A five-minute guide to money (part two of a series on money management)

Yesterday in this space we shared a few tips that might help you get your finances in order. Very good advice–but as Christians, we have a larger framework to put that advice in.  Recently on the blog of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship Drew Larson laid out those principles–aimed at college students, to be sure, but useful for all of us. He begins,

Looking at your bank statement from last month is like meeting a stranger.

Does anybody recognize the “Last Month’s Transactions” person? I don’t know anyone who looks at their debit card history and feels like they’re seeing reality. What are all these purchases? $71.42 at Arby’s? Another $14 at some kind of board-game store? $37 for individual piano keys? Who is this person?

Money can be mysterious. Questions abound—questions that we weren’t lucky enough to get answered because our dads are not Dave Ramsey (at least, mine isn’t). At InterVarsity, though, we want everyone—and particularly students, who, if they’re anything like I was in college, are heavily investing their current revenue in Red Bull—to have a strong, healthy understanding of their finances in light of God’s biblical truth. And we want your time with Last Month’s Transactions Person to be like a coffee date where you sit down and discuss how you both are responsibly pursuing each other’s fiscal goals, as boring as that sounds.

He answers questions like:

What is money? (Have you ever really thought about that?)

How do we get money?

Why can’t we just spend money on whatever, whenever?

Because this isn’t science fiction; your money can’t be in two places at once. The $20 for Korean barbecue can’t also help pay the rent, or sponsor a child overseas, or keep the electricity turned on. This seems like common sense, but many people—myself included sometimes—regard money as something magical that can be spent and spent while still also remaining in their bank account. It doesn’t work like that. When it’s spent, it’s gone.

How do we budget, and where are some resources for doing so (free, of course?)

BudgetSimple, Dave Ramsey’s website, and BudgetTracker are all good resources. Those of you who are comfortable allowing a little extra information on the Internet might like Mint.com. There are also free iPhone and Android budgeting apps available, including iReconcile, Expenditure, MoneyBook, and Easy Envelope Budget Aid.

And….how does God view money?

First of all, it’s his money, just like everything else is his: talents, life circumstances, friends, the Earth, every breath itself (etc.). As an experiment, try calling it “God’s money” instead of yours, and see what happens.

Second, this is a great question to ask. The easy answer here is that God views your money as an extension of his will. Meaning, he gave it to you so that you could magnify his name by using it wisely (i.e., in ways that help advance his kingdom, like making sure the needy and suffering are cared for).

That sounds simple enough, but the truth is that money is a paradox: it is simultaneously a gift that God has given you that you can use freely and something that still belongs to God. This paradox can make spending money challenging.

How do we know how best to use God’s money? If we’re not going into debt, and we’re tithing, can we ever spend money on ourselves? How can we give things up for God without making it be a competition as to who can give up more? Drew concludes,

Like I said, it’s complicated. But God helps us live in the paradox, and really does speak to us about our money if we’re willing to ask and listen. What he speaks to you might be different than what he speaks to me, and that’s okay, as long as we’re both seeking him and asking him for his view of his money.

Hop on over to the website for the rest of his advice, and for lots more links to thoughtful reflections and free resources on budgeting, money management, and stewardship of God’s gifts.

Image: “Budgeting” by Keith Ramsey, used under a Creative Commons license.

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