When a person handles money, their brain produces the same chemical that is produced when a person takes drugs. People fight for money, gamble to get it, and lie, cheat, and steal to hold on to it.” These words from John Matthews, author of Stewardship: The Motives of the Heart, define the culture of our time when it comes to money. For too many of us, money has become a destructive addiction. Therefore, teaching children how to manage their money while they are young is absolutely important. As the Bible says in Proverbs 22:6, “Start children off on the right path. And even when they are old, they will not turn away from it.” In this article, we will look at four important principles that are at the foundation of effective and godly money management.
1. Think straight
Developing the right attitude towards money is the first lesson to be taught. Money is not evil. It is a blessing from God. “He gives you the ability to produce wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:18). He supplies strength, talents, abilities, time and natural resources (land, ocean, rivers, minerals, plants and animals) to be wealthy. Teach and show your children the way to make an honest income based on godly principles. The wise man Solomon tells us to learn these lessons from watching a busy ant at work (see Proverbs 6:6–11).
Is God glorified in the way we earn our living? There are many ways of making money that dishonour God. Not just criminal enterprises like selling marijuana or armed robbery, but also making and selling products that damage people’s health or working in a way that spoils and pollutes the beautiful world God created for us. Making an honest and principle-based income is crucially important.
Our attitude to our work is one way to glorify God. Will the people you work with want to know your God better if they see you complain every day? If you are not careful in completing each task with excellence? If you take every opportunity to have a rest or a chat instead of focusing on your job? Listen to the words of the apostle Paul: “Work at everything you do with all your heart. Work as if you were working for the Lord, not for human masters. Work because you know that you will finally receive as a reward what the Lord wants you to have” (Colossians 3:23,24). Yes, that is the kind of attitude to work that will make other people wonder what makes you different. And that is the attitude our children need to learn also.
At the same time, is God glorified in how we spend our earnings? The spending should be based on principles and needs—what we know is truly important. Our family’s and community’s health, safety and wellbeing are important. But spending outside of these guidelines is often purely driven by impulse, greed or the desire to impress our neighbours and friends by showing off our material possessions. Therefore, making income and spending in ways that align with God’s Word brings glory to God.
2. Make a plan
Budgeting is crucial, as it helps keep track of all income and expenses. Keeping an accurate record of all income (gifts, wages, handouts) is very important, as it will guide you to understand where the sources of your financial wealth lie. At the same time, keeping an accurate record of all expenses is important too, as it will help you understand what consumes your money—cultural obligation, cosmetics, food, etc.
As Christians our budget should glorify God. “Budget” just means to make a plan for how you will use your money, and then to stay close to the plan. Christian financial advisor Alex Cook proposes a simple strategy to teach children how to budget: he calls it the “Three Jar Strategy”. To do this, you will need three jars or other containers in a safe place. Money should not go in or out without the child’s knowledge.
Jar One is labelled “Giving to God”—this is the jar to teach the child to put God first and foremost in life. Using the biblical principle of tithing (Numbers 18:21, Malachi 3:8–12), 10 per cent of the child’s income should go into Jar One as well as any extra money the child feels moved to give to those who need it. This money should be given to support God’s work and God’s church. Giving was designed for the giver’s benefit, not the benefit of the recipient. This will help the child to cultivate a generous spirit and become a valuable part of the community who cares about others’ needs.
Jar Two is for “Long-term Savings”. It teaches the value of saving and delayed spending. To achieve long-term goals and a debt-free life, there is no other way than to invest towards it. If the child has a particular future purchase in mind—a bicycle, some art supplies or a phone, for example—this goal will keep them motivated and the eventual purchase will reward their effort and patience.
Jar Three is labelled “Spending”. Naturally, the spending must be within the amount in the jar. And spending based on principles and genuine needs has more value than spending recklessly.
The Three Jars method is suitable for adults as well, although you may prefer to have three bank accounts or three places in a notebook where you keep track of your money. But your children are more likely to learn the value of the Three Jars if they see their father and mother also budgeting.
3. Don’t be a slave
Failure to save and spending above our income leads to borrowing. Studies have confirmed that this society is ridden with debt. There is an expression in Papua New Guinea: “maket mama em bos blong save card”, or, in English, “the market women are in charge of the bank cards”. This refers to how regular income earners who keep spending beyond their means must borrow from market retailers who have cash at hand. To make sure the debt is paid, these tough-dealing “market mamas” demand their debtors’ bank cards until the borrowed money has been recouped. The ancient wisdom of the wise man is proved absolutely correct: “Borrowers are slaves to lenders” (Proverbs 22:7).
4. Be content
This generation is struggling to find one simple thing: contentment. Appreciating and living happily in all of life’s circumstances is essential for mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. But we are living in a spending culture where advertisers and retailers constantly entice us to want and buy more and more. Giving into these temptations is like injecting a drug—it creates an instant personal experience that numbs our reasoning abilities and pushes us to live an artificial life that is beyond our means.
We need true, godly contentment. It should be the foundation of every home. We need to find the apostle Paul’s secret. Consider his words carefully: “I know what it’s like not to have what I need. I also know what it’s like to have more than I need. I have learned the secret of being content no matter what happens. I am content whether I am well fed or hungry. I am content whether I have more than enough or not enough. I can do all this by the power of Christ. He gives me strength” (Philippians 4:12,13).
5. Teach your children
Developing a right attitude towards money in your children will train them to appreciate what they have and live within their means. But failure to learn these lessons will put them at risk of becoming slaves to the lender.
Therefore, keep living these principles yourself as a good example to your children and, as Moses wrote about all of the Lord’s instructions in ancient times, “Make sure your children learn them. Talk about them when you are at home. Talk about them when you walk along the road. Speak about them when you go to bed. And speak about them when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:7). You may not be there for your children after they have launched into adulthood, but you can leave your words and the memories of how you lived your life and led your family along the road of God’s principles. Those influences will live in your children’s hearts for the rest of their lives.
James Kiangua is the director of stewardship ministries for the Eastern Highlands Simbu Mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, based in Goroka.
Themes in this article are drawn from:
• Alex Cook, Simple Steps for the Journey to Financial Freedom, Kingdom Media Limited, Hong Kong, 2016.
• John Matthews, Stewardship: The Motives of the Heart, Pacific Press Publishing Association, Nampa, USA, 2017.