GOD OWNS IT ALL
Adopt a perspective of stewardship toward biblical financial wisdom.
BY MARY CLAIRE BENNETT
KAREN GUESS IS A MOTHER, a financial advisor, and an author. This year, she wrote and published Never Enough?: 3 Keys to Financial Contentment with her father, Ron Blue, of Ronald Blue and Company. The book is a narrative instructional guide to financial peace, and Karen has expanded upon the contents of the book to share her story and offer financial guidance and encouragement for parents and children.
For parents and children, finances are an incredibly stressful aspect of college, and numbers can be intimidating and impersonal. In their book, Karen and Ron make finances less intimidating and more personal by introducing the concept of a “numbers story.” Karen defines the term as the unique economic, social, and spiritual experiences of any individual. As it says in Never Enough?, we all have a numbers story, and Karen is no exception.
Tool. Test. Testimony.
Karen’s numbers story is founded in her heritage, for which she says she’s grateful. The foundation is: “God owns it all.” This perspective is the tool, and it extends throughout life’s many tests.
What does a numbers story look like for parents as their children move closer to their college years? Some parents of young children may have considered this already, and Never Enough? offers examples of tools, tests, and testimonies to help families narrate their numbers stories.
Based upon the principles and practices outlined in her book, Karen offers advice for families to live a numbers story that reflects the principle that God owns all. Karen suggests communication, integration, and experimentation. First, parents shouldn’t be afraid to talk about money with their children. They can integrate finances into family life by having open discussions about money, by explaining the various needs for and uses of money, and by giving children a chance to handle money on their own. Karen emphasizes the importance of giving children freedom to make decisions. This freedom will inevitably lead to instances of failure, but it can build children’s confidence in their decision-making abilities.
As children approach their college years, parents and children will inevitably need to have more and more specific financial conversations. Karen emphasizes saving early and planning realistically, since “Money is about competing priority.” If parents and children view college as a monetary priority, they may think of education as an investment, but Karen explains it may be more realistic to think of college as a goal. Viewing college as a goal can alleviate some of the stress we feel about the economic aspects of college.
In fact, financial planning is all about perspective, and a biblically-wise perspective is stewardship. According to Karen, acknowledging “God owns it all” can guide parents as they prepare for the expense of their child’s college. What does it look like for parents to acknowledge “God owns it all”? Karen says it boils down to believing in God and trusting in His purpose and plans.
When parents acknowledge “God owns it all,” they adopt a perspective of stewardship, and stewardship is the first step to biblical financial wisdom. For parents who may not feel they’re wise in the area of biblical financial wisdom, Karen explains it in terms of perspectives and practices. Biblical financial wisdom is framed by perspectives of faith, stewardship, and contentment; it’s practiced in word, prayer, and counsel.
Karen also offers the words of James 1:5 for parents who feel they’re not financially wise: “Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God—who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly—and it will be given to him.”
Five Wise Principles
“God owns it all” is the first perspective of stewardship in Karen and Ron’s “Three Keys to Financial Contentment.” The second key is “Five Wise Principles” of biblical financial wisdom. They are:
- Spend less than you earn.
- Avoid debt.
- Give generously.
- Save for the unexpected.
- Set long-term goals.
The five principles are steps to financial contentment, and they’re actions of stewardship. For parents planning for their child’s college, the most important principles are to avoid debt and to set long-term goals.
College is often accompanied by debt, and college debt is considered to be high risk because it’s not forgivable in bankruptcy. However, Karen considers forgiveness from a Christian perspective and reminds parents that God is forgiving, even when the world isn’t. Parents can’t depend upon the world, then, to be so forgiving. Karen advises parents not to take on debt if they can’t repay it because it’s essential to repay all debts. She offers advice on how parents can best prepare financially for their child’s college and decrease or avoid debt.
Karen suggests that parents plan for college as early as possible, so they can ask questions and answer them early. For many parents, an appropriate time to start planning for their child’s college is during their child’s middle school years. What does early financial planning look like when parents have children at home?
Karen and her husband have “planning weekends” during which they leave their home and spend time discussing long-term goals and priorities and construct financial plans accordingly. When considering goals and priorities, parents may encounter issues of expectation versus reality, but this is why Karen suggests starting early.
Planning early also gives parents more opportunity to save for their children’s college. Karen and her husband started saving early for their children’s college through 529 plans.
A 529 plan is a government-sponsored vehicle for saving money that will not be disadvantaged by taxes when it’s used. These plans can only be used for education, and they can be contributed to on a monthly basis. State resources, like 529 plans, can help parents gain confidence in college planning, and once parents have a grasp on their family’s financial plans, they can start discussing financial responsibility with their children.
Provision, Contentment, and Enjoyment
In Never Enough?, Karen explains an envelope system that parents can design to give their children some financial control so they can learn financial responsibility by practicing it themselves. Parents may label the envelopes in different ways depending on how they wish to teach their children. For her children, Karen has divided finances into categories of provision, contentment, and enjoyment.
Never Enough? presents a similar pie chart, which can simply be described as an illustration of stewardship.
“God owns it all” is the central focus and underlying principle of the pie.
The largest piece of the pie is Live, which the book explains by saying, “Spend less than you earn, because financial success depends on this habit.”
One piece of the pie is Grow, where parents can “set long-term goals, because there is always a trade-off between the short term and long term.”
Another slice is Owe Taxes and pay them “with gratitude, because taxes are symptomatic of God’s provision.”
The next slice is Owe Debt, since “debt always mortgages the future.”
The final piece of the pie is Give because “giving breaks the power of money.”
Where does college fit into the pie? Karen explains that college belongs in the Grow slice when parents and children are saving for college, and it belongs in the Live slice when college is a current lifestyle or experience, like when children are attending college.
Parents can use the pie chart to plan their savings for college by assigning percentages of their total income to each piece of the pie. This method provides a formulated visual guide to budgeting and saving.
Discussion and debate are central to financial planning, and conversation is key. Parents can feel confident in their financial wisdom by integrating finances into their family lives, and they can feel reassured by God’s wisdom that overrides their financial journeys.
But what happens when parents finally send their children off to college? How can college students confidently practice stewardship and biblical financial wisdom? Karen urges students to view financial constraints as a chance to be independent and realistic. College can be an incredibly challenging time for students, but there are biblical reminders of God’s provisions. Consider the example of Psalm 37:3-4: “Trust in the LORD and do what is good; dwell in the land and live securely. Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you your heart’s desires.”
Karen views the financial journey as an opportunity to experience new things and to seek wisdom, like an adventure with God. She reminds us to recognize that all money is God’s, and He provides. We must accept God’s presence and participation in our lives in order to let go of monetary dependence. Contentment is unattainable in a culture ruled by money, but it’s found in God. Karen reminds us of the biblical contentment mentioned in Philippians 4:12-13: “I know both how to make do with little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Karen Guess is a walking example of biblical financial wisdom, and she has shared her experience and her expertise so that we may also walk in wisdom. Money may be a universal issue, but it’s a unique story for each of us.
Mary Claire Bennett is a Nashville native who is earning a degree in multimedia journalism. She is grateful to her parents for walking with her through every step of the college journey.
This article originally appeared in HomeLife magazine (September 2017). For more articles like this, subscribe to HomeLife.