God's Money

It's His. Not Yours.

God's Money is a blog that helps people use their financial resources in a God-honoring way. A blog post is typically released every Monday written by Donald F. White.

Post #2 "M.O.N.E.Y."

Five Things

That Cause People to

Struggle with Money 

I am asked one question more than any other:

 “Don, why do I struggle with money?” 

It seems struggling with money is a universal problem with as many differ struggles as there are people.  A few years ago, in preparing for a God’s Money segment for the radio, I tried to narrow it down and come up with some common issues that relate to virtually everyone.  I came up with five common mistakes that people make when it comes to handling money.  The cool part was that these five issues are found right in the word, “MONEY”, namely: 

  • Mimicking the lifestyle of other (usually more successful) people. 
  • Overcome by peer pressure. 
  • No idea where your money goes. 
  • Ego.
  • Yielding to your earnings regardless of your earnings. 

I remember as a young man in my twenties, I met a man, several years older than me, who seemed to have it all.  Dave worked for the government, the US Customs, as I recall, but I am not sure.  What I know for sure is Dave had a lifestyle I envied.  He had a great job.  His family had an awesome house with four big bedrooms, a pool, a two-car garage, in a wonderful neighborhood west of town.  Both he and his wife drove the latest cars, could tithe to the church, and always seemed to have their finances under control.   As a twenty-something, I started to think, if Dave and Betty could have a big house, why can’t Grace and I?  If Dave can have a new car, why can’t I? If Dave…I think you see where I am going.  Of course, I should have just said,

“Don, all in due time.  Dave is in his forties. He did not start out in a four bedroom west of town.  He did not start out with two new cars.” 

But, unfortunately, I only saw the lifestyle and did not appreciate the struggle it took to get there.   

Mimicking the lifestyles of people who are successful, especially when you are not, leads to what I like to call,

“Fake it until you make it Syndrome”. 

The sad truth, however, is lifestyle has a cost and when you fake it, lots of bad things usually result.  For me, I found myself early in my life with house payments, car payments, credit card payments, the works, because of my envy over the lifestyle of someone who had built a sustainable lifestyle over time.  But I wanted it NOW!  

Here’s the solution.  Live on less than you can.  Most of all, do not worry about keeping up with “Dave” (and we all have one!) because it is a fool’s game. 

The Scripture says, “I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content.  For I have learned the secret of contentment, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want, I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. (Philippians 4.11-13)” 

You can be content and still build a better lifestyle for your family.  The secret is to live within your means and trust God to guide you through the process.   

Secondly, do not be overcome by peer pressure.  Just yesterday I was out playing golf with a good friend and up ahead there were several foursomes of young guys that obviously had not studied the “golf etiquette manual”.  One or two guys started behaving badly, and before you knew it, all 16 were pretty much out of control.  I do not know these guys, but when I came into the clubhouse after we were all done, I hardly recognized them.  They were all sitting at tables, well behaved, and getting ready to order lunch.  All the rabble rousing was gone.  On the course, they were acting like spoiled brats and in the restaurant, they were gentlemen. What changed?  I am not exactly sure, but obviously something (or someone) got them started on the course and someone else settled them down in the clubhouse.  If I were a betting man, I would bet it was peer pressure that led to the bad behavior outside and peer pressure again that led to their good behavior inside. 

The truth is most people are highly influenced, both positively and negatively, by their peers.  John Maxwell once wrote, “All leadership is influence.  Nothing more, nothing less.”  Be careful not to be led down a path of destruction by your peers.  Before you just aimlessly follow the leader, analyze whether their leadership is leading you down the best path.  If you find yourself being influenced negatively by your peers, stop!  Yes, just stop and you become the influencer.  If just one person had the guts to say to those boys to stop doing what they were doing on the course, I am guessing the behavior would have changed.  Watch out for peer pressure.  It can easily overwhelm you. 

While mimicking other people’s lifestyle and being overcome by peer pressure certainly cause huge financial challenges, the most tangible mistake people make financially is not having any idea where the money goes!  Today, with all the resources available to track spending, there is really no excuse for not knowing where your money goes.  However, technology can make us lazy.  I was talking to a young gal, that I have known since she was child, last week, who is now a wife and mother of three.  She told me she had no idea where all the money was going.  It seemed no matter how much her husband and she earned, they could never get ahead.  I told her to go back and track every dollar they had spent over the past six months.  What, at first, seemed like a prodigious task, turned out to be very easy because they paid for almost everything by either a credit card, writing a check, or using their debit cards.  I love the email she sent me.  It started out saying, “So we did it!! We sat down and worked thru the nitty gritty and included EVERY single bill and penny we spend every month. We've discovered that we spend a lot! And so much of it is unnecessary!!! It's been quite a few years since we've done this. But we really like the idea you gave us to "pay ourselves" every month.” 

If you have no idea where the money goes, stop it!  Get a handle on where the money is going.  Start taking control of your finances because either you control your finances or your finances control you, the choice is yours.  Just like my young friends you can know where the money goes. Begin now tracking everything and eliminating what is unnecessary.  Believe me, I get it!  Managing money is hard, but it is not optional, because no matter how much money you make, you can never afford to stop managing it.   

The fourth letter in our MONEY acrostic stands for ego.  Ego is the Greek word for “me”.  Caring about me first leads to countless financial challenges.  How many times have you asked yourself, “What’s in this for me?”  It’s a self-defense mechanism, that on the face of it, is good, but left to its own devices can lead to a myriad of problems.  I want what I want, when I want what I want, is the problem of the ages.  Interestingly, ego is also an acronym for “edge God out”.  When you consistently put your interest first, not only do other people get edged out, but God is rarely even in the equation.  Edging God out of your financial decision making is a losing proposition.  Why would you not want the God of the Universe, who owns the cattle on a thousand hills, to be your financial guide?  If you think about it, edging God out of your finances is crazy, because who knows more about your needs than God?  But, ego is a demanding companion.  Put God first in your life.  It sounds so simple, but in truth, it is hard.  But even though it is tough, trusting God with your finances is the best choice every time. 

Closely associated with ego is the “Y” in the MONEY acrostic – yielding to your yearnings regardless of your earnings.  There is nothing, in and of itself, wrong with wanting better things.  However, yours eyes can be bigger than your wallet.  Even Donald Trump cannot buy everything in the Mall!  Years ago, I came up with an expression I call “Living on the 80”.  What that means is budget to live on no more than 80% of your income.  Most people find this virtually impossible, but it is not.  It just means learning how to say no to good things.  Spending less and saving more is the basis of financial success.  I have never met anyone who lived on 80% of their income that struggled financially, but I know countless people that struggle because they are totally dependent on that next paycheck.  Back in the time of the patriarch, Jacob, the Book of Genesis records the story of Jacob’s son, Joseph.  According to Genesis, Joseph is banished by his brothers to become a slave in Egypt.  However, God had other plans and Joseph ends up second in command to the Pharaoh.  Joseph foresaw a great famine that was going to strike Egypt and advised Pharaoh to have all the Egyptians prepare for the famine by setting aside 20% of all they produced and living on the remaining 80%.  Sure enough, the famine hit, and when it did, everyone, including Jacob and his family, came to Egypt for provisions.  Everyone, at one time or another, will experience a “famine” in their life.  If you set aside funds when things are good, you will have what you need to get you through those lean times. 

The five lessons in the MONEY acrostic can really impact your life.  Avoid mimicking the lifestyles of other people.  Pay close attention to peer pressure and do not get caught in the trap of following the crowd.  Always pay close attention to where your money goes.  Never edge God out of your finances!  You are not the center of the universe.  Finally, live on a lot less than you think you can.  Do not allow your yearnings to overwhelm your earnings.  Make these five things the center of your financial life and you will never be asking the question,

“Don, why am I struggling with my finances?"