In COVID season, money feels a little less reliable than ever. Job insecurity and government gridlock leads to financial anxiety, and almost all of us are probably a little concerned about what the future might hold. The budget just isn’t adding up the way it used to, and that illustrates something important about how money works …and how it doesn’t.
There are those who believe finance is merely an exact mathematical science. In fact, finance is an exact mathematical science—until a human touches it. Personal finance is who you are. Your personal, philosophical and emotional problems, and strengths will be reflected in your use of money. If you are disciplined, you have the potential to set some aside. If you are selfish or self-centered, you will surround yourself with expensive toys you cannot afford.
The character of money
Larry Burkett, a noted author on this subject, says money problems are normally not the real problem but instead are only the symptom of a personal shortfall. An extreme amount of money or extreme lack of it magnifies character. A person not totally committed to honesty will tell white lies and sometimes even commit fraud by lying on a loan application when money is tight.
In his sermon “A Life Above the Ordinary,” Doug Parsons tells an interesting story about character. One of the richest men in America owned a huge company. This gentleman pointed out a low-level manager to his upper-level staff. The owner noticed the young man because of his work ethic and talent, and commented that this young man would be a regional manager long before his time. Sure enough, the young man was promoted up through the ranks to the point that his next promotion was to be regional manager. When the owner became aware of this, he flew down to personally give the young man the promotion over lunch.
On the big day, as they were going through the cafeteria-style line for lunch, the owner noticed that the young man deliberately hid a one-cent pat of butter under his roll so as not to be charged for it. The lunch went fine—except that no promotion was given—and when the owner returned to his offices, he had the young man fired.
A close friend of mine suggested that such an extreme action was a bit severe and presumptuous. Whatever the other circumstances, the point is that the owner understood that the young man’s character flaw of dishonesty would be magnified under pressure and, like a weak spot in an inner tube, would eventually blow out.
Independent of what?
Many Americans have identified a concept in the last 30 years, something we all strive for: financial independence. Independent from what? Can you gain enough money to never have to worry again? Can you gain enough money that you can protect your family from injury or sickness? Can you accumulate enough money to be guaranteed you won’t lose everything due to war, famine or the collapse of financial markets? I’ve never heard of anyone who could hoard this much money.
You can never be totally independent. Money is active, and you must keep managing it and moving it, no matter how much you attain. You should handle your money well and try to gain as much as you are able, but this pursuit should not be all-consuming. You must be careful of spending all your energy and time trying to reach “financial independence” because this place is as nonexistent as the golden calf the Israelites worshiped.
The dirty word
We have discussed how the strengths and weaknesses in your life will affect your finances, but we cannot leave that subject without dealing with one of life’s dirtiest words: discipline. You will have conflict, worry, shortages and a general lack of fun until you achieve some discipline in the way you handle your funds. You don’t have to run or live in a financial boot camp, but you must start to think before you swipe that card. You must begin to look at your finances differently than how you have in the past. You must recognize that you need to bring your finances totally under your control.
To give or not to give?
The last spiritual aspect you must understand is farming. No farmer has ever grown a crop without planting some seed. Personal growth requires that you give money away. The institutions to which you give will survive if you don’t give, but you will have missed an opportunity to benefit. If you feel like you don’t have enough to give, start by giving small amounts and by donating your time. You can always give something.You need to plant the seed of self-growth, and you can do this only by giving. I meet very few well-balanced, happy, healthy, wealthy people who don’t give money away.
You must, however, beware whom you give to and what they do with the money. You must be responsible with your giving. John Wesley said, “Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” Giving helps us keep proper priorities in our lives. It is essential to good money management.