From the July/August 2017 issue of Discern Magazine

The Bible, Budgeting and You

Biblical principles about managing your money can bring great benefits to your family.

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Even in the prosperous nations of the Western world, a majority of people have very little in the way of financial reserves, living payday to payday, with lots of debt and no household budget.

Nearly half (47 percent) of respondents to a recent U.S. Federal Reserve survey said that they would be unable to come up with $400 (about 310 pounds or 370 euros) to cover an emergency, without borrowing the money or selling an asset.

In another survey, 75 percent of Americans said they are living check to check just to make ends meet, at least sometimes.

Perhaps it is no surprise to find that a third survey (a Gallup poll in 2013) revealed that less than one-third of American households have a detailed budget.

These results shed light on a physical sign of what can be a spiritual issue. One indication of the sin of covetousness is acquiring nonessential material possessions, even when it means going into debt. An indication of doing this habitually is not having the strength of character to establish and stick to a realistic, debt-free budget. These spiritual concepts are found in the Bible. Let’s review them.

First, a disclaimer

Nothing in this article is meant to criticize those who have been brought to financial difficulties through no fault of their own. Not all financial difficulties are due to spiritual or character weaknesses. For some, it begins with a lack of financial education and limited opportunities.

The Bible talks about conditions such as persecution, trials and “time and chance” (for example, debilitating accidents or diseases or premature death of a provider) that can cause even godly people of strong character to suffer great financial reversals. The lack of a budget or self-control has no part to play in that sort of setback. Compassion and help are called for in those cases—not judgment or condemnation.

General biblical principles regarding budgeting

The Bible provides examples, principles and direct statements about budgeting, planning and living within our means.But in more typical circumstances, individuals and families do, in large measure, have control over their financial circumstances. Most of us have the opportunity to make choices that will affect those circumstances.

In these cases, there is almost nothing more important than having, and keeping to, a household budget. This is the almost universal counsel of professional money advisers—and, more importantly, the Bible!

Budgeting involves many spiritual principles: avoiding covetousness, having self-control, faith, patience and even thankfulness.

As used in this article, budgeting means four things:

  1. To realistically estimate the resources available to accomplish a project.
  2. To estimate the resources needed to accomplish the project.
  3. To undertake the project only when the available resources are at least equal to the necessary resources.
  4. To take the steps within one’s control to expend no more on the project than is available.

This definition applies to any sort of project—from daily living to pursuing education to acquiring specific assets. Budgeting requires an honest assessment of what one can afford and a consideration of timing. (Some of our needs will be in the future; this involves the discipline of not spending everything available now, but instead saving some for use in the future.)

Biblical examples

The Bible provides examples, principles and direct statements about budgeting, planning and living within our means. Here are a few:

  • Joseph planned and saved some of the resources that were available in the “fat” years in order to have enough for the people to eat in the “lean” years (Genesis 41).
  • Both the tabernacle (in the days of Moses) and the temple (in the days of David and Solomon) were constructed only when the necessary building materials were accumulated (Exodus 35 and 1 Chronicles 29).
  • The wise and good man leaves some of his accumulated wealth to even his grandchildren. This strongly suggests he has budgeted, planned, saved, lived and consumed well within his income, with the desire to pass along some of his blessings to others (Proverbs 13:22).
  • God created the ant to instinctively do what He tells us to learn to do—set aside some resources in abundant times for use in less-abundant circumstances (Proverbs 6:6-8; 30:25).
  • Jesus told any who would follow Him to “count the cost” of doing so. This means to make a realistic appraisal of what being His disciple would cost them—and to come to the conclusion ahead of time that the resources available to them (spiritually) were enough to complete the project. In giving this counsel, Jesus pointed to the foolishness of not doing this sort of budgeting even in secular matters (Luke 14:28-31).
  • The Bible pronounces the harshest judgment—“worse than an infidel”—on anyone who, through willful neglect or laziness, does not provide for the essential physical needs of those dependent upon him—his “household” (1 Timothy 5:8). This sort of irresponsible behavior and attitude is often found when there is no thought given to planning, budgeting or managing family resources—but instead only to spending and consuming, often in covetousness and selfishness.
  • Making and sticking to a budget often involves both faith and works. There are circumstances when even our best plans result, on paper, in a budget that doesn’t seem possible. That’s okay. We should do our best—we perform our works—and we rely on God, in faith, to make up the difference. Living through situations like that, when we see that the loaves and fishes have been multiplied, can make our faith grow even stronger.
  • Finally, we should remember that as weak and fallible human beings, all we can do is our best. God knows that, and in fact He reminds us of it. We do not control the future (even though we should try to budget realistically for it). It is true that “man proposes, but God disposes” (see Proverbs 19:21; James 4:13-15; Ecclesiastes 9:11).

Preparing an annual budget—with God, “Caesar” and self in mind

I suggest an annual personal or family budget. In many cases, a family will have expenditures, even sizable ones, that come due only once a year—some types of insurance and property taxes are examples. Forecasting required resources on a full-year basis can help ensure that no such payments are overlooked.

The first step is to estimate the cash inflows of the household for the next year. For most people, this will be wages or salary from employment, or earnings from self-employment. Only count amounts likely to be received, and only include bonuses if there is a dependable history of their being received. “Iffy” bonuses or other hoped-for (but unlikely) amounts should not be included, for the obvious reason that if they are not received, but were counted on in order to balance the budget, the actual expenditures will exceed income.

The next step is to estimate annual household expenditures—in three categories: God, “Caesar” and self. As in all areas of life, God must come first. Mandated tithes and voluntary offerings should be, in importance, the first budgeted expenditures for a Christian (Proverbs 3:9; Leviticus 27:30-32; Deuteronomy 12:17-18; 16:16; Matthew 23:23).

Jesus said we should give “to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). (See our article “Tithing: What Is It?” for a biblical look at this subject.) But in the same verse Jesus also said, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” Christians are to pay their taxes to the governments of this world with jurisdiction over them (Romans 13:6-7).

After fulfilling their financial responsibilities to God and the government, a Christian household can plan to spend on or save for self.

The major types of this third category of appropriate, godly expenditures are:

  • Housing (mortgage or rent, property taxes, upkeep, furnishings, etc.).
  • Utilities.
  • Food.
  • Clothing.
  • Transportation.
  • Insurance (various types).
  • Health care.
  • Savings (emergency fund, college fund, retirement fund, etc.). Plan to save at least some amount every year, if at all possible. It is a way to develop self-discipline, combat covetousness and materialism, and responsibly provide for future needs.
  • Debt payments.
  • Entertainment/recreation (if possible, even though modest amounts).
  • Assistance for the needy (if you are not needy yourself). Giving is a godly principle.
  • Miscellaneous (you probably haven’t thought of everything).

Control your actual spending, week by week, month by month, by comparing any amount you are about to spend with your budget.Now, compare the two totals (inflows and outflows of cash) to see if they balance. If outflows exceed inflows—back to the drawing board. Consider ways to make more income or reduce expenses. That’s the only way to eliminate any deficit.

Pray for God’s wisdom and help in all of this. Seek His will. Trust Him.

Then, after finalizing a balanced budget, comes another essential step: Control your actual spending, week by week, month by month, by comparing any amount you are about to spend with your budget. If it’s a budget buster, don’t spend it!

Begin now!

There are many spiritual principles associated with budgeting, including contentment, faith, self-control, obedience, thankfulness and responsibility. Early in life is the best time to begin budgeting. It can be more difficult, and take more patience, to reap the benefits of budgeting if you start later, especially if you are already in a financial hole.

But, with determination to do the right thing, with faith and trust in God, and with patience, it is not too late to begin to be faithful, even in what might seem to be “least”—your own financial resources. The rewards are great (Luke 16:10-12)!

Download a “Sample Outline Budget Reflecting Biblical Principles” from our Infographics page.

About the Author

Tom Kirkpatrick

Tom Kirkpatrick holds a PhD in accounting from the University of North Texas, and is a retired CPA. He has taught accounting and business courses at the university graduate level, and has served in the financial management of Church of God organizations. He most recently pastored two congregations of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, before his retirement in 2020.

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