Four Truths About Money I Wish I Had Known In My 20’s

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I loved speaking on the need to create financial margin this past Sunday at Restoration City.  If the overall premise of this “margin” series is that mission requires margin, then the premise of this past Sunday’s message was that generosity requires financial margin.  That’s such an important thought for our entire church to latch onto as we pursue God’s mission for us as a church.  And, I believe, it’s an especially important thought for our 20-somethings to latch onto even though you’re young and poor.

The financial decisions you make in your 20’s will create a trajectory that will shape your 30’s, your 40’s and, in some cases, the rest of your life.  Here’s why this is such a big deal for me: I made the worst financial decisions of my life when I was in my 20’s.  And I don’t want you to go down that road.

So, let me give you four truths about money that I wish I had learned at 22:

 I’m Not Going To Have My Parent’s Lifestyle

At least not yet.  Yes, Mom and Dad may eat out regularly, drive nice cars, take great trips and live in a great house.  You know the main difference between them and you?  Roughly 30 years of working, saving and investing!  But when we’re in high school and college, we get to draft of their lifestyle – their house is our house, their vacation is our vacation and their income establishes our lifestyle.  But then we’re out on our own, just with less income.  Guess what?  That’s how it’s supposed to be!  The problem comes when we don’t adjust our lifestyle.  Debt comes when we think we’re entitled to eating out a few times a week, going to Europe once a year and living in a place with granite counter tops.  Your 20’s aren’t a time to keep up with your parents in their 50’s.  They’re a time to do in your 20’s what your parents did in theirs – live simply, eat inexpensively and save!

The More I Save Now, The More Options I’ll Have Later

I don’t know why I couldn’t quite figure out that 35 year old John would end up needing some of the money that 25 year old John was busy spending.  But, as it turns out, all of those things you dream of in life are rather expensive – weddings, honeymoons, houses, kids, they all add up.  No, I’m not suggesting you become a Scrooge-like hoarder.  But the less you spend now, the less you’ll stress later.

If I Need To Spend Money To Impress Them, They Aren’t Really My Friends

Don’t blow a lot of money trying to keep up with people you won’t even be in touch with in 10 years.  It’s okay to say no – to dinner at Chipotle, spring break in Cabo or happy hour.  If they have a problem with that, they don’t really like you; you’re an accessory to their insecurity and lifestyle.  Spend time with people you’ll be able to rely on when life gets hard.

Generosity Is About My Heart, Not My Income

You aren’t going to magically start giving money to your church, a charity or a missionary when you start making $75k a year.  In fact, how generous you are when you make $35k is a pretty good indicator of what’ll happen at $75k.  The issue isn’t your bank account – it’s your heart.  No, you may not be able to give much now but the amount is no where near as important as the intent.  So, find something you care about and start giving regularly to support it, even if it’s only $5 a month.

Don’t spend your 20’s killing financial margin.  Spend your 20’s cultivating it.  You’ll thank yourself for it later.

Grace Under Fire

planes crashing

I’m chronically disappointed by the hardships of life.  Which is a pretty brutal one-two punch.  Things already aren’t going well and then I get crushed by my own unfounded disappointment.  It just makes the spiral worse.  And I fall for it all the time.

A big part of the problem is my expectations.  There’s a part of my heart that wants and expects God to make everything in my life easy, comfortable and safe.  I want Him to go to work on noisy neighbors, long commutes and insurmountable to-do lists.  I want Him to make it all better.  I want Him to do it my way and on my time table.  And I get so bothered when He doesn’t.

To make it worse, I hold onto those expectations even when the Bible is clearly trying to adjust them.  Consider just one example, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12)  In some ways, it’s comforting to know the early church had the same misaligned expectations I do.  On the other hand, I realize I would be better served by internalizing these words rather than feeling vindicated that others need them as much as I do.

The problem with my misaligned expectations is that when something goes wrong, I feel like God is letting me down.  When that happens, all hope of me responding in a Christ-like manner is out the window.  To be honest, it’s usually a struggle to respond to people in a Christlike manner even when everything is going really well.  When things are hard, forget about it.

Yet, we’re never more like Jesus than when we’re loving well even though everything is going wrong.  Again, 1 Peter helps us with this, “For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.  For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.” (1 Peter 2:19-20)  The gospel lays out the pattern for suffering service.  Life is conspiring against me but I’m working for your good.  Things aren’t going my way but I want to bless you in the mess.  I’m under fire but you’re going to get grace from me.  If we actually lived this way, the world would see how beautifully jarring grace really is.

So, I don’t love the difficulties of life and I doubt I ever will.  But I’m trying to do a better job of expecting them.  And I’m praying for the grace to see them as opportunities.  It’s in those moments that I’m most able to display the character and love of Jesus.  It’s in those moments where my life has the greatest redemptive potential in the hands of God.

Keeping It Real

Last Friday, I wrote about the plans Laura and I had for the weekend – we were getting away for 24 hours to build into our marriage.  Honestly, I hope a lot of married couples were inspired to do the same whether you have kids or not.  But I would also guess there were some people who read that post and felt discouraged.  If you were in that second group, this post is for you!

Maybe your marriage is in trouble and you were depressed to realize you really wouldn’t want 24 uninterrupted hours with your spouse.  Maybe you were frustrated that your spouse never suggests something like this.  Maybe it was an unpleasant reminder that you aren’t married yet and the whole idea just seemed like a cruel fantasy.  Maybe you read it on your phone at the end of a long day while making dinner and listening to the kids fight in the other room.

It’s amazing how quickly comparison kills our joy.

Social media puts the comparison trap in front of us on a daily basis.  There’s always somebody doing something awesome in my newsfeed.  Someone’s always in the Caribbean.  Someone is always getting promoted, buying a house or going on the “BEST first date EVER:)!!!!”  We compare all of that to our boring, ordinary lives and feel miserable.  My friend is surfing in Costa Rica and I’m doing an expense report…wow, I hate my life!

The problem is we’re comparing our real lives with an idealized version of someone else’s.  I’m writing all of this today because our little getaway wasn’t as ideal as you might think.

  • Our night away started with a quick trip to Urgent Care.  Laura has asthma and pregnancy can exacerbate it significantly.  When I left for work on Friday morning, she sounded fine.  By 1.30 in the afternoon, she sounded like an 85 year old smoker who couldn’t breathe.  One breathing treatment, a new prescription and a few hours later we finally got to the hotel much later than planned.  Not exactly the fairy tale beginning you might have imagined.
  • For the record, God didn’t bless us with an unexpected upgrade to the Presidential Suite.  We were in what is probably the smallest room in the hotel.  No big deal but don’t fall into the trap of believing God only shows His love in unexpected blessings.
  • We couldn’t agree on a good place for dessert so we ended up the only customers in some cupcake shop splitting a gluten free cupcake (it was all they had left).  For the record, I believe it was gluten free because it was baked before the discovery of wheat!
  • On Saturday morning, a simple conversation about schedules turned into a fairly significant and at times heated disagreement about some issues that had been building up for awhile.

Before you get too depressed, let me say our disagreement morphed into one of the best conversations we’ve ever had about our marriage.  By the end of that conversation, we both felt more united and excited about our marriage.  So, the weekend was not a bust – we had a good time and were super grateful to get away.

Steven Furtick makes this point so well, “We struggle with insecurity because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”  Don’t fall into that trap – enjoy the life God has put in front of you today.