It’s that time of year again. When folks reflect on the year that was and contemplate the year that will be. Many make New Year’s resolutions as a self-improvement mechanism to live richer and more fulfilling lives: a Nielsen survey found that 37 percent of folks made a resolution to stay healthy and fit in 2015. At the same time, 25 percent of respondents resolved to be better with their finances, to spend less and save more. That is a great because only 16 percent of Americans have enough “rainy day” savings, yet 73% say they would benefit from financial advice. If you’re one of these folks who could benefit from financial advice, you don’t have to schedule time with a certified financial planner over the holidays. If you celebrate Christmas, you can take counsel from a higher authority: Jesus Christ, financial adviser.
Jesus didn’t have his CFP certification but that didn’t stop him from frequently doling out financial guidance throughout the scriptures. In the Book of Matthew, eight of ten parables have something to do with money matters like the parable of the talents, in which a master evaluates which of his servants made the most profits with what they were given. In the book of Luke, nine of twelve parables invoke money or wealth such as the parable of the lost coin, in which a woman goes in search of a lost coin (and eventually finds it). Indeed, Jesus spoke about money and wealth so often that his words can serve as a foundation for your own personal financial decisions.
Jesus’ prevailing message throughout: less is more. In the Sermon on the Mount, he begins with clear instruction about money: “Do not store up treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.” Here Jesus points out the fleeting and ephemeral nature of material things that we cherish: a promotion to Managing Director of a global investment bank, concert tickets to Alabama Shakes, or a high neck sweater from Zara. You can’t take these things with you to the afterlife. Instead, Jesus says, “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,” because these things, like presence of God, are everlasting.
For most of us, Jesus’ paradoxical guidance of “less is more” is difficult to accept. It certainly was for the rich man who asked Jesus how to achieve eternal life. At first, Jesus suggests that the man follow the commandments: don’t murder, don’t steal, and don’t commit adultery. The rich man responds that he already lives by the rules. Jesus responds, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Upon hearing this, the rich man leaves because he knew he was unable to follow these words. Jesus then turns to his disciples and explains, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
Who among us will follow Jesus’ guidance to a tee? Heaven must have ample vacancy – if selling all your possessions is the ticket in. But some theologians who have parsed Jesus’ words have established a lower bar for salvation, and which I explain in my book Coined. Pastor Tim Keller advocates the principle of “sacrificial giving,” in which you forfeit your lifestyle or a portion of it. Maybe you give ten percent of your wealth to a worthy cause or downgrade from a Mercedes to a Mazda. Theologian C.S. Lewis suggests “to give more than we can spare.” By renouncing a portion of your material wealth, you will have a constant reminder of the spiritual riches that await.
Doing more with less isn’t lost on Americans: many already make resolutions to spend less and save more. If you’re one of them, you can say that you’re just following the guidance of your financial planner.
[Article was also published in Investopedia in 2015]