On Faith and Finance: In God We Trust
The American economy, experts cautiously say, is strengthening. According to a recent NPR report, many households have recovered most of their wealth lost in the 2008 Wall Street fiasco. Consequently, consumer confidence is at a five-year high, and spending is up.
More spending means a more robust economy and an increase in hiring, and more money in consumers' pockets usually leads to a bump in spending. Around and around it goes. Theoretically, the good vibrations leave few untouched.
The improving economic climate may offer a chance for us to get right with our finances—both paying down debt, and addressing our skewed, and often sinful, views of money.
Freedom to spend as we desire—as often, as much, on whatever—is one of the blessings of a free-market economy, we Americans say. Problems emerge, though, with distortion. Greed scoops up more money than it is needed. Stinginess refuses to share. Prodigal spending thinks of only the here and now, and often uses credit to pay for it. Narcissism sees money as a tool for satisfying our own needs and wants.
A year ago, my husband and I were in deep financial trouble. Years of recklessly contributing to the economy with big spending, all done on credit cards, took their toll. We found ourselves with five figures' worth of debt, and no clear plan for getting out. Monthly payments were as much a part of our lives as our children.
Despite the fact that we are Christians, our approach to money was all wrong. To us money was currency, that which with we could buy shelter, food, clothes, fun, status, and security. A sermon series at church changed everything. It wasn't new information, but this time God had us ready to hear.
"Money isn't 'ours' in the sense that we're somehow entitled to it," the pastor said. "It is a gift of God, the Giver of all good things. And God gives money to us to steward it well, not to worship it or to think so little of it that we're frivolous."
My husband and I unofficially enrolled ourselves in Dave Ramsey U (specifically his Seven Baby Steps), hit the restart button on our financial lives, and made huge shifts in the way that we were living. We're now less than $2,000 away from paying off our credit card debt, with a downsized lifestyle, a small amount of savings, and a radically different view of money. Apparently, we are not alone.
Americans' personal debt loads have steadily shrunk since 2008, and this year, more are making their monthly payments on time. As the economy strengthens, more of us see paying down debt as a real possibility, not just a far-off dream, and Ramsey's advice has become more popular and relevant than ever.
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