Ask Chuck: Choosing to Live Like You’re Poor
I’m in my early twenties and finances are a topic of stress in my life and among my peers. One of my friends, who is about my age, just paid off his mortgage. How is that even possible? Others I know rely solely on credit cards and are in thousands of dollars of debt. I feel like I’m stuck between two ideologies – people who only spend their money on sensible things (and maybe have no fun) and people who spend it frivolously. What does the Bible say I’m supposed to do? What should I be focusing on?
Dear Stuck Millennial,
You have outlined a very relevant “tension” for people your age – some are doing extremely well with their finances. Others are still financially illiterate. But the fact that you have taken the time to ask this question is a good sign for your financial future. I have a great story for you and some biblical advice.
Last week I talked with a young man, a Millennial such as yourself, who related how he and his wife had already paid off their house. As I explored more of his story, I learned that he has been married fewer than six years, has an emergency savings account, regularly invests for the future, and has completely paid off his house. And the kicker… they accomplished all of this on a modest income. He earns about $49,000/year and she makes about $7,000/year in a side business.
He explained that when they got married, they decided to live like they were poor. They got on the same page about their financial goals, budget, and spending habits, and worked together to reach their goals. He said it was pretty simple – really, “just a mindset change”.
This principle – to “live like you’re poor” – is the key to the questions you’re asking. I’ll outline spiritual truths and practical steps to help you get there.
Having the Right Mindset
Living below our means is a mindset totally contrary to what the world promotes. It doesn’t come naturally because our sinful selves want to keep up with everybody else around us. But, it is possible!
Paul said, …I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13)
Pursuing contentment means pursuing God’s will for your life. So when you’re making your budget, concern yourself less with following a certain guideline or budgeting to “Keep Up with the Joneses” (they’re probably in debt anyway).
Instead, focus your time, energy, and money on God’s Kingdom and your budget will fall into place. Now, it will take a faithful heart and disciplined hands to do this, but when your priorities are in order, it makes it much easier. Crown’s founder, Larry Burkett, once said, “money is the greatest outward expression of our inner spiritual condition.” Keep that in mind with each purchase you make.
If we choose to obey what Jesus taught in Matthew 6:33, …seek first the kingdom of God… then we consciously purchase only those things that provide for our needs and strengthen us physically, mentally, and spiritually for our mission. Does that mean we can’t have fun? Absolutely not! It means we avoid the stress of a debt-laden lifestyle as we attempt to live God’s way.
How To Live Like You’re Poor
The amount of money you live off of will vary depending on your job, marital, and geographical status. But as general rule, you should always live beneath your income. The friend I mentioned before and his wife lived much beneath their means.
Here are a few of the ways he shared they were able to accomplish these financial goals:
Choose your friends carefully. If you’re always hanging out with people eager to eat out at the nicest restaurants, buy the nicest things, and drive the nicest cars, it will be difficult to resist the temptations to spend the same way. Spend time with like-minded people who will encourage you on your financial journey.
Have a specific goal in mind. We knew we wanted to pay off all debt by a certain date, so we made it a goal. Then if we had a big purchase coming up, we would save intentionally (on top of our other savings) for that purchase. We planned vacations during this process as well, but paid cash for it all.
Organizations like Christian Credit Counselors can help you get out of overwhelming credit card debt. They have an incredible team of professional counselors who can help you put together a payoff plan, negotiate with your creditors, lower your interest rates, and consolidate your payments.
Stay on the same page. If you and your spouse are headed in two directions (even slightly different directions), you won’t reach your goal. Get on the same page and ensure you’re both excited and motivated to achieve together.
Stay in your own financial lane. Resist the urge to have expensive taste or always need to have the newest and best. Browse used furniture, decor, and appliances on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace.
Have a generous heart. In order to keep your priorities in order, always put giving first. All you have belongs to God, so don’t have a greedy heart or resist giving. It usually ends up blessing you more in the long run anyway!
Direct deposit savings. Set up an automatic transfer from your paycheck to your savings account. Label your savings as “Do Not Touch” and only budget what is left after you have tithed and saved. You can essentially trick yourself into being poor by hiding your extra money in savings!
Make it visual. We printed off our amortization table for our mortgage from the bank. Seeing our timeline “fast forward” with each payment we made toward our principal was extremely motivating.
Invest your time instead of your money. Proverbs 10:4 says, Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth. Keep yourself busy serving others, earning extra income, and taking care of the things you do own. It will keep you from wanting to spend!
Skip the little things. It may sound cliche, but skipping your morning Starbucks run and making coffee at home will save you a lot of money. My wife avoided Target, especially the dollar section. Don’t go shopping without a list, and don’t be tempted by ads on your Instagram or Facebook. Stay off social media and resist the comparison trap altogether!
Lastly, have a grateful heart. Thank God daily for all He’s done, and ask Him to teach you to be content with a little, so you can give much to Him and His work!
I hope these principles and practical steps help you to forge a financial plan full of contentment and gratitude. As difficult as it is, don’t compare yourself to others. Pursue God’s will for your life and finances, and be faithful to discern what it is. By keeping an eternal mindset, do the work here on earth to one day hear, “well done, good and faithful servant.”
Originally published on the Christian Post, March 16, 2018