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  Financial Planning for ChristiansThursday, December 7th, 2023  
by Reynolds Griffith

Tom and Lisa felt that they weren't getting anywhere financially though Tom made a good salary. They went to see Don Grunden, a Certified Financial Planner who was a Christian. His first question to them was, "What are your goals?" "Well, we want to be better off financially," was Tom's answer. "Of course, we want to serve God too," Lisa added. Don asked them that question because a starting point for all financial planning is establishing goals. You do not plan just to be planning, but to reach your goals. All your goals affect your financial planning, even goals that are not primarily financial. Financial planning is the whole process of arranging your finances to make it most likely that you will achieve your goals.

Sometimes Christians react negatively to the idea of planning, thinking it unspiritual. They may say, "shouldn't we just depend on God?" or "didn't Jesus say not to take any thought for tomorrow?" The answer? Yes, we should depend on God in our planning and in carrying out our plans. We avoid our plans being merely what we want, but we don't sit back and expect God to do everything without any active cooperation on our part. Most translations agree that what Jesus said was do not be anxious, do not worry. In the illustration of building a tower and counting the cost (Luke 14:28) Jesus taught the importance of planning. Other places in scripture, especially Proverbs, make the same point.

Basic Principles for Christian Financial Planning
There are three basic principles which should govern our finances as Christians. The first is that it all belongs to Him (see e.g., Psalms 24:1). Not just what we give in our tithes and offerings, not just what we recognize as belonging to Him, but the whole world belongs to Him. Jesus is Lord - the creator and master of the universe - and this little planet with all its resources is His too. Some of it is in rebellion against its owner like the tenants in the parable of the vineyard (Matthew 21:33-41). That does not change the fact of ownership. Recognizing this principle requires a drastic shift in our thinking. We are used to saying "my house, my car, my paycheck". If we "give back" to God a tenth of our income, we think we're something special. In fact, we can't give any of it to God - it already belongs to Him. It's not easy to adjust to thinking of all we have belonging to Him. However, it's an important attitude that should underly all our financial planning.

The second principle is that He loves us and wants to provide for us, as Paul assures us in Philippians 4:19. It relates to the first principle because He not only wants to provide for us, He has the means to do so. As Psalms 50:12 puts it so poetically, His are the cattle on a thousand hills. Thus Jesus tells us not to be anxious about food or drink or any such matters (Matthew 6:25-34). He assures us that our Father knows that we need such things. He will provide them for us if we keep our priorities straight and put His kingdom first. If we are willing to provide for our children, how much more will our Father in heaven provide good things for us (Matthew 7:11). Will He really provide material goods for us and not just spiritual? Yes! The experience of His love in this fashion helped bring me back to Him some years ago. I was virtually bankrupt and had no income coming in for the summer. As I struggled to figure out who Jesus was and whether I should commit myself to Him, He lovingly provided for me and my family, though sometimes I didn't know from one week to the next how. Even after such an experience it's surprisingly easy to slip back into relying on our own efforts rather than on Him. The world tells us that if we don't look our for number one, no one else will, and that we must grab for what we need. Thus, most Christians (including me too often) conduct ourselves as if our loving Father were off in a foreign country from whence He'll someday return to help us. How much better off we'll be if we rely on Him here and now instead of relying on ourselves and being anxious.

The third principle is that we're His stewards. We're not familiar with this concept - about the only time we hear it is when our church is having a fund raising drive or trying to enlist our help for some project. If we go back to the first principle, we realize that the meaning of stewardship can't be just giving since it all belongs to Him anyway. Rather a steward is someone who cares for his master's property or business (e.g., Joseph in Genesis 39:4). Someone suggested that the term manager might be more meaningful to present day Christians. It may help, but the role of many managers doesn't convey the sense of personal responsibility and care required of a steward.

Being God's steward means that we seek his will not only in how we give to our church and other ministries, but in how we use all the assets and income He entrusts to us. Since most of us don't expect Him to speak directly to us often, a knowledge and application of scripture is important in this area of our lives as it is in other areas. (Of course, we would benefit by listening more for Him to speak directly to us too).

These three basic principles of Christian finances are not easy to apply consistently. Worldly influences and the accumulated habits of years are not thrown off overnight. Even Paul lamented about the influence of the flesh on his actions (Romans 7:14-25). Nevertheless if we keep the principles ever before us, we can bring our finances under the lordship of Jesus just as we strive to bring the rest of our lives.

The Next Step:Goals and Plans
Goals Are Important. As Don emphasized to Tom and Lisa, having goals and plans is important. Without them, you are carried along by whatever current you happen to fall into. Like Tom and Lisa, many people would say their goal is to be "better off financially" or, if they are Christians, that their goal is "serving God". Neither is adequate as a goal. Your goals must be more clearly stated. Even specific goals like buying a car or getting a better job need stating in more definite terms and translated into what it will take over how long. Unfortunately, many people don't set goals. They drift along only to wake up at age 40 or 50 wondering what is happening to them and why they don't have any financial resources.

Kinds of Goals.
You may have many kinds of goals. Goals don't have to be financial - you may want to take a vacation or improve your physical condition or complete a Bible study program. But even non-financial goals often have financial implications and impact your financial planning. Goals can be long-term, short-term, goals that are ends in themselves, goals that support other goals. In any case, you need to convert all your goals into specific objectives and back them up with concrete plans in order for you to have much chance of achieving them.

Setting Goals
Goals are personal. Everyone will not have the same goals, although many people's lists will overlap. Unfortunately, many people don't have a list, so instead of goals they have vague notions. Here's a procedure for setting goals so you can have a clear vision of them.

A good starting point is a technique called brainstorming. Sit down, open your mind, and think of possibilities. List everything that occurs to you that you might want to accomplish or avoid. You may have seen this technique applied in groups where the rule is that you can't say anything negative about anyone's suggestion. The same rule applies for your own use. If a possibility pops into your head, don't say, "Oh, that won't work" or "Oh, I could never do that." Put it down on your list.

After you make the list, go back and examine it. Ask yourself, "Are any of these goals in conflict with what God wants? Which are important to me? Which of these goals am I willing to pay the price to achieve?" Goals do have a price attached - not only in money, but also in time, effort, and other resources. Answering these questions will narrow your list, though you may still have many goals that would be worthwhile. Next, rank the goals in their order of importance. Concentrating on those of highest priority makes sense when, as would often be the case, you cannot work on all your goals at once. In setting priorities don't neglect those things that are of importance to God. If you are a father, for example, you have a responsibility to care for your family beyond merely providing for them financially.

When Don first suggested to Tom and Lisa the need to put their goals in writing, their initial reaction, like many people's, was, "Why should we do that - they're just for us anyway." Don explained that it helps translate the goals from vague, up-in-the-clouds notions into concrete forms that can be attained. You can't write down a hazy undeveloped picture of where you'd like to be or use it in the evaluation process outlined above. Narrowing goals in a written list helps keep you from trying to go off in all directions at once and getting nowhere. Having a list of goals in a place where you can often see it serves to motivate you. It also sharpens your decision making - you can get in the habit of asking yourself "Which of my goals will this choice advance?" In a family setting goals do need to be communicated to others and family goals developed. If you are seeking outside help in your financial planning, having your goals in writing helps the financial planner help you.

Convert to Objectives.
You need a solid foundation of written goals to do a good job of your financial planning and decision making. Then you need to turn the list of goals into objectives. Objectives derive from goals, but they differ from goals in that they are specific, measurable, and have a time tag attached to them. The goal of getting more education, for example, might translate into an objective of getting a masters degree in industrial arts by May of 1993. There you have specified, not merely education, but the degree you want to complete. It is measurable whether you get the degree. The time period is specified; you want to have achieved this objective by May, 1993. For some of your goals there will be multiple objectives. To accomplish these goals, you must translate each into several specific objectives. For example, your goal of enjoying leisure might have the objectives of: (1) spending the first week of June in Florida, (2) going to the lake one weekend a month, (3) learning to bowl by March 1.

Family Goal Setting.
Setting goals in a family situation requires the co-operation of at least the husband and wife and preferably older children. Of course, you must convert family goals into objectives too. Then assign to particular family members the steps or actions that will be necessary to achieve the objectives.

Planning Actions
Your goals could be almost anything that you could think of. They are individual - not something imposed on you from outside (though pastoral advice and the teaching of the church can help us in avoiding inappropriate ones and in determining what God wants of us). After setting goals and objectives, you must carry through and plan how you can achieve these goals and objectives so they do not stay out there somewhere as a hope. You start developing a road map of how to get from where you are to where you want to be. You do this by analysing each particular goal, where you are in relation to it, and what steps you need to take to get there.

Analyze Your Goals.
First analyze each goal. What will it take to achieve it? Ask yourself such questions as: How much money will you need to accomplish the goal? For example, it may require $1,200 for you to take your vacation next June. (Consider the effect of inflation in making the estimate.) How much time will it require? (Not only calendar time, but effort time.) What skills, knowledge, or talents do you need to achieve the goal? If you do a good job of converting goals to objectives, this analysis will be easier, though it will require a great deal of thought in any case.

Analyze Your Position.
Next, you would analyze your present position. First, think about where you are financially. For example, you might have $200 already set aside in your vacation fund toward your trip next June. Preparing a personal financial statement can give you a useful overview of your present position. Preparing one annually is a way of measuring your overall financial progress. A personal financial statement is a summary of your financial position, including your assets (what you own), your liabilities (what you owe), and your net worth (the difference between assets and liabilities). Of course, you don't look merely at the financial aspects of your position. You see what talents, skills, and knowledge you have and compare these with what you need to attain the goal.

Amount Needed.
Then ask yourself - how much will you need to save as time goes by to achieve these goals, starting from where you are now? If it is ten months until June, you need to set aside about $100 a month in your vacation fund. Set Intermediate Objectives. Also make use of intermediate objectives or steps. That is, consider that long range goals won't be gained in one jump from here to there. Set intermediate objectives or steps that you will go through to attain these long range goals. The intermediate goals may make the long range goals seem more attainable. Retiring with $200,000 or even accumulating $10,000 for a downpayment on a house may seem unrealistic when you think about getting that far at once. If you break it down and say, "Well, that means I have to have $1,000 by next January, $2,200 by the following January", etc., it may not seem so difficult. Often the intermediate term goal by itself will seem more attainable, although at times the intermediate objectives may be so hard to reach that you rethink the realism of the ultimate goal.

Annual Plan.
Besides settling on long range goals and breaking them down into the intermediate steps or stages, you should have an annual plan. A year is a customary planning period. It is a short, reasonable period that you can picture.

You would start again with an analysis of where you are. Prepare a personal financial statement to summarize where you are at the start of each year. Then ask yourself "To be in line with what I am trying to accomplish, what do I need to get done over the next year? Where do I need to be a year from now compared to where I am right now?" Annual objectives give you something to shoot for right away - immediate plans that tie into longer term goals. Review.

Having made your plans, of course, does not mean you are through with planning. In the first place your goals and your plans are subject to change as time goes by. Planning is not something you can sit down and do now and expect the results to still hold five or ten years from now. You should have a regular process of looking at your goals and plans from time to time. Make whatever changes that changes in circumstances, your attitudes, or your understanding of God's will call for.

Your annual planning should include a review of your circumstances, your goals, and the results of your activities. Your review could begin with a comparison of your financial statement now with the statement of a year ago. Such a comparison lets you measure your progress in financial terms. How well have you accomplished the annual plans and objectives which you set out last year? To the extent that you didn't, you need to understand why. Did external circumstances arise which prevented their fulfillment? Were the plans unrealistic to begin with? Sometimes you may undertake too much. Or did you simply fail to follow through consistently? Understanding the past year will help you to plan and set goals for the coming year.

What About Time?
Sometimes when people see recommendations such as those set out above, they say "This sounds like it would take a lot of time. How could I find the time to do all this?" One way to answer is to ask: if someone offered to pay you two or three times your usual hourly rate for working an hour or two each week in your own home, couldn't you find the time to do it? An hour or two a week spent consistently on your financial planning will easily be worth that much to you.

The problem of finding time to spend on your finances should make you see the importance of planning your time as well as your money. Recognize that you are a steward of time as well as of material assets. Time is an important resource - sometimes more important than money. It is easy to lose sight of this fact and waste it. A useful first step in planning your time is to keep track for a few weeks of where it is going. Record what you do during each part of the day and summarize how much time you spent on various activities. Your record often will spot non-productive areas which are taking too much of your time. The next step is to decide how much time you need to spend on certain activities, then schedule that amount for specific times during the week. It would not be surprising that if you begin analysing and planning your time, you can easily find the hour or two to spend on your financial planning. You will also benefit from time planning by assuring that you are not shortchanging important areas like time with your family and prayer and bible study time.

Basing your finances on the principles given here will give you a foundation of rock instead of sand. Build on that foundation with carefuly thought-out goals, objectives, and actions and you are well on your way to avoiding the anxiety about finances which plagues most people. Make Jesus truly Lord of your finances and the burden will be light.

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