According to all sorts of studies, the average American home has little or no financial margin. For example, 78% of our culture lives from pay check to pay check — no margin. 7 out of 10 homes do not budget consistently, so there is no real effort to establish financial margin. 66% of the families in our culture today would struggle to deal with a $1,000 emergency.
So why is financial margin so important? Simple reason. Lack of margin does not just impact your bank account. It, in fact, impacts your marriage and family, causes unnecessary stress in life, as well as many other adverse outcomes. Solomon, one who according to the Bible God blessed with an immense amount of wisdom and who had an immense amount of wealth, had two important things to say about money in Ecclesiastes chapter 5.
Margin Leads to Healthy Perspective on Finances (Ecclesiastes 5:10-11)
Notice Solomon did not start with how to establish financial margin or the wise use of your money. He did not start with behavior. He started with your heart. Your perspective on your finances will have a lot of influence on your practice with them. Solomon, through painful experience, understood this basic truth.
Notice what he says, “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.” Solomon did not mention anything about an amount. Whether you have a lot or little is irrelevant in regard to the heart. The real issue is whether or not you have allowed yourself to fall in love with your wealth and the things you buy with it. This use of the word “love” means to have a deep emotional attachment to something (in this case, money). It is a term used in the Old Testament to describe a healthy love for God or a friend. In other words, when you allow yourself to love your money or stuff, this will replace a healthy love for God and even other relationships in your life.
Solomon concludes that to allow yourself to become emotionally attached to your treasure or your stuff is “meaningless” (v. 10b). This refers to the experience of feeling empty, of experiencing a life without purpose. Why does loving money result in a meaningless life? Because it is God Who makes a meaningful life possible, and it is the resulting relationships in life that add value to life — not your money or your stuff.
In establishing margin in your finances, it is important to start by asking yourself “have you somewhere along the way fallen in love with your money and possessions?” When you do get emotionally attached in this way, the result is typically to spend on your desires in an effort to fill a void; this does not work. Start with perspective on your finances before moving to your practice with your finances.
Margin Leads to Wise Practice with Finances (Ecclesiastes 5:12-13)
Once you develop a biblical perspective on finances, you will then be in a position to develop wise practices. Solomon points to two things that will occur when wise practice with your finances begins to take place: First, you will tend to pursue life over possessions (v. 12). Second, you will tend to pursue generosity over hoarding (v.13). Solomon explains, the “laborer” sleeps well at night while the “rich man” does not. This is because the laborer is not obsessed/anxious about his money or stuff (v. 12). He is content, which allows him to pursue life over possessions. Solomon, who had a lot of wealth, understands that more money does not add more value to life. Note also in v. 13 that the rich guy hoarding his wealth brings harm not to others but himself (“to the harm of its owner”).
If you are convinced of the life-giving value that financial margin offers, where do you start? It won’t be easy to establish such margin and keep it, but it will be worth the effort. Some of our church members have found long-term, biblically-based insight through our Financial Peace University class (offered twice a year). The next one begins Sunday, September 8 at 9:30 am — this could be a good place for you to start. But for more immediate consideration, take steps such as the ones Dr. Richard Swenson suggests:
–Travel in the Right Direction: Choose to follow where Christ leads and that includes your finances.
–Adjust to Living within Your Means: Our culture does not encourage this, but it is needed and possible.
–Distinguish Desires from Actual Needs: Don’t blur the lines.
–Make a Budget: If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.
–Be Careful with Credit Cards: Enough said.
–Choose Usefulness over Fashion: That logo on those tennis shoes doesn’t actually make it more valuable, much less a better buy.