“As a young person, I didn’t realize the impact that early financial habits would have on my future,” says the author in this book excerpt. Join him on a journey of personal discovery and learn about practical and biblical lessons for wise money management.
To manage money well as adults, we need to teach our children to manage their money from a young age.
Even though your kids probably don’t have a lot of money right now, and they may be so young
that fostering within them some of these bigger-picture perspectives may seem like a stretch, the money-related habits they begin developing right when they first get their hands on some money are extremely important. That’s because the financial beliefs and behaviors they learn today, when they don’t have much money, will be magnified when they’re older and have more. As I discovered firsthand, that’s true for better or for worse.
As soon as I was old enough to earn money, I did. And I worked hard. When I was twelve, I had
a one-hundred-house newspaper route. When I was fourteen, I got a summer job working in the cornfields owned by one of our town’s largest employers, DeKalb Ag, a company that engineered corn and other crop seeds. That was considered a good job because it paid well, but it was hard work under the hot sun.
As I got older, I worked in restaurants and moved my way up from busboy to head cook.
I was very intent on making money, and I was equally intent on spending money. When I was
sixteen, I bought a car, a good stereo, and more.
In college, those habits were magnified. While working at a radio station on campus, I had to get permission to work all the hours I wanted to work. And I kept spending—on different cars,
restaurant meals, and who knows what else.
After graduating from college, my habits of hard work and free spending were further magnified.
I discovered credit cards, and I thought they were amazing. I could buy a bunch of things and then pay just a small amount of the bill each month. So I did.
In my mid twenties, something completely unexpected happened. I inherited sixty thousand dollars from an uncle. I had no idea he’d planned to leave me any money. It felt like I had won the lottery, and I hadn’t even bought a ticket.
Did I use the money to pay off all my credit-card debts? Put some in savings? Start investing? Did I give any of it away? No.
I used the money to create my dream job, producing a newsletter for people who take golf
vacations. Once a month, I traveled to some great golf destination—Puerto Rico, southern Spain, the Monterey Peninsula in California. I would play the best courses in the area, take pictures, and write reviews. When I wasn’t traveling, I enjoyed myself in Chicago, where I lived, shopping at high-end clothing stores and eating at expensive restaurants. My life was everything I dreamed it could be—except solvent. I was spending far more than I was making each month.
Two years after inheriting the sixty thousand dollars, I woke up to the hard reality that I had spent every last penny of it and had racked up twenty thousand dollars of credit-card debt. The habits I’d learned at a young age when I didn’t have much money—work hard (good), spend everything I made and then some (not good)— were magnified when I got older, had more money, and gained access to credit cards.
Unable to pay my bills, I completed an unintentional re-enactment of the Bible’s parable of the Prodigal Son by moving back home. I went from living the life to living in my parents’ basement in the small town where I grew up. While I’ll always be thankful to my parents for the safety net they provided, those early weeks were so depressing that all I wanted to do was sleep.
As difficult as that experience was, there were two wonderful life changes that came out of it. First, it made me start to ask some questions about the direction of my life. About that time, I got a call from Wayne, one of my friends from college. I had graduated a year ahead of him, moved out of state for a job, and lost touch with him. Unbeknownst to me, he had become a Christian that year. When he got back in touch, he wanted to talk about his newfound faith. The experience I had been through left me humbled and willing to listen.
Wayne said some tough things, like that the more I had leaned on my own understanding, the more things hadn’t worked out so well. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was quoting Proverbs 3:5-6. Wayne also told me some hopeful truths. “God has a plan for your life,” he said. Those conversations set me on path of exploring Christianity.
About eleven months later, now living on my own again, I was on the verge of messing up something else that mattered to me.
Once again I was humbled and broken. Sitting in the quiet of the studio apartment I’d moved into, I bowed my head and prayed a simple prayer: God, if You really do exist, I’d like to know You. If You really do have a plan for my life, I’d like to know what it is. I’m sorry for the many ways I have surely fallen short of your standards. Thank You for sending Your Son to die on a cross for my sins. From this day forward, please take control and lead my life. Amen.
I didn’t see any flashes of lightning. There were no visits from angels, no parting of the clouds. But from that day forward, my life began to change in significant ways.
One positive development was that I woke up to my need to learn how to manage money, so I got started. After becoming a Christian, I started attending a church that had a “stewardship ministry” that taught people about biblical money management. I had never heard of such a thing, nor did I realize at the time that the Bible had anything to say about money. It turns out it says a lot.
Since I was deeply in debt and my mismanagement of money was what had led me to Christ, I was fascinated by this ministry. Innocently enough, I asked about serving in it. As a new Christian with twenty thousand dollars of debt, I really should have been served by the ministry, but for some reason they let me join the team. Maybe they were short on volunteers.
In order to become properly trained, I needed to attend various financial workshops. I was a sponge, soaking up everything I could. Eventually I was allowed to facilitate discussions at tables of workshop participants. Later I joined the teaching team.
Since I became a Christian at age twenty-nine, there are times when I wish it hadn’t taken so long, when I’m tempted to view all the years before that as wasted time. But I know that God has used all the mistakes and foolish decisions I made earlier in life for a purpose.
One benefit of learning financial lessons the hard way is that it has given me a passion for helping young people get onto a good financial path. I want to help people avoid the mistakes I made. It’s one reason I love being a parent so much. I’m excited about doing whatever I can to help instill in our kids a passion for walking closely with God, and that includes managing money according to His principles and for His purposes.
I want them to discover as early as possible the “good works” God intends for them to do (Ephesians 2:10), to see and appreciate how He has uniquely designed them and how He plans to use their interests, passions, and abilities to help them live adventurous, difference-making lives. I love how The Message paraphrases 1 Corinthians 12:7: “Each person is given something to do that shows who God is.” I can’t wait to see how that truth gets expressed in each of my children, and I’m sure you feel the same way about yours.
Money can either be a force that helps propel our children toward a life of good works or a roadblock that stands in the way. It’s such an important subject in God’s eyes that the Bible says more about money than any other topic except the Kingdom of Heaven. In fact, Jesus named money as His chief rival for our hearts when He said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24).
That’s such a commonly quoted verse that we risk missing its importance. Why did Jesus mention money there? He could have picked so many other things, all of which can easily distract us from our relationship with Him—our marriages, our work, our hobbies, our friendships. But He chose money.
Get the money thing wrong, and it can shipwreck your life. “For the love of money is the first step toward all kinds of sin. Some people have even turned away from God because of their love for it, and as a result have pierced themselves with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:10, tlb).
Get the money thing right, and it can contribute mightily to a life of great joy and impact—a life of being entrusted with increasing responsibilities and increasing opportunities. “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master’” (Matthew 25:21). Let’s help our kids get it right. Let’s teach them practical, age appropriate, biblical lessons of wise money management, and then let’s watch with eager anticipation to see how God multiplies those lessons exponentially.
Taken from Trusted: Preparing Your Kids for a Lifetime of God-Honoring Money Management
by Matt Bell. Copyright © 2023. Used by permission of Focus On the Family. All rights
reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.