The law of tithing commands that we give 10% of our increase back to the Lord. Sometimes, it’s easy to think that means we get to do what we want with the rest. Well, we do. But there’s more to it than that — there’s being a financial steward. Elder Quentin L. Cook said in a 2009 General Conference address:
“We are accountable as stewards over earthly blessings, which the Lord has provided.”
All we have comes from God. I look back on the major blessings in my life and the road I took to get to where I am now professionally and financially. In doing so, I can’t deny that God’s hand was there throughout that journey.
It’s not yet a commandment to live the law of consecration, but God still wants us to be faithful and wise stewards over everything we have. We are admonished to use all our capacities and resources to take care of our families, build the kingdom of God and help our brothers and sisters in need — and we will be held accountable for it.
“It is required of the Lord, at the hand of every steward, to render an account of his stewardship, both in time and in eternity.” (D&C 72:3)
If you’re like me, all of this sounds a little scary. But I don’t believe these words mean we can’t have nice things or have fun. Part of the reason we’re here on this earth to experience joy. But we’re still obligated to use what God has given us wisely. Here are five ways you can do it.
1. Keep track of your income and expenses
One of my favorite hobbies is budgeting. I know, I’m a nerd. The beginning of a new month means a clean financial slate. Any mistakes we’ve made in the previous month are gone and we get to do it all
over again (remind you of anything?). My wife and I spend about a half an hour at the beginning of the month preparing our budget. We go over all the main expenses that stay the same every month. Then we look at variable expenses we don’t see every month, like a birthday present, a family trip or some catch-up on food storage.
Throughout the rest of the month is where the real magic happens, though. Because we can spend an entire day creating a budget at the beginning of the month, but if we’re not keeping track of our income and expenses throughout the month, what’s the point?
This means that I check our bank and credit card accounts online about once a week, and pay tithing and pay off credit cards on payday. I record our expenses using software from You Need a Budget (which was created by a fellow LDS dude).
This means that I generally know where my money is coming from and going at all times. That said, sometimes I do have to sit and think what a certain purchase was for or how we went so far over on a specific spending category. We’re definitely not perfect, but we’re always trying to improve.
2. Avoid unnecessary debt
Having a $600+ car payment isn’t against any commandment I know of. If that makes up a sizable chunk of your take-home pay, though, it might not be in your or your family’s best interest to have it. I get it. It’s nice to have a new, reliable car. I’ve dealt with the constant maintenance and repairs needs with older cars before. In fact, we upgraded to a newish small-size SUV earlier this year with a $240 monthly payment. This was partly to accommodate our growing family, but it was also because I was tired of worrying that our 2002 Civic was going to break down on us.
This isn’t just about car loans, though. In every debt situation, ask yourself if you really need it and if you really need that much. The trick is to be honest with yourself. You know deep down whether you can afford something or not. Don’t let the allure of something shiny cheat you out of your financial future.
3. Pay off high-interest debt
I’m not one to take a hard line against debt in general. I’m not in a hurry to pay off my student loans or my auto loan. I see their low interest rates as an opportunity to leverage my cash flow to invest for retirement and get a higher rate of return.
I draw the line, however, when it comes to high-interest debt like personal loans, credit cards and payday loans. People sometimes need to go into this kind of toxic debt out of necessity. And a lot of us do it out of greed or the desire to have more than we can afford. Don’t do it. I’ve met several people who have been over their heads in credit card debt, and exactly zero of them look back and say it was worth it.
When you get in this kind of debt, the money controls you instead of the other way around. The borrower is slave to the lender. And you can’t be a good steward if you’re not in a position to be in control.
4. Protect your stewardship
No matter what you do to manage your money well, there are always things outside your circle of control. Medical bills, disability and (heaven forbid) death can come at any time. Making sure your family is protected against the financial ruin that comes with these things should be of utmost importance.
Make sure you’re properly covered insurance wise. Life insurance is a must-have if you have children, and if you’re healthy it can be quite affordable. Disability insurance isn’t as affordable but it covers your most valuable asset: your ability to earn an income. Health insurance is also essential. If your employer doesn’t sponsor a health insurance plan or you you’re in a low-income situation, you have options. Check out healthcare.gov or healthcare ministries.
5. Use your stewardship to take care of your family and others
Other than our relationship with God, our families are the most important thing in this life. Taking care of them is of utmost importance.
“But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” (1 Timothy 5:8)
In addition to that, find ways to use your resources to help others. If it’s all you have to contribute the widow’s mite to fast offerings every month, that’s as honorable as it gets. The key to this — and being a wise financial steward in general — is what’s in your heart.