Let’s take charge of your financial life

financial lifeDo you have piles of ministry receipts that you never quite get turned in to church?

Do you always feel like you aren’t sure where you are financially?

Are you worried about your future – because of all the impending costs?

If you answered a begrudging, “Yes, Margaret…” to any of those questions – take a breath. You are not alone in this experience. Now you have an opportunity to shift this situation.

Here are two things I know, both from my own (not-so-glamorous) experience:

First, dealing with personal finance can be a huge challenge, and many of us avoid it. For years I resisted running the numbers on retirement because I was sure the news was going to be bad. Somehow I thought if I never looked at it, it wouldn’t be an issue. But there was always this underlying sense of unease and even fear–would we be OK? I know from many conversations with colleagues, clients and friends that I’m not the only one to avoid facing personal finances.

Second, I also know from my own experience and that of others that when you face the facts, whatever they are, it brings tremendous clarity, power and freedom. You can take action when you don’t know what you need to do. It became much easier for me to consistently save for retirement when I knew what the facts were.

In addition, pastors who are weighed down by financial uncertainty and fear will find it hard to provide important leadership at church in financial matters. You may avoid asking people to give. You may sit back at finance meetings instead of providing needed pastoral leadership.

So, here are four questions to answer. And fifth, I give you something essential to remember. These are not easy questions and some take years to answer–not because the information is hard to get. However, the internal resistance can keep us from spending the few hours it takes to gather the data.

Be kind to yourself. Remember, telling yourself capable/accomplished/smart person you are will keep you motivated you to find the data (rather than the reverse, as so many of us do). Just pick one of these to start, and finish it. Then see where you are.

  1. What do you have? This is known as “net worth.” Some people prefer to call it “net wealth.” Whatever you call it, remember that your worth is not dependent on your wealth. You add up everything you have (cash, property, value of your pension). Then you subtract everything you owe (mortgage, student loans, credit cards).  It might be a negative number. That’s OK.
  2. What do you spend? Track your spending for the last month. If you can track for three months – that’s even better and tracking for a year gets you bonus points. Divide your spending into some simple categories–not 50. Be gracious to yourself. What’s spent is spent. Identify it, don’t ignore it.
  3. What do you need? Figure out the basics that you need to survive–food, shelter, basics to run your car, insurance, loan repayment. Write out those numbers.
  4. What do you want? Figure out how much the “extras” cost you. Then think beyond them. If money were no object, what would you want? To take your whole family on a trip? To get a weekly massage? To fund your grandkids’ college funds? To buy a new TV? It’s OK to want things. I find a lot of clergy tamp down their wants. They feel guilty if they want a better car, or a nice trip. Just dream a little. You don’t have to spend the money if you don’t have it or don’t want to right now–or ever. Have some fun with it.

Bonus tip: Remember that your real value has nothing to do with your “net worth,” how much you overspent last year, your debt, your accumulated wealth, whether it’s a lot or less than nothing. Take a deep breath, and remember how much God loves you.

Now, your task is to choose one of these questions and answer it. A down and dirty estimate is fine. If you have a lot of resistance, just notice it and extend yourself as much grace as God does. Let me know which question you are working on.


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