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How to Make (and Stick to) a Budget

How to Make (and Stick to) a Budget

“I’m so content right now.”

Said the guy before eating his last bite of a juicy burger.

And the girl relaxing in her hammock on a sunny Saturday.

And the new mom sipping hot coffee in peace because her baby slept all night.

And no one ever after looking at an online banking app.

Contentment seems more like a relaxation thing than a money thing. But the Bible teaches differently.

You’re probably familiar with the verse, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” It may even be on the back of a T-shirt you own. But did you know that this iconic verse actually appears right after a verse about contentment?

Paul had just said, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” So the “I can do all things” verse actually refers to Paul’s need for Jesus’ supernatural strength to be content in his financial circumstances.

The book of Hebrews affirms the connection between God’s presence and our contentment and says, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” (Hebrews 13:5)

Contentment is not a Christian virtue that gets much airtime. So why is Paul-level contentment a worthy goal? It glorifies God by acknowledging His sufficiency and it orients our heart, providing peace right where we are, no matter our financial circumstances.

Different generations are shaped by differing forces. I (Ron) grew up in Leave It To Beaver’s America. And I (Karen) grew up in Ferris Bueller’s America. The America that shaped you is another sort of different. No matter the generation, our culture encourages discontentment by sending messages of “more,” “better,” and “new.” Millennials are uniquely poised to embrace the call to radical contentment. They are working to define themselves in a more grounded way. They have had enough of materialism. They could even incite a contentment revolution. It would leave a remarkable imprint of faith, grace and hope on a restless world.

The verses in Philippians and Hebrews reveal three aspects of a contentment journey:

  • Relying on God
  • Engaging in a learning process
  • Being ok where you are right now

In our book, Never Enough? 3 Keys to Financial Contentment, we call these aspects of contentment “perspective, principles and the pie.”

Perspective: Relying on God

Psalm 24:1 says the earth and everything in it belong to God. “Everything” includes your money. Do you see yourself as an owner or a manager of your resources? Who calls the shots about your stuff?

And what difference does believing “God owns it all” make? We have seen firsthand that people who rely on God as the owner of their money are more confident, more content and more free in their finances. Why? Because believing in God’s ownership takes the burden of control off of our finite understanding and puts God’s infinite wisdom at the helm of our financial decisions.

Believing that God owns it all it is a big faith step, opening the door to a God-sized adventure. Jesus spoke frequently about money—always with the lens that our hearts and our money are integrally connected. By trusting God’s ownership and seeking His wisdom about money, we experience heart-level transformation.

Principles: Engaging in a Learning Process

Our habits determine our financial health, and developing healthy habits is a journey. God’s word offers five wise principles, or money habits.

  • Spend less than you make. (Proverbs 13:11)
  • Avoid debt. (Proverbs 22:7)
  • Save. (Proverbs 6:6-8)
  • Set goals. (Philippians 3:14)
  • Give generously. (I Corinthians 8-9)

These simple habits aren’t easy. Paul was right when he taught that becoming content involves lot of learning!

It’s easy to examine the five habits and know whether you do them. Take time to ask, “Where am I strong and where am I weak?” Celebrate your strengths and seek accountability on your weaknesses, taking small steps and being patient in the process.

The five principles work for anyone—any age, any income level and any level of natural affinity for budgets. They will work for you as you begin practicing them!

Pie: Being “OK” Where You Are

You may think you need “just a little more” to be able to actually DO the habits.

The fact is: You don’t. That’s hard, but it’s true.

The writer of Hebrews says, “Be content with what you have.” Before you start angling for more income, take an honest inventory of how you spend what you already have.

Each of us has an income. We call the total of that income your “pie.” The money in your pie can be spent in four ways: Live, Give, Owe (Debt and Taxes) and Grow.

By examining the numbers inside your pie’s wedges, you encounter reality: Priorities always compete with one another. Everyone struggles between debt payments and savings goals or between lifestyle spending and the desire to be generous. Financial decision-making means allocating limited resources among unlimited alternatives. Knowing both our limits and our financial priorities at any given time helps us to make hard financial decisions.

So, before believing that the answer to greater contentment is more money, choose to accept the pie that you have and the challenges it represents. You can, with thoughtful application of the five habits, shift your spending so that your wedges reflect your priorities. Practicing contentment within the bounds of what you already have lets you experience financial freedom where you already are.

The work of contentment not easy, but the journey is worth it. Remember that you don’t have to yield to fear, shame or greed along the way. He will never leave you. He will never forsake you. And, you can do all things through Him who strengthens you.

We believe that you can be the contentment generation.

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