Dave Ramsey’s motto is, “Live like no one else, so later you can live like no one else.” Essentially: live within your means (unlike most Americans) so you can become wealthy, meet all your family’s needs, and give generously (unlike most Americans). This makes sense. And it works. But there is a problem.
There are needs that need to be met NOW.
Dexter and I started sponsoring a child through Compassion when we were in high school. We both worked and had money to burn. However, the needs of our Compassion kid didn’t change when our Total Money Makeover began. When we went over our budget before starting our debt snowball, we had to pray about what was going to make the cut. We decided that being faithful to our sponsorship commitment was a way to honor God with our finances and are trusting him that our $38 a month won’t put us behind the schedule of his will.
Shortly after we began our debt snowball, a friend was called to ministry with Campus Crusade for Christ. She needed to raise support so she could devote herself full-time to the students she was working with. At first, I was bitter about the idea of giving money to someone to do ministry in the city where they already lived. Weren’t all Christians supposed to be loving the people around them and making disciples for Christ? I didn’t expect anyone to give me money to do what I was supposed to do. One day, I began thinking about my life and my schedule. My job was so time-consuming that I could barely feed myself and clean up afterward. I wasn’t eating healthily, I wasn’t exercising, I wasn’t immersed in Scripture the way I wanted to be, and I wasn’t being active in making disciples. I wanted to be obedient, but I was torn. I knew God wanted me to do quality work at my job, but I also know that my life isn’t about my work but about His work. Dexter and I talked and decided that since our cash flow allowed for it, we wanted to financially support someone who could devote herself to making disciples. We realized that God was calling us to participate in making disciples financially and trust him to provide money to pay off debt. Although we set our goal for being done with debt before making our commitment to Campus Crusade, we’re on and maybe even ahead of schedule for paying off our debt.
So, is the answer always to spend and bless? Probably not. Consider our next conundrum.
Dexter and I live about a mile from the college football stadium in our city. The team is good and the games are sold out. We thought that getting cable and opening our home as a place to watch the game on TV would be a good way to bless people in our town. Sure, a loaf of zucchini bread would be accepted, but what people in our town really want is access to the game. As we began to make plans, we realized we had a problem. We have a 24″ tube TV. This isn’t exactly crowd-friendly and won’t make our home the hub of game-time action. We began praying about buying a big, flat-screen TV. We knew there wouldn’t be room in the budget this month, especially because we have car and life insurance premiums due. I decided I was willing to part with the money we have set aside to redo our main-floor half-bath. I plan to do some superficial, cosmetic fixes instead of starting from scratch, and I hope to squeeze the paint and other supplies out of other areas in the budget. We decided on a 32″ Sony on sale at Best Buy. It was a great deal–even cheaper than the no-name brands they carry. My brother offered us his old 32″ tube TV when we went home to visit for his birthday, but we were so enamored by our Best Buy deal that we decided to get our fancy TV anyway.
That night at church, our house church leader mentioned he and his wife’s journey toward debt freedom during his teaching. I don’t even know how it was related to what we were studying–we definitely weren’t talking about money. Usually, I’m the one who’s gung ho about debt freedom, but hearing even a mention from someone else sparked a desire in me to pay things off faster. If we bought the TV this month, we would have only had about $25 extra to pay toward loans on top of our minimums–and that didn’t seem very fast to me. After church, I turned to Dexter and asked him what he thought about using our bathroom/TV savings to pay off loans and ask my brother if he would sell us his old TV. He agreed with my plan, and I texted my brother about the TV. My (wonderful, generous, super-cool) little brother responded saying that we could just have the TV and that he’d send it up with our parents this weekend.
I don’t have any clear-and-dry answers about when to and not to spend money, especially while you’re still in debt. I think about this balance a lot, however, and have a few tips for your decision-making process.
- Pray. I often pray that God will stop me from doing something stupid and impulsive, even though I have good motives. Once I make a decision, I pray that God will stop me if my decision isn’t in line with his will.
- Calculate the cost. Say I had an extra $500 to spend on a TV, but that I had an average of 6% interest on my loans. If that $500 was the last of the loans I paid off, I’d accrue interest on the unpaid money between now and my payoff date. If we pay off our loans in March 2014 as we originally hoped, we’d pay over $100 extra on our TV in loan interest that wouldn’t have been there if we’d just paid the money to the bank.
- Examine your motives. My motive for wanting a big TV, I thought, was to bless people. I realized, after we changed our minds, that I didn’t just want people to enjoy the game at my house, I wanted them to think I was a good hostess and that we had a nice home. I also realized that my motives for wanting to do an expensive overhaul of our bathroom were the same.
- Think about how you’ll feel after making the purchase. Proverbs 10:22 says, “It is the blessing of the Lord that makes rich, and he adds no sorrow to it.” I realized that I was going to be rather sorry about seeing the money for the TV go, especially in light of how little progress on repaying our debt we’d be making.
- Search scripture. James 1:27 says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after widows and orphans in their distress and to keep ones self from being polluted by the world.” TVs aren’t necessarily pollution (especially since our favorite channel is the Food Network), but I can much more easily find scripture that backs up spending money to support a fatherless child in Guatemala than I can find it to support buying a TV. Maybe the Bible has something specific to say about the purchase you have in mind. If not, what principles can you apply?
- Remember, it’s just money. I’ll be the first to admit that I can be a little…overzealous…about managing our money. My budgeting system involves envelopes, Quicken, and spreadsheets. Matthew 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” It’s important to remember that God wants you to be a good steward of your money, but he doesn’t want you to be obsessed with it. If it consumes you a little too much, consider trading duties with your spouse or involving him in the budget process a little more.