By: Dr. Pat Murack
Debt. Whether it is from a credit card, a mortgage payment, and/or that mountain of student loan debt, most of us have some form of it. The key to being financially healthy is to control the debt and not let the debt control you.
According to the AVMA, the average veterinary graduate in 2013 had $162,000 in student loans. That is a lot of money but not something that needs to control you. Do not be like the prodigal son and spend all of your new-found money (veterinary salary) on foolish things. But instead align your heart to God and let him guide you in your finances.
Handling debt in a Godly way starts first with developing and sticking to a God-honoring budget. Each of us should sit down and make a plan to make ends meet, tackle our debt, and start saving. Budgets can take on many forms from elaborate spreadsheets to a simple piece of paper. They all have one thing in common; every dollar that you make needs to be designated to a budgetary item. If you currently do not have a budget I encourage you to sit down and make one. Figure out what you spend on food and other expenses for a pay period. How much does rent/mortgage cost, what about car payments, student loan payments, insurance premiums, savings and your tithe. Factor it all in to create your budget and stick to it.
If you have problems sticking to a budget I encourage you to use the envelop system. When you get paid, take out cash and put it in envelopes marked food, living expenses, etc. Then only pay for things by using cash. If you do not have enough cash in the food envelope then you cannot go out to eat etc. This gives you a tool to be disciplined in your spending and stick to a budget that will set you up for success.
My next piece of advice is to be careful with your big purchases – house, car etc – and make sure they are sensible. I would encourage you to make your loans longer terms to have a lower monthly payment. Then pay more to your highest interest loan. This allows you to pay off your most costly loan first while having a cushion should you experience financial hardship.
In 2nd Corinthians Paul writes “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” This is exactly how I feel about tithing. We should give because we want to not because we have to. God provides all that we need. That being said, I will agree that sometimes it feels like we need more than He thinks we do. We are really not giving to God but returning to Him what is rightfully His. This is why I think it is utmost important to tithe and trust God even if you have an enormous amount of debt.
“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?” – Luke 14:28. Aligning your heart to God’s, being a good steward by setting a budget and keeping Christ as the focus are all helpful in tackling any form of overwhelming debt.
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