In the next part of our Personal Finance Bible Study, we’ll look at God’s desire for Christians to work hard and diligently. While contentment helps us to spend less money, hard work helps us to earn more money. When combined, these two values create a powerful force for giving generously in God’s name.

       We’ll begin this part of the Personal Finance Bible Study by looking at God’s call for Christians to work. Next, we’ll talk about the value of work in our lives. Then we’ll look at the dangers of too much rest, followed by the need for rest. We’ll finish up by discussing God’s business values and ethics so we can honor Him in our work.

We Were Made to Work

       From the very beginning of Creation, part of our purpose was to work. When God created Adam, we see that He assigned Adam the task of working in the garden of Eden:

       Yahweh God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.

Genesis 2:15 (WEB)

       Part of the way we honor and worship God is by working to glorify Him. God created Adam and put him in the garden to work. Our human nature has not changed since then. We still need to work to honor God. Our work may look very different from Adam’s, but there is still work we must do.

We Need to Work

       Government aid programs aside, we cannot survive for long if we do not work. If we do not work, we cannot earn money. (All forms of income require work at some point in time.) It’s as simple as sowing and reaping. If you don’t plant a garden in the spring, you’re not going to have vegetables growing in your back yard in the summer. It’s also true that the harder we work, the more likely we are to find success. Solomon gives this advice clearly in Ecclesiastes:

       4 He who observes the wind won’t sow; and he who regards the clouds won’t reap. 5 As you don’t know what is the way of the wind, nor how the bones grow in the womb of her who is with child; even so you don’t know the work of God who does all. 6 In the morning sow your seed, and in the evening don’t withhold your hand; for you don’t know which will prosper, whether this or that, or whether they both will be equally good.

Ecclesiastes 11:4-6 (WEB)

       Many of us find security in having a paying job with a regular paycheck, but we also know that there are no guarantees. Just because you have a job today doesn’t mean you’ll have it tomorrow. This is not to say that we should live in fear, but we really do not know what the future holds. Solomon encourages us to continue working in the evening hours so we have something to fall back on if our primary work falls through. Start your own business part-time, and if you lose your regular job you’ll have something to fall back on. Or maybe they’ll both do well and you’ll prosper even more.

       I’m not saying we should all go out and become workaholics. The advice Solomon gives here is more along the lines of diversifying your sources of income. If you rely completely on your regular paycheck and you lose that, it’s going to hit you pretty hard. But if you have multiple sources of income, losing one of them won’t hurt you quite as badly.

       We see between these two verses that we are made to work and we need to work. Next, we’ll look at how our work glorifies God.

Cracked Nest Egg Because of Stupid Retirement Rules       The “save 10% for retirement” rule is absolutely stupid. And so is “save 15% for retirement” (sorry, Dave Ramsey) or “save 20% for retirement” and any other “save #% for retirement” rule you’ll come across. Now I don’t doubt that the people giving this advice meant no harm. They probably just want to get you to start saving for retirement, and offering a simple % of your income solution is a quick, easy answer for a difficult question.

       But they’re all absurd, useless rules for one simple reason: they completely ignore your situation. For most people, a simple rule like “save 10% of your income for retirement” is likely to be wrong (and blindly following dumb advice like that can have nasty results). The right answer depends on seven major factors that are specific to you and your situation. Specifically, they are:

  1. Your Current Age
  2. Your Retirement Age
  3. Your Life Expectancy
  4. Your Current Savings
  5. Your Investments
  6. How Much Income You Need for Retirement
  7. Your Current Income

       All of these factors work together to determine how much you should be saving for retirement each year. Let’s break them down.

Your Current Age & Retirement Age

       The difference between your retirement age and current age determines how long you have to save and invest. If you’re 25 now and don’t plan on retiring until you’re 70, then you’ve got 45 years until retirement. But if you’re 50 and want to retire at 65, well then you’ve only got 15 years. That’s a huge difference!

       The longer you have until retirement, the less you’re going to have to save. But these simplistic rules ignore this completely. If you’re young and just starting out, these rules might be OK for you. But if you’re older and haven’t done so well with saving for retirement, you’re not going to be happy when you realize you can’t retire because you didn’t save enough.

Your Life Expectancy

       Trying to guess your life expectancy can be a shot in the dark. You don’t really know when you’re going to die. But your health, your habits, and your family history do affect how long you can expect to live. Obviously, the longer you’re likely to live, the more you should save for retirement. But these dumbed-down % rules don’t account for this at all.

Your Current Savings

       If you’ve been wise and have already been saving a lot for retirement, you may not need to save 10% of your income. But if you’re 50 years old and haven’t saved a dime, then even 15% or 20% are unlikely to cut it unless you’re willing to make some major changes to your life and retirement plans. How much you already have saved can drastically affect how much you should save for retirement, but once again these % of your income rules won’t help.

Your Investments

       Are you so afraid of risk that you’ve vowed only to use CDs to save for retirement? Well, I can tell you that you’re going to need to save a whole lot more than 10% of your income even if you’re starting at 18 and don’t plan to retire until you’re 75. Your investment returns (which are connected to the risk you’re willing to take) will drastically affect how much you need to save. Based on what I can figure, the % rules assume you’re going to invest in a moderately aggressive mix of stocks and bonds that you tone down as you get closer to retirement. So if your risk tolerance is higher or lower, these rules won’t work for you.

How Much Income You Need for Retirement

       How much income you need for retirement is also a huge factor in figuring out how much you should be saving. Are you going to get a pension? Well, you’ll need less income from your own savings (lucky you). Do you plan to downsize and cut way back on some major expenses? Then you probably won’t need to save as much. Want to travel the world extensively? You might have to plan on saving more if your retirement expenses are going to drastically exceed your current income.

       You see, these % rules assume you’re going to need about 80% or so of your income in retirement. (That’s a stupid assumption for some other reasons, but I’m saving that for a different post.) So if you’re going to be different, these rules just won’t work for you.

Your Current Income

       Finally, and this should be obvious, your current income will affect the % you should be saving. Once you consider all these other factors I mentioned above, you can figure out exactly how many dollars you should save for retirement this year. But depending on what you make now, that could be 5% or 25% of your current income. (Or even more!)

The Solution

       So how, exactly, should you calculate how much you need to save for retirement? Well, I’d like to say that my handy little retirement calculator is the perfect answer, but it’s not. (It’s free by the way!)

       My calculator assumes you’re going to invest using a diversified portfolio of low-cost index funds (also a free calculator) with a moderate-slightly aggressive stock/bond mix. It also simplifies the taxes and doesn’t allow for “lumpy expenses” or significant changes in your retirement spending. Finally, it’s based on some other assumptions that I just can’t know will be absolutely correct. I did my best, but I know it’s not perfect.

       My free retirement calculator is certainly an improvement over these stupid % of income rules, but it’s still no replacement for sitting down with a good fee-only financial planner and working it out. So definitely try it out, but do yourself a favor and find a qualified professional to help you as well. And you need to do this more than once. Every few years you should revisit this plan with your advisor and update it as needed.

       I know that’s not an easy answer, but at least you’ll have a better chance of actually meeting your goals! Plus, I tried to make my calculator as simple as possible without making it too simple. And trust me, it’s better than most of the other free retirement calculators you’ll find out there because I used hundreds of thousands of Monte Carlo simulations to develop it. So it’s based on assumptions that mimic real market returns (which vary from year to year) instead of assuming a straight % return every single year (like 8%, 8%, 8%, …).

       Try it out, let me know what you think, and feel free to share your results here! What % of your income should you actually be saving to reach your retirement goals?

(photo credit: Nina Matthews)

Bible with Cross Shadow by knowhimonline on Flickr       Today’s Personal Finance Bible Scripture comes from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. I find it to be a good reminder of what we should do as Christians even when we’re experiencing hard times. If you are going through a difficult period right now, financially, spiritually, or otherwise, I recommend you write out this verse and put it somewhere you can see it every day.

       16 Rejoice always. 17 Pray without ceasing. 18 In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus toward you.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (WEB)

We can easily break this passage up into four main points:

       1. We should always be joyful – even in the very worst of times. And we have a very good reason to be joyful. God gave His only Son to cover our sins so we can join Him in Heaven. That fact should overshadow any adversity in our life if we really take it to heart.

       2. We should always be praying. This is how we communicate with God. Continual prayer means our minds are always focused on God. Whatever we focus our minds on will have a profound impact on our actions and attitude, so keeping God foremost in our minds is the best thing we can do in any situation.

       3. We should always be thankful – and not just in the good times. God has blessed us so much more than we realize. We get caught up in looking for material blessings, but the greatest blessing we have is Jesus. He has taken away our sins and brings us into communion with God. Even if we’re naked and starving, we still have the blessing of Jesus.

       I think most Christians in the U.S. can agree we’re also very blessed materially. Nearly all of us have a home, clothes, food, and much more. There are billions of people worldwide who would be ecstatic to have a home the size of the average American living room, much less all the amenities and abundance of food we find in our homes. So even in what seem like “hard” times, remember that you are very blessed and be thankful.

       4. This is God’s will for us. This is what God wants us to do all of our lives. He wants us to be joyful and happy, to be very close to Him and always in prayer, and to be thankful at all times. Our lives would be so much more fulfilling if we pursued these three things with relentless passion.

       A while back, I received a free copy of Upside Living in a Downside Economy by Mike Slaughter from the publisher for my review. Mike is the lead pastor at Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Tipp City, Ohio. In this book, Mike offers insight into God’s perspective on our money concerns using passages from the book of James and other Bible verses. At 96 pages and 5″ x 7″, it’s a short little book. However, it contains some powerful ideas about how Christians should approach their personal finances. I’ve broken down this review into the four chapters you’ll find in the book:

Seeking God’s Perspective

       In the first chapter, Mike focuses on getting the right perspective on our finances. First, he looks at God’s character as a loving father. Next, he mentions a couple of God’s perspectives on money and emphasizes that we must seek to put God first and serve Him with our money. This is key to following God’s plan for our finances and fully understanding His desire for our lives. Then, Mike talks about checking our motives. We have to be careful about pursuing material things and loving money. Finally, he finishes the chapter by asking us to look at the source of our motives and who we are listening to. He warns of listening to the media and recommends that we seek God’s Word and wise advice from Christians instead.

Rebalancing Life Investments

       Mike then looks at seven “right actions” we should take as a response to God’s priorities for our finances and lives:

1. Do the first “right” thing: planned giving to God.
2. Seek wise counsel through an accountability group or counselor.
3. Write or rework a budget.
4. Perform plastic surgery and reduce your debt.
5. Set future goals and practice delayed gratification.
6. Nurture an attitude of gratitude.
7. Pray, pray, pray.

       These seven actions cover some important ideas God teaches us through the Bible. They’re not comprehensive, and Mike’s discussion of these actions is mostly motivational. It is not a step-by-step guide, and Mike never claims that it is.

Do It Today

       Mike then discusses the importance of planning in accordance with God’s Will. Planning for the future does not mean we are not relying on God. Throughout the Bible, God encourages us to prudently plan and prepare for the future. However, when we are planning for the future, we should be careful to make sure we approach it prayerfully and seek God’s Kingdom first.

       Mike covers what he calls the “fundamental life principles of sowing and reaping”:

1. You reap what you sow.
2. You determine the size of the harvest at the time of planting.
3. You will reap more than you sow.
4. The harvest comes in a later season than the sowing.
5. You are responsible for the work of sowing; God is responsible for the harvest.

       Anyone familiar with gardening or farming can tell you these are accurate statements regarding sowing and reaping (with the exception of disasters that wipe out the entire crop). When you apply these principles to your finances, God can bless you just as He has promised. Your actions show your faith in His promises.

       Finally, Mike talks about seven steps in creating a financial plan:

1. Do a financial analysis.
2. Begin an aggressive program of debt reduction.
3. Create an emergency fund.
4. Be sure you have adequate life insurance.
5. Write a will.
6. Look at your giving.
7. Create a budget.

       Again, this is not a full list of the things you should do when creating your financial plan, but they are a good start. If you can do these seven things, you’ll be ahead of most people. This section is more about leading you down the right path rather than directing you along the way.

Investing in God’s Future Harvest

       In the final chapter, Mike discusses three ways we can invest in God’s future harvest. First, he looks at living and giving thankfully. We must realize that all we have is from God, and we should be thankful for the blessings he gives us. We need to appreciate what we have, even during hard times. Second, he talks about living and giving faithfully. God calls us to live by faith regardless of our circumstances. We must always lean on God and trust in His teaching. In this way, we can live free from fear.

       Finally, he covers living and giving sacrificially. As Christians, we have to remember we are the body of Christ. We are how He blesses and cares for people. Our purpose is to complete the work He has prepared for us—not to achieve the “American Dream” or other materialistic goals. Mike challenges us to give everything over to God—our money, our time, our entire being. Though it seems foolish or impossible from the world’s viewpoint, it is the true calling God has for those who follow Christ and it is possible through faith in Him.

Rebalancing Your Life

       At the end of the book, there’s a short section where you can reflect on the ideas in the book and write down goals for yourself. It’s only four small pages, but it’s a start to looking at how you should use the lessons in this book in your own life.

My Recommendation

       Upside Living in a Downside Economy is not a book that will guide you through the steps needed to fully align your finances with God’s Will. But it will give you a good start at understanding God’s perspective on our finances and our lives.

       My only concerns with Mike’s teaching in the book have to do with his emphasis on tithing and the incongruity of his views on giving to the poor and his own personal life. Any emphasis on tithing as God’s desire for Christians fails to acknowledge that Christians are called to give much more generously than just 10% of their income. There are also other problems with teaching the tithe that I will address when I discuss giving in my personal finance Bible study.

       I also found it hard to give credence to Mike when he discusses how Christians must live and give sacrificially in the same book where he explains that one of his personal goals was to have a mountain home by 2004. It’s difficult for me to think that having a second home of any sort is really sacrificial when millions of people around the world don’t even have suitable shelter. There were a couple other passages in the book that gave me this same feeling. I don’t mean to attack Mike and I’m not saying I’m better than him. There are areas of my life where I am not congruent in my actions and God’s teaching, but God is changing me as I grow in Jesus Christ. I agree with his ideas about living and giving sacrificially and most of his ideas in the book, but I would have liked to see him living out examples of this more clearly as a teacher of God’s Word.

       At a cost of $8.00, I’m not sure I can recommend that you buy the book. It is short and doesn’t contain much on the side of practical application. However, if you’re just starting to seek God’s perspective on money and want to start with an easy read, Upside Living in a Downside Economy may be right for you. Borrow it from the library, your church, or a friend if you can, otherwise feel free to click the picture of the book above and purchase it on Amazon.

       As promised in my post summarizing the Contentment Bible study, here is your free e-book to download and share with anyone you like. In addition, the “Contentment is Wealth” e-book is 52 pages including the title page and table of contents. I even added some questions for reflection. You’re definitely getting your money’s worth here, folks! Click the picture of the e-book below to download the PDF file. Let me know what you think in the comments!!!

Contentment Is Wealth

       This post is a short summary of the Personal Finance Bible Study on Contentment. It contains links to all the articles in this Bible study. You can also read about Bible verses on contentment here.

The World’s Message

       The World’s Message
       The Problem with the World’s Message
       The Solution to the Problem

       In the first three parts of this Bible study on Contentment, we looked at the World’s message. “If we get more of the stuff the World has to offer, we’ll be happy and satisfied.” We then looked at the problem with the World’s message—it keeps us from serving God, and it has no eternal reward. Finally, we looked at the solution to this problem—giving God our hearts and allowing Jesus to fully live through us.

Getting God’s View

       Getting God’s View (Part 1)
       Getting God’s View (Part 2)
       Getting God’s View (Part 3)

       In the next three parts, we looked at God’s View of the world, money, and our lives so we can focus on serving Him instead of serving Money. First, our focus on the Things of This World keeps us from seeing the importance of love and relationships. This keeps us from fully serving God. Second, we must focus on storing up treasures in heaven rather than on Earth because that will show whether our hearts belong to God or Money. If we let the concerns of this life take priority over the concerns of eternal life, we will be unfruitful. Finally, we learned that everything belongs to God. And even though these ideas go against our human nature, it’s not worth gaining the whole world (being rich) if we end up losing our souls.

Practical Applications

       Practical Applications (Part 1)
       Practical Applications (Part 2)
       Practical Applications (Part 3)
       Practical Applications (Part 4)

       The next four sections are about the practical applications of God’s View and Contentment in our lives. First, we looked at how we should focus on God instead of being worried about our Earthly lives. This means we’re more worried about doing good and showing love than earning money and gaining wealth. We also learned that if we follow Jesus’ teaching we will receive a great reward (though probably not monetary). Second, we learned that we don’t have to be concerned about our needs because God has promised to always be with us. Third, we looked at how we should react in all circumstances and the importance of asking God for our daily bread—just enough. Finally, we learned that we shouldn’t wear ourselves out trying to get rich. And if we are rich, we should be very generous and doing good so that we don’t trust in Money but in God alone.

The Results

       The Results (Part 1)
       The Results (Part 2)

       In the last two sections, we looked at the results of God’s Contentment in our lives. First, we learned that we will delight God, really enjoy life, and always have God as our strong tower—our protector. Then, we learned that God’s Contentment will teach us the secret to happiness in all circumstances and will bring us greater wealth than we can imagine.

Free E-book

       I’ve compiled all of these lessons into a free e-book for anyone to download. I also added some questions at the end of each lesson to help you reflect on the reading. Feel free to share it with family, friends, church members, and anyone else you want. Download your free copy of Contentment Is Wealth: A Bible Study on Contentment now!

       As I write more about personal finance and continue to expand my knowledge, I’m becoming increasingly aware of my own limitations. I’m only one man writing in a tiny little corner of the Internet. There are many other personal finance blogs out there providing great content and different perspectives. I wanted to take some time to highlight 20 of my favorite personal finance blogs.

       These are the blogs that I continue to return to every day. Their content is solid. They make me think. And they challenge me to expand my ideas beyond my own experiences. I can confidently recommend them to you as a good resource for learning about personal finance.

       I’ve broken them up into two groups: Christian and General. Some of the blogs in the General section are written by Christians, but the content they write is not predominantly from a Christian perspective.

       I’ve also noted my personal top 7 blogs by putting them at the top of the section they’re in and adding ***’s around their name. These are the blogs that I think are the most helpful, most well-written, and most thought-provoking. The others are good, but these are the ones that are great in my personal opinion.

       Finally, if you’re a personal finance blogger and I didn’t include you, please don’t feel offended. These are simply the blogs that I like the best. There are plenty of other good blogs out there, but I wanted to limit this list to the best based on my opinions.

My Favorite Christian Personal Finance Blogs

       ***Money Help for Christians*** – You’ve seen me highlight Craig’s writing several times here, and that’s for a very simple reason. He does an excellent job of presenting a solid look at personal finance in the Bible. I connect with him well because I can see his passion for Jesus in what he does in his life and what he writes on his site.

       ***Redeeming Riches*** – Jason has really caught my attention on several of his posts. I appreciate his willingness to challenge his readers to follow Jesus more closely and to strive to become even more generous.

       ***Dollars and Doctrine*** – Rob’s blog doesn’t have quite as much content as others, but you can find a good bit of his writing elsewhere online. Free Money Finance ran a series on his book Dollars & Doctrine that was a great overview of money in the Bible. I’m looking forward to reviewing Rob’s most recent work on a 4-part Sunday school series called “Redefining Riches”.

       Bible Money Matters – Pete has created an excellent resource for Christians wanting to learn about money and how we should approach it. I’ve been a big fan of his since I began reading Christian finance blogs.

       Christian Personal Finance – Bob has the most popular Christian personal finance blog by far. He’s been doing this for quite a while and has built up an excellent archive of content.

       Debt Free Adventure – Matt’s just coming back from a summer hiatus, but I expect to see more great things from him. He’s accomplished a lot in meeting his goals to become debt free, and he’s extremely interested in helping his readers do the same.

       One Money Design – Jason is also another excellent Christian personal finance blogger who started near the same time I did.

       Personal Finance by the Book – Joe is a relative newcomer to the blogging world, but I’ve really appreciated his perspective as one of the older bloggers among us. His life experience is a valuable resource to learn from as he combines it with his Biblical knowledge.

       Faithful with a Few – Khaleef is also a fairly new blogger, but I’ve been excited about the content he’s writing. I’m expecting great things from him and looking forward to watching him grow as he works to share his faith and knowledge of finances.

My Favorite General Personal Finance Blogs

       ***Get Rich Slowly*** – If you’re reading personal finance blogs, I doubt J.D. needs any introduction. He’s got the most popular personal finance blog and there’s no question why. He’s been doing this longer than most of us and he’s an excellent writer. I’m never disappointed by his work.

       ***The Oblivious Investor*** – Mike has a real gift for taking complex topics and making them simple and clear. I cannot recommend any other investing blog more highly.

       ***Bad Money Advice*** – It took a while for “Frank” to grow on me. He can be a little harsh and critical, but he also makes some excellent points. I don’t think his purpose is to just bash people. He wants us to think about our personal finances rather than blindly accepting the mainstream advice.

       ***Financial Samurai*** – “Sam” established himself very well early on. His site doesn’t have a huge collection of the foundations for personal finances, but he does make you think about things. That’s why I’ve included him as one of my favorites…that, and his humor.

       Len Penzo dot Com – Len is another writer who excels at combining humor with great content. I’ve enjoyed reading his articles since I found him.

       Free Money Finance – FMF is always sharing the financial advice he finds and offering useful commentary on it. He does share Christian content on Sundays and his faith comes through when he discusses giving, but most of his content is just general in nature so I included him here.

       Bargaineering – Jim has a prolific archive of great personal finance content. He’s also helped me with several blogging questions, and I appreciate how he gives back to the community.

       Early Retirement Extreme – Jacob’s story is fascinating and his financial philosophy helps keep my mind questioning the cultural norms.

       Punch Debt in the Face – The Debt Ninja’s comics and humor crack me up. This site isn’t generally heavy on in-depth financial topics, but it’s worth reading just for the laughs.

       All Financial Matters – I think one of the reasons I like JLP’s site is because he shares my love of spreadsheets and data. He gets more into the politics and economics of money than I do, but he’s also got a huge archive of useful posts as well.

       Man Vs. Debt – When it comes to getting out of debt and simplifying your life, Adam knows what he’s talking about. His content is very thorough and well-written. He’s also helped me by answering some of my questions even though he’s a very busy guy.

What Are Your Favorite Personal Finance Blogs?

       Well, there are my favorites. How about sharing yours in the comments below?!