October 13, 2011 by Pastor Jeremiah
Last week I wrote about the principle of developing margin in our lives. It’s a principle that makes a lot of sense, but can be very hard to follow through with. Let’s face it; life in our fast-paced world has a way of sucking every last drop of time, energy, and money that we have. If we aren’t intentional about keeping reserves, we’ll deplete ourselves time and time again. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to go through life being depleted. I want to keep a little something in the tank for when I really need it.
We may be tempted to think that leaving margin in our lives is optional, but let’s rethink that theory. Margin is simply an amount allowed beyond what is needed. It’s the safe distance from which one can view the majestic Grand Canyon without tiptoeing all the way to the edge to take it all in. The view from the edge might be slightly more spectacular, but it comes with a high level of risk. Applying this illustration to life, we can see that in living life on the edge, at full capacity, we are just one slip away from catastrophe. Falling off the cliff is not an option, so I want to establish some guardrails in my life to keep this from happening. Developing margin is a good way to do that. Last week we looked at developing margin with our time, specifically at work. This week I want to apply the principle of margin to how we manage our money
According to the Wall Street Journal, seventy percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck – no margin. That may not come as a surprise to most of us, after all, the financial mess our country is experiencing reminds us everyday of our fiscal irresponsibility. It’s ironic that a majority of Americans are up in arms about the debt that our nation is carrying when a strong majority of those same people carry insane amounts of debt on their houses, cars, and credit cards. We should be asking the question, “why do we carry all of this debt as individuals and as a nation?” Here are the usual suspects:
- Procrastination – Why pay for it now when we can pay for it later?
- Greed – Our propensity to desire more fuels our spending habits.
- Ignorance – We lack the foresight to see how debt weighs us down.
So, what’s the solution to this debt issue? How about margin? I sense that some might object. “Wait a minute. Debt is a matter of spending the money that I don’t have. It has nothing to do with spending the money I do have.” Let’s be honest with ourselves. If we budget to spend every last cent that we take in, we are almost certain to take on debt. Even if we manage to hit our budget goals, there is bound to be an emergency doctor bill, car bill, or latte bill that will catch us by surprise and cause us to dip into credit to cover it. Isn’t this the recipe for slipping into debt? It’s a battle of attrition. We pile it on little by little until it becomes a mound that seems insurmountable.
The scriptures have a lot to say about money. They warn us against allowing a love for money to take root in us. Most importantly, they give us principles to live by in order to keep that from happening. The scriptures teach us to develop margin as one of those principles. So, how can we beat debt and the catalysts that drive debt by developing margin?
Beat Debt by Saving
I realize this is obvious, but with 70% of Americans living paycheck to paycheck maybe we just don’t get it. I recommend Dave Ramsey’s approach, which he outlines in his book “The Total Money Makeover”. Start by developing a savings account of $1000 to use for those surprise bills that are bound to come up from time to time. Don’t just put that car repair bill on the credit card when it comes along. Be ready for it by planning ahead. “The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way, but the folly of fools is deceiving.” (Proverbs 14:8). Moving forward, rework your budget to include a savings every month. Most experts recommend that you save 10%. “Impossible” you might say. Well, it all depends upon your perspective. If going without cable TV, a new car, or even a cell phone sounds more stressful than dealing with say… mountains of credit card debt, or a future home foreclosure, then maybe saving isn’t for you. However, if you can manage to swing it, your savings will act as a margin keeping you from falling off the edge of a financial cliff.
Beat Greed by Giving
Of course, if you find it absolutely impossible to save, it’s quite possible that you are simply held hostage by the very base human desire called greed. You might not consider yourself a greedy person, but we all battle greed at some level. The best way to fight greed is by giving. Generosity has a way of taking our focus away from self-fulfillment by placing it on the needs of others. The more I give, the more I am made aware of the fact that what I choose to do with my money can make a difference in the lives of others. It also forces me to consider the idea of stewardship. Could it be that God has given me the wealth that I have for a greater purpose than simply sustaining my way of life, or supporting my family?
In the Levitical law God required every landowner to provide for the poor and the foreigner by maintaining margin (Leviticus 19:9-10). Workers were not allowed to make a second pass when harvesting crops, so as to leave something for scavengers. In addition, they were commanded to leave the edges of their fields (the margins) unattended, so that there would be something left for the less fortunate. God commanded margin in the Law, but we are invited into a life of generosity. How will you respond? Will you consider it your right to consume everything you have been given, or will you consider that what you have been given is meant to be shared? If we can reserve a portion of our income (margin) to be given away, we can take a bite out of greed before it takes a bite out of us.