Sunday, October 5, 2014
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Money Matters
#2—Spending Matters

Introduction:

How many of you regularly run out of money before you run out of month? A friend said to me, “Money talks…mine is always saying, ‘goodbye’.” 

This is part 2 of Money Matters, and today we’re talking about spending money.  I said last week that money matters for several reasons: we need it to live, it is a test, it is a tool that can do a lot of good, but it’s a power tool and is dangerous.  Money matters, but it doesn’t matter most.  Loving God and people matters most, and we need to keep our values straight.  All this matters to God. 

I also said that I’m talking about money because I want something for you, not from you.  I want you to experience the joy of financial freedom and health.  I want you to experience the abundant life that Jesus offers, and that comes when we are following Him in every area of our lives.  So relax—I’m not going to hammer you for offerings.  Instead I want to invest in you. 

What is financial success?  Most people define financial success as being able to do whatever you want without worrying about money, being financially secure, set for the future.  I said last week that everything belongs to God.  He is the owner, we are managers.  God entrusts us with some of His stuff and asks us to manage it for Him.  Therefore, financial success has to be redefined as using God’s money as He directs. 

For the next three weeks, we’re going to look at how God wants us to spend His money, save His money and give His money.  Today: How does God want us to spend His money?

The Big Idea: How you spend money matters to God. 

1. Spending matters: it must be values-driven.

How you spend money should be a reflection of your values as a Christian who lives under the leadership of Jesus.  If someone looked at your budget, or checkbook, or credit card statement, what would they conclude is important to you?

As Christians, we believe that Jesus is the Lord and Leader of all of life—not just the religious part—all of it.  The gospel, the good news, is that God has acted in Jesus Christ to save us.  He has come to our rescue, reconciling us to Himself, and giving us a new life in Christ.  We become new creatures in Christ—the old is gone, the new has come.  All things become new, every part of our lives, including our money and stuff, comes under the leadership of Jesus.  This is what we mean when we say, “Jesus is Lord.” 

Spending matters because it reflects our values. So here is the question: Is your spending influenced more by our culture or by Christ? 

We live in a culture that encourages consumerism. “Consumerism is a social and economic order and ideology that encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-greater amounts.”  (Wikipedia)   “Get more!  Get more!”  This is the cultural message, and it leads to spending more than you can afford.  We end up buying lots of stuff we don’t need with money we don’t have.  Consumerism is characterized by these four things:

  • Greed (“I want more”).  Greed sounds so sinister, but it is simply always wanting more. Greed is never satisfied; no matter how much you have, you’ll always want more.  Ecclestiastes 5:10 “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.”  Let yourself get caught up in the consumptive lifestyle and you’ll never have enough.  Jesus warned us about greed in Luke 12:15 “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”  Watch out for greed!  Your life doesn’t consist of all your stuff.
  • Discontent (“I’m tired of this old stuff”). Rather than being greedy, the Bible counsels us to be content.  Hebrews 13:5 “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.’” Contentment is a tough deal.  When you couple our natural selfishness with the sophisticated effectiveness of commercial advertising, you have a wicked soup.  Some of the brightest minds in our nation are paid enormous salaries to create advertising designed to overcome your resistance, appeal to your weaknesses, and convince you that you have to have their product.  Consequently, our spending is often more under the influence of the media than under the leading of the Lord.  Too often, we are not led by the example of Jesus or the voice of the Spirit, but by the ads on TV, the consumptive style of our culture, and our own undisciplined impulses.
  • Impulse spending (“I’ve got to have it now!”).  Anyone else an impulse buyer?

ILL: I was in Costco on Monday to pick up one or two small things.  Then I saw a Bose Soundbar on sale!  On sale—in Costco!  I brought Laina over and explained all the benefits of a soundbar, how we could hear our TV better.  She didn’t buy it—so I didn’t buy it.  But I wanted to.  Here’s the thing: I didn’t go there looking for a soundbar.  I didn’t even think I needed a soundbar—until I saw one.  Fortunately, my wife saved me from an impulsive buy.

Greed, discontent, impulse spending…these fuel the consumptive lifestyle, and fourth:

  • It is almost always funded by debt.   (Review full list.)

This is how most people in our consumerism culture live.  We are Christians; we are called to be different.

As Christians we ought to determine our standard of living under the direction of Jesus.  We ought to do what we think Jesus would do if He were in our place and facing our options or choices.  The first step in spending money wisely is to determine a standard of living.  Said another way, we need to determine our values, goals and priorities so that we can make appropriate plans.  Our spending should be values-driven.  And as Christians, we begin that process by acknowledging that all we have belongs to God and prayerfully discover what He wants to do with it.

ILL: Tony Campolo is a professor of Sociology at Eastern University and is a well-known Christian author and speaker. Over 20 years ago I heard Tony talk about this and it really challenged me.  At the time, Tony was earning almost $100,000 a year from his teaching, writing and speaking.  But Tony and his wife sat down and discussed their values and what an appropriate standard of living would be for them, and decided they could live happily on $25,000 a year.  They invested the rest in helping the poor in their community and in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. 

It’s a matter of values.  What was important to Tony and his wife was not driving a new car or having all the latest toys; it was helping people and advancing God’s work.  Does anyone else find that challenging?  For most of us, myself included, our standard of living is determined by what we make—we spend it all!  But I’m convinced that Tony is on the right track.  We should determine our standard of living by our values, under the leadership of Jesus.

Consider this: (graph) in 2005, the top-earning 20% of the world accounted for 76.6% of the world’s private consumption, while the bottom 20% accounted for 1.5%.  The top 20% consume 50 times more than the bottom 20%. Friends, we are in that top 20%.  I don’t think we need to feel guilty about that, but we should be asking Jesus how He wants us to live.

Matthew 6:19-21 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” 

What is your treasure?  What do you value most?  Whatever your treasure is, that’s where your heart will be.  Christians believe that there are two lasting eternal values: God and people.  Everything else is temporary and therefore secondary. 

ILL: One man taught his daughter the true value of things by a trip to the dump.  They spent an afternoon at the dump not dumping garbage but observing waste.  Dad gave his daughter a pencil and pad and asked her to list every item she could identify.  The results were astounding.  There was a plastic swimming pool, a barbecue, several lawn chairs, Barbie dolls, bicycles, skateboards, toy refrigerators and stoves, radios and televisions…the stuff young dreams are made of.  Driving home, they pulled alongside a double trailer truck, piled high with the crushed remains of 10 cars.  Dad leaned over and reminded his daughter that the beautiful car they were riding in was ultimately headed for the same fate.  The whole day was a powerful reminder that everything we own will one day be junk.  All the things that have captured our attention and dominated our lives will someday smolder in stinking mounds of rotting garbage at the dump!

Moth and rust destroy, thieves break in and steal, stuff breaks and wears out.  So Jesus says, don’t let that be your treasure!  Check your values and then determine your standard of living accordingly.  Break out of the consumer lifestyle!

So here is the first challenge: think and talk honestly about what a Christian standard of living would look like for you.  What would Jesus do in my situation?  How would He live?  What would He do with my income?  Spending matters; it should be values-driven.

2. Spending matters: it must be planned.

Once you have determined an appropriate standard of living, then you have to plan how to reach that goal.  When we think of spending, we should always think of planning with it.  Planned spending is the opposite of impulse spending.  Planned spending is essential for financial success, which is using God’s money as He directs.

What do we call a planned spending?  A budget!  A budget is not restrictive; it is freeing!  A budget guides you and tells you when you are on course, just as a road map does when you’re driving in an unfamiliar area.  Not having the map creates frustration and anxiety; the same can be said about living without a budget. 

The average family’s ambition is to make as much money as they’re spending.

ILL: Many of us feel like the couple that was planning their budget.  The husband said to his wife, “Let’s start with the basic necessities: food, clothing and shelter.  Pick any two.”

A budget will help you control your spending and will actually stretch your money.  According to some financial counselors, a budget creates a 15-40% increase in disposable income just by directing your spending.

If you have no plan, no budget based on your values, then you are planning to live as an impulse spender.  When you buy things because they strike your fancy, appeal to you, or catch your eye, you are not only being irresponsible with God’s money, but you are headed for financial disaster.  Changing this one thing–becoming a planned spender rather than an impulse spender–would be worth the price of admission today!

Ron Blue in his book Master your Money outlines a four-step process for financial planning (which is new term for budgeting).

1.  Summarize your present situation.  Carefully examine where you are financially.  Many people have no idea how much they owe or own! 

2.  Establish your financial goals.  These of course, ought to be a reflection of your values and are formed under the leadership of Jesus.

3.  Plan to increase your cash flow margin.  Simply put, write out a budget in which you spend less than you earn so that you have a positive margin to invest, save and give.  Key words: plan to spend less than you earn!

4.  Control your cash flow.  Devise and use a system that allows you to live within the budget you wrote.  There are many ways to do that.  Many people effectively use the cash-envelope system: you put a designated amount of money in an envelope marked for a certain purpose, such as gas, food or clothes, and then you use it only for that purpose.  When the envelope is empty, you stop spending.  You can do the same thing in your checkbook by having several different ledgers that work like envelopes.  Or you can do it on your computer with a personal finance program.  You have to discover what works for you, but you must put your plan to work, or your budget will be just a good idea and nothing more.

Where do you start when it comes to planning your spending?  When you write your budget, I believe there are four priorities that the Bible says we are to pay first.

1.  Giving to God.  Proverbs 3:9-10 “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.”  Give God the first fruits.  Malachi 3 says that God expects us to give the first tenth of all our increase to Him, and if we keep it, we’re robbing God.  First, you give to God.  It’s not your money; it’s non-negotiable.

2.  Taxes.  Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar,” and Paul said in Romans 13:7 “Give everyone what you owe him: if you owe taxes, pay taxes.”  Taxes are a priority; don’t take my word for it, ask the IRS.  It’s not your money; it’s non-negotiable.

3.  Debt retirement.  Psalm 37:21 says “The wicked borrow and do not repay.”  If you don’t repay those who have loaned you money, you are stealing from them.  Debt retirement is a priority.  Romans 13:8 says “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another.”  If you have debts, you must repay them.  It’s not your money; it’s non-negotiable.

4. Savings. Most of us spend first and save if there is anything left.  But the Bible says in Proverbs 6:6-8 that we ought to learn from the ant and save first.  And I recommend that you do it automatically: have it done by payroll deduction or automatic transfer from your bank account.  In fact, I recommend that you do all four of these automatically—just have them taken out of your check right off the top (taxes already are).

When you write your budget, take your gross income and deduct these four things first; make them automatic.  What you have left is your net spendable income.  Plan your living expenses so that they are less than the total of your net spendable income.  In this kind of a plan, your living expenses are the fifth priority rather than the first priority.  Why?  Living expenses are discretionary; that is we are free to choose our lifestyle, at what level we will live.  But as Christians, we are not free to choose whether or not we’ll give to God, pay our taxes, and repay our debts.  And we should be wise enough to save before we spend it all.

There are some thoughts to get you started.  If you want more help on budgeting, I recommend your sign up for Financial Peace University.  And there are lots of good books:

Ron Blue, Master Your Money

Larry Burkett, How to Manage Your Money

Dave Ramsey, The Total Money Makeover

Spending matters: it must be values driven and reflect the leadership of Jesus; it must be planned, and finally…

3. Spending matters: it must not be financed by debt.

The Bible does not forbid debt, but it discourages it.  Proverbs 22:7 “The rich rule over the poor and the borrower is a servant to the lender.”  All of you struggling to repay debts at 16% know what it feels like to be the lender’s slave!  That is not what God wants for you.  Romans 13:8 “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another.”  If you do have a debt, pay it off—don’t let it remain outstanding.

Let me emphasize that the Bible doesn’t forbid all debt, but it does discourage it.  I realize that it is difficult (if not impossible) for most people to buy a house without debt, or to get a college education without debt.  But please exercise caution, and if you can avoid it or minimize it, do—especially credit card debt. 

ILL: In 2012, how much did banks spend for advertising for credit cards (MasterCard, Visa, Discover, American Express)? According to a study released in November 2013 by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, it was $17 billion!  That’s $54 per person for every man, woman and child in America.  Why?  They are spending billions to make many billions more on interest and fees.  In 2011, Chase, the largest bank in America, made $48 billion in interest revenue—almost half of their total revenue.  They made another $35 billion in fees—most of that from credit cards.  (http://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/current-events/banks-spend-credit-card-commercials/)

As of last month, the average American household owes $7281 on their credit cards (average of all households); the average for only those households carrying debt was $15607.  46.7% of American households are carrying credit card debt, and paying it off at rates that average almost 16%.

(http://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/credit-card-data/average-credit-card-debt-household/)

(http://www.bankrate.com/finance/credit-cards/rate-roundup.aspx)

Do you know what the banking industry calls people who pay off their credit cards every month to avoid paying any interest?  Deadbeats!  That is what we used to call people who wouldn’t pay their bills; now that’s what we call those who pay them on time!  They want your money!

Please, beware of debt. 

Debt costs you far more than you think.  For example, when you buy on credit, you the purchase price, and the interest.  But the true cost of debt is not only the interest you pay, but also the interest you don’t earn on that money.  Every dollar that is tied up in debt repayment is a dollar that is not available to be working for you, earning interest.  When you save, you make interest work for you: that is compounding.  When you are in debt, compounding is working against you doubly: in the interest you pay and the interest you lose.

ILL: For example, a $32,000 car (average new car price today) bought on credit at 4% (average interest today) for 72 months (average term) would cost you $500 a month.  If you had paid cash for a car and then put the $500 payment in a mutual fund averaging 7% for those 6 years, you would have $44,580.  Leave that $44,580 in the mutual fund without adding anything to it, and 35 years later, it would be over a half a million dollars.  (At 9%, it would be over a million.)  You could retire on what you lost by buying that car on credit!

I know that you’re thinking, “But I don’t have $32,000 saved to buy that car.”  Then don’t buy it.  Buy an inexpensive used car that you can afford, and save the money you were going to use on a car payment.

Many of us are debt-poor.  We have things we would like to do, causes we would like to support, people we would like to help, but we’re neck deep in debt and can’t do it.  Wouldn’t you like to be debt free?  How can you do it?

1.  Stop using credit.  Call a halt to all credit purchases. You can’t get out of debt until you stop going in!  For some of you who lack self-control that will mean plastic surgery: cutting up your credit cards and not getting any new ones.

By the way, if you are a deadbeat, you should know that the mere use of credit cards will cause a family to spend 34% more, regardless of whether the full statement is paid off each month or not!  When Ron Blue read that figure, he found it hard to believe, so he tested it.  For the next year, he and his wife retired their credit cards and paid cash for everything.  The result: their living expenses decreased 33% from what he had thought before to be a “bare bones” level.  It is harder to part with cash than to slap down a card, so you tend not to buy so impulsively with cash as with a card. 

If you can’t pay off your credit cards when the bill comes at the end of the month, I would encourage you to invite some of your friends over, throw a little party, preheat the oven to 450 degrees, take out a cookie sheet and spread out all those little plastic credit cards on the cookie sheet, stick it in the oven.  Then you can all join hands and sing Kumbaya and celebrate the new freedom that you have because you’re free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, you’re free at last! 

Stop using credit.  Buy only what you can afford now. 

2. Start systematically paying debt off.  Set up a schedule of debt repayment and stick to it.  Pay something on each debt each month so that your creditors will know you are serious about repaying them.  Concentrate on eliminating the smallest debt first.  Then you can apply that additional amount on the next biggest bill, and so on until you’re out.  (This is called snowballing.)  Precommit any extra income or extra amounts in your budget to debt repayment.  You might also consider selling assets you have to pay off debt. 

Get out of debt!  It may take awhile to get there, but it will be worth the trip.  What a wonderful feeling it is to be debt free! 

Conclusion:

Spending matters!  It’s God’s money!  We need to spend it wisely.  That means:

1.  Determining a life-style that is in keeping with our values.

2.  Establishing and following a budget.  When we know how God wants us to live, we need to plan accordingly.

3.  Getting and staying out of debt.  There are better ways to spend God’s money than paying interest.