By Simon Presland
“Count it down!”
“Three, two, one . . . we’re debt free! Freeeedoooom!”
If you’re familiar with The Dave Ramsey Show, America’s favorite financial talk show, and the third most listened to radio show in the U.S., you recognize when you hear that famous scream that Dave has just interviewed an individual or family who has become debt free. I started listening to Dave a couple of years ago. But well before that, my wife, Trish, and I had decided to live a debt-free life. While we still have a few years left on our mortgage, we are otherwise debt free, which has led to tremendous benefits. Considering that the U.S. economy runs on credit—credit offers instant gratification and a have-what-you-want-now mentality—we are in the minority in our culture. However, the spiritual, emotional, and material benefits are amazing.
A Benevolent God
The most important reason to live a debt-free lifestyle is simple: it is biblical. When Trish and I decided to live without debt, it brought us to a realization that God calls us to be stewards in every area of our lives, including the way we handle our finances. Stewardship illustrates humanity’s relationship to God; God is the owner and we are to be managers or caretakers of what he has entrusted to us. Stewardship also means that we manage according to God’s direction—not according to our wants and desires.
Consider the parable of Luke 16:1-3 and verses such as Psalm 24:1, 2 and 1 Timothy 6:7, 8: these, and many others, show us how temporal life is and that we must one day give an account to God for our faithfulness to follow his course. The deciding factor for Trish and me to live as stewards came down to answering a question: Are we the lord of our lives, or is Christ? Our answer determined the level of our obedience, including tithes and offerings, giving to others when prompted, and praying before major purchases.
Being a steward has several benefits. A steward is not driven by a need to “keep up with the Joneses.” Impulse buying is curbed; budgets can be established and adhered to; and a steward sleeps better, has less anxiety and worry, and lives a more peaceful life.
Another great benefit is the fact that we serve a benevolent God. Trish and I have witnessed his provision in tangible ways, not only for our own needs such as food, clothing, and shelter, but in greater discounts and unexpected deals when making purchases.
A Budgeting Mindset
“The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender” (Proverbs 22:7).
It is amazing how we overlook such unpretentious yet profound words from God. When it came to dealing with our debt, Trish and I came to realize the truth of this proverb. Using credit cards meant we were enslaving ourselves to a dictatorial and demanding lender. We also ended up paying much more for products or services we “just had to have.” Yet as we learned to wait until we could pay cash, not only did we pay less—no interest—but we felt so much better about our purchase. We felt free!
Living a cash only life and paying down our debt wasn’t easy. It meant that we had to commit to living on a budget—and sticking to it. Budgeting forced us to determine beforehand what bills had to be paid, how much we could spend on groceries, what we could afford for clothing, and more. Budgeting helped us determine what was more important—paying down a debt or going out to dinner—and it took a lot of the emotion out of our monetary decisions.
After we set our budget (both monthly and weekly), the budget became our boss, and we had to do what it “told” us to do. If we disobeyed it, then we suffered the consequences. This became a continual joke between Trish and me. One of us would ask, “Can we afford this?” and the other would reply, “I don’t know, let’s ask the boss.”
Budgeting is truly a lesson in self-control. When we budget, we discipline our emotions and impulses, and we learn what is and isn’t important. In Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Stewards who want to budget will consider the following categories as their framework: tithes and offerings, fixed costs, financial goals, non-monthly expenses, and flexible spending. Tithes and offerings confirm that God is first in our lives. Fixed costs include rent or mortgage and household bills. Financial goals are comprised of things like maintaining an emergency fund, strategies to pay down credit cards and other bills, and plans to develop savings and retirement accounts. Non-monthly expenses are necessary expenditures such as dentist or doctor visits, while flexible spending could include going out to dinner or a special purchase that is allocated for.
While budgets vary according to a family’s income, setting up a budget works for everyone. DaveRamsey.com/everydollar is a free budgeting website that is certainly one of the best available.
One of the greatest blessings that comes with responsible stewardship and living debt free is the freedom it brings in other areas of our lives. Over the years, Trish and I have benefited in the following ways:
We have learned that being content with what God has given us brings great peace. Contentment is God’s answer to greed and covetousness. It is the result of accepting the reality of our circumstances (I am in debt and I am committed to budgeting in order to eliminate it) and brings us into a proper relationship with God according to his provisions.
Paul declared: “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:11, 12).
Refusal to make hasty financial decisions
Proverbs 21:5 reminds us, “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.”
We set high standards in every area of our lives, knowing that we represent our heavenly Father (1 Peter 4:11).
An increase in faith
We have learned to wait on God for his direction and purposes. Doing so has allowed him to work in our lives according to his plans for us.
For example, a few years ago we were living in a small but comfortable condominium. One day, I had a sense that it was time to sell it and purchase a home. Over the next year, we went to countless open houses and viewings, and we also were financially stretched in several ways as we felt God asking us to meet the needs of several people during our search. Finally we met the perfect real estate agent for us, who sold our condo and helped us purchase a beautiful home that is more than we could have asked for.
God’s Word is true, and it contains plans and purposes for our lives. Living as stewards and committing to debt-free living brings the truth of these words to life: “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever,” (Ephesians 3:20, 21, New King James Version).
And to that we can all say, “Amen!”
Simon Presland is a freelance writer in Clinton Township, Michigan.
WHERE WE SPEND
In May of this year, Yahoo Finance reporter Rick Newman noted that American spending was down with traditional retailers, but Americans were still spending. Statistics from the first four months of the year showed that people were paying more for experiences. The top categories were:
• air travel