Other financial decisions can be simplified by using a Cash Flow Plan and taking an objective look at how much a household of our size and income can afford to spend on this or that (see my Recommended Cash Flow Guidelines, Cash Flow Plan and Cash Flow Tracker forms, along with the Budget Quick Start Guide).
However, using money well requires more than sound economics.
Beyond the Spreadsheet
For anyone whose faith is at the center of their life, the overarching financial goal isn’t just to live within our means. It’s to use money in a way that’s glorifying to God and has a positive impact on others, which is what makes the words from 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 so challenging:
“Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. – 1 Corinthians 10:23-24
If we can afford to buy a huge, lavish home, should we? Or, could living in such a home do something to our hearts? And could it put some distance between other people and us? On the other hand, could it be a blessing to others? Could it enable us to have a positive impact on people we might not otherwise have an opportunity to interact with?
If we can afford to buy an expensive vehicle that turns heads, should we? Or, could the different way people treat us because of our vehicle impact the way we view ourselves? Could it negatively impact how others in our sphere of influence use money? On the other hand, could such a vehicle be part of the “everything” God provides “for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17)?
It’s good to ask such questions, but it’s best not to think we know the answers too quickly.
In Chip and Dan Heath’s excellent book, Switch, which is about how to bring about a desired change in our lives, one of their most interesting findings has to do with how identity influences our decision-making. They use the example of a chemistry professor:
Imagine…you had a lucrative opportunity to consult on the toxicity study of a new drug for a big pharmaceutical company. From a consequences point of view, the decision to accept the job would be a no-brainer—the work might pay far more than your university salary. But from an identity point of view, the decision to accept the job would seem less clear-cut. You’d wonder what strings were attached, what subtle compromises you’d have to make to please the client. You’d wonder, “What would a scientist like me do in this situation?
That question is so simple. And so helpful.
When making financial decisions, we would do well to stop and ask, “What would a person of faith do in this situation?” And, assuming it’s a permissible decision, “How might it impact the good of others?”
Questioning Financial Decisions Large and Small
It’s especially helpful to ask such questions when setting the overall financial direction of our household, and when making big decisions like what type of home or car to buy.
But what about other decisions, like choosing a brand of laundry detergent? Do we really need to wrestle with that? Is it good stewardship to buy only what’s least expensive? (See The Case Against Frugality) Or, could it be best to pay a little more for a brand that’s more environmentally friendly? And what about trying to avoid products made in countries known for their human rights abuses?
I can’t tell you exactly what type of home or car to buy, or which brand of laundry detergent you should choose. But I’m confident that asking questions based on 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 will lead to benefits that extend far beyond the bottom line.
How has the distinction between what’s permissible and what’s beneficial or constructive impacted some of your financial decisions? How might it impact any decisions you’re considering right now?