The national pastime has become a sacred holiday: shopping on “Black Friday.” The day after Thanksgiving has developed into a manic state of sales and spending as retailers, seeking bigger holiday profits, offer new bargains and longer hours to lure holiday shoppers to good deals and great values on amazing products. The spending hype reaches fever pitch as stores open earlier and earlier each year, replacing the day dedicated to gratefulness with unashamed greed and giddiness for a purchase that is meant to show our love for another, bought in rushes of grabbing items that has led to fights, stampedes and debt. Many justify this intense season of shopping with the value of the purchase – the money saved on an item they would buy at a higher price later indicates this was a good value-based purchase.
However, I’d like to offer a new way of thinking about our value-based spending and money as the shopping season begins in earnest. My encouragement is to plan how you spend your money, and not just for holiday shopping but also for the entire year, based on your spiritual values. In Acts 5:4, the Apostle Peter declares to Ananias, “Didn’t [the property] belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? ...” This indicates an important principle about money: we must own the choices we make with money. The money at our disposal is available for us to use in many ways, some honoring to God while others are made under sinful influences (Acts 5:3). I propose the driving factors in the spending decisions are to be the values by which we orientate our lives accordingly.
Value-based spending is prioritizing our financial choices. These values are shaped by our worldview. The secularized popular worldview’s focus for money is on “getting”. Even Christian schools of higher education are guilty of this priority, as we have promoted (even if partially) that our degree programs are tracks to better and higher paying jobs. This “getting” a job often leads to a desire to getting more money in the pursuit of bonuses, raises, second jobs, which all become a maddening chase. We justify the energy given to “getting” with the thought that we can enjoy more; or perhaps we even have the noble pursuit of providing more for our families. However, often we enjoy too much or we enjoy too soon, beyond what our finances can afford, so we end up in debt both in the short-term and the long-term. So the third financial priority choice is debt repayment. Eventually we may recognize a need to save for the future and hope that someday we can give some to others. Planning is often an afterthought for most people. However, these last choices may never become a reality due to the consuming cyclical nature of spending and debt repayments.
However, God’s Word presents financial priorities that are almost the exact opposite in ranking from the secular worldview. Paul instructed Timothy to command those in the Ephesian church to live for God in regards to their finances. “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17). This teaching expands our understanding of money: money is from God for our enjoyment and to be used at our disposal. A helpful perspective to maintain is that money is a tool to fulfill God’s dream for you. Paul continues his charge to Timothy and wealthy Christians stating, “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:18-19). Therefore, the first value-based spending choice is to put our hope in God, not our money, using our money for God’s purpose.
In order to manage our finances so that God (and not money) becomes our focus requires value-based spending that honors God as we steward God’s money. Ron Blue, of Crown Financial Ministries, highlights these key values: spend less than you earn (Pr. 13:11), and avoid the accumulation of debt (Pr. 22:7). These values are practically lived out in a budget, allocating your limited financial resources in priority spending order. Here are some tangible ways to develop a budget based on your values:
- List all your expenditures for the month to have a realistic understanding of your financial situation.
- Plan what you will spend on paper before you ever open your wallet or insert your credit card number. List, then add, all your “required” spending (i.e. rent, food, etc.) and build in value-based choices like: giving to God’s work (1 Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor. 9:5-7) and savings (Pr. 6:6-8, 21:20). This sum total is to be compared to your monthly income; the remaining positive difference shows you the true discretionary money you can plan to spend on the holidays and gift giving, that allows you to (in sum) spend less than you earn.
- Ask yourself: “Are my spending priorities correct?” “Am I able to give to God’s work, save for future needs, pay my bills, repay my debts IF I spend this amount of money on holiday shopping?” “Is my spending reflective of my spiritual values?” The motivations for holiday shopping are varied and complex, but gift giving does not have to be a stressing event that you pay for all year long.
By dedicating yourself and your money to God first, you will establish a value-based spending plan that brings financial freedom to your life and honor to God.