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Matt Bell, Author & Speaker

Helpful financial articles from author/speaker Matt Bell.

The Blessing Box

I love the fact that the holiday season begins with Thanksgiving.  It’s so healthy to take some time to remember all that we’re grateful for.  One of the best ideas for doing so was introduced to me by Bob and Jody.

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I met Bob many years ago during a video shoot for a personal finance program.  I met his wife, Jody, more recently during a phone interview for Money, Purpose, Joy.  While telling me about the adoption of their son, they introduced me to “the blessing box.”

But first, a little context.

Prioritizing Their Use of Money

Perhaps more than any other couple I’ve met, Bob and Jody demonstrate what it looks like to manage money well.  Their faith motivates them to give away the first portion of all that they receive, then they save a portion, and then they base their lifestyle spending on what remains.

This approach – give, then save, then live on what’s left – has enabled them to live on one income for most of their married life.  And it has helped them avoid carrying any debt other than a reasonable mortgage.

To be sure, making generosity and savings higher priorities than spending has meant going without some of the things many people take for granted, such as cell phones and cable television. However, in return, Bob and Jody have experienced something too few people experience: financial freedom. And here’s something else they’ve experienced: God’s faithful provision, which brings me to the story of their adopted son.

Beyond Practical Money Management

Some years ago, Bob and Jody had been dutifully saving to replace an old van.  Buying vehicles with cash is just what wise money managers do.  But right when their van was reaching the end of its useful life, they felt a tug on their hearts to adopt a child.

For as long as she can remember, Jody felt called to motherhood and dreamed of being a mom. When she had difficulty conceiving, she thought her worst fears were being realized. Eventually, fertility treatments enabled them to have two children.

Still, as Jody puts it, “I wasn’t done mothering babies yet.” Because they didn’t want to go through fertility treatments again, their thoughts turned toward adoption. But their hearts’ desire came with a hard financial reality: adoption fees of $12,000.

Neither one recalls ever thinking twice about their decision to put the van money toward the adoption fees. It was not a trade-off. A van was, well, just a van. Their desire to adopt a child was based on their longings to grow their family and make a difference in the life a child that didn’t have a family.

But what about their need for a replacement van?  As it turned out, their old one ended up lasting a bit longer than they thought it would, and shortly after they adopted their son, a relative unexpectedly gave them a van.

As much as I’m a strong believer in such practical steps as being generous with the first portion of all that we receive, saving or investing the next portion, and basing our lifestyle on what’s left over, I am an even stronger believer in what this part of Bob and Jody’s story demonstrates: There are times when the right financial decision doesn’t make the least bit of sense on a spreadsheet.

Remembering the Blessings

When Bob and Jody received the unexpected gift of a van, they wrote a note about it and put the note in a box they call “The Blessing Box.”  Throughout the year, whenever some unexpected blessing occurs, they jot down what happened and put the note in the box. Then at Thanksgiving they read the notes and remember God’s goodness—all of the blessings, large and small, that happened throughout the year. It’s a meaningful time for Bob and Jody, and they hope the tradition fosters hearts of gratitude and contentment in the lives of their children.

When I first heard about the blessing box, I wanted to put the idea into practice in my own family.  But I never have.  And now that several years have passed, I hate to think of all the many blessings I have forgotten about.

That’s why, before finishing this article, I ordered a special box from Ten Thousand Villages, a fair trade organization that sells unique gifts made by disadvantaged artisans from around the world.

Sure, I could have done the frugal thing and used an old shoebox, but somehow having a special box to hold our family’s reminders of special blessings throughout the year seemed appropriate.

If you’d like to incorporate the use of a blessing box in your household, go right ahead.  I don’t think Bob and Jody would mind at all.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that if they knew their idea has spread to other families, they’d count it as one of their blessings.

Here’s wishing you a happy and meaningful Thanksgiving.

Building Walls of Protection

A fierce storm blew through our town recently.  Because a tornado had been spotted nearby, we took shelter in the basement.  News reports said the storm was moving quickly, so I figured we’d be back upstairs soon enough.

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But then I heard a disturbing sound coming from our basement bathroom, the sound of water gurgling.  It was coming up through the drain in our bathtub.  That prompted me to check our laundry room, where to my horror I saw water flowing quickly out of the floor drain.  After asking my wife to take our three young children into the stairwell, I started frantically pulling what I could off the floor.  Within a very short time, we had at least three inches of water covering our entire basement.  When I took a minute to glance out our front window, I saw that our street was completely flooded.

For the next three days I spent hour upon hour pulling things out of the basement, talking to various people at our insurance company, and hiring a company to rip up our laminate flooring and dry the basement with heavy duty dehumidifiers and fans.

Here are a few lessons I have learned:

If you have a basement, opt for sewer and drain backup coverage on your homeowner’s policy.  This is different than flood insurance.  Fortunately, we chose to have this coverage. In fact, in reviewing our policy several years ago, I found out that our coverage totaled just $2,500 and did not cover furniture. We increased this to $5,000 and I’m guessing we’ll use every bit of it in paying for damage to our basement and the loss of several items.

During that same policy review, I asked about flood insurance and was encouraged to weigh the cost (about $400 per year) against the likelihood of a flood in our area. You can assess the risk of a flood in your area at FloodSmart.gov (look for the “One-Step Flood Risk Profile”).  Since the nearest river is about four miles from our house and its banks are much higher than the water, and because the FloodSmart site assessed our risk as “moderate to low,” we’re going without the coverage. I’m still comfortable with that decision.  Even though our street was flooded by the recent storm, the water never reached our foundation.

If you own your own home, here are some other items to check, some of which you can look into on your own; others are questions to discuss with your agent.

  • Is our home properly valued? For about $8, you can estimate the replacement cost of your home at AccuCoverage.
  • Do we have inflation guard? This adjusts the value of your home as the cost of building materials rise.
  • Do we have building ordinance or law coverage? This covers any added costs of rebuilding associated with new building codes.
  • How much living expense coverage do we have? Find out how long your policy will pay your living expenses if damage to your home would leave you living elsewhere while repairs are made.
  • Are we covered for the replacement cost of our possessions? This covers the full value of what it would cost to replace your possessions, as opposed to cash value, which factors in depreciation.
  • Do we even know what we’ve got? If you lost all that you own, would you know what you lost? Creating a detailed inventory of your stuff may not sound like your idea of a fun Saturday afternoon. However, should you ever lose your stuff in a fire or other disaster, you’ll be glad to have done the job. The Insurance Information Institute offers an excellent free software program that can help with this process called Know Your Stuff.

Once you’ve created your home inventory, e-mail a copy to a friend or family member so there’ll be a record in case your computer is stolen or destroyed. Or, save a copy on a CD or flash drive, and keep it in a safe deposit box.

It’s also a good idea to use a video camera to create a visual record of what you own. Just walk through your house or apartment, capturing all of your stuff and describing it along with your estimated value as you go.  Update your inventory at least every five years.

One final lesson we’ve learned is that when storing anything in the basement, do so with the assumption that you will one day have water.  That means using shelves so you do not store anything directly on the floor.  And store your items in plastic containers, not cardboard boxes.

As the Bible teaches, “The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it” (Proverbs 27:12).  Do the wise thing and review your homeowner’s insurance policy while the sun is shining.

Finding Financial Harmony in Marriage

God’s vision and intention for marriage is oneness.  Unity.  Each person making sacrifices, dying to self, for the good of the other and the good of the relationship.

There are countless factors that get in the way of oneness: There’s our natural tendency toward selfishness.  There are in-law issues, debates about who will do what chores, and disputes over who will be in charge of the remote control.  But the one topic that rises above them all when it comes to hindering oneness in marriage is money.

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Money is a point of contention in good times, when some wives have to deal with husbands who spontaneously show up with new bass boats and big-screen TVs.  And it’s especially true during tough times, when unemployment, stock market losses, and a general sense of financial insecurity create added stress.

Know Thyself, and Thy Spouse!

To make the whole money thing work well in marriage, it helps a lot to know where both of you are coming from financially.  That means understanding your God-given temperaments.

Temperament is defined as the prevailing quality of mind that characterizes someone.  Whether you’re extroverted or introverted is one aspect of temperament.  Whether you like to keep things open ended or brought to conclusion is another.  Whether you prefer to think through decisions or go by gut feel is yet another.  All of these traits collectively are known as your temperament.

There are many different temperament classification systems, but most have their roots in the one first devised several hundred years before Christ by Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine.  He defined four main temperaments: choleric, sanguine, phlegmatic and melancholy.

Each temperament comes with a set of natural strengths – financial and otherwise – and a set of natural weaknesses.  And here’s a key insight about temperament: it doesn’t change.

You can learn to manage inherent weaknesses, but devoting your life to trying to change a choleric into a phlegmatic, or a sanguine into a melancholy, is signing up for a life of struggle and frustration.  Much better to understand how you and your spouse are wired up and work with what God gave you.

The choleric is the classic type A person – a hard-charging, time sensitive, get things done sort of person.  If you’re preoccupied right now with what’s on your to-do list you may be a choleric.  On the positive side, once they set a financial goal, cholerics will go after it with a vengeance.  On the negative side, they may be in such a hurry to make things happen that they fail to talk about decisions with their spouse.

The sanguine is a fun-loving people person. They like to be noticed.  If you drive a red sports car, you may be a sanguine.  On the positive side, sanguines tend to be very generous.  On the negative side, planning is a foreign concept to many sanguines.  Budget?  Who has time for that?  They’d rather be out enjoying time with family or friends.

The phlegmatic is steady, reliable, and dependable.  They tend to be very frugal, knowing how to stretch a dollar.  On the positive side, they will consider all the pros and cons before making an investment.  On the negative side, they may never get around to actually making the investment.  Planning is a strong suit; follow through is a weakness.

The melancholy has some of the most natural money management abilities. If you actually enjoy using a budget, you may be a melancholy.  Where melancholies can get in financial trouble is they can be perfectionists when it comes to certain things, insisting on having the best clothing or vacations, for example, which can lead to overspending in these areas.

The key to using knowledge about each other’s temperaments is to work together, leveraging each other’s strengths and minimizing each other’s weaknesses.  If you keep trying to turn your sanguine spouse into someone who loves to use a budget, you’re in for a lot of disagreements.  Just get them to drop receipts in the vicinity of your computer or ledger book where you keep your budget and you do the data entry.

Going Further

In my book, Money and Marriage, there’s one chapter devoted to temperaments – how to identify yours and your spouse’s, and how to understand the financial ramifications.  Reading that chapter alone will pay great dividends in your marriage.

Financial Love and Respect

With 20 years of ministry experience, a PhD in family studies, a Master’s of Divinity degree, and a Master’s degree in communication, Emerson Eggerichs was a knowledgeable, experienced, and effective pastor.  But one day, while rereading a passage of scripture he had preached on many times, he discovered what he calls “the key to any problem in marriage.”

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So powerful was his aha moment that ever since then he has devoted his life to using this insight to help strengthen and even save people’s marriages.  What was that passage?  It’s one that is probably familiar to you, too: “Each of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (Ephesians 5:33).

Eggerichs saw with fresh eyes that a woman’s primary need is love and a man’s primary need is respect.  But here’s the added insight that makes such a simple sounding concept so difficult to put into practice in marriage: without feeling loved, a woman will naturally react to her husband without respect, and without feeling respected, a man will naturally react to his wife without love.  That gives rise to what Eggerichs calls “The Crazy Cycle.”

How to break out of it?  A husband is called to love his wife even when she’s being disrespectful and a wife is called to respect her husband even when he’s being unloving.  That’s not easy, but it’s amazingly powerful.

As I’ve been reading Eggerichs’ book, naturally titled “Love and Respect,” it made me wonder about the implications for how husbands and wives use money, especially since finances are typically one of the most contentious issues in marriage.  So, I decided to ask my wife, Jude, what I do financially that makes her feel loved.  And then I thought about what she does financially that makes me feel respected.

Just bringing it up on a recent car ride led to an enjoyable and encouraging conversation.  It gave each of us a new appreciation for things the other does that we often take for granted.

She said that knowing I’m managing the details of our budget, making sure we have adequate insurance, taking the initiative to think about and plan for future needs, and generally keeping an eye on our finances makes her feel loved.  Okay, she also remembered feeling loved when I uncharacteristically gave her a present that she knew exceeded our gift budget!

I said I feel respected when she reminds our kids in front of me how hard I work for our family.  I also feel respected when she finds creative ways to stretch our food and clothing budgets.

When I put these questions on my Facebook page recently, one person said she feels loved when her husband talks with her about large purchase decisions in advance.  Doing so makes her feel like a partner in the decision, she explained, not an onlooker.

I wonder if this simple insight could help couples use money in a way that actually strengthens their marriages.  I wonder what the impact would be if wives let their husbands know what they do financially that makes them feel loved and if husbands let their wives know what they do financially that makes them feel respected.

If you’re married, talk this over with your spouse.  It might just improve your finances and your marriage.

The Heart of a Giver

It’s tricky business teaching about generosity these days. Preachers of the prosperity gospel are packing their pews and selling lots of books. Theirs is a “give in order to get” message, based on a misinterpretation of verses like Luke 6:38:

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

“Give in order to get” may be appealing, but that is not the message taught by the verse above or anywhere else in the Bible.

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What Does the Bible Say About Generosity?
Here’s what can be confusing: There are many Bible verses that do say we will be rewarded for giving generously.  For example, in Malachi 3:10, we find the only place in Scripture where God said to test him, and it’s all about generosity: “‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.’”

In Proverbs 11:24, we read: “One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.”

2 Corinthians 9:6 contains these words from the apostle Paul: “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.”

It’s How We Were Meant to Live
We all receive something beneficial from our giving because to live generously is to live in concert with our design.  I’m sure that’s why researchers have found that generosity increases people’s happiness.  It’s like eating healthy or being honest.  Life just works better when we live as we were meant to live.

Many years ago I heard someone teach that the best forms of generosity don’t come from a heart attitude of “in order to…” — they flow from a heart filled with a “because of…” sense of gratitude.  That seems to be where king David was coming from when he said to God, “Who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.” (1 Chronicles 29:14)

Paul made a crucial point when he asked, “Who has ever given to God that God should repay him?” (Romans 11:35)  In other words, God is the giver.  He gave us life; he gave us his Son; he gave us all that we have.

Give in order to get?  No.  We give out of a humble, grateful, joyful response to everything that God has given to us.

Is Fear Messing With Your Finances?

Did you know that the most often repeated commandment in the Bible is “Do not fear”?  I was reminded of that when reading Donald Miller’s book, “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.”  That fact seemed to jump off the page, as if reading it for the first time.

I found it surprising, and deeply encouraging.

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Fear Comes in Different Flavors
Of course, some fear is healthy.  To deny its existence is to deny reality and miss its benefits.  If a Realtor recommends that you buy a house with a mortgage that’ll cost you 50 percent of your monthly income and the thought strikes fear in your heart, follow your heart.  And then find a new Realtor.

A lot of fear, however, is not so dramatic.  It isn’t about a momentary fight or flight experience like hearing the crazy suggestion of an unethical Realtor or the sight of a car barreling toward us.  It’s more subtle, more nagging.  And, it’s unhealthy.

The recession has left lots of us carrying fear around like the extra pounds brought on by too much holiday pie.  It’s with us all the time; we feel its weight, wondering whether we’ll ever have enough to retire, whether our job is secure, and whether our home will ever be worth what we paid for it.

Fear is Normal
Miller’s first take-away about God’s constant refrain to not fear is this: “It means we’re going to be afraid, and it means we shouldn’t let fear boss us around.”

In other words, it’s natural to experience fear, so don’t beat yourself up about it as if it’s a sign of spiritual immaturity.

As for not letting fear get the best of us, step one is to share the load:  “Cast all your cares on him,” the Bible instructs, “because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

A Personal Example
I’ve wrestled with fear more than I’d like to admit.  When I left the seeming security of a well-paid corporate job to write and speak about money full-time, I remember feeling a mixture of excitement and fear.  I felt called to this work, and still do.  It’s what I believe I was designed to do.  But it wasn’t long before I missed the paycheck that showed up every two weeks.

I have to admit that there have been too many times when something didn’t work out the way I hoped and I went straight to fear or second-guessing.

I’ll never forget a time before I had a publisher for my first book when I was especially down.  After months of writing, there came a day when I thought I might hear some news from a prospective publisher, but the phone never rang.  As my wife, Jude, and I headed toward the home of some friends for dinner that night, she knew I was discouraged and was wrestling with the fear that I had made a colossal mistake in leaving my corporate job.  She quoted Matthew 7:9-11:

“If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing. You’re at least decent to your own children. So don’t you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better?” (MSG)

Those words were a great comfort.  They were a well-timed reminder that God loves us, knows our needs, and promises to provide.

How Fear Can Hold Us Back
Miller’s second take-away about the Bible’s most frequent command is that “fear isn’t only a guide to keep us safe; it’s also a manipulative emotion that can trick us into living a boring life.”

I know that if I had stayed in my corporate job I would have regretted it.  God was calling me to a greater adventure.  To have said no would have been to settle for far too little.

Miller’s final insight about fear is this: “The great stories go to those who don’t give in to fear.”  Amen to that!  The stories I’m drawn to the most are the stories of endurance, overcoming great odds, and heroism. They’re the stories of people who moved through their doubts and fears and how their lives and the lives of many others were forever altered as a result.

Facing Our Fears With Gratitude
One of my favorite Bible verses about fear tells us: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).  There are some odd and helpful words in that verse – like “anything,” “every,” and especially “thanksgiving.”

Let’s commit to this: Every time we feel fearful, let’s take our fears to God.  And let’s take God up on his outrageous suggestion to give thanks in the midst of our frightening circumstances.  And let’s press on, fully trusting in his provision and looking for his purpose in whatever we’re going through.  Amen?

Keeping No Financial Secrets

A divorce attorney once told me that when money is the issue that comes between couples, as it often is, the most common problem is that the spouses were living separate financial lives.  Unbeknownst to the other, one was taking their relationship to the edge of a financial cliff, usually by racking up a lot of debt.  By the time the other finally found out, it was too late.  Not only were they in deep financial trouble, but all trust and respect had been lost.

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That’s why I encourage couples to practice full financial disclosure before marriage and complete financial transparency after the wedding. As you go through life and go toward the accomplishment of your financial goals, it’s so important to go together, with financial openness and teamwork.

One in Money, One in Marriage

In the Bible’s classic teaching on love, where we’re taught that love is patient and love is kind, it also says, “love rejoices in the truth.”  However, according to one survey, nearly half of all married people believe it’s okay to keep financial secrets from their spouse.  Not exactly a good idea for building a strong marriage.

A far better approach is to do things that foster transparency, like combining checking and savings accounts.

And one of the most important ways to live with financial openness is to make sure all of your household’s income and expenses are recorded in a place where both people can see all of that information.  That’s the second part of the budgeting process.  The first part is developing a plan.  The second part is tracking how much money is coming into your household and where it’s all going.

Whether you track your finances on a sheet of paper, with an Excel spreadsheet, via budget software like Quicken, or through an online tool like Mint.com, make sure both of you have access to the information and that you review the information together each month.

What About Buying Gifts?

Whenever I teach a marriage workshop and encourage couples to combine accounts, someone usually asks, “If we combine all our finances, how do we surprise each other with gifts?”

My recommendation is to use three different gift budgets.  One is for what you will spend on gifts for your spouse throughout the year, another is what he or she will spend on gifts for you, and the third is for what you as a couple will spend on gifts for others.  When you want to buy your spouse a gift, you could withdraw the budgeted amount from an ATM and buy the gift with cash.  You can then wait until after you give the gift to categorize the use of the cash as a gift expense.

You could also use the budgeted amount to buy a gift card and then make your purchase with that card.  The gift card expense gets posted to your budget as a gift expense, but your spouse won’t know where you bought their gift.

Do you have complete financial transparency in your marriage?

The Master’s Principle

In the late 1960s Stanford University researchers conducted an experiment among hundreds of four-year-olds.  One at a time, the children were brought into a room and told they could eat one treat such as a marshmallow right away, or if they could wait until the researcher returned from a brief errand, they could then have two.

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“It makes everything taste better to be thankful,” Anna said. “You know, it’s a game an old preacher taught me to play. It’s about looking for things to be thankful for. Like one day I was walking to the store to buy a loaf of bread. I look in all the windows. There are so many pretty clothes.”

“But Anna, you can’t afford to buy any of them!” he interjected.

“Oh, I know, but I can play dolls with them. I can imagine your mom and sister all dressed up in them and I’m thankful. Much obliged, dear Lord, for playing in an old lady’s mind.”

Many years later, when Anna was dying, Oursler remembered standing by her bedside.  Deep in pain, her old hands were knotted together in a desperate clutch. “Poor old woman,” he thought. “What had she to be thankful for now?”  Just then, she opened her eyes and looked at him and said, “Much obliged, dear Lord, for such fine friends.”

Being thankful is not about painting on a smile no matter what we’re going through.  According to the Reverend Dr. John Westerhoff, who tells Anna’s story in a booklet called “Grateful and Generous Hearts,” we can all learn much from Anna, who viewed life as a gift. “Taking nothing for granted, demanding nothing as her due, she recognized that we come into this world with nothing, we go out with nothing, and in between we are given all we have.”

While the busyness and responsibilities of our lives can easily obstruct our view, none of us has to look very far to find a reason to be thankful. Living with an attitude of thankfulness is honoring to God, good for the soul, and infectious.  What are you thankful for?  Try making a list of ten things—the first ten that come to mind.  Then give Anna’s prayer a try: “Much obliged, dear Lord.  Much Obliged.”

“Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens.  This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (MSG)

Much Obliged

Writer Fulton Oursler had vivid memories of an old woman named Anna who helped care for him as a child. When she sat down to eat she would say, “Much obliged, dear Lord, for my vittles.”  Oursler wondered why she thanked God since she would get the food regardless of whether she gave thanks or not.

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“It makes everything taste better to be thankful,” Anna said. “You know, it’s a game an old preacher taught me to play. It’s about looking for things to be thankful for. Like one day I was walking to the store to buy a loaf of bread. I look in all the windows. There are so many pretty clothes.”

“But Anna, you can’t afford to buy any of them!” he interjected.

“Oh, I know, but I can play dolls with them. I can imagine your mom and sister all dressed up in them and I’m thankful. Much obliged, dear Lord, for playing in an old lady’s mind.”

Many years later, when Anna was dying, Oursler remembered standing by her bedside.  Deep in pain, her old hands were knotted together in a desperate clutch. “Poor old woman,” he thought. “What had she to be thankful for now?”  Just then, she opened her eyes and looked at him and said, “Much obliged, dear Lord, for such fine friends.”

Being thankful is not about painting on a smile no matter what we’re going through.  According to the Reverend Dr. John Westerhoff, who tells Anna’s story in a booklet called “Grateful and Generous Hearts,” we can all learn much from Anna, who viewed life as a gift. “Taking nothing for granted, demanding nothing as her due, she recognized that we come into this world with nothing, we go out with nothing, and in between we are given all we have.”

While the busyness and responsibilities of our lives can easily obstruct our view, none of us has to look very far to find a reason to be thankful. Living with an attitude of thankfulness is honoring to God, good for the soul, and infectious.  What are you thankful for?  Try making a list of ten things—the first ten that come to mind.  Then give Anna’s prayer a try: “Much obliged, dear Lord.  Much Obliged.”

“Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens.  This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (MSG)

The Other Side of the Boat

“He called out to them, ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’  ‘No,’ they answered.  He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’  When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.” – John 21:5-6

Do you have any recurring problems in your life? Since this is a personal finance blog, let’s focus the question on money.  Are there some financial issues you’ve been trying to resolve, or money-related goals you’ve been trying to accomplish, only to run into the same roadblocks around every turn?

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Despite your best efforts, are you weighed down with the burden of debt that refuses to disappear?  Do you keep having the same financial arguments with your spouse?  Does the “empty” light keep flashing on your savings tank?

A Fishing Tale

A long time ago, a couple of experienced fishermen named Simon Peter and Thomas set out for a night of fishing.  Since they were professionals, we can assume they used all the right equipment and all the right techniques.  They did what they knew to do.  And they came up empty.  They tried again and again for an entire night, but when the morning sun came up they had caught nothing.

Then they made a brilliant decision.  They took in some coaching from the greatest Coach who ever lived, and they followed His advice.  They cast their nets on the other side of the boat.  And they caught more fish than they ever imagined.

If you’re facing a recurring financial issue, maybe it’s time you tried the same approach.

First, take it to God.  The Bible says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).

Second, do what you sense Him telling you to do.  All too often, I have tried to resolve problems on my own, with my own “wisdom.”  But as a truly wise person once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

A Personal Example

For much of the first five years that I wrote and spoke about money full-time, whenever there was a challenging circumstance, my wife, Jude, came alongside me with encouraging words or a helpful verse of Scripture.  Her encouragement meant more to me than I could ever adequately express.  However – and this is huge – somehow I came to see her role in my work as that of an encourager.

Then I came to a very painful realization.  Many times Jude offered specific business advice that I did not act on, only to discover some time later that she was exactly right.  But even that realization was not enough to change my behavior.  I continued to resist her business ideas.  Even worse, I sometimes dismissed her ideas outright.

And then I came across a verse that rocked my world: “Be good husbands to your wives. Honor them, delight in them. As women they lack some of your advantages. But in the new life of God’s grace, you’re equals. Treat your wives, then, as equals so your prayers don’t run aground” (1 Peter 3:7 MSG).

It was bad enough that I wasn’t treating Jude with the love and respect she deserved.  But here toward the end of the Bible is a spiritual law as powerful and consistent as gravity: Show any hint of disrespect toward your wife and your prayers will be hindered!

I had been stuck over certain business decisions for some time.  I had been praying about them, but not sensing any clear answers.  Finally, God directed my eyes to those words in 1 Peter.  In essence, he told me to cast my net in a different direction.  Stop trying to solve this or that problem and start listening to your wife!

So I did.  Whenever we talked business, I started listening to her much more intently.  I started trying on her ideas as if trying on clothing I would have normally dismissed as not my style.  And guess what?  I discovered that Jude has some amazing ideas.  The more I have listened to her ideas, the more my eyes have been opened to a whole new set of possibilities.

What About You?

I meet lots of people with recurring debt problems.  Some have worked their way out of debt only to get right back in.  If that’s you, begin casting your net in a different direction by considering the question: how serious are you?

Proverbs 3:27-28 states: “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, Come back later; I’ll give it tomorrow—when you now have it with you” (emphasis mine).

Are you serious enough about getting out of debt to really think about what “is in your power to act?”  Are you serious enough that you would drop your home Internet connection to free up money for debt repayment?  Are you serious enough to go from a two-car family to a one-car family?  Are you serious enough to stop using credit cards?

Whatever recurring problem you’re facing, maybe it’s time to do something different.  Maybe it’s time to cast your net in a new direction.

The Power of Gratitude

Every day of our lives, we are the unwitting recipients of countless messages designed to foster discontentment. They’re very effective at making us believe we need something more.  In fact, according to one study, more than 60 percent of us always have something in mind that we look forward to buying.

That’s what makes the following words seem so out of synch with our daily experience.

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“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” – 1 Timothy 6:6-8

What? Content with only food and clothing? Why, that’s downright un-American! Or so it seems. But do you know what else it is? It’s liberating.

A couple of years ago, my wife and I decided to give away one of our cars.  It needed a cost prohibitive repair, so we gave it to a ministry that fixes cars and then gives them to needy families.  The car had 165,000 miles on it and a number of dents. It had been hit a couple of times while parked in our former neighborhood in Chicago.  A tree branch even fell on it once, denting the roof.  Because of its high mileage, we never bothered to fix the dents.

When I was working in corporate America, I would drive into the parking lot of my office building and pass lots of new cars. Driving that old car gave me frequent opportunities to practice contentment, and there were definitely days when I needed extra practice!

What helped the most was reminding myself that having a paid-off car gave us the financial freedom to build savings targeted toward being able to leave my corporate job one day to write and speak full-time. The more I dwelled on that benefit, the more thankful I felt. In the process, I saw firsthand that gratitude drives contentment and serves as a powerful antidote to our culture’s constant encouragement to want something more.

Instead of always having something in mind that we look forward to buying, what if we always had something in mind that we were thankful for?

What are you thankful for?  And if you really want to challenge yourself, think of something you own that you’re eager to replace.  Try to find something about that to be thankful for.  What comes to mind?

A Wild Ride

Just before takeoff, the pilot warned us to expect a bumpy ride.  Some bad weather had recently moved through the area and our flight path would have us following the storm system.  Few of us were prepared for the ride that followed.

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I’m not normally a nervous flyer, but this flight left me clinging to the armrests with a vice grip.  For a good 45 minutes the plane pitched and shook, bounced and dipped. The flight attendants stayed in their seats, except for two occasions when they had to make their way to passengers who had become sick from the turbulence. Oh, I tried to appear calm as I squeezed out some occasional words in a poor attempt at conversation with my seatmate.  But I was flat out scared.

And then a strange thing happened.  I don’t know if I was just worn out from resisting the ride or what, but I let go of the armrests, folded my arms across my chest, and sank deep into my seat.  Instead of bracing myself for the next wave of convulsions, I allowed myself to move in rhythm with the movements of the plane. Not only did the proper blood flow return to my fingertips, but I found myself less fearful as well.

When Jesus told people to follow him, he never guaranteed a smooth ride. He told them only that he had bigger plans for them than the ones they could imagine.  One thing would be required, though—that they fully trust him, come what may.  His early followers seemed to sense that the adventure of a lifetime lay ahead.

I first answered Jesus’ call to “follow me” in 1989 when I placed my faith in him.  My wife’s and my decision in 2005 to have me step down from a well-paying corporate job to write and teach about biblical money management full-time was also in response to that call.  Since then, it’s been an adventurous, bouncy ride. There have been times of clearly sensing God’s pleasure—when it seems that a workshop or an article have made a difference in someone’s life—and also times when I let doubt, discouragement, and fear creep in. I’m learning as never before what it means to fully trust God.

Are you facing some financial decisions or circumstances that are making your world turbulent?  Are you grabbing on tight, trying to find your way through the storm with sheer willpower?  It’s natural to want quick answers, to try to smooth out the bumps.  As counterintuitive as it may feel, try loosening your grip.  The Bible tells us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). As I’m learning more and more each year, letting go and trusting are important parts of what it means to answer Jesus’ call to “follow me.”

Matt Bell is a full-time personal finance writer and speaker. He helps people manage their money more effectively and joyfully through the practical application of timeless financial truths. For more financial articles, visit MattAboutMoney.

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