IMAGINE that you have a bag with a hole in it, and you have the task of keeping the bag inflated. How would you do it? Well, as long as the volume of air you blow into the bag is at least as much as the amount escaping through the hole, you can keep the bag inflated.
That, basically, is what is meant by living within one’s means. Your income can be likened to the air you blow into the bag. Your expenses are like the air escaping through the hole. The challenge is not to allow your expenses to get bigger than what your income can actually support.
Even though the basic idea sounds simple, putting it into practice and benefiting from it is quite another matter. People could spare themselves many financial woes if only they would endeavor to follow this basic concept. How can it be done? Where can we find guidelines that really work? The Bible is a source of much helpful information in this regard. Let us take a brief look at what it has to offer.
Bible Principles That Will Help
The Bible contains many practical principles that can help you manage your finances. We will examine just a few of these. See if you agree that these principles can help you live within your means.
Have a plan, or a budget.
To manage money effectively, you need to know how much money comes in and where it goes. The Bible says: “The plans of the diligent one surely make for advantage, but everyone that is hasty surely heads for want.” (Proverbs 21:5) Some use a simple envelope system. Each envelope represents a category of expense, such as “Food,” “Rent,” or “Clothing.” Whether you use this simple method or something more elaborate, the important thing is that you know where your money is going, always putting necessities, not luxuries, first.
Many in developing nations yearn for the things that people in industrialized nations have. On an individual level, many are tempted to want the things that their neighbors flaunt. This can be a trap. Maybe the neighbor cannot really afford them either. Why follow someone else in his foolishness and end up in financial trouble? The Bible warns: “He chases after wealth, the man of greedy eye, not knowing that want is overtaking him.”—Proverbs 28:22, The Jerusalem Bible.
Keep your life simple.
Jesus advised his followers to keep their eye “simple.” (Matthew 6:22) Setting your eyes on lobster and fine wine when all you can afford is dried fish and water can easily lead to financial ruin. According to one Asian Development Bank report, nearly a third of the people in the Philippines and over half of those in India live below the poverty line for Asia, which is about $1.35 (U.S.) per day. When people have such meager income, it is the course of wisdom to focus on the basics. However, even in wealthier countries, the same principle can help keep people out of a lot of financial trouble.
Be content with what is really needed.
This goes hand in hand with the counsel to keep your life simple. The Bible gives this advice at 1 Timothy 6:8: “Having sustenance and covering, we shall be content with these things.” Some of the happiest people in the world have little money; nevertheless, they find satisfaction in what they do have, which includes not just material things but the love of family and friends.—Proverbs 15:17.
Avoid unnecessary debt.
How true the Bible statement: “The rich is the one that rules over those of little means, and the borrower is servant to the man doing the lending”! (Proverbs 22:7) Although there are circumstances when going into debt may seem unavoidable, those who take on unnecessary debt just to buy something they want will often find themselves shackled to a very heavy financial millstone. This can be especially true when credit cards are used. Time magazine stated: “Once we’ve got our card in hand, our behavior becomes riddled with irrationalities.” Eric, who lives in the Philippines, says: “When I use a credit card, I often purchase more than when I use cash. It ruins my budget when I have to pay the bill.” How wise it is to be very, very careful in using easy credit!—2 Kings 4:1; Matthew 18:25.
Save up money before buying.
Although it may seem old-fashioned, saving up money before making a purchase is actually one of the wisest ways to keep out of financial trouble. Doing so keeps many out of debt and its associated plagues, such as high interest rates, which ultimately add to the price of everything a person buys. In the Bible, the ant is depicted as being “wise” because of saving up “food supplies even in the harvest” for future use.—Proverbs 6:6-8; 30:24, 25.
Learning From Others
All the Bible counsel we considered may sound fine in principle, but is it really helping people to live within their means? Let us take a look at the experiences of some who have followed such counsel and successfully handled financial challenges.
Diosdado, a father of four, admits that the recent financial crisis has made it more difficult to satisfy his family’s needs. Nevertheless, he recognizes the value of a budget. “I budget every single centavo of my earnings,” he says. “I have a list of where I spend my money.” Danilo follows the same principle. He and his wife experienced the failure of their small business. Still, they manage to make ends meet by careful budgeting. He says: “We know how much money we have coming in each month, and we also know how much is going out. Based on that, we discuss in detail how much we can spend.”
To keep the budget in check, some have found it necessary to cut back in some areas. Myrna, a widow raising three children, says: “Instead of riding public transportation to get to Christian meetings, my children and I now walk.” Myrna has made an effort to help her children learn the value of living a simple life. She says: “I have tried to set a good example in applying the principle at 1 Timothy 6:8-10, which shows the importance of being content with what one has.”
Gerald, a father of two, has done similarly. He says: “During our family Bible study, we discuss experiences of Christians who keep their attention focused on what really matters, spiritual things. The results are encouraging because our children do not clamor for things that are not really important.”
Janet is single and serves as a full-time volunteer Bible teacher in the Philippines. She recently lost her job, but she keeps living within her means. “I do this by exercising self-discipline and being resourceful,” she says. “Instead of going to malls, I seek out stores that offer better deals. Why should I pay higher prices when I can get things at a lower cost? I also avoid impulse buying.” Janet sees the practical wisdom of saving money in advance. “If I happen to have extra, even just a little,” she says, “I set it aside so that I have something to draw on if an unexpected expense comes along.”
Regarding credit cards, Eric, mentioned earlier, says: “I have restricted myself from using a credit card except in emergency cases.” Diosdado agrees: “To control myself, I usually leave my credit card at the office.”
You Can Live Within Your Means
Yes, many are finding that even though the Bible is a book that focuses mainly on spiritual values, it also offers guidelines that can benefit us in material ways. (Proverbs 2:6; Matthew 6:25-34) By applying the Bible principles discussed in this article and by learning from others who have benefited from following these principles, you too can live within your means. Doing so, you can escape many of the woes and anxieties that millions suffer today.