The Prudent Spender
Much like the “earner spectrum“, there’s also a “spender spectrum” – a range of spending personalities. On the one extreme is the ascetic – one who avoids spending whenever possible (and often feels guilty when they do spend). Ascetics may be driven by fear of the future to save all they can. Or they may be driven by guilt to give all they can. Either way, they avoid spending whenever possible. Neither fear nor guilt produce a positive life purpose; as a result, the ascetic often lacks joy and a sense of gratitude.
At the other end of the spectrum is the spendthrift. Driven by materialism or possibly by emotional needs, the spendthrift has bought into the cultural lie that things bring happiness. As opposed to the ascetic who obsesses with worry over the future, the spendthrift gives no thought to the future and lives only for the moment. Their credit card and bank balances usually reflect this priority.
Between these two extremes lies the Prudent Spender – one who enjoys the fruits of their labor yet guards against materialism. Seeing God as the source of all they have (James 1:17), Prudent Spenders are content, self-controlled, and committed to God.
Character Traits of Prudent Spenders
Because they recognize God as their Provider, prudent spenders enjoy what He has given with a sense of gratitude (1 Timothy 6:17). They realize that life consists of more than possessions, so they guard against greed (Luke 12:15). They’re content with what God has provided (Philippians 4:11-13).
Prudent spenders exhibit self-control (Galatians 5:23; 1 Peter 1:13; 4:7; 2 Peter 1:6). This leads them to be intentional about their spending. They recognize that “there is a time for everything” (Ecclesiastes 3:1), including a time to spend and a time to refrain. As a result, they’re patient and able to wait for their wants to be satisfied.
Prudent spenders commit themselves to God in the way they use their resources. Whether they’re spending on lifestyle, giving, saving, or retiring debt, they see all of their finances in light of God’s provision and their own stewardship. As a result, they’re not likely to make idols of either possessions or money. They have a strong sense of priorities that guides their financial decisions.
Habits of Prudent Spenders
Prudent spenders guide their decisions by the question, “What’s the best use of this next dollar?” They’re intentional about how they use their money. This is reflected in the fact that they have a plan and that plan guides their decisions. Supporting that plan, prudent spenders keep good financial records. They know how much they’re spending, what they’re spending it on, and how that matches up to their plan. This way, they know when the plan needs adjusting (as it inevitably will), and they make the right adjustments at the right time.
Because prudent spenders are intentional about their spending, they avoid impulse buying. They don’t tend to shop for entertainment – whether online or in stores. Instead, they shop when they’re looking for something specific that they’ve planned for. For large purchases, they weigh multiple factors as they decide on what to buy.
Finally, Prudent spenders know how much they need to live on and they live within their means. Ultimately, contentment and intentionality lead them to establish a lifestyle cap – an amount that they’ve determined that they need to live on. This lifestyle cap describes an appropriate level of spending for their situation, and frees them toward increasing generosity as their income increases.
Equipping Prudent Spenders
It would be easy to say that helping our congregation to become prudent spenders is a matter of getting them to cultivate hearts of contentment and gratitude and to develop a sense of purpose in their spending. But realistically, it doesn’t work this way. Scripture tells us that the heart is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9), and as a result, being guided by our hearts often leads us in the wrong direction.
Heart change comes from God, so it begins with prayer. For the ascetic, this may be prayer for God to increase their faith in His provision or prayer to be relieved of false guilt. For the spendthrift, it may be prayer for gratitude and contentment, or prayer for healing from an emotional wound.
In either case, Jesus said that our hearts tend to follow our treasure (Matthew 6:21), so the next step is to help people track their spending and from that to create a spending plan. Understanding where our money goes is the first step to controlling where it goes, and putting that control in place is part of determining where our treasure is. Heart change will tend to follow that treasure.
Note: for Scripture references related to prudent spending, see our article, Biblical Financial Principles: The Prudent Consumer.
Why it matters
Churches benefit from equipping their congregation to be prudent spenders in a couple of ways. First of all, the discipline and self-control that characterize prudent spenders will show not only in their finances but also in their spiritual lives. The ability to gain control over impulses and to delay gratification reflects maturity, and this maturity often shows itself spiritually as well as financially.
The prudent spender rejects the “me-first” attitude that characterizes so much of our culture. The prudent spender isn’t an ascetic, but rather enjoys what God has provided with gratitude. As a result, the prudent spender is typically quick to share the blessings that God has granted. In the body, this spirit of generosity develops a community of unity and caring.