When I used to teach biblical money management workshops on a regular basis, I would often use an exercise designed to help people see what money-related assumptions they had.
I would tell participants to imagine that they had an upcoming interview for their dream job and that they were in serious need of a new suit or outfit to wear to the interview. Then I would ask how much they would expect to spend on such clothing. (Without fail, a woman would ask whether that included accessories. Sure, throw in the accessories!)
There were several questions like that, from how many miles a car should have before being replaced to how much it costs to feed a family of four for a month.
The answers were always all over the map. I would tell people there aren’t necessarily right answers or wrong answers to those questions, good answers or bad answers. The point was that we all have answers. We all have certain assumptions that live for us like the truth and they guide all manner of financial decisions large and small. The problem is that we rarely stop to consider what money-related assumptions we have, and that leaves us living at the effect of them.
So, it was interesting to read the results of a recent Money Mindset study commissioned by Fidelity that sought to understand some of the money-related attitudes held by 18 to 44-year-olds.
Too much work
While nearly half (49%) of respondents acknowledged that they wouldn’t be able to cover an unexpected $1,000 expense, most seemed to assume that the tradeoffs necessary in order to build savings would require too much of them. Some 83% said it’s important to spend money on things that make them happy, and 76% noted that saving money would require cutting back on such spending. One in four said they’d rather run a 5k on Thanksgiving morning than cut back on spending.
The thought of using a budget was also unappealing, with 57% saying they dreaded the idea. In fact, one in four divorced respondents said they’d rather spend an hour with their ex-spouse than create a budget.
A perspective reset
Budgets have long topped people’s lists of most disliked financial tools. In my workshops, I would often ask people, “If a budget were a person, who would it be?” Common answers included Scrooge, the Grinch, and even the devil. One young man in a money & marriage workshop named his mother-in-law. Clearly, budgets have an image problem.
But it’s mostly that — an attitude, a mindset. Research I once commissioned found that people who don’t use a budget would describe it as “restrictive,” “inhibiting,” and “a burden.” But people who do use one would describe it as “freeing” and “helpful.”
I like to encourage people to see that a budget isn’t about less — as in less spending, less freedom, or less fun. It’s actually about more — more knowledge about what’s happening with our cash flow, so we can be more intentional in our use of money, so we end up having more for what matters most.
Some will have to take all that on faith, but when people begin to use a budget (or as I prefer, a “cash flow plan”), that’s usually what they find.
Of course, this exercise takes on a whole new dimension when we bring faith into it. When it comes to building savings, it would help to memorize and meditate on the truth that, “The wise man saves for the future, but the foolish man spends whatever he gets” (Proverbs 21:20, TLB). And when it comes to using a budget, it would help to memorize and meditate on the truth that, “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty” (Proverbs 21:20, NIV).
What about you?
Think about a purchase you’re considering right now. What assumptions do you have? Do you absolutely need to make that purchase right now? Is the amount you assume you’ll have to pay accurate? What or who is influencing your assumptions?
Have you prayed over the decision? Do you have peace about it? Would it be beneficial to your most important relationships? Would it be glorifying to God?
The study also highlights what an opportunity parents have to raise their kids with biblical financial perspectives and practices. It will be a lot easier to sort through life’s many financial decisions having grown up with it being an “of course” that we give to God the first portion of what He brings into our life, that we save or invest the next portion, and that we then build our lifestyle on what remains, all the while avoiding the bondage of debt.
Like I said, we all have lots of money-related assumptions running through our heads. We can either live at the effect of them or we can try to identify them, prayerfully consider whether they’re true, and be intentional about cultivating healthy, God-honoring attitudes. It won’t ever be a perfect science, but we’ll make better decisions for having questioned some of our assumptions about money.