“Go to the ant, O sluggard (aka, lazy person),
Consider her ways and be wise…
She prepares her bread in summer
And gathers her food at harvest…” (Pr. 6:6, 8).
It’s kind of humbling to think that a creature I could easily smoosh is often wiser than I am.
I have a finance degree and I used to create budgets for a multi-billion-dollar company. I’ve never had a problem with making plans to save money. My problem with finances has always been with execution. This month it was an unexpected and uncovered health expense of $200, a plumbing issue of $130, and…. While not completely necessary, a big decision about whether to spend $400/month on kids’ orthodontic work.
So Alicia and I have been talking recently about whether she should go back to work. For the last 6 years, I’ve worked a second job to prevent that. We took a fresh look at the numbers, and this time we did something different. Instead of just making a financial plan, as I typically do, I made an “execution plan”—and it’s worked better than any plan we’ve ever made!
I have to confess, I didn’t get this from the Bible, although I find support for it there. I read a book recently called, The Four Disciplines of Execution—a business book—and then I applied those four disciplines to my personal finances:
1) Discipline 1: Focus on the wildly important
I would recommend a single savings target. The ant knows how much to store for winter, and so should we. All of us go through “financial winters”, and most of them are fairly predictable: the economy won’t be good forever, we can’t work forever, our cars won’t last forever, and our daughters will usually not be single forever (wedding$$$$$!)
Attach a number to each financial winter so you can back in to the number you need to be saving today. Your “wildly important” goal should say, “we need x amount by y date.” For starters, make a goal for the end of the year.
One word of caution when it comes to saving: The purpose of savings is not to prepare for future luxuries, but future winters. Many Americans fail to make this distinction, and consequently their “saving” is really just “hoarding” (Lk. 12:13-21). The best safeguard against hoarding is lavish generosity—which, incidentally, is always our first priority over savings (see Mk. 12:41-44).
2) Discipline 2: Act on the "lead measures"
The book distinguishes between a “lag measure” and a “lead measure”. Lag measures are bottom-line results (like, “I want to save $3k by Dec. 31, 2017”). Lead measures are the actions YOU can take to change your bottom-line results. For instance, if you wanted to lose 20lbs by the end of the year, that would be your lag measure, your bottom-line result. Your lead measures might be “daily calories consumed” and “weekly exercise”. These are actions you can take to directly achieve your goal.
Financially speaking, what ONE or TWO “lead measures” can you enact in order to help you reach your goal? Some of the biblical “lead measures” that determine our level of income/savings:
Give: God gives to givers, so if you want to increase your income, give more (Pr. 3:9-10). Do we really think that the best way to save money is by holding some back from God.
Pursue Sobriety: Addiction leads to poor job performance, unnecessary expenses, and ultimately, poverty (Pr. 23:20-21).
Get work that pays: We all want to do what we’re passionate about, but we also want to eat. If our passion doesn’t feed us, God says to get a job that pays (Pr. 12:11; 28:19)
Plan: John Maxwell says budgeting is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went. The author of Proverbs would agree (Pr. 21:5).
Personally, my “lead measures” relate to the diligence of planning and tracking. I’ll tell you about my and Alicia’s plan at the end of the blog.
3) Discipline 3: Keep a compelling scoreboard
Have you ever noticed how people play sports differently when they’re keeping score? The same is true when it comes to executing. In the realm of personal finances, the Scripture teaches to “know well the condition of your flocks and give attention to your herds” (Pr. 27:23). Do you know how much money is in your bank account right now? Do you know how much you’ve spent so far this month? Do you know how that measures up against your goal?
The key to financial execution is knowing your score every day.
4) Discipline 4: Create a cadence of accountability.
“He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm" (Pr. 13:20). It’s impossible to consistently choose the path of wisdom if we’re not surrounded by wise friends who can speak into our lives. If you’ve been in a financial rut for a very long time, you won’t get out alone—you need help. This could come from a mentor, or personal finance coach, or just someone you look up to in Sunday School. This could become part of your “cadence of accountability”—that is, weekly (or even daily) meetings with another person to discuss how you’re doing.
If you’re NOT in a deep financial rut but you just want to do a better job at saving, your “accountability” will be either with a spouse (if you’re married), or with a friend who’s in the same position.
Michael and Alicia’s Financial Execution Plan…
First of all, Alicia and I set a wildly important goal: “save x amount by December 31, 2017”. In order to set a reasonable goal, this required us to take a fresh look at our financial situation—all revenues and expenses through the end of the year.
Second, we chose our lead measures. In order to do this, we asked ourselves, “What action can we take that would significantly and directly influence our savings?” We landed on these two:
Michael and Alicia both look at every individual expense vs. budget on a daily basis (using a free budgeting tool called “mint”, which you can download in any app store, or access at www.mint.com).
Michael spends at least 30 minutes every week planning for our financial future.
The reason we chose these two “lead measures” is because (1) by tracking our expenditures daily, we lessen the opportunity for end-of-month surprises, and (2) by planning every single week, we can adjust our plan before it becomes obsolete and unhelpful.
Third, we have a real scoreboard. I’ve printed off charts that require our written input:
Chart 1 (Lead Measure): Did Michael and Alicia both look at every individual expense today? Check yes or no.
Chart 2 (Lead Measure): Did Michael plan for 30 minutes this week? Check yes or no.
Chart 3 (Lag Measure): Current Savings vs. Wildly Important goal.
Yes, I know this requires effort. But one of the biggest mistakes we make is expending all our energy in MAKING money, but precious little in SAVING it. That’s what you call…. A financial hamster wheel.
Fourth, we have a cadence of accountability. Alicia and I meet every Monday morning at 7:45am for about 15 minutes to review our previous week, discuss the scoreboard, and make commitments for the upcoming week.
So there you have it. It’s been a journey for us to match the wisdom of the ant, but we’re getting there. How might you implement the same execution plan in your finances, or even in some other area of your life?
Finally, I’ll leave you with this all-important truth: The most significant Winter to prepare for is not an economic Winter, but an eternal Winter. The reality is that the current death rate is 100%. Every person reading this blog will one day stand before God and give an accounting for our lives. None of us will pass that judgment…. Unless…. We place our trust in Jesus, and what He did for us on the Cross.
If even a pesky ant is wise enough to prepare for Winter, how much more should we prepare for the eternal Winter by trusting Jesus to save us from it?
Please feel free to contact us with any questions or leave a comment!