Over the past few weeks, I’ve written two post related(ish) to money. The first one, was about giving/charity and the IRS, as I had just finished doing my taxes and was giving a warning that my donations were suspiciously high. The second one, was supposed to be about what to do with excess money, but I felt I had to start with the fact that most people are bad with money and inexplicably, very few people budget. So, today, I’ll jump back on track with what to do when you have plenty.
Before discussing plenty, you have to figure out, what is enough? My granddad is old enough that he was never caught up in the religious right or Republican Christianity, and therefore takes the Bible seriously about money, believing that greed is a sin. Growing up, he always told the story of a reporter asking the richest man on earth how much money he needed, and the rich many responded, ‘just a little more’. The exchange is attribute to Rockefeller, but I couldn’t actually find anything that confirms this.
Either way the point remains, the concept of enough is a moving target. As I wrote some last week, it is also almost impossible to discuss with some people. I know people, who make more than I do, who eat out 4-5 times a week, have a $150 cable bill will also having Netflix, Hulu, Prime, and still go out to movies. He tells me they are almost paycheck to paycheck, and don’t have enough. No, they have enough, they are just wasting it.
For the sake of discussion, let’s say that enough is covering the bills/expenses of living, saving 10%, giving 10%, with some emergency savings and then a little extra cash every month for fun (this is a category for going out to eat, booze and expensive dinners are not bills). So, you aren’t living paycheck to paycheck, and you are doing the right things with you money and have some left over, that is enough/more than enough. I know this is a basic and peoples’ living expenses can vary dramatically, some places have a high cost of housing, some people buy too much house, many people have car loans they shouldn’t, and of course you can always lower your bills (you don’t have to keep your house at 72 degrees year round).
Certainly, if you have a decent sized discretionary or misc. portion of your budget you have enough. I guess a quick and easy definition of plenty would be if that section of your budget is larger than your saving and giving; definitely plenty if that budget item is your largest.
Maybe you’ve never bothered to budget and when you do, you end up like my buddy at work or other people I’ve talked to and find out that discretionary part of your budget is quite large, hundreds to even over a thousand dollars is what I’ve heard of from people ‘finding’ money in the budget when they actually put it on paper. Alternatively, you have the scenario like the Monday Morning Wife and I had where we both have new (promotion) jobs at new companies, so we received a substantial bump in salary. Or finally, say one spouse had been laid off or taken time out for babies and is not back to work. For these last two scenarios, you were already responsible and smart, so you had a budget and are now, clearly in the plenty category.
So now what?
I’ll admit I have no idea. I’ve struggled with this and have been wanting to write about it for almost a year. I’ll confess I’ve spent too much time thinking (obsessing) over what to do. In some ways, it is simple, right? For example, you have the raise/new income/’budget find’ scenario discussed above of say, $600 month. There are only three places it can go, savings, givings, or discretionary. This even works for just a one time bonus or tax return, as well. If you start budgeting an extra $60 a month to giving, that still leaves you with over $500 in new money and no particular place to go. Say you save have of it, now you are down to an extra $240 a month. Should you really spend all that on yourself?
This is the kind of thing that I struggle with, not the spending so much, because I just don’t buy many things, but can you justify saving 50% of new money, will keeping giving to 10%? Especially as your income and plenty grows? Dave Ramsey recommends saving 15%, and giving 10%, as a starting point. However, if you get that big bump, or just expect a good amount of growth in income over time, how much do those two numbers need to align? Can you save 30% and keep your giving at 10%? Should it be 25% and 15%? I actually had this discussion with someone yesterday. I told him I do feel compelled based on God’s blessing, to give more. He points out that Paul tells us to give what we decide and not from compulsion because God wants a cheerful giver. That makes sense on the one hand, but on the other, I don’t really want to give any money. Right? That’s the problem most people have, I’m selfish and would much rather keep all my money.
I want to quickly discuss two solutions I’ve heard that takes you away from the percentage focus I’ve discussed. I’m sure I overthink all of this and focus too much on the percentages because I’m such a strict budgeter. I’m sure many of you reading this might say, give your 10% and if there is an additional need, give to it. That’s where my obsessive compulsive nature comes in and says, yeah, but it isn’t in the budget. Back to the two methods, they are both numbers based. One number, is your income, you pick the number you want to hit, then give away 100% of every dollar thereafter. The second is your savings, same deal, pick a number you want to hit, then give away everything else. All this assumes a solid budget that already accounts for a 15/10% savings/givings.
First, income, this one is interesting, probably more Biblically sound, but harder to follow. This one should be pretty relevant for anyone who expects large growth in income over life times. Assume you and your wife make about $50k, but know in 20 years, you each could easily be making $100k (well keep all money in real dollars for ease), which isn’t that far off a scenario. You set your budget at the combined $100k mark, leave room for some growth in savings, income, and discretionary, and then pick your number. Call it $150k. When you hit this point, you’ll be giving 10% already, but will then give 100% of ever new dollar. By the time you hit that $200k line, you’d be giving away an incredible $65k (well, I guess less taxes, so call it $55k), somewhere around 25-30% of your income.
I like this idea. It is simple, and I can’t really think of any reason from the Bible to not do so. However, it is scary. It would be incredibly hard for me to give away that much, and keep savings at the relatively safe rate of 15-20%. While, I’d be sure that I’d probably be fine in the future, it seems much easier to trust money than it does God. You never know what emergency may hit – housing, job layoff, or especially in America, a medical issue. But clearly that is trying to serve two masters, it seems.
So, that leads to the other method. I heard about this from a friend who was a financial adviser and it is something he recommended. Unfortunately, he died last year and we never had the chance to discuss further. The idea is straight forward, you save/give your 15/10%, then as income rises you increase your savings rate, then once you hit your target number, you stop saving and give the rest away. I really like this idea, because it plays in to my need for safety and comfort coming from something I can ‘control’. However, I can’t think much about the method without feeling like all I am doing is ‘building a bigger barn’.
Obviously, there is some nuance to each of these situations (if you are going with the nest egg method, but you are offered a 401(k) match, do you keep saving a little?), but as general guidelines, I find them compelling. This has gone long, so maybe I’ll do yet another post, but I haven’t even touched on some even more compelling and interesting situations such as financial independence, moving to ministry/changing careers later in life, and the craziest of all, retirement (having a pension is simple, you can give off of your income, but if you only have a nest egg, how do you give?). Admittedly, I overthink it, but how about you? Do you under-think it? See any major pros or cons for either method, or thing focusing on percentages is the way to go? Please leave comments if you have them, I’d love some input.