I hear you say spend less than you earn. I’ve tried, but I can’t. I really want financial freedom, but how do I get it when I don’t make enough money?
Seeking Financial Freedom
Dear Seeking Financial Freedom,
I am sorry for the pain you are experiencing. The reason I emphasize the importance of spending less than you earn is that regardless of your income, spending more than you earn will make you feel poor and keep you under constant financial stress. It is the key to all good financial management. So how do you do this? Let’s walk through the steps.
Make a plan
The old saying is true: failure to plan = plan for failure. We have no record of Jesus instructing the disciples in the use of a budget. But we know they used money, contributed to the poor, paid taxes, and had a traitorous treasurer. We also know Jesus taught about the foolishness of beginning a project without knowing the cost and being sure of the resources to complete it. (Luke 14:28-33)
A spending plan (budget) enables you to thoughtfully tell your money where you want it to go rather than regretfully wonder where it went! Well-considered decisions in the planning stage create a template that makes subsequent decisions almost automatic. You will eliminate the “should I or shouldn’t I” sweating over every purchase. The plan knows if you should or shouldn't!
Find financial margin
Most Americans have money but no margin. It is the gap between your income and what you spend—or margin—that restores your financial freedom, regardless of your income.
The following steps will help you find a margin. You will discover whether you need to reduce your expenses, raise your income, or both. There are fixed expenses: those that are stable from month to month, like rent/mortgage, insurance, etc. And there are variable expenses: those that fluctuate, like food and entertainment. Invest your time wisely to do this right. Take Solomon’s advice seriously: “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” (Proverbs 21:5 NIV)
- Record all income and expenses for 30 days. For variable income, use an average of the past 6 to 12 months as your base income. For a more conservative route, work off the lowest number.
- Record all expenses for 30 days. Use an app, bank statements, credit card statements, and cash receipts to keep track of every dollar you spend.
- Use a spending plan (budget) to divide your expenses into categories.
- Adjust variable expenses to provide a monthly surplus.
- Match your spending to your plan. If you want to save $500/month then do this: your income – your expenses = $500 surplus which can be saved.
For help or accountability, we have online budget coaches who are trained to analyze and assist individuals in their unique situations.
Find financial freedom
Margin will grant you the ability to save and invest. This will ultimately reduce financial fear and stress which can promote restful sleep, work productivity, and overall health and happiness. In addition, generosity and contentment will lead to a new level of hope and joy. The greatest thing you will discover is the flexibility to follow wherever the Lord leads you, and that will ultimately impact your eternal rewards.
The goal of Biblical stewardship is not to order your finances in a way that you can spend whatever you want; it is ordering your life in such a way that God can spend you however He wants. This is the ultimate freedom that can be yours regardless of your income.
My personal turning point came when I began to learn God’s financial principles. I learned to give first and save second. This changed my priorities and helped me to be better at spending what remained. When giving and saving were last in my priorities, I struggled in all areas of managing money. Seeing myself as God sees me, as His steward, changed everything. I hope you will experience the same.
Thanks for writing. Let us know how we can help!
The Crown Stewardship Podcast is a valuable resource to help guide you in the many facets of God’s financial principles. You can subscribe for alerts of new episodes. I hope you find it encouraging and beneficial!
Chuck Bentley is CEO of Crown Financial Ministries, a global Christian ministry, founded by the late Larry Burkett. He is the host of a daily radio broadcast, My MoneyLife, featured on more than 1,000 Christian Music and Talk stations in the U.S., and author of his most recent book, Economic Evidence for God?. Be sure to follow Crown on Facebook.