It's tough when what you thought you knew to be true gets dumped on it's head and you have to try and re-learn what you thought you knew so well. There were a few things I knew very well. I knew I was a world-class leader. I knew I would plant one of the fastest-growing churches the country had ever seen. I knew that as long as I worked hard on building God'd church, my family's financial security would never be threatened. It's a bummer when you're 0 for 3.
It's September, 2014 and this is a milestone month for our family. This is the first month in nearly five years that our income sufficiently covers - and even exceeds - our expenses. Well, exceeds is not really true. We run our household on a zero-based budget, so no matter our income, we always have every dollar spent on paper before we ever see it hit our bank account. But this has been the first month that we have had enough of those dollars to make the budget work.
Here are four decisions Sara and I made that I'm intensely proud of (proud, not prideful). Over the last five years . . .
- We took on zero debt. We never borrowed money. We never swiped a credit card because we "needed it". We cut back when we needed to. When God provided some unexpected income or gifts, we set them aside for times we knew we would be short. We drove old cars that had problems. We still do. We did not force our income to adjust to our life-style. We forced our life-style to adjust to our income. That required discipline and was painful. It is also something I'm intensely proud of.
- We temporarily worked jobs that we didn't love. In some cases, we hated them and they caused us great physical and emotional pain. My wife worked as a lunch-duty assistant and a pre-K aid in our kids' school. I worked as a patient transporter in a hospital and on a landscaping crew. We didn't love those jobs and they didn't pay all that much. They wore us out and took a toll on us. But, we didn't work them forever. We did what we needed to do to get by, all the while, taking steps toward better jobs that were a better fit for our giftings and offered more income.
- We never skipped tithing and giving. Never. Not once. We skipped family vacations. We skipped eating out. We skipped new cars. But we never skipped giving. And guess what, our budget that was short, on paper, for five years always worked. Whether it was a family member or friend being generous, a larger-than-expected tax return or some other miracle (yes, I very much believe God does and did do miracles on our behalf), we always made it.
- Although we felt poor, our children did not feel it. They simply knew that we budgeted money for certain things. Did we say "no" to certain requests our kids made? Yes. We said no to many requests. But, we were careful to not tell our kids "we can't afford it". Instead, we chose to tell them, "we budget money for certain things and what you're asking for is something we've decided not to budget for yet." We were careful to tell your kids that we decided where our money went and saying no to their requests was not a desperate reaction to our low income, but a decision made ahead of time. This is big because I see many people suffer from a "poverty mentality". The problem with a poverty mentality is that it does not go away with increased income. If you believe you're poor making $30K per year, you'll believe you're poor making $100K. I believe that mentality is taught to kids by their parents. I'm proud that we took our income challenges and taught our kids about budgeting rather than poverty.
This month, we begin working the 7 baby steps again. We'll blow through step 1 quickly and we get to skip step 2! I can't even express how grateful I am to God for all He has blessed us with and all He's allowed us to learn along the way.