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FIRST-PERSON: Financial adjustments in a post-9/11 world

GAINESVILLE, Ga. (BP)–As a result of world conditions today, the financial dreams of many have been impacted by the decline in the value of their IRAs and mutual funds. Many who planned on early retirement now wonder whether they might have to work until they’re 70 or older. Others face the prospect of being unable to help their kids with college costs as much as they had once hoped they could.

In fact, all of us have realized that we must revise financial plans we had just a few years ago.

Revise your plans

In order to modify your plans, first there must be plans available for revision. The problem is that most Americans have lifestyles with vague dreams but no solid plans to fulfill those dreams. Now, more than ever before in recent history, families need to develop specific plans that will conserve their finances for the future.

A written plan is important for everyone, but it’s an absolute necessity for those in financial debt. And for God’s people, a written plan is crucial, because most Christians have lost the point of reference between needs, wants and desires.

Needs provide basic requirements, such as food, clothing, jobs, home, medical insurance and so forth. “If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content” (1 Timothy 6:8).

Wants involve choices about quality: steak versus hamburger or a new car versus a used car. “Your adornment must not be merely external — braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:3-4).

Desires are choices that should be made only with surplus funds after all other obligations have been met. “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world” (1 John 2:15-16).

Determine what’s essential

Stop spending for things that aren’t absolutely essential for living (see Proverbs 21:17). And utilize your individual skills to begin to cut down on expenditures that aren’t necessary. Often, we assume expenditures are essential because of our culture. Don’t forget, a few years ago most of the labor in the home was done by family members, not by professionals who charged for it.

Assess what things you can do on your own and eliminate frivolities. Once a family begins to do these things, whether in debt or not, it can become challenging and fun, and it will help stabilize your family life.

Think before buying

Christians who are in debt (and those who aren’t) should evaluate every purchase (see Proverbs 24:3). Is it a necessity? Have you assessed whether it’s a need, a want or a desire?

Do you really need to subscribe to that magazine or belong to book, CD or movie clubs while you owe others? Are you looking for the best possible buys you can get, or do you purchase simply because you have a credit card? Do you buy things that devalue quickly or require costly upkeep? (Things like boats, swimming pools and sports cars fall into this category.)

Stop buying on credit

Christians in debt should begin buying on a cash-only basis. Those with assets that can be converted into cash often wonder: “Should I sell this asset and pay off the debts?” Maybe, but only if the person first learns new spending habits; otherwise the symptom is treated rather than the problem.

If you’re in debt from the misuse of credit cards, stop using them. Cut up the cards and mail them back to their respective companies. In a letter, tell them not to send you any more, explain your plan for paying that debt, and then commit yourself to buying solely on a cash basis.

When you overextend your finances, it’s necessary to sacrifice some of the wants and desires in life to get current, otherwise you’ll continue to borrow and get deeper into bondage.

Practice saving

A Christian should develop the practice of saving money on a regular basis — even if you’re in debt. Even a few dollars a month helps develop a discipline of saving. This doesn’t mean to store up large amounts of money and fail to pay your creditors. Everyone in our society living above the poverty level has the capability to save money. But many don’t because they believe that the amount they can save is so small it’s meaningless. Just start to save small amounts on a regular basis and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Some believe that God frowns on Christians saving money. But, God’s Word says, “There is precious treasure and oil in the dwelling of the wise, but a foolish man swallows it up” (Proverbs 21:20).

The common attitude presented in the Bible is to save on a regular basis, and it is important that Christians develop good attitudes and habits to replace bad practices.

Plan your dream

No one can accurately predict the economic future. However, if you’ll utilize these biblical suggestions, develop realistic plans and stick with those plans, you’ll take a financial giant step.

Plans can always be revised, but first your plan must be available for revision. Put these steps into practice and you can still help with your children’s education. Be realistically creative in your planning, and do it God’s way. Who knows, it may still be possible for that early retirement, even if it’s not quite as early as you first thought.
Burkett is chairman of the board of Crown Financial Ministries. A Southern Baptist layman based in Gainesville, Ga., Burkett is the host of the national “Money Matters” radio program and author of two resources published by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention: “How Much Is Enough? 30 Days to Personal Revival” and “Jesus on Money.”

    About the Author

  • Larry Burkett