We recently taught the Marriage and Family Relations lesson in Sunday School called “Managing Family Finances”. The information in the lesson was excellent and stimulated an inspiring discussion and comments from class members. We can’t resist sharing the discussion and a few observations that apply.
The lesson was based on President N. Eldon Tanner’s timeless counsel given at a general welfare session 1979. He began by saying, “What I would like to share with you today are my observations about the constant and fundamental principles which, if followed, will bring financial security and peace of mind under any economic circumstances.” (Find his talk at www.lds.org/general-conference/1979)
Here are his five “principles of economic constancy” and some comments shared by class members.
Constancy #1: Pay an honest tithing.
President Tanner explained that “the payment of tithing is a commandment with a promise. . . . As you discharge this obligation to your Maker, you will find great, great happiness, the like of which is known only by those who are faithful to this commandment.
Several in the class bore testimony of how this had worked in their lives.
A young college-student-father, with a new baby, now a few months old wiggling in his arms, told how, a few weeks after the birth of their baby, they sat in their little apartment on a Sunday morning wondering what to do. If they paid their tithing they knew they wouldn’t have enough money to buy items they desperately needed for the baby. They didn’t question, only wondered, then paid their tithing. The next day a package arrived from the young mother’s former ward members. It was filled with all the basic items they needed-diapers, lotion, powder, clothes, etc. They knew “beyond any doubt” that the Lord had blessed them for paying their tithing.
A mother of six, holding her infant on her lap, said, “We have had many financial challenges but I can tell you there is a great comfort that continually comes to us because we pay our tithing. The Lord has always helped us through these challenges. Part of the blessing has been knowing that He will be there for us, and He has been in small countless ways. When it’s been really hard, we just hang on, knowing He will guide us to have what we need. And He always has.”
Another couple, parents of teenagers, each telling parts of the story, shared what had happened to them several years earlier. They were struggling in new jobs, she doing design work from home, and he in a demanding new job. Their finances were complicated so they sought help from a financial advisor. He told them, “I can plainly see what your problem is in meeting your expenses. It’s paying tithing to your church. If you will stop paying it, even for just one month, you’ll see how you can meet your obligations.” She said they looked at each other, then to the advisor and together said, “No. We will never do that. It is vitally important to us to live our religion and we will always pay our tithing, come what may.” A few months later as the advisor reviewed their financial records, he said, “I don’t get it. It isn’t making sense on paper, but all your bills are paid. How did that happen?” They knew. The Lord had somehow made it all work because they paid their tithing.
The payment of tithing is more than burden relieving, it’s peace promoting. It gives you confidence to know that God will bless your family well beyond helping you meet financial needs. It will increase your faith and trust in the Lord, which will be a blessing through all aspects of your life.
Constancy #2: Live on less than you earn.
President Tanner, “The key to spending less than we earn is simple-it is called discipline. Whether early in life or late, we must all eventually learn to discipline ourselves, our appetites, and our economic desires. How blessed is he who learns to spend less than he earns and puts something away for a rainy day.”
It’s such a simple principle, and yet so many get caught in the trap of spending more than they have. When counseling our own children we have often said, “Don’t spend your future.” When you spend more than you have it’s like digging a pit that you will eventually fall into, and getting out can be very difficult.
If you want something you can’t afford, save up for it. Even if it takes time, a little at a time can add up to making a dream come true.
One couple in our class shared their method of saving. They have several different savings accounts, each with it’s own purpose. “We never know when the car may need new brakes, so we have a car repair account. We have an account for a future family vacation, one for property tax we know we’ll have to pay.” Their list went on. He said, “We add a little each month to these accounts. Sometimes it’s only $5 or $10 dollars, but we have been surprised at how that adds up over time.” They expressed the peace they feel knowing that money is there for unexpected and planned expenses.
A young couple told of how, even as students, they decided they would always do their best to have at least $1,000.00 in an emergency savings account, which they planned for before their marriage. Another couple asked, “How can you do that? We hardly have enough to live on.” The young husband replied, “How can you not do that? You never know when you’ll need it for an emergency.” They explained that when they’ve had to use it they build it back up as quickly as possible.
Another couple said they have an automatic withdraw from their paycheck that goes into a savings account. “We don’t even miss it that way.” They too expressed how good it feels to have money set aside for needs and wants, which brings us to the next principle.
Constancy #3: Learn to distinguish between needs and wants.
President Tanner: “In this and many other countries, many parents and children born since World War II have known only prosperous conditions. Many have been conditioned to instant gratification. . . . Yesterday’s luxuries for most are considered today’s necessities.
“This is typified by young couples who expect to furnish their homes and provide themselves with luxuries as they begin their marriages, which their parents have managed to acquire only after many years of struggle and sacrifice. By wanting too much too soon, young couples may succumb to easy credit plans, thereby plunging themselves into debt. . . .
“Overindulgence and poor money management place a heavy strain on marriage relationships. Most marital problems, it seems, originate from economic roots-either insufficient income to sustain the family or mismanagement of the income as earned.”
For those who are already in debt over their heads, there is a way out. We suggest using the principles taught by financial guru Dave Ramsey in his book Financial Peace.
In a nutshell he suggests you do this:
Pay the minimum payment of every debt, adding a few extra dollars (as much as you can) to the principle of the smallest debt.
When that is paid off take the amount you’ve been paying on it monthly and add it to the next smallest debt.
When that’s paid off, go to the next, then the next, until all are paid off. Too often when people pay off a debt they think, “Hooray, now I have extra money to spend!” With that attitude you will be eaten alive with interest.
Carefully choose how you are going to spend your money. Meet your needs and save for your wants. As soon as possible get rid of all your debt. That’s what’s worth celebrating. It’s called financial freedom.
Constancy #4: Develop and live within a budget.
President Tanner: “Wise financial counselors teach that there are four different elements to any good budget. Provision should be made first for basic operating needs such as food, clothing, etc.; second, for home equity; third, for emergency needs such as savings, health insurance, and life insurance; and, fourth, for wise investment and a storage program for the future.”
A family budget needs to be a joint effort with input from both husband and wife. Too many people seems to just fly by the seat of their pants, with no budget at all, hoping it will all workout somehow. That’s like hoping you’ll find bread in the cupboard when you haven’t even gone shopping. Using money wisely takes planning.
A sample budget can be found in the Marriage and Family Relations Participant’s Study Guide p. 32
Constancy #5: Be honest in all your financial affairs.
President Tanner: “The ideal of integrity will never go out of style. It applies to all we do. As leaders and members of the Church, we should be the epitome of integrity.”
We have observed that a serious cause of contention in marriage is when spouses are not honest with each other in the way they have used the family money. Some try to hide what they spend from their spouse. Couples must be completely open and honest regarding what’s happening with the financial funds of the family.
Couples first need to make a plan then communicate with each other at least monthly on how the plan is working. If you’re single the principle still applies, make a plan. If changes need to be made it needs to be a joint decision so neither is in the dark about what money is available and how it’s being used. If there is a serious spending problem then you may need to seek counseling from your bishop or a professional counselor. It’s too important to just ignore.
We suggest that couples read this article together and discuss President Tanner’s suggestions for financial security. If you prayerfully seek the Lord’s guidance in all your financial affairs and use these principles you cannot help but feel the peace that comes from the wise and sacred use of the funds the Lord has provided for your family.
[For more information on Gary and Joy Lundberg and their books on family relationships visit their website ]