Learning Personal Finance: A Guide to Successful Financial Health (Part I)

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Today I’ll be reflecting on what our family has done over the last 12 years to help us enjoy stress free personal finances.

This is not a brag fest, but rather a step-by-step story of what has worked for us.

1. Start Working Young and Saving Young

When I was in grade 7 or 8, I got a job delivering newspapers. By the time I was in grade 9, I was working at a chicken hatchery. All through high school I worked Friday nights and Saturday afternoons. I probably averaged 10 hours a week during the school year and 30-40 during the summer.

There have been stages of my life when I thought working young was a mistake. Right now I earn a month’s worth of salary (when I was a kid) in an hour of work with my online business.

But the discipline, the work ethic, and the lessons of the value of money could not have been learned in any way other than by work.

Working young is one thing, but you also need to develop the habit of saving.

2. Develop a Debt Allergy

When I crunch numbers and see how much money I’d be paying in interest for a loan, I suffer from heart palpitations.

My gut tells me that it doesn’t make any sense.

I got my first loan when I was a senior in college. I’d paid for school up till that point, but I needed a $5,000 loan to make it through the rest of my college education.

Two years later, I got married, and my wife and I borrowed $5,000 to get a vehicle that had air conditioning. I’d owned (paid for with cash) a Honda CRX, but it didn’t have air conditioning. The vehicle did fine in Ontario, Canada and it wasn’t an issue in Nebraska, but since we were moving to Houston, it was time for a change.

About three to four months after getting the auto loan, I felt uneasy with it. I felt like it was a bad idea. It wasn’t a math thing, but a gut thing.

We had some funds in Canada, but the exchange rate was really low. We decided to take the exchange hit so that we could pay off the car. My first and only auto loan lasted for about four months.

Within two years of graduating college, we’d taken care of the student loan debts for both myself and my wife.

Six years ago, we borrowed money to buy a house. In a couple months, that debt will be repaid.

I don’t know how to use debt to my advantage. I’ve avoided debt because I don’t feel good having debt. I want a life that is free from worry and anxiety, and debt brings those things into my life.

3. Start Giving from the First Dollar You Earn

I’ll credit my parents with teaching me how to give.

I honestly don’t think I’ve ever made a decision to give 10% of my income. A habit developed, and I’ve kept that habit to this day.  We’ve also been blessed to be able to grow in the grace of giving.

I’m doing the same thing with my kids. Each day when they get paid (for the jobs we’ve given them), they take a portion (actually 33% for them) and give it to the church contribution.

4. Start Saving for Retirement With Your First Full-Time Job

Again, I’m introducing things I’ve done that I think are a blessing.

When I took my first job out of college (a youth ministry position in Houston), the church was going to provide some money per month for retirement. That forced me to learn about saving for retirement.

Ever since my wife and I have had full-time jobs, we’ve saved a portion for retirement (probably around 10%).

5. You Can Make it on Less Than You Think

I once got a comment on this blog that made me laugh. The guy was talking about how he’d never been a high income earner like me.

For the sake of credibility and transparency, I want to let you know that you can have health finances with a moderate income.

For the first two years out of college, we earned $48,000 per year (combined household income) plus we had a parsonage, so we didn’t pay for housing.

For the next three years, I was in graduate school and my wife worked at a private Christian school. Our combine household income was less than $35,000 per year.  On top of that we paid for a Masters Degree for myself and my wife.  We paid cash for those degrees.

I don’t feel like it’s appropriate to talk about my current income (because it is provided by a church), but my missionary position pays less than $50,000 per year, and my wife stays at home.

Of course, over the last three years I’ve had a small business. The first year of income we used for a family vacation to Brisbane, Australia. The second year of income was basically all given away. The third year of income is tucked away in my sock drawer to help provide a buffer when we transition out of full time ministry.

These are all simple but important elements of healthy finances.  The next time I post I’ll follow up with some additional suggestions.


  1. Jan Miller says

    Sound advice I’ve put into practice. Looking forward to future posts. I greatly appreciate the Christian perspective. I’m counting down to debt-free day. Thanks

  2. says

    Great points and tips. I too never thought about giving 10% it was just something I was raised to do and all i knew. People are under the assumption that it costs a lot more to live and be happy than it truly does. I think a lot of people would be better off if they had debt allergies.

  3. says

    It’s also worth mentioning that if you are not young, it is never too late to have a financial turn around. You may not have started investing in retirement at an early age and avoided debt, but you can always make a U-turn and start anew. Dig your way out of debt today, and begin a new financial path for you and your family. :)

  4. Sean Hopcraft says

    Once again, another great article. Sometimes financially it is hard to see the big picture. I am 24, going to seminary, living on my own, doing the whole grown-up thing. So, I’m not falling asleep with Benjamins all around me. I like Galatians 6:5, “Each will have to bear his own load.” But right now it is just about the habits I am creating.

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