Faith and Finances: Flakey? or Foundational?

DH = Dear Husband

Red flags and Kay’s comment

Every once in a while, I read something in the personal finance blogosphere that sends red flags shooting up in my brain. Despite my best efforts to be open-minded, I think, “Warning! There’s something misguided here!” One such red-flag moment occurred this week on my own site, where I chronicle the journey out of debt DH and I have been trekking for over three years now. My weekly post had been about the first financial planning event that DH and I had ever attended, and how it had the effect (only briefly as it turns out) of taking us off the same page in terms of the plan we’re following to become debt-free and financially free.

f28ef47690999d7da9428d9ddd6c71bdkay ~ the barefoot minimalist says:

November 8, 2015 at 11:22 am

I wish I could help, but we don’t invest in worldly anything . . . 

Two basic rules I try to follow in responding to people’s posts and comments are “be respectful” and “be honest”. So I couldn’t NOT express my concern to Kay. I hoped I was being respectful:

e8b749db1ada16ec090c5e6b2bb5de09 prudencedebtfree says:

November 8, 2015 at 3:10 pm

. . . I’m worried about you. If you haven’t been investing, and if you have no plans to invest, aren’t you setting yourselves up for abject poverty in your old age?

Dave Ramsey & money myths

My concern was that Kay and her husband were being naive in thinking “our finances in retirement will sort themselves out.” I’ll confess here that I used to have these kinds of naive thoughts about personal finance – in my case, in relation to marriage. I had a subconscious but strong dose of Cinderella faith, despite my professed feminism. “My husband will look after everything,” was my belief, “I don’t need to do a thing about it.” Life taught me, in no uncertain terms, that I had to be proactively engaged in our mutual finances.

Like the Cinderalla complex, the notion that we’ll all be looked after in our retirement and eventually in our old age is prevalent in our society. It’s one of the “money myths” that Dave Ramsey addresses in chapter 4 of his book, The Total Money Makeover:

Myth: Everything will be fine when I retire. I know I’m not saving yet, but it will be okay.

Truth: The Cavalry isn’t coming.

How can I put this delicately? There is no shining knight headed your way on a white horse to save the day. Wake up! This is the real world where sad old people eat Alpo! Please don’t be under the illusion that this government . . . is going to take care of you in your golden years. That is your job! This is an emergency! The house is on fire! You have to save! You have to invest in your future. You won’t be FINE!

I first read Ramsey’s book in the spring of 2012, just before DH and I started out on our journey out of debt. And that “Alpo” bit is one that has stuck with me. I do not want anyone, least of all Kay, to be headed for such dire circumstances.

Faith and finance

Kay and I back-and-forthed a bit in the comments section, and she quoted this scripture from Matthew 6:19-21: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” I could see that these verses were in line with her practice.

But other verses came to my mind. Like Luke 14:28 – “For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?” Here, Jesus refers to the necessity of financial planning and saving for goals.

Quoting single verses of scripture, however, is rarely effective in convincing anyone of anything. What it CAN do is to express how an individual feels led in his or her faith journey. Faith doesn’t come with a one-size-fits-all way of living.

Specific, radical calls on individual lives

I know a man named Paul who felt led to sell his business, his house, all of his possessions, and to give profits from the sales to the poor, trusting in God for provision. He was married and had four young children. The verse he referred to when explaining his radical lifestyle change was Luke 18:22, in which Jesus tells the rich young ruler “. . . Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” The rich young ruler did not heed that call. But Paul and his wife Amy did. Over ten years later, I can tell you that they and their children have never had to eat Alpo. Their lives haven’t been free of struggle or disappointment, but the best word I can think of to describe their experience overall is “rich.”

I believe there is great value in the radical decisions people make based upon their faith and the specific calls that God has upon their individual lives. Although I feel no call to do as Paul and Amy have done, I am inspired by their example to be less materialistic and more trusting. In the same way, I have no call to invest as Kay and her husband do, exclusively in “treasures in heaven.” But their example inspires me to be more giving.

“I wasn’t trying to say that no one should invest by conventional methods.”

I sent Kay an e-mail before deciding to write this post. In it, I said I would like to write “about the whole issue of faith and finances and preparing for old age – and I’d like to include our back-and-forth comments from Prudence Debtfree. Are you OK with that? I ask because, as you might guess, I don’t subscribe to your way of applying the scripture you quoted.”

Kay was quick to respond. “Hey, you’re totally welcome to use my comments.  Sorry for gobbling up so much room in your post.  I hope you understand that I wasn’t trying to say that no one should invest by conventional methods.  I was just saying that, for various reasons that are kind of private, we choose to only invest in the Kingdom of God.”

I was relieved to see that Kay and her husband consider the call on their lives to be specific. To know that they’re not saying, “Forget investing everyone! It’s a sign of a lack of faith!”

Ramsey’s words spoke right to me 3.5 years ago when I read his message to “Wake up!” DH and I woke up with a start, and we’ve been putting our financial household in order ever since. As for a specific call on our lives? So far, it’s been to humble ourselves, to get real, to share our story, and to extend hope. Is it possible that we’ll be called to something more radical in the future? I think it is. And I hope that if that happens, we’ll respond with an eager and faith-filled “Yes!” But I’m not looking for radical. I’m looking at the terrain directly in front of us as we navigate our total money makeover. And now that I think of it, perhaps that’s radical enough.

Do you think faith plays into finances? Does it have a “flakey” influence? Or is it foundational?  Your comments are welcome.


Image courtesy of Vortix


40 comments on “Faith and Finances: Flakey? or Foundational?

  1. That was a super post Ruth. You laid it out perfectly. I know it’s hard for people to understand other people’s ways of thinking. We’ve been deeply immersed in the Word and in faith teachings for almost 20 years now. I would definitely not advise anyone to jump into the deep end of the pool without plenty of swimming lessons first. Thanks for letting me throw a different light on the PF subject. It’s kind of why I’m just not cut out for the PF genre. I get a lot of the stink eye from the serious PFers. 😛 Thanks again, Ruth! 🙂

    1. I’m sorry to hear you’re getting “the stink eye” from anyone! Thank you for letting me use your comments in writing this post, Kay. I’m glad you didn’t get defensive. People aren’t always so open to concerns and different opinions – no matter how politely they’re expressed. All the best on your radical path, Kay. I’ll always be interested in following your story.

  2. I view my faith as foundational to my finances, and I hope that other Christians do to. The Bible addresses money more than any other topic (besides worshipping God), so its an area where we can constantly grow.

    The faith pillars that influence my daily finances include:
    Money is a gift from God, and is meant to glorify God.
    Enjoying “enough” is great gain (Godliness with contentment is great gain) (this is where I have justification for a certain level of investing and ownership of goods)
    I’m robbing myself of greater treasure (enjoying God) when I skimp on generosity.
    God might actually call us to do a Rich Young Ruler (since we’re too rich at this point to be the widow with the two coins).
    Eternal treasures are far more important than financial treasures.

    I sometimes worry that we’re going to be called to sell everything and live to serve others in a very bad climate (like in Missouri or something), but if God calls us to that, he will give us the faith we need. I might start praying for a good climate; I think that would make the transition easier.

    1. I couldn’t help but chuckle when you said you’re worried you’ll be called to serve people in a place like Missouri! I wonder how the people of Missouri feel about your worry : ) I think it’s a good idea to be open to a call on your lives, but not to expect any given type of call. You seem to be very firmly placed on a foundation of faith, Hannah. I’m sure your discernment of God’s will for your life will remain clear.

      1. tee hee! Me too, Ruth on the chuckle. I really didn’t know Missouri was known for its bad climate. 😀 We had considered moving to Branson at one point to be near the Faith Life Church, but they built one in Sarasota, so that’s why we came thisaway instead. Great comment, Hannah! All great points! 🙂

        1. Missouri has horrible weather, but the reason that I brought up Missouri specifically is that I am passionate about racial justice through relationships and poverty relief through economic growth, and Missouri is a place where racial tensions and poverty are at the forefront of everyone’s mind these days.

  3. I once read a book that advocated not saving, not having insurance, not preparing for retirement because doing so separated you from God by depending on yourself rather than him. It was written by a minister who signed ownership of everything to his church and his wife. He advocated that by doing so you were showing your faith that God would provide for you. And I suppose He did provide for that author because he lived in a home provided by the church and his salary came from the church. But for those of us who are not ministers, I don’t think it is wise to do nothing for oneself.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Kathy. That is definitely a “red flag” book in my eyes. If the minister had testified about his own experience of provision despite an absence of savings, insurance, and retirement fund, I’d be interested in learning his story. But by advocating these leaps of faith for others, he’s doing something altogether different. I shudder to think of the stories of people who have followed his advice too eagerly – without seeking God’s will for their lives first – and without the benefits that come with his position. As for “doing nothing for oneself”, Kay would say that she is doing something for herself by submitting herself to God’s specific call on her life. It’s not the same as the call on my life, and I won’t be following suit, but I can accept that it is hers.

  4. Fantastic post, Ruth! Thanks to Kay for allowing this discussion. Touches upon – imo – one of the most fascninating aspects of money.

    I’m catholic and most of my extended family and close friends are as well. Considering we all come from the same religious background, it intrigues me that we can all answer a question wildly different: What is money’s ultimate purpose?

    Some, like me, view it as a profession of faith. How I handle money is a direct reflection of my faith. Others view as if they are water and oil.

    Just my observation: The “God will take care of it” mantra is so prevalent that if one acts in ways not consistent with what we’re supposed to believe – by doing things that make it seem like you dont trust God – then it’s falsly considered the same as blatantly calling God’s bluff.

    My opinion: God doesnt take care of it. God takes care of you. And you take care of “it”.

    1. So true that people who supposedly subscribe to the same belief system can have an incredible variety of views about a given topic – such as money. I’m afraid I don’t get what you’re saying regarding what you call “the ‘God will take care of it’ mantra.” I’m interested though. Would you please give an example of “ways not consistent with what we’re supposed to believe”? I’m with you on that last line – and I believe that Kay would be too. Though her way of “taking care of it” would be different from the way most of us would. Thanks Luke. I hope you write that example for me!

      1. My observation is this: If we’re supposed to believe that God is our savior; our provider; our caretaker; watching over us; guiding us, etc. (which I believe), it can be spiritually difficult to do things that undermine that belief.

        So how do we undermine that belief? Say you invited me over for dinner. My belief is that you will be providing food. But if I show up with #1 from McDonalds “just in case you didn’t provide dinner”, my action (bringing McDonalds) is inconsistent with my belief (being provided with food). And as a respectful guest, I should not bring McDonalds to a dinner party. I should believe in you.

        Saying God is my provider (my belief) BUT at the same time working crazy amounts of overtime for extra money to, say, buy a bigger house; better car; whatever (my action), can easily be misconstrued as saying “I don’t believe that God is my provider. Because if he was then why am I am doing all of this when I could be giving all my money away instead of trying to attain more.”

        Hope that clarifies??? :/

        1. It does : ) So how about this, Luke: Is saving for retirement evidence of not trusting in the provision of God? Some (for example, the minister who wrote the book Kathy refers to above) would say it is. (I certainly wouldn’t.)

  5. I’d just like to make something clear. I don’t believe in doing “nothing”. I believe in tithing and that God takes care of your finances when you are faithful with your sowing. I’m not trying to convert anyone, just trying to explain my position a bit. I believe in the the principle of sowing and reaping and have seen many harvests as a result with us and with others. Also, I’d like to be clear that I am a Born Again Christian (as of 1996) of no particular denomination. Okay, that’s it for now. Carry on! 🙂

    1. I understand that you’re not trying to convert anyone to your way of expressing your faith through your finances, and I understand that you accept other people’s approaches in this area without judgement. I also appreciate the way you’ve allowed your practices to be highlighted in this post. Others are bound to have the “red flag” response that I initially had, but again, I think the key here is that you’re not preaching this way of being to others. You feel specifically called to it yourself, and you’ve shared that fact. Again Kay, thank you.

  6. Very interesting post, Ruth!

    Although I was raised “with religion”, organized faith is not a part of my life. I would say that I’m basically guided by general Christian values, but God is not really a part of it, for me. I share this, because one of the many things I struggle with in relation to DR, is the emphasis on religion – specifically Christianity – in his teachings. I also feel this way when I read some other PF blogs. I’m not offended by mentions of religion, nor does it necessarily damage the credibility of the “speaker” in my mind. But it does make the message feel much less relevant and relatable to me.

    So, no, faith does not play a role in finances for me. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Amy. I’m always aware of the alienation that some people experience when faith is part of the discussion, and I’m sorry if you’ve felt it in this case. I believe that even if you don’t consider yourself to be “religious”, you have a “moral” or “spiritual” framework in which you choose to live. I’m willing to bet that if you think about it, you’ll find that this framework plays a role in your finances too. I’d welcome your thoughts on this. Thanks again for your honesty, Amy.

      1. I didn’t feel alienated by this post at all! I thought it wasa very thoughtful piece on a potentially touchy subject.

        I agree that we all live within some sort of moral or spiritual framework, and to varying degrees, that plays into our finances. For me, I suppose it has to do with charitable donations and supporting my daughter’s school.

        1. Thanks, Amy! I’m glad you liked the post : ) Charitable donations and your support of important institutions like your daughter’s school are definitely manifestations of a moral/spiritual framework.

  7. Thanks for broaching this controversy! There are plenty of verses about wise planning for the future, and in our culture where our firstborn children are not our retirement plan, I believe investing is a wise way to meet future needs. Greed and the love of money are strongly warned against because of their disastrous spiritual consequences but planning ahead and saving is considered wise:
    “The wise store up choice food and olive oil, but fools gulp theirs down.” Proverbs 21:20
    “Dishonest money dwindles away, but whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow.” Proverbs 13:11
    And our namesake, Proverbs 13:7: “There is one who pretends to be rich but has nothing; Another pretends to be poor but actually has great wealth.”

    Ramsey’s “The Legacy Journey” (2014) has an interesting treatment of the Matthew 6 verse Kay quoted, as well as the Rich Young Ruler and the Widow with 2 coins. I don’t 100% agree with everything he said, but he made some good points. Regarding the Rich Young Ruler, he had a heart problem that was manifested by his money, which is why Jesus called him out in that area. It is not a prescription for everyone, as you mentioned.

    1. Thanks Kalie. I’m not familiar with the Legacy material, but I’m interested in knowing how Ramsey treats those verses. I’m with you on the balance between wise planning and the avoidance of greed found in scripture. I believe many people struggle to determine the precise recipe for putting it all into practice, so there is always room for discussion. I also believe there is room for radically different “recipes” as each one of us discerns. You say Proverbs 13:7 is your “namesake.” I’d like to know more about that!

        1. Ah! I didn’t make the connection between your blog title and that verse – though it’s completely obvious. Thanks for including the link to your “About” page.

  8. Wow, excellent post. Yep, this totally broaches a touchy subject, almost as touchy as income sharing. I feel that with enough study of the Bible, you could probably find support for almost anything you want to do in life, or path you choose to take.
    I don’t give any consideration to religion or faith in our investing, barring some charities I contribute to occasionally.
    I am impressed by folks like Mark @ Bare Budget Guy and others on the PF sphere that tithe 10% even with well to do salaries, which adds up to a lot of $$. Some of my closer friends and colleagues do the same and yeah, I’m impressed by it. I don’t subscribe to that philosophy, but more power to those that do.
    If you find faith and religion of any sort to be powerful enough for you to follow it and get strength from it in life, I totally support that. It would be nice to have something like that, but I can’t say I’ve experienced it yet.
    I was raised Christian or more Baptist, and while my family was very religious, ultimately my experience with all of that turned me off of organized religion. I didn’t renounce my faith or anything, but I just stayed spiritual and did my own thing in respect to God/higher power/whatever you choose to call it. I’ve since dipped my toes back into the religion realm and it’s taken some time to get comfortable with it, but overall it’s been positive.
    I am impressed by those who can have such faith and get such energy from that, because I haven’t had that connection yet.
    Until then, I’ll plan for my family, life, and retirement as if no one else is, and if I get extra help along the way, that would be great too.

    1. Thanks Mr. SSC. As I said to Amy, I’m aware of the fact that people can feel alienated by discussions that are based on faith. In light of that fact, I really appreciate both your honesty and your thoughtful comment. I think that faith is all about the “connection” you say you haven’t yet experienced, and nothing about the “religion” that turned you off in your childhood. As you dip your toes in again, I would encourage you not to settle for religion, but to press on to find that connection – that relationship. It is what will bring new life and understanding to the scriptures you have probably read and listened to many times over. And those new insights might or might not lead you to change your practices. Thanks again!

  9. Wow…interesting post and interesting comments by everyone. I am a Christian and I don’t mind posts that intersect money and faith. When I read posts where people are still able to tithe while trying to get out debt and still pay their day-to-day expenses, I find those posts inspiring 🙂

    Great thought-provoking post Ruth!

    1. Thank you, Mackenzie. I too am inspired by people who manage to be generous despite limited incomes and the burden of debt. There’s a real grace in that kind of giving.

  10. Interesting discussion! As a Catholic, when I think about ways of living, I look to a long tradition of theology/writings and also to a long tradition of saints — in other words, to people who have interpreted the scriptures in various ways, as well as to the scriptures. There’s a lot more to think about this than would go in a comment box, really, but I’d say that some principles that come to mind for me are:

    –nothing is truly “ours.” Ultimately, all of creation comes from God and will return to God.

    –that said, because creation is of God, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with loving it and caring for what’s in our (temporary) possession, as long as we keep a sense of proportion about it (=don’t fall into idolatry.)

    –there is no perfect way to be, regarding money, because creation is flawed and imperfect. All we can do is the best that we can do, and that call may change over time.

    –we are part of one human community (and ultimately, one creation community.) Everyone is my “neighbor.” Solidarity and charity are therefore important virtues to practice, and they probably will involve sharing material goods (money, house room, food.) I love more radical ways of putting this too, but at this moment I don’t feel called to pursue them. I do feel called to stabilize my own life, and feel that if I can achieve this stability then in the future I will perhaps feel called to more radical measures. Currently, I contribute much more of my time and skills than I do my money; later, I expect to increase the dollars.

    –I like thinking about the saints in part because they show how many ways there are to be a holy person. Some gave up all possessions and lived radical lives of witness; some were personally poor but lived in comfortable circumstances (say, in an abbey); some were well-off, but used the wealth to do good things for the world. The common thread is not exactly what they did, but the spirit in which they did it. Augustine wrote, “Love God, and then do what you will.”

    1. “The common thread is not exactly what they did, but the spirit in which they did it.” I love that. And I love the words of Augustine that you quoted. It’s not about good behaviour – for this discussion, in terms of finance – but about that ultimate commandment to “Love the Lord your God.” The behaviour that flows from that relationship of love will be impacted by our circumstances, our study, our understanding – and as you say, it will be imperfect. Fortunately, that’s OK. He’s not seeking well behaved goody two-shoes, but pure hearts. Thanks for your awesome comment, C.

  11. An interesting topic for sure. As a Catholic there is certainly a relationship between money and religion. I often think of it in general terms. Dave Ramsey was one of the first resources I found and I don’t mind his religious views. His steps to managing your money are a solid plan no matter what your beliefs. Be a good Shepard, love thy neighbor, etc in general terms are great principles to follow whether talking about life or money.

    1. I have also found that good, solid wisdom is applicable to many areas of life, Brian. For instance, as my husband and I have become better in communicating about our finances, we’ve also become better at communicating about our children, our schedule, and everything else. And while I know Ramsey and I would disagree about many things (he’s way more right wing than I am), I am very happy to learn from him – despite these differences.

  12. Loving every bit of this post/discussions!!! We spent years trying to manage our money our own way, and what it got us was disaster, LOL. Nowadays we don’t subscribe to much in the way of teachings on money, but we do take into consideration everything the Bible has to say on the subject. We also work to ask God before making our budget and before spending money unnecessarily. Not only has this technique improved our finances, it’s improved our peace. God definitely lines out specific rules for money in the Bible, but I also think God has an individual plan for each of us regarding our money, but it’s only when we totally submit to Him and ask Him about His plan that we can learn to hear that plan. To me, that sounds like it’s what Kay and her hubby have done, and I think that’s cool. 🙂

    1. Discernment is the key for this, and no one else’s approval is necessary when there is confidence in the clarity of that discernment. The truth is, many lack confidence in their own ability to discern. I believe that when we start to see faith as being based upon relationship rather than religion, we set the stage for much greater clarity and confidence in this area. But you already know this from your own experience, Laurie : ) Thanks.

      1. WOW, powerful words, my friend, and I agree with every one. We are missing out without that personal relationship, which trumps religion infinitely. Awesome. 🙂

  13. Glad I found this discussion today. The topic is central to my life with money over the past 10-20 years — and in fact I have been praying for places to share about it! So thanks for being an answer to my prayer…

    What I have found for myself personally, is that if I embrace either side of the faith/money-work equation too strongly I hurt myself.

    For a while I lived like the lilies of the field, only in the day and letting God take care of me. After a while, I went broke.

    Then when I tried to embrace the old ways of work for a while – not being materialistic but being very practical, following the sensible, conventional rules of American Dream engagement I learned from my parents– I found that every door was closed to me and I stayed broke and got broker. Definitely not a comfortable or happy place to be!

    After years of experimenting, I have finally found something of a balance and doors are opening for me again. Thank you, Higher Power!!

    For me, the 21st century magic key has come through several major evolutions in myself as a person.

    I’ve been healing heart relationships through caregiving for my mother, who moved in with me to help me out financially through sharing expenses. She would never let herself be a “burden” so she almost certainly wouldn’t have been able to leave her home of 60 years and move across the country– except for her hugely strong motherly instinct to help ME.

    I was a successful magazine editor and writer in NYC for decades – an independent, fairly high earner who never EVER wanted to be a nurse, a caregiver or anything like it.
    As it turned out, though, my mom and I have been able to build on our strong (though cross-country) relationship to bond more closely and like and love each other more. It has taken much personal work, therapy and self-education– and this has been such a wonderful gift!

    Gaining healthy humility has also been a large part of my journey. I’ve had to learn to accept government help with self respect because the system definitely doesn’t offer it freely (either the respect or the help). But I had to do it to survive, just like my grandmother in the Great Depression, because I became ill and could not work.

    Now, the increased compassion, humility and respect I’ve gained are opening me up to exploring a new line of work (EFT healing and new kinds of writing), which I really love.
    I’ve also had to develop a new relationship with God, to forgive myself for falling flat on my face financially and to forgive God for letting it happen.

    At this point I’m starting to see the positive things that are coming out of this tremendously challenging period of my life. All things can work for the good, and thank God for that! Thanks again to you for letting me (and inspiring me) to share!

    1. Wow Nancy! I’m very glad you found this discussion too. You’ve added so much to it. Your story is one that has brought you through a great deal of suffering but also to an increasing revelation of God’s love. Increased compassion, humility and respect are all wonderful gifts. You are in good company here in being able to testify to the truth that all things – even the most life-sucking experiences – can and do work together for good. I hope and trust that there is much more of that “good” ahead for you. Thanks so much for reading this post and for offering such a rich comment.

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