A good friend recently sent me an email with a heartfelt and complicated question about saving for retirement. The concern was not primarily for themselves, but for the many of us that are simply starting too late or earn too little.
I proposed that everyone can save something; everyone has some area where they can cut back and choose to save, whether to pay off debt or save for retirement. Their response was honest, but disheartening: for some it cannot be done.
I want to tackle this belief in three parts, first to acknowledge that poverty exists, second to address one of the main obstacles to being able to save, and third to challenge you face the impossible head on and try.
Poverty exists. It always has and always will.
For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. (Mark 14:7, Biblegateway.com)
Let’s face it. Poverty exists. Severe poverty exists. Unfortunately there are those who through their own choices or by circumstances beyond their control are destitute, relying solely on government subsidies and the generosity of strangers to survive. I concede that it is far less likely that those who are in this group will ever be concerned with saving for retirement, when mere survival is a daily struggle. While I believe that there is hope for those in this situation, and know that some will overcome and someday thrive, I also recognize the plight they are in.
And that is all the more reason the rest of us need to get our act together, start handling our finances wisely, save to provide for our families so they aren’t a burden on the government or others, and give generously to lift up as many of the poor and destitute as we can.
Sometimes we fail to grasp that poverty is relative. A millionaire is poor compared to a billionaire. Someone with a hundred thousand is poor compared to a millionaire. If you make $40,000 per year you are poor compared to someone making $100,000 per year. Guess what? If you make $40,000 per year, you are in the top 1% of the wealthiest people in the world.
Did you catch that?
Let’s flip it around. If you make $40,000 or more per year, you are wealthy compared to 99% of the rest of the people on the planet. Cut that in half and you are still in the top 11% of the wealthiest people in the world.
I really hope that disturbed you one way or the other. Research it for yourselves. But like it or not, if you live in the United States and make minimum wage, you are wealthy compared to the rest of the world.
You are rich. But someone else is richer. Poor you. Guess what else? If you cannot learn to be content with what you have today, you will NEVER be content with what you have EVER. Someone will ALWAYS be richer than you.
Start where you are. (Tweet this)
The Prison Wall that keeps us from the Land of Saving.
There is a massive prison in the world, and in the United States particularly. It is a debtor’s prison, bigger and more insidious than any every before constructed. Yes, I know that physical debtor’s prisons don’t really exist in the U. S. today. That’s what makes this prison I am speaking of so insidious.
The rich rules over the poor,
and the borrower is the slave of the lender. (Proverbs 22:7; biblegateway.com)
Debt is a prison. It tells you how much to make, makes your job choices for you, keeps you locked down and prevents you from experiencing true freedom.
Debt as we know it today is a modern dilemma. Yes, debt has been part of the human existence as long as poverty has, and likely will be with us as long as poverty exists. But it has never engulfed society to the extent that it has today.
The biggest obstacle to saving is debt.
Debt is a result of wanting what those richer than us have, before we are rich enough to have it. Debt is rooted in the deadly sins greed, envy and pride.
- Greed – we are not satisfied with what we have, so we crave more
- Envy – we are not happy with what we have, so we desire not only for what others have, we also desire to take it from them
- Pride – we cannot bear the thought of other looking down at us in our poverty, so we create a facade of wealth by borrowing heavily
Saving and wealth building cannot occur while we are making payments for things we could not afford.
The good news is that there is a way out – stop borrowing, sell some things (you can get more later), cut your expenses down to the 4 walls (shelter, food, clothing, transportation), and increase income (work a second job; take as much overtime as allowed; ask for a raise), and pay off as much as you can using the Debt Snowball method.
This may deserve a blog post of its own to flesh out more on how to do this, but I believe that, while it may seem impossible, most households can find $50 a month or more to pay of debt or save.
You Can’t Win if You’ve Already Thrown in the Towel
Shortly after graduating from college, a friend gathered a group of us together for a bible study. One of the topics centered around tithing (giving 10%) of our income to our church. At the time I was not regularly attending a church, and certainly was not tithing.
I argued vehemently that it was IMPOSSIBLE to give 10% of my income and survive. None of my friends could change my mind.
I wish I could say that on the way home a great blinding light appeared and a voice spoke saying, “David, David, why do you withhold from Me what is Mine?” That didn’t happen.
What happened was much the opposite. A quiet thought popped in the back of my mind, “How can you say it is impossible if you have never tried?”
I set out to prove how impossible it would be, and, long story shortened, I eventually was able to tithe 10% of my income faithfully. The process I went through of just trying to do it changed me, my outlook on finances and my faith in God. I started spending less on myself, I cut costs, I worked harder and got raises, I started attending a church where I eventually became the Treasure of the Board and have since coordinated more than 10 Financial Peace University courses to help others gain back control over their finances.
Prayer and meditation are essential parts of this process. Both practices help us to unload our burdens and distractions and focus on what we can do right now, today.
You know what else? I paid off my debt, except for my mortgage, saved up about 6 months of expenses, and left my job of 17 years to pursue whatever God had for me next. That was 4 years ago. 2012 was the last year my adjusted gross income was over $40,000. I haven’t missed a mortgage payment, I’ve tithed consistently, and I’ve worked hard at several jobs while also being self employed, and I am more content now than I have been in my life.
I trust God to provide what I need, I recognize more and more the difference between a want and a need, and I keep moving forward and trying new things. My desire to earn more money now is driven by what I will be able to give. I already know what I need to live. The rest is for the work of the Kingdom of God.
I am not suggesting that you need to follow exactly what I did. My path is mine to travel. Your path is ahead of you, if you are willing to take a step forward.
You don’t even have to do this. You can stay where you are if you want. I really is up to you, no one else.
Do me one favor though, don’t say it’s impossible if you’ve never really tried.