Budgeting

The Radical Budget of John Wesley

John Wesley was an Anglican pastor in the 1700's. He is credited with starting and initially leading the Methodist movement.

First off, this post is not to give a biography of the life and teachings of John Wesley. Nor is it to weigh the theological teachings of Wesley and the Methodist movement compared to those of others (particularly Calvinism). This post is merely to highlight an exceptional aspect of the life of an extraordinary man.

What can an Anglican pastor from the 18th century teach us about personal finance?

First, A Little Background on John Wesley

As a young child, Wesley was no stranger to poverty. His father, Samuel Wesley, was a priest. His mother, Susanna, taught their children at home. Samuel and Susanna had a total of 19 children together, 9 of which tragically died during childbirth (John Telford, The Life of John Wesley, Ch 2.). Between Samuel's meager earnings and the burden of raising 10 children, the Wesleys were in a constant state of financial turmoil. Their finances were so poor that Samuel was twice placed in prison for his large debts.

John Wesley was determined not to be of the same poor financial stature as his parents. He later went on to teach at Oxford University and later be elected as a fellow of Lincoln College. Initially, John seemed to splurge his newfound wealth, spending his money on card games, tobacco, and brandy.

One day at Oxford, an event happened that changed his perspective on money. Charles Edward White describes it this way:

[Wesley] had just finished paying for some pictures for his room when one of the chambermaids came to his door. It was a cold winter day, and he noticed that she had nothing to protect her except a thin linen gown. He reached into his pocket to give her some money to buy a coat but found he had too little left. Immediately the thought struck him that the Lord was not pleased with the way he had spent his money. He asked himself, Will thy Master say, "Well done, good and faithful steward"? Thou hast adorned thy walls with the money which might have screened this poor creature from the cold! O justice! O mercy! Are not these pictures the blood of this poor maid? - White, "What Wesley Practiced and Preached About Money"

What Wesley Did Next

Soon after this incident, whether solely caused by it or not, John Wesley's views on budgeting and spending changed for the remainder of his life. He began to reduce his expenses so that he would have more money to give away. His first year at Oxford, his income was 30 pounds a year (enough for a comfortable living for a single individual). Through budgeting, he found that he could live on 28, and gave away 2. In his second year, his income doubled to 60 pounds, but he kept his expenses the same, and thus gave away 32 pounds (more than he kept for himself). This process continued, even as his income vastly grew. Below is a table of what the generosity of John Wesley looked like as he progressed in life:

 Year Income Living Expenses To the Poor
First Year: 30 pounds 28 pounds (93%) 2 pounds (7%)
Second Year: 60 pounds 28 pounds (47%) 32 pounds (53%)
Third Year: 90 pounds 28 pounds (31%) 62 pounds (69%)
Fourth Year: 120 pounds 28 pounds (23%) 92 pounds (77%)
Eventually: over 1,400 pounds 30 pounds (2%) over 1,400 pounds (98%)

Source: The Accountability Connection by Matt Friedman, Victor Books,  1992, p. 12.

When I first read this story and looked at the numbers above, I had several different reactions.

I felt ashamed. I was extremely humbled to discover a man that lived so radically in generosity with his finances. I was able to see that greed is more than the mere desire for more wealth, but that it also lies in the fear of loss -  The debilitating fear of poverty that precludes us from parting with our precious pennies. Generosity in Christianity today seems to be all about "How much do I have to give to be 'good' with God?"  The conversation about charity and tithing is too often about math and percentages than it is about the heart.

I felt inspired. I used to think my childhood dog was big until I learned about cows; I used to think cows were big until I learned about elephants. I used to think my giving was sufficient until I learned about truly generous people. Not rich people, but regular, ordinary, often poor, people. Wealth is never a prerequisite for generosity.

I felt excited. Our storybooks are filled with themes of someone small accomplishing something big. It's amazing how much my meager generosity can accomplish as soon as it leaves my clenched fist.

The Takeaway

Now, I admit that I am far from being Wesley-esque in my giving. I am not saying that you should feel bad if you don't give away over 98% of your income. I hope that you are encouraged and inspired by the story of John Wesley, and not discouraged and ashamed, as I was at first. Our giving should not be a mere mathematical formula that we filter our income through like we do when we fill out our taxes. Our generosity should be fueled by faith, obedience, and surrender to God. A person's money is intimately intertwined with their heart. Your money will follow your heart, and with enough time, your heart will ultimately follow your money.

Not Normal

Keep in mind that radical giving is completely contrary to the motives of the world around us. It always has been and always will be. Even in John Wesley's time, the English Tax Commissioners were so flummoxed with Wesley's generosity that they investigated him in 1776, insisting that for a man of his income he must have "silver dishes" that he was not paying tax on. He wrote them saying, "I have two silver spoons at London and two at Bristol. This is all the plate I have at present, and I shall not buy any more while so many round me want bread" (Toward the Tithe and Beyond, John Piper).

Now this I say, he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully. Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed. - 2 Corinthians 9:6-8

 

 

Resources:

John Wesley, Methodical pietist

An Account of the Life of John Wesley

What Wesley Practiced and Preached About Money

Toward the Tithe and Beyond

5 Steps to a Budget That Lasts

Part of America’s aversion to budgeting may be rooted in language. The word “budget” – much like the word “diet” – has negative connotations. Budgets and diets are viewed as restrictive reminders of things we cannot have. This is linguistic nonsense. A budget and a diet are both tools. If the tools are used properly, they lead to a desired outcome.
— Investopedia Staff

Now, I’m not the first person to compile a guide to budgeting, and my goal is not to claim that I hold the only keys to a successful budget. I only seek to provide a concise, actionable way to implement a meaningful budget that lasts.

This is an issue that is near and dear to my heart. After all, my collegiate thesis was titled “Why Everyone Needs a Budget” (boring title, I know).

Getting Started

For many, this part is the hardest obstacle.  An object at rest is much more difficult to get moving than an object already in motion.  Likewise, a budget becomes easier to manage the more it is used; the real pain can be just starting. It helps to have a process to follow.

 
 

1. Know your income

You should be able to answer the following questions:

  • Do you get paid?
  • How much after taxes?
  • How often?
  • Is it consistent?
  • Is it reliable?

Knowing the amount, frequency, consistency, and reliability of your income can give you a much better picture of how you should approach budgeting. Those who get paid less frequently may need to budget months in advance, rather than monthly. Those with inconsistent income may need to figure out a conservative base amount to base their budgets on. Those with unreliable income may need to build in some extra cushion in their budgets.

Regardless of your income situation, a budget ensures your spending stays below your means.

2. Know your expenses  

The second stage of the process is knowing where that income tends to go. I will present two ways of doing this:

The first way is to use pencil and paper or excel to track all of your expenses for a month to two months by recording and categorizing every purchase. This is very effective and highly customizable, but can also be very hard for someone who is new to the discipline of budgeting. 

The second way would be to use software. Software can be a powerful ally in the budgeting process. Technology such as Mint (from the makers of Turbotax) can help you make the process of tracking your expenses a little easier. Mint can take your spending information from your credit and debit cards and generate a tidy pie chart to give you a glimpse into where your money has been going. 

Even just getting though this step can make a huge impact. Seeing your spending habits laid out in front of you can help you quickly identify problem spending areas. Sometimes just regularly monitoring your expenses can keep you on the right track.

3. Make a list of your values and Goals

 
 

This step may seem like the equivalent of reading a prologue at the beginning of a long novel, but this is the difference in having a budget that is effective, and one that is meaningful.

What's important to you? If someone looked at your spending, could they tell? Maybe you value your faith or certain causes, but not a red cent of your spending goes towards those values. Billy Graham once said, "Give me five minutes with a person’s checkbook, and I will tell you where their heart is."

A budget that isn’t tied to specific, worthwhile goals is like loading cargo on a freight train without any idea where the train is supposed to go.  If a budget doesn’t help you meet your goals, then what utility does it really provide?  A plan that ignores intermediate and long-term goals is foolishly short-sighted, and in the same way, one that ignores short-term obligations and goals is destined to fail.  Goals provide the framework for your budget to last and provide you with the motivation to keep at it.

4. Make a Plan

This is where it all comes together.  Your income, expenses, values, and goals should all be used in unison to create a budget that is truly tailored to you. 

Looking for an app to use for your budgeting?  I could come out here and say that this app is better, or that app is better, but frankly, the best budgeting method is one that you’ll use.  

I don’t care if it’s pencil and paper, an Excel spreadsheet, or even some kind of envelope system, whatever motivates you to consistently track and control your spending is what I recommend. There are multitudes of free apps and resources out there to try, and I would encourage you to try several before landing on one that fits you.

Mint is a great resource, but I actually only use it to track my expenses, and not for my family's actual budget. Mint is so easy it can actually tempt you to forget about it and just watch your money spend itself. I wanted something more interactive and proactive. I use an app called You Need a Budget (YNAB). It's something I've used since college and love it so much that I'm willing to pay for it.

My advice is if you find a free app out there (and there are plenty of them) that you like and that works for you, use it!  Find something that you like, implement it, and keep up with it.  Don’t make the search for software into a “search for the perfect budgeting technology.”  The perfect piece of budgeting software doesn’t exist, and a prolonged “software dating” window will only hinder your progress, not help it.

5. Adjust and Reevaluate

The best advice I can give is this: Don't give up. Your budget will fit you better as time goes on. You'll add categories you forgot, combine categories, adjust your spending, etc. The important thing is to stick with it. You'll be amazed how far you'll come if you just keep at it.

Happy budgeting and feel free to shoot me a message if you have any questions!

The Truth About the 10% Tithe

There are a lot of questions around the subject of giving to the church:

  • What percent of my income do I give?
  • Do I use my gross income or my net income to calculate what I should give?
  • Does giving to other ministries count towards my tithe?
  • Is 10% really mandated by the Bible?

There are many really wonderful articles and sermons about this topic, and I will link some of which at the bottom of this post. What I hope to offer is a concise Biblical basis for approaching and refuting some of these questions.

Where Do We Get 10% From and Where is it in the Bible?

A lot of people don’t know that the word for “tithe” in Hebrew and Greek both simply mean “a tenth.”

We see mentions of this concept of tithing scattered all throughout the Old Testament in Leviticus 27:30Numbers 18:26Deuteronomy 14:242 Chronicles 31:5Nehemiah 10:35-39Malachi 3:8-10, etc. Tithes in the Old Testament were often the first portions of a harvest or even livestock.

The New Testament only directly references tithing in three or four instances. Its first reference is that of the Pharisees and their self-righteous adherence to the law, including the tithe (Matthew 23:23). Jesus had a harsh rebuke for these Pharisees that prided themselves in their obedience to the law, but were blind to justice, mercy, and faithfulness. Jesus even goes as far to compare these Pharisees to “white-washed tombs which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (v. 27). However, Jesus does not speak against the tithe, in fact, he upholds it by saying, “but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others” ( v.23). 

The next New Testament instance we see that mentions the tithe is in a parable about a Pharisee (yes, another Pharisee), and a tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). The illustration is prefaced with, “to some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable.” The story is a simple comparison of two men: a Pharisee who is prideful that he is ‘better’ than other men because of his good deeds, including his tithe (v. 12), and a tax collector who knew that no matter what he did, he would always be a sinful man. The Pharisee was prideful in his works, and I imagine that he felt that God was lucky to have him, while the tax collector was humbled at the feet of a mighty God and knew that he could accomplish nothing apart from God’s mercy.

Freedom From the Law

The New Testament provides the introduction and fulfillment of what is called the New Covenant and ushers in a freedom from the law for those who have faith in Christ (for those who want more information on the difference between the Old and New Covenants, here is a great place to start).

So what does this mean for the tithe?

We are no longer constrained to a specific percentage or number that the Bible sets forth as the requirement for what a Christian must give, but that doesn’t mean that the Bible is void of guidance as to why and how we should give.

Why We Should Give

Steven Cole, a pastor in Flagstaff, Arizona gave a sermon series on “God, Money, and You” back in 1993, and if you’re looking for a more comprehensive understanding of the tithe and giving, it’s a wonderful resource. In this series, Cole covers the wrong and the right motivations for giving.

Wrong Motives for Giving: Pride (Matthew 6:1-4), GuiltGreedPressure (2 Corinthians 9:7), GimmicksPower (James 2:1-9Acts 8:18-24).

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

-2 Corinthians 9:7

So what are the right motives for giving?

Just as we freely love because God so lavishly loves us (1 John 4:19), we generously give because God has given us everything (James 1:17). We are not truly owners of any earthly possession, but rather stewards of God’s resources that he has entrusted us with. Our giving and tithing are not a transfer of ownership, but rather an acknowledgment that it all belongs to God. We also give because it is an act of faith (2 Corinthians 9:8-11), worship (Hebrews 13:16), compassion (1 John 3:17), and support for our local church and pastors (1 Timothy 5:17-18).

“Thus because God has given so abundantly to me, and because I want to please Him, I am motivated to give cheerfully and generously to His work” – Steven Cole.

How We Should Give

  1. We Systematically Give Our Firstfruits– As we see in the Old Testament, the offerings and tithes that they gave to the Lord were the first thing that they did. The first portion of the harvest, livestock, or money was given freely and cheerfully to the Lord. 1 Corinthians 16:2 shows us that a person’s giving should be a regular and systematic act.
  2. In Secret– “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” -Matthew 6:1-4
  3. Sacrificially– At times, we are called to give sacrificially, beyond our regular giving. In 2 Corinthians 8:2-3, Paul speaks of the churches in Macedonia that sacrificially gave in a way that was “according to their means, as I [Paul] can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord.” This is not the same as our regular, fixed giving, but rather at certain times that God places on our hearts.
  4. Prayerfully– “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” -2 Corinthians 9:7. This is where the freedom from the Law comes in. Sometimes, this is the Old Testament principle of the 10%. Sometimes, it means you regularly go above and beyond that. And in some circumstances, it means you do less. If you’re looking for inspiration for your giving, look no further than the life of John Wesley, or the widow’s offering in Mark 12.

Conclusion

We are no longer constrained to the 10% offering mandate of the Old Testament Law. However, how much more reason do we have to give generously in the immeasurable eternal blessings that we possess through Christ Jesus?

As base a thing as money often is, yet it can be transmuted into everlasting treasure. It can be converted into food for the hungry and clothing for the poor. It can keep a missionary actively winning lost men to the light of the gospel and thus transmute itself into heavenly values. Any temporal possession can be turned into everlasting wealth. Whatever is given to Christ is immediately touched with immortality.

-A.W. Tozer

 

 

Great Resources on Tithing:

https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-5-giving-god-s-way-selected-scriptures

http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/toward-the-tithe-and-beyond

http://www.gotquestions.org/tithing-Christian.html

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/study-christians-who-tithe-have-healthier-finances