Where is the fine line in our finances, the point at which it matters to God how we handle them? Of course, this is a ridiculous question - the answer is a resounding, "There isn't one!"
Our heavenly Father cares about how we manage every penny - after all, what does His Word tell us? "You are not your own, for you were bought at a price...."(1 Corinthians 6:19b-20a, HCSB). If you have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, you belong to Him, and all that you call yourself possessing, including your own body and your very breath, is His.
And, as He tells us in Luke 16:11, "... if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?" (NIV). The Father wants His children to be responsible managers. One way we can do this is by recognizing the importance of managing "small" money. For example:
1) If you had an extra $1,250 in your pocket, what would you do? Take a cruise? Get that new piece of furniture? How about that new computer to replace the old dinosaur you work with at home? If you're eating out for lunch each day at work rather than brown-bagging, even if you're going to an inexpensive fast-food spot, you're spending around $5 a day. While that may not sound all that pricey, look at the big picture: In a year's time, you're easily spending $1,250 for this privilege.
2) Even a low-budget clothes hound can drop $100 a month on his or her wardrobe. Once again, look at the big picture: That's $1,200 a year. By keeping an eye out for deep-discounted season-end sales and acquainting yourself with outlets, consignment shops, thrift stores and even online auctions, you can dress better than ever on far less than you're currently spending. Cases in point: A) A major department store's end-of-summer sale included leftovers from the previous fall and winter, netting this shopper a $64 name brand sweater for $2.97. B) Many stores donate their remaining end-of-season stock to charity thrift shops. One recent find: a new-with-tags $40 casual dress for $6.88. C) eBay bargains include quality new and used clothing for everyone from infants to grownups. Latest bragging rights: a Mark Singer skirt set for $3.99.
3) Take a $20 bill, light a match, set fire to it and watch it disintegrate. Crazy, huh? No one in his right mind would do such a thing. But let's say you're buying gasoline at a station that charges three cents a gallon more than the one across the street. Annually, if you're tanking up only once a week on the higher-priced fuel, you're tossing away almost $25 - and to whose benefit?
4) When setting your home's temperature for the winter, you can save a bundle by simply dressing for the season. Instead of a T-shirt and shorts, opt for a sweatsuit. A simple change like this will allow you to reduce your thermostat setting by at least two degrees. This, in turn, can reduce your power or gas usage by as much as 15 to 20 percent. Do the math: if maintaining 70 degrees costs you around $200 a month, 68 degrees will cost you more like $170. Over a four-month stretch, you'll save about $120.
5) If you could afford to set aside 25 cents a day as savings, would you do it? And would it be enough to really be worth the trouble? Big picture time again: Your year-end savings would total $91.25. But, if you can manage this okay for your first year, why not add another 25 cents per day each year you continue this practice? In five years, you'd be setting aside $1.25 a day. Not even taking into consideration any interest if you banked it, your savings would total $1,368.75.
When the Babylonian empire gave way to the rule of the Persians, King Cyrus was prompted by the Holy Spirit to issue the decree that Jewish exiles be allowed to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple of the Lord. In the first year the altar was rebuilt. It took the second year to lay the foundation. But this task was no breeze. It took no time at all for the naysayers to appear and begin belittling the efforts of Joshua, Zerubbabel and the others dedicated to the rebuilding. They pointed out how puny and unattractive this building would be in comparison with the temple of Solomon - talk about your absolute encouragers!
But when the foundation was completed and the people gathered in celebration, Ezra 3:12 records that, amid the shouts of joy and praises, "many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple...." (NIV).
And then there were the neighbors. Ezra 4:4 tells us, "... the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building" (NIV). The opposition eventually succeeded in holding up the completion of the rebuilding for a period of 15 years, but they weren't able to stop it altogether.
Maybe you've experienced some financial setbacks. Perhaps you're beginning to implement a plan to reduce your expenses. There are bound to be naysayers around you: "How can you give up such a nice house? What are people going to say? What good is saving $10 a week going to do?"
Don't be discouraged. Remember, Zerubbabel and Joshua experienced the same kind of negativism. And yet, through faith in the Lord and a determination to honor Him with what they were building, they completed the work they had set out to accomplish.
Through the prophet Zechariah, the Lord sent a message of encouragement: "The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house, and his hands will finish it.... For who has despised the day of small things?" (Zechariah 4:9-10a, NASU).
As work on the temple began, progress was slow and sometimes hardly visible. Yet stone by stone the foundation was laid, and eventually the entire temple was finished. So it is with financial improvements. We have to look beyond the "small things" and see the big picture to realize the success of our efforts.
This article was originally published on September 17, 2003.
Judy Woodward Bates is a Christian speaker; author of "The Gospel Truth about Money Management"; and creator of Bargainomics(r), a Bible-based time and money management philosophy. Visit her website at: www.bargainomics.com.