart that you will honor your God, be more prepared for the future, and be able to enjoy life along the way.