After Part 1 of this series on Dollars and Sense, a friend reminded me how in the late 1970s my late wife and I helped him and his wife use the envelope system to set up their budget and account for every penny they spent. They credit that advice to helping them get out and stay out of debt. Twenty years and multiple moves later, our families were once again living in the same community and spending time together. My friend’s wife recalled a budget-oriented conversation she had with us.
“When we came back to Atlanta, we were with Buddy and Tootie right before Christmas. They were going Christmas shopping and were concerned about the expense. I shared how we have not been in debt since our friends Buddy and Tootie got us on a great budget program! Quick as a wink, Tootie said, “Man, we need to meet those people.” It cracked us all up.”
I share that story to emphasize how important it is to be diligent and consistent in living out one’s financial principles. We live in an advertising environment bombarding us with messages that happiness is but one credit card shopping spree away. Financial principles serve no purpose unless they are embraced and lived — daily.
When my late wife and I got married in 1972, the cost of living was far different from what it is today. The average price of a new home was $30,500, the average household income was $9,697, and a gallon of gas was $0.36/gallon.
When I married my second wife in 2017, the average price of a home was $318,700, the average household income was $57,652, and a gallon of gas was $2.55. The world is always in a state of change, and the financial arena is no different.
It is not enough to learn financial wisdom from reliable sources. It must be put into practice.
After arriving at the corner of Word and Wise, what financial principles did I develop and follow?
Having a financial strategy was/is the key to meeting family needs and advancing along the path to financial freedom. But to put these lessons into practice, my wife and I developed a set of financial principles to follow faithfully and zealously. We already knew what happened when we failed to be zealous. What was the outcome of merging what we learned from the Word and the Wise? Here’s the current Dollars and Sense Guiding Principles we employ:
Faith and Finances:
- Never an Owner — Always a Steward. God owns it all.
- Set aside money to give to God and those in need. Remember, gratefulness is the foundation for a generous spirit, and generosity is a hedge against a greedy heart.
- As husband and wife, decide at the beginning of each year how much you plan to give that year. For example, five percent of gross income goes to the local church and five percent to specific charities and ministries. Deciding in advance allows total freedom to give rather than giving based on what’s leftover every month.
- Consider your witness — make every decision based on its effect on the work and reputation of Christ.
- Never forget that someone can be of great value apart from wealth.
- Develop a budget — spend your money on paper first! Update as needed but at least annually.
- Establish an Emergency Fund – you must anticipate difficult times.
- In the event of two incomes, live on one of them. Do not adjust your lifestyle to match two incomes. Doing so will make later lifestyle changes difficult and adversely impact your savings/investments. My late wife and I faithfully followed this axiom. We had our children early in our marriage and initially found it more economical for her to be a stay-at-home mom. When she finally returned to the workforce, we decided to live on my salary and invest hers. This was the wisest financial decision we ever made.
- Save early, save often. This age-old truism alludes to the power of compound interest.
- If your employer offers it, take advantage of matching 401(k) contributions. (It’s free money.)
- Do not borrow beyond your ability to repay.
- Debt is a form of bondage. “Owe no man anything but to love one another.” Romans 13:8
- Only use credit cards if you can fully pay them off each month.
Things to Avoid
- Avoid impulse buying. Yes, I missed some excellent deals with such an approach, but I avoided the consequences of far more bad decisions.
- Avoid speculation — assess every opportunity and do not let others make your decisions.
- Avoid indulgence — discern between needs, wants, and desires.
- Avoid use of credit cards. Or see Principle#13
- How you spend is more important than what you have.
- Your checkbook reveals your true values and priorities.
- Learning to delay pleasure is a sign of maturity.
- Keep your finances current — learn to live within your income.
- Always seek/receive counsel from your spouse. Finances are a leading source of conflict in marriage. Make it a strength instead.
Our general strategy remains to live modestly on one income, embrace time-tested money management principles, live a lifestyle free of debt, and focus our identity not on the things of this world but in who we are in Christ.
TheBuddyBlog.com commends this list to you as I would a family heirloom.
Cherish and keep it, create your own list, and add to it. It will serve you well. Ignore these truisms, and you will eventually discover why their value is timeless.
I want to close this series with a reality check. The goal of having a financial strategy is to achieve financial freedom. But how do you spend your time once you have the freedom financially to live as you choose? The late Dr. Armand Nicholi, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, made the following observation about retirees:
“The people who feel the best about themselves after retirement are those who get involved in some kind of work or activity where they can make a contribution to others, such as volunteer work, mentoring, or teaching. Sharing your wealth through charitable giving and philanthropy is important, but sharing your knowledge is every bit as important. It’s the opposite of ‘fame and fortune,’ but it has lasting significance. I’ve often said — The fruit of my work grows on other people’s trees.”
Freedom spent serving only your self ultimately spirals into a cycle of despair.
Financial freedom makes it possible for us to serve others. And time spent serving others provides the foundation for deep contentment with meaning and purpose.
I hope you have found the Dollars and Sense series of some value and insight. These are the personal financial principles/guidelines that my wife and I aspire to live by. Still, I consider this list a “living” document in that I am always looking to add or edit new principles or quotes that are worthy of saving for future reference.
I welcome your feedback and commentary and invite you to share your own.
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash