Do You Have an Income Problem or Spending Problems

Do You Have an Income Problem or Spending Problems?

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If we have spending problems, but blame our income, we don’t make appropriate changes because we put the blame in the wrong place. We blame our income when we should blame ourselves. We complain about our paycheck, when we should handle our finances differently. Let’s discuss some of the most common spending problems. This is part one. Here is part two.

Most people throughout history wanted necessities, but the more common problem today is having too much stuff. In the past people wanted food and clothing, but we have too many clothes and we eat too much food. Mark Twain once defined civilization as “a limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessities.” We spend too much money and accumulate too much stuff. It’s no surprise that storage is one of the fastest growing industries. An article titled, “Self-storage: How Warehouses for Personal Junk Became a $38 Billion Industry,” reads:

Despite recessions and demographic shifts, few building types have boomed like self-storage lockers. The self-storage industry made $32.7 billion in 2016, nearly three times Hollywood’s box office gross. Self-storage has seen 7.7 percent annual growth since 2012, and now employs 144,000 nationwide. One in eleven Americans pays an average of $91.14 per month to use self-storage. The United States has more than fifty thousand facilities and roughly 2.31 billion square feet of rentable space. To give that perspective, the volume of self-storage units in the country could “fill the Hoover Dam twenty-six times with old clothing, skis, and keepsakes.”

Self-storage: How warehouses for personal junk became a $38 billion industry

When I drive down the road and pass storage units, I wonder what’s in them that people don’t need and can’t get to easily, but still feel the need to keep. How many owners are still paying off the credit cards (see next chapter!) they used to buy that stuff in the first place?

Typically, when we have too much stuff, we should recognize two things. First, we are spending too much money. Second, we don’t have an income problem. We have a spending problem.

Even people with low incomes are still able to enjoy commodities that years ago would’ve been considered luxuries—cell phones, cars, computers, televisions. Most of us can comfortably live off much less if we avoid the spending problems that plague us. I use the word “most,” because some people work hard, are financially wise, but still struggle to make ends meet. For the rest of us, let’s figure out how to make our money go further by examining the most common spending problems.

Spending Problems Often Result from Small Purchases That Add Up

Sometimes we struggle financially because of large purchases costing thousands of dollars. More often though, we struggle because of small purchases made over several years. These frequent expenditures take place without a second thought for three reasons:

  • Small purchases are easier to justify—We can tell ourselves, “It is only $5…or $10…or $20” without considering that over time this adds up to thousands of dollars.
  • Small purchases don’t seem detrimental—We recognize how tragic it is to waste thousands of dollars, but it’s much tougher to recognize the damage caused by wasting a few dollars. We would probably be surprised to learn how much we have spent on small purchases we thought had little effect on our finances.
  • Small purchases don’t look wrong—We don’t think eating out, going to the movies, or swinging by the coffee shop is sinful, so these things are easier to do.

It’s surprising how comfortably people who are struggling financially will justify their small expenditures. Scripture does not condemn these purchases, but it does condemn purchases we can’t afford. We have the liberty to spend our money the ways listed above, but not if we don’t have the money.

AMC Entertainment is America’s most popular movie theater chain. Using AMC’s prices, the average movie costs $26 per person (ticket $11, soda $6, and popcorn $9). This is over $50 for a couple, and as kids are added the price quickly reaches $100. How can this be justified when a movie rental or subscription service is a fraction of the price?

Starbucks should more appropriately be called “Fivebucks.” Imagine a man we will call Joe. On Joe’s way to work each morning he spends five dollars on coffee. If he does this for five years, it will cost him almost seven thousand dollars. Then imagine Joe starts struggling financially. A caring friend tries to talk to Joe about his casual spending. Sadly, Joe responds that he has an income problem: “If only I made more money I wouldn’t be in this predicament. The problem is my boss doesn’t pay me enough.”

Joe’s friend tries to press in a little more and draw his attention to his daily coffee purchases, but Joe responds, “It is only five bucks. There’s no way these purchases could be the problem. Quit judging me. You can’t tell me that I can’t buy coffee! Where does Scripture forbid that?”

These examples only involve movies and coffee. Imagine what happens when you add in other small purchases, such as eating out or grabbing that extra item at the store that we don’t not really need.

Spending Problems Often Result from Worthless Purchases

By “worthless” I don’t mean the item has no value. If that were the case, hopefully we wouldn’t have made the purchase in the first place. I’m referring to the item’s value to us years, months, weeks, or sometimes even days ahead. If the item is valuable, but it has no value to us in the future, it has been a worthless purchase.

Let me illustrate this by sharing something I used to witness when I was an elementary schoolteacher. Because I was a Christian, I used to be as concerned with my students’ academics and character. I taught math, reading, and writing, but I also tried to spend time teaching about forgiveness, honesty, hard work, and generosity.

There were a few times each year I would have the opportunity to discuss finances with my students. One regular occurrence occurred prior to field trips, because if kids are at a museum, aquarium, or tourist attraction, they are tempted to throw away their money on souvenirs. I would tell my students:

Do not waste your money on any of the items you see in the shops. If you do, let me tell you exactly what will happen. You are going to buy something, be excited about it for a short period of time—probably only a few hours, but maybe only a few minutes—and then lose interest. Each year at the end of field trips, students exit the bus when we get back to the school. I walk down the aisle and see the items left them in their seats. They were already bored of their purchases. I don’t want you to make the same mistake.

These were worthless purchases. It is easy to listen to this story and pass judgment on students, but how often do we do the same thing as adults? How many times have we bought something and forgotten about it a week or two later? How much stuff do we have in our homes that isn’t used for any profitable reason in our lives? If we’re honest, most of us would be surprised—and probably embarrassed—by the number of purchases we’ve  made that provide no benefit in the future. And these worthless purchases add up.

Spending Problems Often Result from Self-Entitlement

Before we jump into this next warning, let me remind you that one of the purposes of the Old Testament is providing examples for us to learn from. Romans 15:4 says, “Whatever was written in former days (referring to the Old Testament) was written for our instruction.” First Corinthians 10:6 and 11 says, “These things (in the Old Testament) took place as examples for us…these things (in the Old Testament) happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction.”

The Old Testament provides a backdrop for New Testament instruction. Some individuals serve as positive examples through their obedience, while others serve as negative examples through their disobedience. Let’s consider three people who serve as examples of the danger of self-entitlement.

Eve’s Entitlement

Satan has many names in Scripture: Prince of Darkness, Prince of the Power of the Air, Prince of This World, and another fitting title would be, “Prince of Entitlement.” When he tempted Eve he said, “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5).

In essence Satan said, “God does not want you to be like Him or know as much as Him. He’s always telling you what not to do. You deserve to be happy. Do what you want!” The devil tried to make Eve feel entitled and it worked.

Amnon’s Entitlement

David had a son, Amnon, who desired his half-sister, Tamar. Amnon knew it was wrong to pursue her, but he did not control his mind and take his thoughts captive. He lusted after her until he made himself sick and even lose weight. An evil man, Jonadab, gave Amnon a plan to have his way with Tamar. He began by saying, “O son of the king, why are you so haggard morning after morning? Will you not tell me?” (2 Samuel 13:4).

Essentially, Jonadab said, “You are the king’s son. You should have what you want. You should not have to go without. If you want her, you should take her.” Jonadab made Amnon feel so entitled he raped Tamar.

King Ahab’s Entitlement

King Ahab wanted a vineyard that belonged to Naboth, a godly man. Naboth would not give Ahab the vineyard, so Ahab pouted. First Kings 21:4 says he “went into his house vexed and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him…And he lay down on his bed and turned away his face and would eat no food.”

Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, came to him and said, “Do you now govern Israel? Arise and eat bread and let your heart be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite” (1 Kings 21:7). Jezebel basically said, “You are the king of Israel. If you want this vineyard, you should have it!” Jezebel made Ahab feel so entitled he murdered Naboth and took his vineyard.

Beware of Self-Entitlement from Any Source

All three individuals—Eve, Amnon, and Ahab—gave in to temptation because they felt entitled, and we feel entitled at times too. Often this temptation comes from our flesh telling us, “You shouldn’t have to go without. They have this and you should too. Reward yourself. You’ve earned it!” Often, all we’ve really earned is a worse financial situation.

Other times, temptation comes from a friend, like Jonadab with Amnon, or a family member, like Jezebel with Ahab. Those closest to us might mean well, but they hurt us when they say things like, “Everyone wants you to have this, and you should have it. You owe it to yourself to be happy.”

Regardless of the source of the temptation, we need to be on guard against statements that make us feel entitled. There are lots of people in debt, with little savings, simply because of these three little words: “I deserve this.”

Spending Problems Often Result from Impatience

We don’t like to wait. This is a problem because the Bible frequently discusses patience’s several benefits. Here are a few examples:

  • Patience allows our prayers to be answered: “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry” (Psalm 40:1).
  • Patience is a source of strength: “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).
  • Patience permits fruit to be produced in our lives: “[The seed] that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15).
  • Patience provides spiritual maturity: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4 NKJV).
  • Patience helps us learn and prevents us from saying things we shouldn’t: “Let every man be swift to hear, slow (or patient) to speak” (James 1:19).

Finances is one area in which patience can also be beneficial. Proverbs 21:5 says, “The plans of the diligent lead surely to plenty, but those of everyone who is hasty, surely to poverty.” The hardworking have an abundance, but the impatient end up poor. Most people admit four words have led to bad financial decisions: “I want it now!” The issue is instant gratification. Rushing into a purchase often leads to regret later. Let’s consider another example from the Old Testament.

Don’t Be an Esau!

Take your mind to the familiar account with Jacob and Esau. Esau came back from the field tired and hungry. He wanted some of his brother’s stew. Jacob said, “I’ll give you some if you’ll give me your birthright.” It is hard to believe Jacob asked something so outrageous, but his name means deceiver or heel catcher, so it was fitting.

The only thing more outrageous than Jacob’s request was Esau’s response. In Genesis 25:32 he said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Esau would have eaten again. He wasn’t going to starve. He was being dramatic to justify his behavior, but how often are we dramatic to justify our behavior: “I need this…I have to have this…If I don’t get this…”

Esau didn’t care what it cost him. He wanted the stew, and he wanted it now. His impatience is shown in two ways. First, and most obviously, he wouldn’t wait for food. Second, he wouldn’t wait to enjoy his birthright, which would have been a big blessing to him later. But because it didn’t benefit him at the moment, he did not want it.

Did Esau regret his impatience? Absolutely! When he realized he forsook his birthright and would receive no blessing from his father, “he cried with an exceedingly great and bitter cry. Afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected…though he sought it diligently with tears” (Genesis 27:34 and Hebrews 12:16-17). It’s sad picturing a grown man sobbing as these verses describe, begging his father to give him something. He was impatient and it caused him regret, and we can be impatient and it causes us regret.

Philippians 3:19 describes people “whose god is their stomach.” They are controlled by “their appetites,” or whatever they want at the moment. This describes Esau, but it can describe us too. We should ask ourselves: “Am I like Esau? Is my god my stomach? Are my purchases controlled by my appetites and whatever I want at the moment? Am I an, ‘I want it now’ type of person who ends up with regret?”

The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment was a series of studies conducted on children. They were given one marshmallow and told they could eat the marshmallow immediately, but if they waited until the person conducting the experiment returned fifteen minutes later, they would receive a second marshmallow. The children fell into two categories—those who ate immediately and those who waited and received a second marshmallow.

In follow-up studies on the children when they were older, the researchers found:

The children who waited tended to have better life outcomes as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index, and other life measures.

Shoda, Yuichi; Mischel, Walter; Peake, Philip K. (1990). “Predicting Adolescent Cognitive and Self-Regulatory Competencies from Preschool Delay of Gratification: Identifying Diagnostic Conditions”. Developmental Psychology. 26 (6): 978–986. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.26.6.978.

Their patience—or impatience—dramatically affected their behaviors later in life, including regarding their financial decisions.

We can avoid many spending problems and see our income go much further if we apply these principles.

Your Finances God's Way by Scott LaPierre front cover
Your Finances God's Way workbook by Scott LaPierre front cover

Most of this post is included in my upcoming book, Your Finances God’s Way, and the accompanying workbook. Both will be published May 3, 2022. Keep checking back for details, or simply subscribe to my newsletter to receive updates.

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