FIRST-PERSON: Emergency measures for an economic drought
ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)--In the west, drought is not an uncommon experience. There are times when extreme drought sets in and ranchers have to make emergency decisions to protect their bovine investments.
In many respects a recession and a drought are not uncommon. In a drought there is the concern there won't be enough water in reserve to make it to the next rain. In a recession there is the fear that joblessness and savings won't hold out long enough for the economy and the market to pick back up. For the small rancher, the government isn't sending a tanker truck with billions of gallons of water. For the individual, the government isn't going to arrive with a personal TARP bailout.
So what can individuals do? What kinds of emergency measures can a person take now that the national economy has contracted and the bank account is running dry?
Let's start with some things to do.
1. Remember that God hasn't lost control. When your personal economy goes south and a change in lifestyle is eminent, it is too easy for American Christians to say, "Lord, why are you not blessing me now?" God's presence and God's compassion for a believer is not limited to the state of one's personal finances. Economies change. Governments change. However, God's passion for a love relationship with people never changes -- nor is He surprised by the global markets. Sometimes it takes the sobriety of an economic downturn for people to discover the worth of their relationship with God, the value of their families and the importance of community.
2. For the follower of Christ, it is vitally important to place the ownership of all things in the hand of God. This transfer of ownership changes your perspective from ownership to manager of the stuff you call yours. In practice, this means that when you make a financial transaction, you do so as a manager of God's assets instead of simply acting like an American consumer.
3. Develop a plan to reduce consumer debt. Far too many people are currently experiencing the pain of increased credit card fees and interest. So, how do you reduce your debt? Immediately stop charging any purchases you cannot pay in total on the day the statement arrives at your mailbox. Take the smallest debt you have and eliminate it first. Then use that debt payment as an additional resource to tackle your most expensive debt. Where does additional money come from to pay down the debt? Try this suggestion. Take the cost of eating out for lunch and apply it to your unpaid balance. You will be amazed at the amount of debt you reduce over the course of three to four months. The way to build wealth begins with dissolving consumer debt.
4. Develop a spending plan for your monthly expenses. Most people do not realize how much they spend. They do know it is more than they make and the hole gets deeper every month. The only plan that many people have is that they plan to spend. That must change. Begin by recording every expense: eating out, movies, fuel, coffee, snacks, clothes, cosmetics -- everything. Then evaluate what you spend on fixed items. Then study those things that can change. What expenses can be reduced? Eliminated? Sold? Write down your plan for 30 days. Then ask yourself what you must do to meet the plan for this week and do it!
5. Protect what you save. Plenty of people have learned this year that their stock market account and their home equity are not ATMs. These assets are destined to experience some kind of fluctuation. Markets do tend to rise and fall depending on multiple factors. That's why preserving what you save is so important. A prudent financial plan will include some kind of interest bearing account equivalent to 3-6 months of living expenses. This is not a CD or part of your 401k. This is a liquid resource for a rainy day -- and for some people the floods are upon them.
WHAT NOT TO DO
1. Don't succumb to the delusional idea that you are solely responsible for the economic challenges. These are historic times. Everyone is impacted or they have family that is impacted by this economic drought. The accuser would love to beat you up with things like, "If only I had done …" or "if I had not bought …." An emotionally healthy person looks over their shoulders and sees their mistakes and thanks the Lord for his mercy that forgives and the grace to make choices that honor Him in the midst of hard times.
2. Don't forget that God's giving plan begins with the local church. Because of these lean times most parachurch organizations and independent ministries are writing powerful appeal letters to supporters with the hope of tapping into additional funds. Some are making phone calls to strengthen their appeals. However, believers must remember that in God's economy, He wants His people to be faithful first of all with their tithe to their local church. After tithing, there is tremendous opportunity to invest in other ministries that are targeted for reaching precise demographics or building buildings. In Southern Baptist life, we have the Cooperative Program that enables every tither to be part of not only their local church ministries but also collectively effective with ministries of historic proportion.
3. Don't stop contributing to your retirement fund. When economic drought is occurring, our tendency is to focus our attention on what is staring us in the face like the repair bill for the washing machine, next month's mortgage payment, the kid's shoes or even heavy losses in our stock portfolio. But the wise investor knows this is the time to buy, not sell. Keep putting money aside. Make sure your 401(k) program is sufficiently diverse to protect your funds from wild swings in the economy.
4. Don't even think that it is too late to start practicing biblical economic principles. A biblical work ethic demonstrates there is no time like the present to do the right thing. Historically, the Lord honors those who are industrious.
Today's economic drought is not the end. It is the opportunity for God's people to take emergency measures that demonstrate that the source for a purposeful life is not the stuff we possess or the job we have or the job we lost.
From a biblical perspective, our identity is not based on what we do or what we call ours. The source of a believer's significance and security rests on the abiding life of Christ in us. What we do or don't do is the opportunity to faithfully practice the revelation of God even in harsh economic times.
John L. Yeats is director of communications for the Louisiana Baptist Convention and recording secretary of the Southern Baptist Convention.