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You get it. You know that the Bible teaches the wisdom of saving – not that we’re trusting in our savings to provide for us, but that we’re prudently setting aside some of what God has provided today in order to provide for tomorrow.
But maybe you wonder – when does saving become hoarding? How can we know that we’re saving according to Biblical wisdom and not falling into the “bigger barns” trap of Luke 12?
In this article, we’ll address the question of how to differentiate Biblical, wise saving from hoarding. And we’ll see that although numbers mean something, the determining factor isn’t typically a specific amount. It’s more about our hearts of stewardship.
We’ve said elsewhere that the wise saver is one who builds, preserves, and invests with discernment. Wise saving has two major characteristics: A purpose, and a target.
Wise Saving Has a Purpose
Scripture tells us that we are to work and save in order to provide for ourselves, our families, and others (Ephesians 4:28; 1 Thessalonians 4:12; 1 Timothy 5:8). We see this principle exemplified in the story of Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s dream and implementing a national savings plan to save the country during a coming famine (Genesis 41 and following).
But saving isn’t just about crisis. Wise saving takes into account foreseeable events (one day we’re going to need to replace this car; at some point we want to buy a house, etc.). In fact, wise saving has several purposes:
- It counteracts materialism and resultant impulse buying.
- It creates margin to get us through a crisis.
- It prepares us for coming expenses and needs.
- It enables faithfulness to follow God’s leading.
Saving Counteracts Materialism
Saving – as opposed to impulse buying (often on credit) – develops character in us in the areas of perseverance and patience. When we save up for a purchase, we say “no” to instant gratification. This runs counter to our culture that promotes materialism at the expense of wise stewardship.
When we save rather than spending (especially on credit), we declare independence from the pull of possessions. This is one way in which we “love not the things of the world” (1 John 2:15). It’s also a way in which we encourage the fruit of the Spirit – especially self-control (Galatians 5:22).
Saving Creates Margin
Saving enables us to navigate down times and crisis situations without going into debt. In particular, Emergency Saving provides money for immediate situations, such as an unexpected medical expense or car repair. The 3-month net provides margin for longer-lasting downturns, such as the loss of a job.
Preparing for these possibilities is not lack of faith; it’s application of Biblical wisdom. Joseph’s saving program for Egypt was, in fact, an act of faith – he believed what God had said through Pharaoh’s dreams and acted on it. We may not have such a precise picture of future hardships, but we know they will come – it’s a matter of when, not if. Being prepared not only exhibits Biblical wisdom but puts us in a position to potentially take care of others in a crisis (as Joseph did), which is one way in which the Gospel might spread.
Saving Prepares Us
Not all financial needs arise out of crisis. Many are predictable to an extent, such as the replacement of a car, a planned house purchase, or maybe children’s weddings. These all call for wise saving – we know they’re going to happen even if we don’t know when or exactly how much they’ll cost.
Saving Enables Faithfulness
Creating margin in our lives enables us to follow God’s leading in faithful obedience. Many of the early disciples were able to provide for the needs of the church out of savings they had stored up, selling houses and lands and bringing the money to the apostles (Acts 2:45; 4:32-37). Saving can enable extra generosity or it can enable us to follow a career path guided by God’s leading more than guided by a need for a specific income. Many faithful believers have been enabled to take lower-paying jobs to advance the Kingdom because of the margin they had saved up earlier in their careers.
Wise Saving Has a Target
Saving for a purpose is wise, but saving just to accumulate? Scripture tells us that’s meaningless. The question is, how can we know when enough is enough?
In a word, the answer is “prayerfully”. There’s no magic number that we can reach and say, “that’s enough”. But there are some guidelines to help us determine targets for saving and show us when we’ve reached those targets.
Emergency saving is the money we set aside for a crisis. It’s not meant to sustain us over a long term; it’s meant to get us over the hump for an unexpected bill, such as a medical bill or a repair bill. Generally speaking, a target of 2% of annual gross income is a good guideline for emergency saving. This is typically an amount small enough to set aside quickly but large enough to get us through a typical unexpected expense.
Some financial difficulties last longer than others. An unexpected job loss, for example, will often impact us to a greater extent than emergency saving can cover. That’s the purpose of the 3-month net.
This “safety net” is money set aside to get through a larger or longer financial difficulty. The name comes from the target amount – 3 months of net income. That’s enough to help us through a job loss or extended medical stay. For single-income families, a target of up to 6 months of net income might make sense, since there isn’t a second job to fall back on if one is lost.
Everything eventually needs to be replaced…appliances, furniture, cars – pretty much anything we own. This is the purpose of replacement savings. At the low end, replacement savings should be sufficient to replace the most expensive appliance; at the high end, this fund should have enough to replace a vehicle.
We set aside long-term saving for events that will occur down the road. Things like children’s college educations or weddings, retirement, etc. These needs are hard to predict precisely, especially because the economy shifts over time and costs change. Here are a couple recommendations to help arrive at a good ballpark for long-term saving:
- Determine an amount to save for children’s education, weddings, etc. Communicate that this is the amount you’ll be able to contribute and that expenses beyond this amount will be the children’s responsibility. This can help you cap a number that otherwise could continually increase. Of course, you can adjust this over time – but do that intentionally with a specific number in mind.
- Consult with a trusted financial planner who understands Biblical stewardship to determine a target for retirement savings.
Getting There: The 10-10-80 Plan
Getting to all of these savings goals takes time. Saving constitutes just one element of financial stewardship in addition to earning, spending, giving, and debt. So how do you know if you’re getting there fast enough?
Again, situations vary, but many Christian financial experts recommend a 10-10-80 plan where we give 10% of our gross income, save 10%, and live on the remaining 80% (this includes taxes). If you can get close to these guidelines, you’re probably saving at a good rate.
Note that there’s no number in the plan for debt retirement. Ideally, we wouldn’t have any consumer debt (credit cards, personal loans, etc.). But often this kind of debt is part of our financial picture. Retiring debt has the same effect on our net worth as setting aside savings does (and often has a larger long-term effect because interest rates on debt are usually higher than interest rates on savings and returns on investments). So debt retirement would be part of the “10” that goes to saving.
For those who are well into their careers or have significant consumer debt and are just starting out on the path of saving, it’s probably wise to reduce lifestyle expenses (the 80%) in order to contribute more toward saving.
One last recommendation: a key saving priority should be to maximize any employer match of contributions to a 401(k) or other retirement plan.
Safeguarding Against Hoarding
With a line as “gray” as the line between saving and hoarding, how can we keep ourselves on the side of saving? How can we apply Biblical truth to establish some guardrails and guidelines? And how do we put all this in context of our relationship with God?
Three patterns of behavior can help us here:
- Recognize truth: wealth is deceitful.
- Examine ourselves: saving or hoarding?
- Follow God: put first things first.
Recognize Truth: Wealth is Deceitful
To start, we must recognize that wealth is not neutral. It’s not evil in and of itself, but it is deceitful and we need to be on our guard lest we be deceived. Jesus warned us that wealth’s deceitfulness can choke the Word in our lives, making us spiritually unfruitful.
Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. …Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.1 Timothy 6:9-10, 17
Wealth can trap us, turning our desires away from God and toward money, and bringing about our ruin – in extreme cases even leading us to wander from the faith. So Paul exhorted Timothy to lead the wealthy in the church at Ephesus to trust in God rather than in wealth and to maintain an attitude of humility.
It should come as no surprise, then, that wealth provides an obstacle to following Jesus. In fact, this is exactly what happened to the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:17-27), who was able to keep all the commandments of the law but not able to part with his wealth. When it came to choosing between money and Jesus, he chose money, even though the choice made him sad.
As far back as Moses, God warned about the effects that wealth can have. He told Moses to warn the people that the king they would one day have must not accumulate wealth in the form of horses or silver and gold, lest his heart be led astray (Deuteronomy 17:16-17).
Examine Ourselves: Saving or Hoarding?
Jeff Foxworthy once had a comedy routine with the theme, “You Might be a redneck if…”. As we examine our hearts to determine whether or not saving has crossed the line into hoarding, here are a few signposts to watch for. We might be hoarding if…
Our security is tied to money
As Paul instructed Timothy, wealth is uncertain. Anyone who has lived through a period of high inflation or through a depression knows that. And still, we tend to save for the future as if our future security depended on us and on our savings, rather than on God. If our thoughts about the future revolve around how much we will have saved, that will lead toward a tendency to hoard.
Conversely, if our thoughts about the future revolve around how we believe God will want us to live for him and the opportunities we might have at that point, then there’s a good chance that our saving has not crossed the line.
Our thoughts about the future are anxious
Trusting in money for security leads to anxiety about the future. This is why Jesus told us not to worry about tomorrow (Matthew 6:25-33). If we’re anxious about what the future holds from a financial standpoint, then we’re likely trusting in our savings for our security. And that leads to hoarding.
Jesus isn’t advising us to throw caution to the winds and not plan for the future; he’s just telling us that ultimately, the future is in God’s hands. The God who provides for the birds and the flowers will also provide for us.
Our lives are barren of spiritual fruit
Remember how Jesus said that the deceitfulness of wealth prevents spiritual fruitfulness? If we’re not bearing fruit spiritually – growing in our knowledge and experience of God, maturing as disciples and disciple-makers – then this could be an evidence that we’ve been deceived by wealth and that we’re in danger of hoarding.
Our concern is for ourselves
John asks us:
If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?1 John 3:17
Since loving our neighbor is one of the two Great Commandments, compassion for those in need is a natural outflowing of the love of God in us. If this compassion is absent from our lives (an evidence of spiritual barrenness), then there’s a chance that our love for money outweighs our love for God. When that happens, hoarding isn’t far behind.
Hoarding is not just for the rich!
One measure that is not a good indicator of hoarding is the numbers in our bank accounts and investments. We don’t have to be wealthy to hoard! Hoarding takes place whenever we keep all we have for ourselves, rather than sharing generously with others. The opposite of hoarding isn’t poverty; it’s generosity.
Hoarding is an attitude that says, “I have to take care of myself.” Where love for God would say, “Give generously to kingdom advancement” and love for people would say, “Share generously with others”, hoarders focus solely on providing for their own needs. It’s possible to not be wealthy and still be generous (see Paul’s description of the Macedonian churches in 2 Corinthians 8:1-5). Hoarders would say, “We don’t have that much; we need to keep what we have for ourselves.”
Like so much of stewardship, hoarding is more about attitude than it is about numbers. The numbers matter, but only as a reflection of the attitude of our hearts.
Follow God: Put first things first
How can we avoid a spirit of hoarding? Now that we know the warning signs, how do we change paths if we need to? Or how do we ensure that we’re staying on the right path?
Because wealth is so deceitful and our relationship with money so central to our relationship with God, Scripture offers several directions – and even commands – to help keep us on the right path.
Store Treasures in Heaven
Jesus shows us that there are only two places we can put our treasure – on earth, or in heaven. And the directive is clear: choose heaven, because treasure stored there will last. But how do we do that?
The chief way is to prioritize giving in our Spending Plan. One of the key benefits of giving (and there are many) is that it breaks the hold that money has on us. The rich fool in Jesus’ parable (Luke 12:16-21) stored up for himself but wasn’t rich toward God. This is the very definition of hoarding. So as we give, we set ourselves on a path away from hoarding.
Seek God for Wisdom
It’s funny – we don’t have a problem asking God for his provision – for a job, or a raise, or a promotion – but we rarely ask for wisdom to use well the resources He has already provided. But James tells us that if we ask for wisdom, God will give it. Part of that wisdom will be God’s direction to keep us on the right track with saving while avoiding hoarding.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’Matthew 6:13
Jesus taught us to pray that God would lead us away from temptation and deliver us from Satan. There are few, if any, areas in life where temptation is greater than in the area of money. If we consistently ask God to lead us away from the temptation to hoard and to trust in money for our security, He will gladly answer.
Share Possessions with Others
Sharing is a form of giving; as such, sharing finances and possessions with others helps break the hold of materialism on us. When John was preaching and baptizing in the Jordan, the crowds were cut to the quick. Convicted of sin, their overriding question was, “What should we do?” John’s answer: share with those in need (Luke 3:10-11).
John could have given any number of starting points for the repentant, spiritually fruitful life. He could have talked about worship at the Temple, or about fasting and prayer. But he directed them to share. This is another great evidence that our hearts follow our treasures; John knew that as his hearers shared with others, they’d begin to store their treasures in heaven – and that would lead their hearts to follow.
It’s not every day that a command so specific as, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none” has such a direct application to today! Here’s one we don’t even have to interpret! How many of us have closets full of clothes that we rarely, if ever, wear? Let the sharing begin!
Submit to God’s Leading
The very same action can be wise saving, or unwise hoarding! This is where prayer and seeking God’s guidance comes in.
At the beginning of their wandering in the desert, the Israelites complained about having no food (Exodus 16). And God sent manna in response to their complaint. For forty years, he miraculously provided the manna, and he gave these instructions: Gather only enough for the day; don’t save any until tomorrow.
But, of course, some people did save some for the next day – not trusting God to provide each day for that day’s needs. And what happened? The manna they saved was spoiled, full of maggots. This was hoarding – saving beyond what God had clearly instructed them to do.
As He consistently did, God differentiated the Sabbath. He sent no manna then, so that the people could rest on that day. He instructed them to gather two days’ worth on the sixth day of the week and save what they hadn’t used for the Sabbath.
And again, some people disobeyed and didn’t gather enough for two days. When the Sabbath came and they went out to look for manna, there wasn’t any.
The very same action – gathering an extra day of manna – was wise saving on Friday, but was sinful hoarding any other day of the week. Why? Because of God’s command.
It’s not always going to be this clear where the dividing line is. But following the directions of God’s word and the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and praying for guidance, wisdom, and protection from temptation will lead us in the right direction.
Saving vs. Hoarding – a Summary
So, are we saving, or are we hoarding? Let’s sum up a few key distinctions.
- Purpose: Saving is motivated by Biblical wisdom and purpose and has intentional targets. Hoarding is motivated by lack of faith and continues without end.
- Fruit: Saving promotes the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, such as patience and perseverance; hoarding precludes the fruit of the Spirit like love, joy, and peace.
- Heart: Saving creates in us a heart of gratitude for God’s provision and of compassion for those in need; hoarding creates a heart of selfishness.
- Obedience: Saving promotes obedience to the two Great Commandments; hoarding disregards love for God and for others.
Hoarding is possibly the best example of putting our treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy. The attitude of hoarding leads to taking advantage of others, as James points out in James 5:1-6.
But Biblical saving produces fruit in our lives and in relationships with God and others. It prepares us for both foreseen and unforeseen circumstances. And God uses it to provide for us and for others.