In the years Joleen and I have been married, we can highlight several financial practices that have proven valuable. While we can always be better stewards, we believe the following practices are an important part of being good stewards of what God entrusts us with …
1. Honor God with tithes and offerings!
Tithing wasn’t a new practice for either of us when we got married, but we did develop a new system for the way we’d do it. Even though we were seminary students and money was tight (money was still tight after graduation), we set a percentage (10%, at the time) for the tithe (which means “tenth”). Within a year or so, we set another percentage for offerings, that is, special offerings beyond our basic giving (2%). Our plan was to periodically increase these amounts over the course of our lives.
Everyone has to develop their own system. Currently, we calculate our tithes/offerings on gross income, monetary gifts, credit card cash back, interest, other income such as Virgin Pulse PulseCash (fitness/activity rewards through our conference health insurance), as well as the fair rental value of the parsonage in which we live. The bottom line is, determine what it means for you to honor God with your finances.
This, by far, has been our best stewardship practice. It’s one of the most important commitments we’ve made in our lives. It’s not so much something we “have to do”; rather, it’s something we “get to do!”
2. Track expenses!
During the first couple years of our marriage, I kept a handwritten copy of our monthly expenses by category. The idea was to know where our money was going, in case we needed to make adjustments. Now, I keep a spreadsheet on my computer, which also automatically calculates our tithe and offering amounts.
Interestingly, because we’ve tracked expenses, we know that our grocery expenses (which were very low when it was just the two of us) increased 32% in 2008 from 2007 (Ethan joined us in February 2008) and another 24% in 2009 (Sarah joined us in October 2009). In 2010, our first full year with two kids, we’re on track for another 14% increase from 2009. Stated another way, our grocery expenses in 2010 may be 87% higher than they were in 2007 (our last year without children). Yikes!
3. Develop a budget!
Most financial advisors would probably tell you to start here. But for us, our budget really flowed out of our expense tracking. That is, after a couple years, we pretty much knew how we spent money, so we developed a budget based on what we were already doing.
One area where the budget helps us is clothing expenses. Joleen and I have separate budgeted amounts for clothes. This helps because we know how much we can spend and don’t have to have a financial conversation every time one of us needs or wants something.
A funny thing happened a few years ago at a Macy’s department store. Joleen handed a pair of pants to the cashier who she thought she’d try to get a reaction out of me by telling us the total was $90. The cashier was surprised when I didn’t react. I told Joleen later that it doesn’t matter to me how much she spends. The faster she spends her budgeted amount, the less time I have to spend in the store!
Another area where we budget is with our “offerings,” the percentage of our income beyond our tithe. Our offering total is equally divided between us and we each support ministries and special offerings of our own choosing (we support some things together, as well).
Budgeting is a good idea. You’ve probably heard (or perhaps know by experience) that finances are one of the leading causes of conflict in marriages. Budgeting can minimize conflict by dealing with it ahead of time!
4. Build your savings!
This may be tough to do, depending on your current situation, but make every effort to set aside some money for savings, regularly. Even a little bit adds up over time.
5. Prepare for the future!
Preparing for the future may mean saving for future purchases, children’s college expenses, and/or retirement. Again, it may be hard to do, but start as early as possible, so it can add up, or multiply, over time.
6. Guard against impulsive decisions!
As I’ve thought about our spending habits, it struck me that we generally do not make impulsive purchases, especially major purchases. In fact, just the opposite, we sometimes take too long to make financial decisions. Do your research. Shop around. Sleep on it. Make the best God-honoring decision you can (which could also mean not buying the item at all). I once heard Bill Hybels teach a great statement to say about things you want, but don’t necessarily need …
I can admire you without having to acquire you!
7. Use credit cards wisely!
We have always used credit cards as a form of cash, not as a form of credit (i.e., we pay balances in full each month). We’ve also always used cards that earn cash back rewards. Using credit cards primarily as a form of credit can be dangerous.
These are some of our best practices. What are yours?