This experiment began several years ago when I received a brochure in the mail advertising silver bullion coins as an investment vehicle. The “hook” was, “We will sell you two silver eagles for the price of one, if you agree to read our special report on silver.” When I saw this, I thought, “I could give one of these coins to a friend who was having money problems as a touch point for her prayers.” I sent her a coin and a notebook with instructions. Every day we prayed that the Lord would grant her wisdom in the area of finance. Every day she made an entry in her notebook.
The initial experiment was extremely successful. At the end of six months, her attitude towards money was radically different. She began to systematically eliminate her consumer debt. She changed some behaviors that were sabotaging her financial situation. Then towards the end of the six month experiment, she was able to move into her own home for the first time in her life.
Finally, when the participants are ready, they will give their coin with a blank notebook to a friend or a family member who is ready to change their relationship with money. In this way, friendship and blessings will keep flowing forward forever, even into eternity.
Over the last six years, I have reached the point where I have learned enough to begin to know what I don’t know about teaching Christian personal finance as a ministry. Today, I would like to share some of those reflections. Perhaps you can find something in these words that might shine some light into your relationship with money. Understanding yourself as well as understanding the realities of your personal situation are the two keys to charting your course towards financial freedom.
I have learned that I don’t need to spend a lot of time telling individuals they are “sinners.” First of all, most financial mistakes do not rise to an occasion for sin. They are simply wise or unwise behaviors. Most people who find themselves in financial difficulties know exactly how the arrived in that unfortunate situation. When student loans, car payments, an underwater mortgage, and $13,000 on the Mastercard have landed someone in bankruptcy court, do I need to add to their suffering?
I have learned that I can’t scream loudly enough about the evils of debt. We live in a culture that considers debt a blessing. We believe a lie. God clearly and repeatedly states that debt is a curse. The ability to lend money is a blessing. There is no such thing as “good debt,” not even mortgage debt. Taking out a mortgage may be the best option in a given situation, but understand that you are, of your own free will, placing yourself under a curse. It may work. Or Not! Car loans and credit card debt are simply not acceptable. They should be avoided by everyone under all conditions. Student loans have proven exceedingly dangerous. If you are a semester shy of a MD, a $20,000 student loan isn’t going to kill you. If you drop out of a media arts program in your sophomore year that same loan could prove a serious burden. Look into your own heart. If you are praying that your credit will be approved, especially for a car or other depreciating assets, something is wrong with your world view and values.
I have learned that one of the first steps on the road to financial freedom is accepting 100% responsibility for your situation. As Jim Rohn observed, “You can’t hire someone else to do your pushups for you. We live in an incredibly complex cause and effect universe that contains an element of randomness. You can not control everything that happens to you, but you can take responsibility for the outcome of those events in your life. There is a high correlation between wise financial behavior and good outcomes. There is also a high correlation between unwise financial behavior and bad outcomes. If you want good outcomes in any aspect of your life, no matter what your situation or how it happened, the ball is in your court.
I have learned that most people in financial difficulties understand the principle of 100% responsibility. They are willing to look at their mistakes, accept the consequences, and make the resolution to improve their situation. In our culture, it seems that most of the people who are unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives look to the Government for salvation. They want to believe that every problem in their life is the result of a conspiracy of evil rich people. They certainly couldn’t have done anything wrong. Now it is up to the savior state to deliver them from bondage. I haven’t found a way to get these people past that roadblock. Unlike many personal financial teachers, I see nothing wrong with applying for Government assistance if you are legitimately qualified. There is a reason our nation has socioeconomic safety nets. However, even if you manage to qualify for some pittance from the savior state is that how you define financial freedom?
I have learned that teaching people the basic principles of financial freedom is not all that difficult. It can be done in less than 30 minutes in most situations. Put Money In on the left hand side of a sheet of paper. Then, on the top of a second sheet of paper put 10% of Money In after the word, “Savings.” Then add your monthly expenses until the Money In number equals the Money Saved + Money Spent number. This process is called a formal budget. Learning to budget is simple, but it isn’t easy. You will need to correct your first attempts at living on a budget more than once before it becomes second nature, but if you persist it will work wonders. Once you have an adequate emergency fund (at least 3 months take home pay) start investing in something simple, like low cost index funds. If you don’t want to do your own research, Vanguard lifecycle funds are a good place to start. This paragraph is all you need to know to move you down the road to financial freedom for the first several years of your journey.
I have learned that motivation is by far my greatest challenge. It is painful to discover that you have messed up. Learning to budget, paying down debt, denying yourself the proverbial latte are not fun activities. At some level the subconscious mind doesn’t like the budgeting process. To make yourself accountable to a piece of paper that you created is not a fun activity. Throwing your hands up in despair or pretending the problem does not exist is much easier. My job is to continue to encourage, support, and cheer you on. It isn’t easy to build motivation into a technical discussion of investment options. How do I scream about the evils of debt in a positive manner that will change your belief system? Guiding injured, frightened, angry people in a positive direction with sensitivity and gentleness is not something that comes naturally to me. Yet I understand that is necessary if I want you to hear my voice.
After over 600 blog articles and nearly six years of trying, I would like to thank all of you for joining me on my journey. I hope you have found something in these efforts that is a blessing, something that will lead you closer to financial freedom.