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Money Made Easy?

A conversation with Bob Russell, author of Money: A User's Manual
'If we don't learn to be content with the basics, we're going to be miserable our entire lives.'

—Bob Russell

Sooner or later, all couples confront the difficult issue of money. And sooner is a lot better than later if you want to avoid heated arguments with your spouse and merciless creditors. Few authors go into the detail that Bob Russell, a pastor from Louisville, Kentucky, does when it comes to exploring our core beliefs about money and our attitudes toward it.

You write about the importance of couples developing a Christlike attitude toward money. How can we do that?

We need to view possessions as Jesus did. Consider that Jesus, the most significant person who ever lived, never owned much of anything—not even a place to lay his head. Now he didn't say it was wrong to own things. In fact, in one parable he said some will own more than others. But he warned us repeatedly not to place too much importance on possessions. God is the owner of it all, and we're just temporary stewards of it.

How do you feel about the oft-recommended family budget?

A budget is of value only if both spouses agree on it. If a husband or wife arbitrarily sets up a budget, it can be a source of bickering and resentment. But if they first say, "We're going to look at possessions the way Jesus did," they'll find it's easier to agree on their priorities—such as charitable giving. They'll also find it easier to agree on other expenditures if they start out with the principle of living within their means and avoiding indebtedness. Further, a mutual understanding and biblical basis for finances can help couples blend the money differences that come from being raised in different families.

Even though we know we are only the stewards of God's wealth, it's a continuous challenge to maintain that mindset.

The Bible says we have to battle the sinful desires that war against the soul—and those aren't just sensual desires, but materialistic desires as well.

A friend and I were traveling and saw a gorgeous home—lake view, picket fence, manicured yard. My friend recalled a song we used to sing about the world no longer holding any allure for Christians. Then he said, "You know what? That isn't true."

Of course, he's right. There's something about the world that appeals to our sinful nature. And it doesn't help that we're exposed to 200 ads a day, all designed to create a desire for more.

Advertising aside, it seems many Christians have missed out on the basics when it comes to money. What accounts for this lack of knowledge?

Some of the fault rests on preachers. We find it hard to talk about money—it makes people restless. And sometimes we're reluctant because we aren't the best handlers of money ourselves. Yet when I do preach about money, those who struggle in this area later tell me, "That was helpful, but I dreaded it because I knew your sermon would open old wounds and start a discussion at home that I didn't want to be involved in."

It's human nature to want the easy way out. We want to get in shape without exercising, or we want to learn a foreign language in our sleep. Likewise, we'd love to have our money problems solved without having to go through the process of learning.

You have said our accounting methods aren't the biggest cause of our money problems, that it's more our tendency to compare ourselves to others. Why don't we admit that envy drives some of our money decisions?

Some sins are more respectable than others. We can say, "I worry too much" or "I gossip," but people aren't quick to admit they lie or envy what others have. Envy gets to the heart of what we are really like. But if we don't admit we sometimes wrestle with envy and then deal with it, the cycle of wanting more is endless.

So successful money management depends on being content with what you already have and seeing everything else as a bonus?

I'll give you an example. I took a trip to India, where we stayed in a nice guest house that only had one shower. The first day, I discovered the spigot was only two feet above the floor and I'd have to sit down to take a shower. Plus, the water came out in a trickle.

The next two days the water was cold. Then for two days we had no water at all. Finally, on the sixth day, I could take a shower again. I was still sitting down and the water still only trickled out, but it was hot! That shower was wonderful.

How quickly we can become content and happy with a little if we're comparing it to the right thing. If we don't learn to be content with the basics—to view money with a Christlike attitude—then we're going to be miserable our entire lives. The world convinces us we're not making enough, but that's not the real problem. It's our attitude about money.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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Budget; Marriage; Money
Today's Christian Woman, Winter, 1997
Posted September 12, 2008

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