I definitely am not a rags-to-riches story. Actually, at one point, I thought I might become a riches-to-rags story. I had just gotten divorced and I had two-income bills on a one-income budget. When I was in law school, my ex-husband always had a job, not the same one, but he was always resourceful at finding work. Sometimes, he even had two or three jobs to help ends meet, so I will give him credit for that. I was unable to work for the first year of law school, but my tuition was paid for, plus a stipend for books and living expenses, so essentially, school was my job. However, when I decided that it was time for a divorce, I had to figure out how to make it on my own.
When I was married, I was on my ex’s health insurance. However, after the divorce, I had to find my own coverage. I knew it would not be inexpensive, but it should be reasonable because I was a relatively healthy young lady. I had been diagnosed with endometriosis a few months before I got married, so I knew I needed to be able to see the doctor. There were certain services that I could get on campus, which were covered by my tuition and fees, like physicals. So, the insurance company wanted me to get a physical and send it over, so that I could get coverage. It was all so simple until, during my physical, my doctor found a lump in my right breast.
When the insurance company was informed of this, it said it would not insure me until the lump was ruled to be benign. I had to choose whether or not to get surgery or live without health insurance and possibly with cancer. I made an appointment with my doctor back home and she advised that I have the surgery and even recommended a doctor. I had the surgery. I told the nurse as soon as I woke up to give me a prescription and get me the heck out of there. I did not want so much as a Tylenol for pain because that would cost about $1500. The mass was benign and my recovery went well. Then, the bill came.
In addition to the bills I already had, I had an outrageous hospital bill. I got the insurance, but it had a rider that precluded payment for anything relating to my endometriosis for a year (and I had no problems with it for over a year--that is God). At this point in my life, I did not have a credit card because I had gone credit card crazy in college and could not be trusted with one. So, I decided that I would take out student loans until I got on my feet. It was a tough choice because I was still working, with my parents’ guidance to fix my finances from college. I already had student loans from college (that were unnecessary), and now, I was compounding the problem just to live. So, of course I learned my lesson, lived within my means and now I am exceedingly rich.
In the words of Nene Leakes, “I am VERY rich!” And, since you may have picked up that I am a teacher, those riches are not based upon monetary gain; I am spiritually and emotionally rich now, but I did not learn my lesson at that point. Very soon after my surgery, I decided that life was too short for regrets and I wanted to study abroad and see the world, so I took out another student loan and got a credit card to make that happen. I lived as though I had unlimited funds and I did not ask anyone for help because it had been mortifying to ask my parents for help prior to this. When I graduated, I was in quite the conundrum. I knew I did not want to be an attorney, but the only way I would be able to pay the bills I racked up would be to become an attorney and make some serious money.
I took a more difficult road. I moved in with my parents, once again asked for their help to rearrange my finances, opened my own law firm and started substitute teaching. Some months I was making good money and others I was not. My plan was to only be in my parents’ house for one or two years maximum and that turned into almost five years. I tried many ways to increase my income. I published my book and did speaking engagements, but rather than do so for the ministry, I was focused on the money (see Purpose-Driven or Profit Driven). It wasn’t until I became a teacher with a steady income, that I started listening to Biblical wisdom and my father’s wisdom about finances.
I did not end up being a riches-to-rags story. I was down, but never out. I always had a roof over my head, a car to drive, and money to pay my bills. It was not always the most ideal circumstances, but my needs were met, which is what God promised. In the past five years, since I have moved into my own place, it seems that every time my pay decreases because of budget cuts, so does my mortgage payment. I have been surprised several with extra funds in the mailbox that I had no idea I would be receiving. But, I have not only been blessed financially, I have been blessed with the wisdom to live within my means. I have been blessed to be able to not feel the urge to “keep up with the Joneses,” when I know I cannot afford it, which is vastly different from how I lived in my twenties. There are some simple things that I will teach my children (and pray that they listen to me sooner that I listened to my dad) about money. Perhaps, they can help you. Pay your tithes. Pay yourself. Live on the rest. It sounds so easy, and truly once you start the habit, it really is not that difficult. The difficult part is getting into a stable place financially while fixing past mistakes.
I have almost always been a tither, and God has never broken a promise to me. How much is a tithe? Is it ten percent? Is it being a cheerful giver? In the Old Testament, the tithe was ten percent and that was before God sacrificed His Only Son, so I believe our offering should be at least ten percent. But, you ask, what if the church and the pastor don’t use the money correctly? I would submit that if you cannot trust your church leaders with your tithes that you might need a new church (just saying). Well, you still ponder, do you tithe on the gross or the net? My pastor jokingly responds to this, “Do you want a gross blessing or a net blessing?” But seriously, your net check is just your check after your tax bill; we give the government their cut, and, as Christians saved by grace, we need to give God back a portion of what He has given us. Truthfully, it is all His and He could take it all if He wanted to; I have found Him to be too loving to do so. I do not tithe out of obligation; I tithe out of obedience because of my love for God.
After you pay your tithe, pay yourself. This is the part that I found difficult to do. My dad has preached saving ever since we started getting an allowance. Saving was easy before bills and a debit card. For me, if I have access to it, I find it difficult not to spend it, so I have an emergency account that I have access to and I have another account to which I do not have immediate access and from which there is a penalty for withdrawal. The money is automatically deposited into the account and I know that if I need something that is more expensive than what my emergency account holds, then I have the funds. But, God is so faithful that I have never had an emergency for which God did not provide.
The last part is to live on the rest. Literally, live on what is left; not on what you wish was left. I know it is difficult and I am still working on it. I grew up wanting for nothing and it was difficult to realize that I could not live at the same standard when I got out on my own. There are simple things you can cut out of your budget that will help you live within your means like lattes, movies, eating at restaurants, expensive cell phones, and maybe even cable, if necessary. Living life more abundantly is not about having more money and possessions; it is about having so much of God that you live obediently, want for nothing and rest in Him. There will be challenges and tests, but, as my uncle, Rev. Paige says, “Put your trust in THE SOURCE and not in your resources,” and it will all work out. Ms. EV