BY GREG LOVE
First of all — you’re not alone in your uphill battle against debt.
“Save more and spend less” is consistently one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions.
And for good reason. 49% of full-time working adults in the United States — polled across generations from millennials to Gen Xers to baby boomers — say they find it difficult to meet household expenses on time each month. If nearly half of Americans with jobs have trouble balancing routine bills, it’s no wonder that eliminating debt presents such a challenge for many of us.
Any financial professional would tell you that the way you manage your money overall can either be considered wise —living within your means —or foolish —spending more than you earn. But more specifically for believers, the question of foolish spending and debt really is a question of stewardship.
Are you handling your money in a way that honors the Lord?
In Matthew 25:14–30, Jesus’ parable of the talents clearly communicates that we are to be wise stewards of the resources entrusted to us.
We are encouraged not to approach our finances with only ourselves in mind. We are to approach our finances with the One who owns it all in mind.
And although you may live by this principle now, missteps may have happened along the way, leaving you with more debt than you would care to admit. So, let’s get you back on track in 2020 with these seven helpful tips to lower your debt and adopt a posture of biblical stewardship:
- Acknowledge that God owns it all. Recognizing that your money, time and resources are not your own but rather gifts from God is the first — and most important — step in helping reframe your view on money to a biblical perspective.
- Write down your financial goals. Do you want to eliminate your debt? Send someone to college? Formally organizing your ideas creates a clear vision and almost always a stronger sense of follow-through.
- Create a budget. Whether you use a modern budgeting tool or an old-fashioned paper and pencil, knowing how you are spending, saving and investing your hard-earned dollars is an empowering step. Once you’ve established your plan, be sure to monitor your monthly expenditures to stay on track and make changes if necessary.
- Stop spending more than you earn. Although easier said than done, intentionally saying “no” to non-necessity items will significantly decrease your short-term liabilities. If that means cutting up credit cards, sticking to a basic grocery list or selling some of your possessions, it will be worth it. Debt can have a detrimental and devastating effect not only on our finances but also on our witness and our ministry.
- Eliminate the cycle of unnecessary debt. Choose a debt repayment plan that works for you. One of the most popular is the debt snowball plan. This debt reduction method involves focusing energy to pay off bills from smallest to largest. Once the smallest debt is eliminated, the money and intensity used to eliminate the debt is rolled into the next smallest on the list and repeated until all remaining debt is cleared. Consolidate your debts as best you can. If needed, find a local banker or financial planner. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and be honest with your creditors. Remember, as you pursue debt freedom, be sure to remain encouraged, keep the finish line in view and celebrate wins along the way.
- Maximize tax deductions. If you’re considered a Minister for Tax Purposes, make sure you are properly claiming housing allowance. And if you have access to a pretax Health Savings Account (HSA) through your employer, use it. You can also work with a financial professional to ensure that you are claiming all the deductions for which you are eligible.
- Create an emergency fund. Everyone needs an emergency fund! Having money in place when there’s an emergency can save you from racking up unexpected expenses on a credit card and thus increasing your overall debt burden. If you don’t have an emergency fund, aim to start one today. Try to set aside at least a couple of thousand dollars while you focus on eliminating debt. Then, work to fully fund your emergency fund with three to six months of expenses.
Years ago, Kyle Phillip, one of our financial advisors at GuideStone®, achieved one of his long-term goals by paying off a large debt — which allowed his family to finally be in a healthier position financially.
“Whether you have a ton of debt — or no debt — you should be handling money in the same way. Like the parable of the talents, some are given much, and some are given little, but we are all tasked to use our talents responsibly for God’s glory.” — Kyle Phillip
It is encouraging to hear from a fellow believer — and a financial advisor — who not only improved his own financial situation but also continued to steward money wisely regardless of financial flexibility. Kyle and his family know they have been entrusted with their finances — their talents — for a time and look to be counted as good and faithful servants who honor the Lord.
God has called us to stewardship no matter the kind of good gift He has entrusted to us. With the new year just around the corner, make 2020 the year you reframe your perspective on debt and finances — keeping biblical stewardship in clear sight and leaving your debt in 2019.
Looking for additional resources on how to address debt? Check out these practical resources from GuideStone:
- GuideStone Learning Library for more saving, budgeting and stewardship resources.
- Access Antology by GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins, a free, downloadable resource.
- Benefit from financial stewardship resources created by our friends at the Ron Blue Institute.
GuideStone is a leading provider of employee benefits for SBC churches, ministries, organizations and institutions. Visit GuideStone.org to learn more about how they can help you with retirement, insurance, investments and more.
Greg Love joined GuideStone in 2012 and serves as Director for Retirement Solutions, specializing in church retirement plan design and employee education. He holds degrees from both The University of West Alabama and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and is currently pursuing a Master of Business Administration from Dallas Baptist University. Greg also holds the Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor℠ professional designation.
Greg is passionate about helping local churches thrive, making disciples and impacting the globe for Christ. He and his wife, Jaime, have been married since 2001 and enjoy raising their two children — John Parker and Georgia Grace.