My dad was a banker and he loved to dole out financial advice, such as “buy what you need”, “don’t spend more than you have to” and “save for a rainy day”. For him, financial independence was about having enough in your bank account so you could stand on your own two feet.
Unfortunately, I’m quite bad at keeping an eye on my finances. I vaguely know there is some money in my bank account, and if the bank has yet to ring up to chat about my finances, then I’m in the clear.
But over the years working as a reporter, I came to appreciate the value of my father’s advice after interviewing families in dire financial straits. There were some who could not afford school uniforms for their children, and others who had to scrimp and save just so they could take their kids out to the movies. I am not saying these families were in such situations because they had been irresponsible with their finances; but it did highlight the importance of being prudent with my money and ensuring that I had a bit tucked away every pay day, so that I could be free of financial woes.
And so here I am, sharing a few tips I’ve learned which I hope can help you take the first steps in achieving financial independence.
1) Save Your Pennies
For something so simple, it is quite hard to carry out. This is because I always feel the need to spend my money on just about anything the minute I see my salary deposited into my bank account. I dream of all the new books and dresses I need, and I’m immediately cheered up by the thought of being able to spend on weekend brunches and coffees with my friends.
And while it’s easier to keep tabs on the bigger spends, such as a $40 brunch, it’s the smaller items that add up. For example, I really like coffee, and I’d love nothing more than to buy a cup of coffee every morning to get my caffeine fix. However, $6 for a regular cup of mocha adds up to $30 by the end of the week. And since I don’t always pack my lunch to work, that’s another $12 that I’d spend on eating out. If I do that for five days, I would have clocked in about $100 on lunches and coffees. I could have bought myself a few new e-books on Amazon and/or a new skirt!
The Bible provides wise advice when it comes to savings: it tells us to consider the way of the wise ant, to look at how it “stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest” (Proverbs 6:6-8). We’re to be like the wise ant, carefully storing away a portion of our monthly pay check. During the six months I spent job-hunting last year, I relied heavily on my savings (and my parents) to pay for my phone bills and health insurance. I also needed to dig into my piggy bank when my car returned from the mechanic’s with close to $1,000 in repair bills. Imagine the amount of debts I would have incurred if not for my savings.
These days, to stop myself from overspending, I’ve reduced my credit limit by half and set up an automatic payment to have a small portion of funds funnelled into a different bank account on pay day. Out of sight, out of mind.
2) Be a Good Steward
“Money isn’t easy to earn, so do make sure you think long and hard before parting with your hard earned cash,” my dad would always say before I embarked on a big-ticket purchase. Or any other purchase, for that matter.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with a little bit of retail therapy every now and then, or upgrading your gizmos if they’re starting to look like they should be in a museum. However, as your money is a limited commodity, it does pay to carefully consider how and what you’ll invest your money in.
My dad can tell me to “buy what I need” until he’s blue in the face, but I’ve found the best way to be a good steward of my monetary assets is to view them as something that belongs to God. After all, the earth and all its fullness belongs to God (Psalm 24:1), and so do our financial assets. What that means is that we are merely managers of what belongs to God, so we are to use our money in accordance with His will.
God is the CEO of my finances, and I’m one of His financial accountants responsible for the way I spend His money. Would He—or any CEO for that matter—be pleased if I spent $2000 on a designer handbag I could not afford? And would He be happy if I forked out my money on items I don’t need, instead of saving the money or using it to bless others?
3) Be Faithful in Your Giving
My tithes and offerings went from a weekly donation to a fortnightly one when I was without a job for six months. And it wasn’t until I had a regular income that I started giving on a weekly basis. It has always surprised me how willing I was to cough up $20 for a movie ticket, or to buy another shirt I didn’t need, but couldn’t seem to spare the same amount for my weekly tithe and offering.
Now, I can’t tell you if you should stop your tithe and offering altogether if you find yourself in a bit of a financial tight spot. But what I can do is encourage you to be faithful in your giving, even if it seems like what you’re giving is not a lot. Remember the widow and her two mites?
It may seem like it’s taking yet another slice out of your monthly income (after taxes and various bills have been paid for). But my years of tithing have taught me that God honors those who give to Him faithfully.
4) Rely on God to Meet Your Needs
This is going to sound very counter-intuitive and contradictory to any financial advice you may hear about achieving financial independence.
The world may tell you to invest in various stocks, fight your way to a promotion, or clock in long nights at the office in order to get more money. And so often, we think we have to rely on ourselves to provide for our financial needs because no one else will look after us. I know exactly how that feels—I often worry about my financial future. As a writer, my salary is a lot lower than those of my friends who are accountants, lawyers, doctors, and bankers. Once I caught myself wondering, “What if I’m still barely making it at 55?”
How encouraged was I then to learn about one of the greatest men of faith, George Muller, and his unfailing trust in God to provide for his financial needs. German-born Muller moved to London to begin his work as a missionary in 1829, and was later led to start an orphanage, where he cared for more than 10,000 orphans to the end of his life.
What struck me about Muller’s story was how he never once asked anyone for money to help build his orphanage. Instead, he brought his request to God and trusted that He would provide for all his needs. How amazing is that? Now, God is not a money-genie, and He’s not obliged to make you rich beyond your dreams. But the thing is, God cares for you intimately and He promises to meet all your needs in every area of your life (Philippians 4:19). Those who fear the Lord will lack nothing (Psalm 34:10).
5) Seek First the Kingdom of God
Sometimes, in our pursuit to earn more money or find ways to get more dollars in our account, we can easily lose sight of what is most important—God.
It is good to have money and there is nothing inherently wrong in making sure we have enough funds to tide us through a rainy day. But problems start to arise when we idolize money and convince ourselves that we don’t have enough, and that we’d die happy if we can have X in our bank accounts.
But the reality is that we’ll never be satisfied. This is particularly true for me. When I was earning a lowly reporter’s pay, I found myself wishing, “How nice if I had that extra few thousand in my account. Life would be so much easier!” God answered my prayers and gave me a new job, which came with better pay. But again, I found myself wishing that my pay grade would go up one level!
The Bible warns us that the “love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:10). And we are advised to “keep our lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
May we never allow money woes to plague us, but instead cling to this well-known promise from Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”