Turn Your Budget Upside Down

By Stuart Steenhoek

My wife and I are still in our thirties, and we’ve lived most of our lives together without a mortgage, car debt, or credit card debt. We are able to give more to help others than I ever imagined I could. We feel blessed!

How is this possible? Usually the assumption is that we must just make a lot of money. But if there is one thing I’ve learned about finances, I’ve learned that you cannot out earn bad decisions. We’ve learned that financial freedom is possible at nearly any income level. It started for us by turning our financial budget upside down.  

I share our story with you because my hope is a fruitful life for everyone. Honestly, our journey started in a way that left me pretty upset at the time. As a young adult I was attending a church in Rockford, Illinois. I hadn’t faithfully attended any church since high school and had started going back as a way to meet friends in a new city. After attending a small group for a while, I started to become close friends with the group’s host. One day he waited after the rest of the group had left to ask me a pointed question about whether I gave to the church. (To be clear, this article isn’t about giving, but this part is important in understanding where my wife and I came from.)  

I was actually mad that the host had the audacity to ask me about my giving practices at my church. The reality was I didn’t give at all.  

In my frustration, I asked others in the group if they gave. I was surprised to learn that several of my friends did give, and quite liberally. My question to them was how did they afford it?  

Ten percent or any version of that seemed outrageous to me. As I pressed this issue more with others in my group, I found out, to my surprise, that one of my friends in the group not only gave consistently, but he had already saved enough money to buy his first house with cash. He was 27 years old at the time, and none of the money came from his parents.   

I thought, who buys a house with cash? Now I started asking a million questions. I thought I was pretty smart with finances, being Dutch and all, but in my own small group I had friends doing things I never thought of.  

What did they do that I wasn’t doing? They had a monthly budget that began with saving, not spending.   

Fast forward: I got married to my lovely wife, Lauren, and we began using the advice I learned to help run a financially sound household. I was so excited about the results that I’ve taken the opportunity to facilitate five Dave Ramsey* classes. Not surprisingly, one consistent challenge I hear in the class over and over is the same one I had. Most people place the savings and giving budgets last on their list, if at all, which dramatically impacts their financial lives, the ability to feel rich, and the ability to give. Dave Ramsey does a great job of demonstrating how to place those two categories at the top of the list and spend from what’s left over. We learned that when we did that, we always had plenty of money to enjoy life. We learned that we can be wealthy at any income as long as we spend less money than we make.   

Most people place the savings and giving budgets last on their list, if at all, which dramatically impacts their financial lives, the ability to feel rich, and the ability to give.

Again, please don’t interpret this as an article on giving. It’s about learning to pay yourself before you spend. Imagine what life could be like if you always had excess income every month. For us it meant my wife and I paid our house off at age 30. We have nice cars, but they are used cars and we paid them off with cash on day one. We travel, but we travel with cash we have saved up. We do fun things, but never on credit. Honestly, we are just loving life, our version of life, within the income God trusts us with. Even when we face a hurdle, we feel financially prepared to take it on.   

Dave Ramsey says if you live like no one else (aka save), you can live and give like no one else. It sure is true. Even though this article is not about giving (that falls under your own walk with God), Lauren and I found that if you save and plan, giving becomes easy. God asks us to trust Him in this area and see if we aren’t rewarded many times over. We may not all be rewarded in the same manner, but since giving became a regular part of our lives, we’ve felt richer than we ever imagined.   

I think giving changes your heart, and all relationships – even business relationships – improve when people have a giving heart.  

Jesus told his followers, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). In modern lingo we would say, “Where you spend your money is where you will spend your time.”  

If you spend your money buying things with credit, you’ll spend time working and paying for things that eventually become outdated or end up in garage sales. Instead, spend money on others and watch your life grow. Consider this: How can you give or live rich if saving isn’t the first thing you do with each paycheck? That is how you turn your financial budget upside down.   

Have a fruitful, rich life! 

About the Author

Stuart Steenhoeck is a member of Journey Church of the Open Bible in Urbandale, Iowa. Having spent fourteen years in sales, he hails from Pella, Iowa, is authentically Dutch, and loves golf and the outdoors. Stu and his beautiful wife, Lauren, are the proud parents of three children, two sons and one daughter.

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