Wise Financial Practices for Your Household

Do you fight with your spouse about money? You’re not alone. By many accounts, money is among the top issues that married couples argue about (sex, parenting, and in-law relationships are among the others). Your bickering might be over how much to spend on a date night (and nothing kills the romance like a fight over money!) or it might be over more substantive issues like whether or not to borrow money to buy a new car or another big item. Chances are, if you and your spouse have differing views on money, your disagreements may be frequent, and stressful, and they even be driving a wedge between the two of you.

The Bible has a lot to say to us about money–in fact, by some estimates, there are over 2000 verses on money! What might surprise you, though, is what the bible says (and doesn’t) say about how we manage and use our finances. There are, for example, some non-negotiable principles that followers of Jesus should seek to apply, but then, there are many areas that fall under the category of wisdom, which are general ideas that apply in different ways in different circumstances. So, how can Christians manage their money in a way that honors God?

Biblical principles for using our money

Let’s start with some of the foundational biblical principles that ought to shape how we manage money. First off, when it comes to our wealth, the biblical idea is clear–it’s not our wealth at all! Properly speaking, we are not owners but stewards (or managers) of God’s resources that he entrusts to us to use for his purposes. “The earth is the Lord’s,” writes the Psalmist, “and everything in it…for he created it” (Ps. 24:1-2). This idea runs radically against the grain of our culture that insists that we are rightful owners of our time, our money, our homes, our cars, and our bank accounts. And if that’s the case, it follows that we can to use our wealth to seek our own happiness or advance our own ambitions.

Practicing Stewardship

Instead, the bible teaches us that God has entrusted possessions to us, and that, as stewards (see Matt. 25:14-30), we are responsible for using what we have to advance not our purposes in the world, but our master’s. What does that mean in practice? 

In discussing how to spend money, use the home God has given, save for retirement or education, or manage anything else in your possession, the first question to ask is, “How can we use what we have received to honor God? How can we love God first and love others as ourselves?" For example, suppose a couple has the means to purchase a lake home. The bible says nothing about how many homes a person may own, but a couple desiring to please God will ask, “Could this be a place where we can show hospitality to guests? Might we use this space to build the bonds within our family?”

A second key biblical principle on how we manage money is generosity. Paul reminds us that “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Generosity is a Spirit-created hallmark of the Christian life, and how we manage our wealth should reflect the generosity with which God has dealt with us in Christ. If our wealth has been entrusted to us to manage towards the purposes of our master, then it follows that we should keep a loose grip on our wealth, and be ready to share, not only with those who are in need but with anyone we can.

What does this look like? As I was writing this, I received a text from a friend asking if I could help their family with an airport drop-off at 6:30 in the morning. My first reaction was to wince inwardly. I didn’t want to drive 3 hours roundtrip early on the one day I could sleep in! But, God used my own words here to remind me that I have the time, resources (a car, gas money), and ability, and so I realized this was an opportunity to be generous. Rather than asking, “What must we do with our money and wealth?” we learn to ask, “How can I use what I have to bless my neighbor?”

Biblical wisdom for using wealth

Some of what the bible teaches about using our wealth falls into the category of wisdom—principles that require attention to our specific situation on when and how to apply them. For example, Proverbs 21:20 says, “The wise store up choice food and olive oil, but fools gulp theirs down.” While it may not always be possible—or even morally right (see Matt. 6:19)—to “store up” material goods, there is also wisdom in planning ahead by saving—for college, for retirement, for car repairs, medical bills, or for emergencies. Failure to do so can lead to considerable stress and even financial uncertainty in the future.

What might this look like? It likely means we anticipate long-term expenses that would be difficult or impossible to pay in the moment. It’s far easier to set aside a little every month, building up savings for when you need them, than to be hit with a bill that you cannot afford to pay at the moment.

The wisdom of being careful with debt

Debt has become a staple of our way of life. We borrow money to buy homes, finance our education, and afford the latest consumer goods. Scripture warns that “the borrower is slave to the lender” (Prov. 22:7), and this is indeed true. Those who take on debt they cannot afford learn quickly how high-interest rates, monthly fees, or finance charges can enslave them. Some debt may be unavoidable (few people can afford to buy a home with cash), but God’s word cautions us strongly that we be careful in taking on debt.

How might this apply to you? Consider how much debt you take on. Are you able to pay the balance on your credit cards each month? Are you using credit to finance a higher standard of living than you can afford? Perhaps it's time to cut up your credit cards or lower your standard of living so that you can focus on paying down your debt.

The wisdom of planning ahead

Making a plan for your money is a way to ensure that your money works for you and not the other way around. In Luke 14:28-30, Jesus assumes the wisdom of planning ahead. While the primary message of this text wasn’t to encourage us to make a budget, the practice of planning how to spend our money is consistent with what Jesus is teaching here. Writing down what you expect to earn each month, along with all that you anticipate spending money on can often feel like giving yourself an immediate raise! When your income and expenses are on paper, you may realize that you are spending more on “extras” than you thought. Being disciplined and sticking to a budget is a way of planning for your financial future, and ensuring that you are using your money as well as you can.

But we don’t agree!

Some of you are thinking, “I’m all in favor of this – but my spouse and I aren’t on the same page!” Indeed, one of the significant points of conflict in a marriage is money. How can you set a budget, or save for your future, if your spouse values financial spontaneity, and spending all you make? How can you pay down debt, if your spouse sees value in opening multiple credit card accounts? This can certainly be a challenge that may even require outside help. 

However, one key step in approaching this issue, when you disagree, has to do with having the right conversation. Rather than focusing on the presenting issue (how much debt is okay, how much to save for college, or whether or not to make a particular purchase) start by having the conversation about the underlying values. Since our treasure reveals the priority of our hearts (see Matt. 6:21) it’s helpful to listen to what lies beneath your spouse's approach to money. Listen uncritically, and try to understand why they view money the way they do. And, give some honest and prayerful thought to your underlying values. You may have adopted financial habits without even considering the values behind your choices. You may even find that you and your spouse share the same values, even if you differ on how to live out what you value. If so, that’s a starting point for more meaningful discussion because now, you can discuss how to reach your shared goals. If you don’t share the same values, you can still work towards compromising, understanding that you may not be able to have everything that you want in a financial plan. But, if you are both committed to it, you may both be able to reach a level of partnership that will allow you to manage your money in a way that pleases God.

About the author — Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra

Rob Toornstra has pastored a church in Salem Oregon for the past ten years. He has been married to Amy for fifteen years, and together, they are enjoying the adventure of raising two girls and one boy. For fun, Rob enjoys cooking, reading, aviation, and geocaching.  He is the author of "Naked and Unashamed: How the Good News of Jesus Transforms Intimacy" (Doulos, 2014).

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