How to Manage Your Money – So it Doesn’t Manage You!
There’s no doubt about it, God has blessed me financially.
A lot of people wonder, “Where did your money come from? Was it your books? Does the church pay you a lot?”
Don’t get me wrong: I still drive a Jeep Wrangler and only own one house (despite what the internet might say). My biggest splurge is that I own a lot of pairs of eye-glasses!
To be truthful, my first best-seller, “Pharisectomy ” made over $400,000. But, I only saw about $18,000 of that, which paid for my website and inventory! (Ironically, my books have yet to make me a profit haha). And any profit I make in the future, I’m already pre-committing it to the church.
And keep in mind, I don’t approve my own salary either. I have an independent board of trustees (and overseers) who make that decision based on national averages. And for most of my last two decades of ministry, that number has traditionally been way below average. And even when my board gave me an above-average salary I’ve generally given much of it right back to the church. (Which, I hope you all know by now, I’m not doing this for the money). Indeed, it usually surprises people to hear what my income has been for most of my adult life.
When Carolyn and I got into ministry, we were paid $9,250 a year /each. And this was our full-time gig! When I became a senior pastor of a sizable church, I only made $35,000 dollars a year — even though my predecessor in that same church made over 100k.
And, yes: these amounts were way below the national average – even back then. And finally, when we turned 30, we made the decision to plant our church – and live on less than $42,000 (and this was our combined income – both working full-time – with three kids) – which we happily embraced for several years as Substance took off.
Yet, even in those lean years, the Lord still enabled us to give away at least 10-25% of our income!
So how did we do it (and not die)? Well, it was supernatural for sure! We were given an amazing number of free vacations. And God always seemed to bless us in mysterious ways.
Yet, we were also quite disciplined in applying stewardship principles.
So, I often tell people: Wealth has little to do with income and opportunity. Indeed, it irritates me when people buy into these lies. In truth, it has everything to do with knowledge, self-discipline, and ultimately: generosity. And the good news is this, even if you’re currently paid minimum wage, you can become a millionaire if you start these disciplines early on!
Indeed, if anyone followed the financial plan laid out in the Old Testament, it’s guaranteed to make you rich. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how. (See my blog on the Jewish system of Tsadakah).
But, to get more practical, what are some financial disciplines that made the biggest impact? Allow me to share a few principles that I call my “Financial Rules of Thumb.”
FINANCIAL RULES OF THUMB
- Early on, Always Prioritize things that Appreciate (grow in value) verses Depreciate (lose value). Appreciative things are generally houses, mutual funds, real-estate, collectibles. Depreciative things are cars, furniture, appliances, electronics, clothing. In fact, newer cars (less than 5 years old) can be one of the biggest depreciating assets the average person could own. Most new cars lose 25% of their value when you drive them off the lot! And they often lose 60% of their value in the first five years! Owning a car in the first five years of its life generally costs an extra $20 a day. That’s $25,000 in the trash every five years. Now, instead: if you put 25k into investments by 25 years old, you’d have over 12 million dollars by the time you retired – even if you never put another dollar into it!  Young people often ask me: “Does a college education appreciate?” Honestly, it’s way more complex because, it depends on your school and degree! (And if you’re curious, I have an entire blog called “Financial tips for young adults”)
- Always pay off credit cards 100% every month – Never use it as a loan as it’s the worst type of loan! If you must get a loan, only get them for things that appreciate – not trips, cars, electronics, etc. And even then, don’t use a credit card to do it. For example, if you must get a loan, use “home-equity loans” instead of credit cards. Or talk to a smart financial friend about the other types of loan options that are safer and lower interest.
- Always have 3-6 months of your salary in a rainy-day fund. This may sound impossible for many of you at the current moment. And if this is you, we encourage you to take a Dave Ramsey “Financial Peace University” class here at Substance to show you how to get here. In fact, the average person who goes through it pays off over $5300 of debt in just 90 days! But, here’s why this is a critical rule of thumb: Statistically, most couples have a major financial set-back every decade (eg., a medical expense, a job loss, etc.) So, by having financial margin, you can purchase “peace” (See Prov. 21:20). Don’t wait for a crisis. Plan for it, and punch it in the face! And this is similar to my next rule of thumb:
- “Financial Maps avoid Financial Traps“ I once had a friend who racked up a lot of credit card debt. They told me:
“I didn’t have a choice because, my car broke down and then my grandpa died – so I needed to buy a plane ticket to his funeral.”
Of course, at that time, my friend wasn’t ready to hear the fact that: unexpected problems occur every year! And you can often anticipate them in advance.
For example, the average car costs $800 a year in maintenance and requires $1200 a year in repairs. Thus, if you simply budgeted $2000 a year for car-maintenance, your “disaster” could’ve merely been a “downer.” I.e., your budget can cushion your breakdown. Or, I like to say: “A plan can prevent a pinch!”
And I get it: Getting a budget is irritating – especially if you’re not a very organized person. But guess what? Pain is not an option! The pain of “planning and prevention” is much better than the pain of “reaction and devastation.” For example,
statistically, the average person has a predictable number of weddings / funerals / car repairs etc. every single year. Thus, it’s better to avoid these financial traps by getting financial maps! Again, pain is not an option. But the pain of prevention is always easier than the pain of regret! Or to put it another way: The tuition for the school of hard-knocks is always more expensive than the school of wisdom! It’s time to change your alma mater!
- Never spend more than 25% of your income on your home mortgage. If you do, you’ll become “house-poor.” I.e., You won’t have an adequate amount of money to plan for other things that make life work. I realize that this can be frustrating and difficult (especially if you’re a first time home buyer, or you live in a high priced area). It’s OK to have a dream-house in your heart. But, it’s critical that you allow God to give it to you at the appropriate time. Embrace the humility of a starter home – or you’ll experience the humiliation of being house-poor. Financial experts like Dave Ramsey recommend that people also get 20% equity into their house (E.g, on a $500k house, own at least, $100k of it). The reason is so that, when housing bubbles bust (and they do), you can avoid getting an upside down mortgage (owe more on the house than it’s worth). Of course, if you’re a first time home-buyer, it can feel impossible to save up a 20% down-payment. Thus, I say, 5-10% down is acceptable for first-time homebuyers. However, make it a priority to get this up to 20% as soon as possible.
- Always put God first in your finances: “Seek first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [that the pagans run after] will be given to you as well.” (Mt. 6:33). Indeed, I could sum up what the Bibles teaches on giving like this: Save 10% your entire life. Give 10% of your income through your local church. And be generous on every occasion. And when we do, “God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” 2 Cor. 9:8. Indeed, my wife and I have always tried to live on less than 75% of our income (no matter how small it was). And it’s crazy how many miracles we’ve experienced.
“But Peter, what if I’ve already screwed everything up!” Well, it’s never too late to start! Even if you are currently 40 years old, if you started saving 10% each year, the interest alone would net you $45,000 / year by the time you retire. Dave Ramsey even claims that, if you’re willing to live disciplined for 12 years, he can guarantee you’ll be a millionaire if you do his seven steps with a vengeance. But, even if you’re 75 years old, the Bible promises that the righteous will never be forsaken! (Psm. 37:25). God will always add supernatural opportunities to us when we put him first (2 Cor. 9:8; Mt. 6:33).
Now, I can’t say that all of the above things were easy to do! My kids were “the last in their school” to get Iphones (or, so they told me, haha). My family of five shared one small bathroom with one pedestal sink for many years. We had to shower in shifts! (And this was after Substance was already meeting in four locations!) So, trust me: we had to make a lot of sacrifices to build what we’ve built. But, Dave Ramsey’s words were proven true: “If you live like no one else now, you can live like no one else later.” God has given us an abundance that is truly fun! And I want the same for you too!
So let me pray for you:
Lord, you see this person’s heart. And your word says that, “you send both poverty and wealth” (1 Sam 2:7). And it’s not because you’re mean. Indeed, you want us to live life to the fullest (John 10:10). But you love us too much to bless us with resources that can also destroy us. So, Father, give us the stewardship that can enable you to trust us with more. Give us the integrity that can sustain the weight of your dreams! Surround us with mentors and fill us with the self-discipline to truly bring you glory in this area. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Want More? See my Financial blogs:
- “Financial Tips for Young Adults: Best decisions during & after college”
- “What does the Bible really teach about tithing and first fruits?“
- “Become A Millionaire With A Few Small Decisions About Cars“
CITATIONS / FOOTNOTES:
 Our church has a board of independent trustees and overseers who participate on a “Compensation committee.” They usually acquire a compensation study from a data group who informs them on “typical ranges of income” for pastors based on church size, income, education, region, etc. And then they vote on this.
 Actually, it was even less than this because, Carolyn and had always split the lead-pastor salary (as we’ve always acted like Co-pastors). I.e., we both worked full time off the same salary. So, the church finally split it up: paid me $35k and her $10k – which makes me moan a bit – thinking of how much Carolyn is worth. But, we basically split 45k ($22,500k each) for our first 9 years – even though a lot of churches offered us three times as much.
 The reason it was so low was because, I took over the church after our founder was caught having an affair. The income had been swinging downward. So, to prevent layoffs, we kept things to a minimum.
 I explain the three types of tithes in the Old Testament and how they compared to discipline of First-fruits – which were practiced all the way into the New Testament era.
 If someone invested $25,000 at a 12% annual return when they were 25 and left it untouched until age 70, they would have approximately $12,664,908.29.
 And this is especially true if you live in Canada where the laws can reset mortgage rates for everyone.
 If you were 40 years old, and had the median income of a typical Minnesotan, and saved 10% ($7770) for 30 years, at a 12% annual return with annual compounding, the approximate total amount in the fund would be $382,268.07. And 12% interest would be in the mid-40’s each year.