Easy Way or the Hard Way?

The order you build your finances is SO important!

Call me lazy, but I like taking the easy route. I want the quickest, easiest, best way to get from point A to point B. I don’t like wasting time, money, or energy. With our finances, there is a roadmap of sorts that helps us find the most efficient way to build wealth. We call this, “Building Your StrongTower”. I have found that following this model from bottom to top is the best possible way to structure your finances with the fewest speed bumps to hit along the way. Build in the wrong order and you may hit a few costly detours along the way that slow you down.

If you’re a StrongTower client, you’ve probably seen this before. It is a staple tool we use to help our clients gain clarity and set priorities. Let me explain each level and how it can improve the rate at which you build wealth…

For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? – Luke 14:28

God’s Plan:

The foundation of any financial plan for a follower of Jesus must be God Himself. What is God’s plan for your life? Where is he leading your family? While this can require a lifetime of learning, it is vital for successful finances. Our goal as stewards of God’s wealth is to align our finances with His plans. Don’t worry! You likely don’t have a crystal clear view of where God is leading. That’s OK. The key is to continually draw near to the Lord so you can hear from Him when He speaks. You’ll receive conviction from the Spirit as you seek Him daily.  Alternatively, if we aren’t in tune with the Father, we may likely head in the wrong direction and make mistakes along the way, costing us time and money in the process.

Giving and Generosity:

Throughout scripture, we learn about “first fruits”. When it comes to our finances, we are to give first. We give before we pay the bills. We give before we save. We give before we invest. God asks us to give first as a sign of obedience and faith. In fact, there is only one place in scripture that God actually says to test Him (read Malachi 3:10).  As a disclaimer, we should be giving out of joy and love, not out of greed to obtain a blessing from God.

Risk Management:

With this level, we are referring to insurance and estate planning. We need to have proper insurance coverage to provide for our family’s needs. We need to have a trust or will in place to care for our spouse and children upon death. This level is a high priority that should be acted on very early for your family.

Debt Reduction:

If you’ve built your finances well from the beginning, you may not have any debt to eliminate. Life is easier without debt! Not only does debt increase the cost of the items we purchase, but those monthly payments can cause a lot of stress in the family! Raising a family in today’s world is stressful enough on its own. Adding debt on top is like tossing gas on the fire. Notice that this step comes BEFORE savings and investments. There can be some compromise here, but consider how silly it would be to save money in an account that might earn 6% while you have a credit card charging you 25% interest. It just doesn’t make sense to save until you get rid of the high interest rate debt. Until you eliminate the debt, you’re stuck.

Cash Reserves:

If you avoided debt along the way or recently eliminated it, the next step is to build up an emergency fund. We need cash for those unexpected or infrequent bills. Set a goal and start building up that savings account! Many professionals recommend that you save 3-6 months of living expenses. Personally, I’m committed to paying cash for vehicles, so my cash reserves need to be much higher than the rule of thumb suggests. Each person is unique in this area.

Liquid Investments:

Once your savings are in place, I often like to see people open a liquid investment account. This may be a new concept for you, and I think they can provide a tremendous amount of freedom and flexibility to your finances. This is an account that is invested for the long run, but it can be accessed anytime. This is NOT an IRA or 401(k), because you can’t touch those until a certain age. For our family, we call this a multi-purpose fund. We use ours to save money for college for our girls, save for the next car purchase (if it is 3+ years away), and build a “house fund”. I might explain that one in more detail in a later post…

Retirement Accounts:

Now it’s time to build up those retirement accounts. IRAs, Roth IRAs, 401(k) plans, 403bs, 457 plans, Simple IRAs… these are all designed to give you tax breaks and save for retirement.

Speculative:

Lastly, some people like to get involved with what we call speculative investments. This might include an investment that is extremely risky, unpredictable, or difficult to convert to cash. This should be done LAST if done at all. I want to stress this because some people get very enamored with this type of investment and jump into them way too early. Let me explain with a true story. Several years ago, a man came into my office asking for my advice. A friend of his suggested that he invest money into a particular stock. The price of the stock was extremely low because the company was facing financial difficulties. His friend assured him it was a safe bet because there had never been a company this big that had ever filed for bankruptcy. His logic seemed reasonable and shrewd. Buy low and get a huge return, right? This man took his family’s life savings and purchased the stock. What was that stock? Enron. As you can guess, he lost everything. If this man had already “built his StrongTower” from bottom to top, maybe he could have invested a small portion of money as a gamble. He, however, skipped all the steps in-between because he was allured by the potential for quick wealth… he wanted to get rich quick, and he paid for it dearly. Personally, I like to treat investments like this as Tabasco Sauce. A little to spice things up might be OK, but too much and you’re going to get burned. It’s not worth the risk!

Summary:

There you go… this is the easy way to build your finances. Start at the bottom of the StrongTower and work your way up. I feel it is the easiest and most effective way to get your finances to the next level. Happy wealth building!

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