So far in this series, we’ve talked about the need to learn and obey God’s financial principles, how to start and live on a budget, and overcoming debt. If you’ve been reading along and following our practical tips, you’re probably starting to notice that rearranging your financial priorities brings significant changes in all of your other priorities. If I asked you, “How’s are you doing on this new financial journey?” a truthful answer would probably include a variety of thoughts and feelings.
On the one hand, you are probably experiencing the incredible peace and joy that comes from knowing you are realigning your life with God’s will and His ways. With the help of the Holy Spirit, you are probably excited about the possibilities that await you.
Some may begin feeling a sense of accomplishment after they pay off a debt or make it through a pay period without using any credit cards. There could be an increased sense of security as you begin building your emergency savings account and realize that everything won’t crumble to pieces when things start to fall apart.
As you make prayer your first move whenever you make a financial decision, you will find that your relationship with God is growing and deepening. You’re learning to depend on Him and trust Him to give you wisdom and provide your needs. These are all great things.
On the other hand, it would be unrealistic to imagine that the first few months on a new budget would be a bed of roses. Why? Because you’re implementing massive changes in your life and your family’s life. Change is always difficult.
Some of you may be struggling to live within spending limits for the first time. Anyone whose gone through this knows that it’s hard to say “NO” to the flesh when it’s screaming, “I want, I need, I’ll probably die if I don’t have!”
Other people may be finding out that their budget needs to be adjusted. Perhaps you didn’t allocate enough money for an area that you really can’t live without. For instance, maybe you didn’t allow enough money for gasoline, and you need to drive to work. What do you do?
Maybe you simply have questions that need to be answered, and you’re not sure who to ask. After all, don’t we all need to occasionally stop and ask for directions when we’re driving on a new road?
Maybe you’re wondering, “What do I do with leftover money?”
“How do I handle unexpected emergencies?”
“What do I do when things in my life unexpectedly change?”
These are all valid questions that everyone asks as they begin living on a budget and obeying God’s financial principles. Over the next 2 months, we’re going to share some of the things we learned during our first year of living on a budget. Think of it like getting directions from someone who’s already been on this road. We know where the bumps, potholes, and speed traps are located; let us share that information with you by telling you our story. Here goes:
Most of you know that our family began following God’s financial principles, living on a budget, and eliminating debt from our lives during the financial crisis of finding out that my Dad had a very large secret debt. (Again, if you want to hear the whole story, you’ll have to read previous articles.) At that point, my Mom (who had no financial experience) began studying the Bible and Christian financial resources and applying everything she learned to our lives. At that time, we were very excited about living on a budget. Because Mom and I are both type-A personalities, we tried meticulously to live within the boundaries of the budget and the guidelines suggested in the Christian resources.
Then we were faced with some unexpected surprises. Not only that, but we ran into issues of not budgeting enough for expenses that were necessary to our lives.
For instance, during this time my Mom and brother were experiencing a lot of health issues. Medical bills went beyond the recommended 5%. What should we do? We were absolutely opposed to eliminating our budget, but our then current budget didn’t allow for life’s necessities and emergencies.
Fortunately, God directed us through the wisdom of an older, wiser pastor who pointed out that it didn’t have be all or nothing. We didn’t have to abandon our budget; we needed to make adjustments to it. Just because a Christian resource recommended a budget be divided into certain percentages, didn’t mean we had obey those percentages like they were a law. If an emergency came up, it was okay to use discretionary money that was allocated for something else to pay for the emergency.
We needed to learn although it is very important to live on a budget; there are times you will need to be flexible. Eventually, everyone living on a budget will learn the same lesson. So how do you do it?
Well, let’s start with the issue of flexibility in non-emergency situations.
This would apply to circumstances where you initially didn’t allocate enough funds for a particular area of need. For example, perhaps you didn't allocate enough money in your budget for travelling expenses and gasoline. Even though you are are combining trips, carpooling, and driving less to cut back and live within their budget, you still need more money for gas. I’ll be honest and say, living in a rural area where travel is a necessity; we were faced with this problem. Not travelling wasn’t an option---we just have to figure out how to pay for it!
That’s where the principle of flexibility enters the scene. It’s time to once again apply the lesson we learned years ago when we didn’t have enough money set aside for medical bills. Back then, to pay our medical bills, we prayed and sat down as a family and searched the budget for areas that could be cut back. Then we redistributed those funds into the areas that needed more funds.
For example, when we started our budget, we initially had a percentage set aside to save for a vacation. Well, that was one of the first funds eliminated and redistributed toward life’s necessities. When the cost of gas went up, our clothing allowance went down. Are you getting the picture?
Life isn’t perfect. No two families are alike. You may look at my family budget and say, “They are spending way too much money on gasoline.” That’s probably because you’re life is within driving distance.
On the other hand, I may look at your budget and say, “I can’t imagine spending that much on food.” But if you’re feeding 6 people and I’m only feeding 3, then you’re going to need a larger food budget than I do.
The key to budgeting is making a plan that incorporates your family’s needs with your family’s income. From time to time, that will mean making adjustments. Only you and your family can honestly look at your needs, your fixed expenses, and your lifestyle and determine where you can do with less and where you need more.
It’s important to understand and accept that this will be an ongoing process for the rest of your life. You’ll constantly be adjusting, readjusting, tweeking, and redefining your budget as your lifestyle, income, and needs change. Although the basic principles of budgeting are universal and apply to everyone, how you make your budget balance will change many, many times throughout your life. Like everything in life, you need to embrace the change and go with the flow. Flexibility.
While we’re on the topic of flexibility, let’s talk about the need to be flexible in emergency situations. For example, let’s say you’ve just started putting your financial house in order. You’re living on a budget and trying to establish an emergency savings account. You’re on the road to financial recovery and success.
Then you have a bad day. The car breaks down, the sink is leaking, and the doctor bill that arrived from last month’s appointment was higher than you expected. What do you do?
First of all, here’s what not to do—don’t take out the credit card.
Instead, take a deep breath, pray, and look for places in your budget where you can be temporarily flexible.
Perhaps your spending or entertainment allotment could be temporarily cut to help pay for one of the bills. Maybe you could take some from your clothing allowance and wait until next month to shop for clothes. It doesn’t mean these allowances have to be permanently changed, but this month—you need money fast. There have been many times (especially when we were doing necessary repairs to our house) that we would tighten the budget as much as possible to pay for expenses without going into debt. The next month, after the bill was paid, we’d return to our normal budget pattern.
However, I need to be clear. There is one area in our budget where we cannot apply the flexibility principle. We can absolutely never allow the principle of flexibility to keep us from paying our tithes. This money belongs to God and it cannot be redistributed to any other area. Malachi 3:8 calls this stealing from God. If we want God’s blessings on our finances, we cannot steal from Him. There are plenty of other areas to be flexible without touching our tithes.
For the Christian, the best way to know when to be flexible is to pray and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. When you are faced with a financial challenge, the first thing you should do is ask the Holy Spirit how to deal with it. In fact, you should have the entire family pray and seek God’s direction. Who knows, the Holy Spirit might use another member of your family to share the idea of how to face the challenge.
Then after you’ve prayed, follow the Holy Spirit’s leading as to where to be flexible and where to stay on your budget. Because God allowed the circumstances to occur, He will tell you how to pay for it.
Sometimes that means altering our plans to follow God. That’s the best way to be flexible—when you know you’ve prayed and are following God’s will.
Hopefully, this helps you better understand what the Bible has to say about flexibility in your finances. Join us again next month as we share some of the other lessons we learned on our journey to financial freedom.
Looking for More Biblical Teaching on Finances? Check out our Video Series, "Five Minute to Financial Freedom"