Wrapped up in every family history – threaded invisibly throughout the memories – is money. That’s right, money. How a family gets, grapples with, guards, and gives money is all a part of the family identity.
In some ways, money defines a family. And just as great memories – like holiday celebrations or vacations – don’t happen by accident, neither does a family’s view of money simply materialize out of thin air. But a healthy, shared view of money can exist among a family.
As families are making memories, they are – whether intentionally or unintentionally – setting the culture of their family. They demonstrate what they believe, what is important, worth doing, worth tolerating, and worth letting go. History and extended family may help you teach family culture. And your church and Christian friends might help you teach your kids what you believe. But who else will teach them how to wisely handle money?
Jesus said how we interact with our treasures says something about our hearts. Yet, for some of us, it’s still a taboo subject.
Parents teach these things by example. But if they plan to instill values in their children and bury them so deeply that those children will instill them in their children, they have to get intentional. Smart families are intentional about sharing what’s important.
Jesus talked a lot about wealth, frequently and in detail. He said that how we interact with our treasures says something about the health of our hearts (Matthew 6:21). Yet, for some of us, it’s still a taboo subject. We can’t let that happen. We need to have healthy conversations about money with our families if we want to avoid family strife and see our heirs carry on the legacy of generosity that we have begun.
5 questions to examine as a family
The best way to begin a dialogue about the financial culture in your family is with questions, not statements. We believe there are five questions your family should be able to answer, so you can make decisions from a biblical perspective and with more clarity and confidence.
The sum of all our thoughts about money make up our financial philosophy. Every one of us has one, but if we don’t examine it and don’t look to Scripture as the foundation for the way we think about money, we can miss out on what God is calling us to do. So let’s start by examining what the Bible says about ownership.
1. Who really owns the things you have?
Near the end of his reign, King David went on a massive giving spree, which inspired the same incredible generosity in others … and ended in a giant worship service (1 Chronicles 29). Psalm 24:1 (which David wrote years before) gives us a hint at how it was so easy for him to just give everything to God. He says, “The earth is the Lord’s and all things in it.” God is the owner of everything. Because he made it, it is his; but he has chosen to share it with us.
Many Christians are unaware of this fundamental teaching from Scripture, so they view a tithe as a sort of tax, giving God his portion. But the truth is, there is no “portion” that is his. It’s all his; we are just managing it.
If this is news to you, you may want to pause here to think, pray, or study Scripture to make sure what we’re saying is true. You can also read the story about King David here, where you’ll find lots of Scripture to consider.
2. What assets have been entrusted to your care, and why?
God has entrusted you with certain tangible assets – cash, cars, real estate, stocks, businesses – and certain intangible assets as well, like relationships, connections, skills, and even vision for something that might be. All of these are things that come from God and have been entrusted to you, making you the steward of all of them. It’s good to write down all of what you steward in one place, to look at dreams and skills at the same time you look at your net worth statement. Seeing everything together will give you a picture of what God has given you to steward.
Now you have to ask yourself why.
Why has God given you what you have? And how do you honor his trust in you by making the most of them? How does he want you to invest them: where, in whom or in what?
These are questions that can only be answered through talking with God and with your family or trusted friends. It may take some time. Don’t rush the process of answering these questions, and don’t be too sure God won’t reveal more of the plan to you as you move forward, trusting him.
3. How much is enough?
Some people inherit great wealth. Others find themselves more successful than they thought they would ever be. Some people work really hard, see consistent return for their efforts and end up with more than they need. Do you have a plan for what you will do if you find yourself in one of these scenarios? Maybe you are already there.
The answer to the question “How much is enough?” is different for everyone. Maybe it’s a yearly maximum you will take in terms of income. Maybe it’s a lifetime amount you’ll never exceed in your accounts. Maybe it’s a lifestyle you will never change, though your income would allow you to do so.
However you decide to do it, setting a financial finish line is a good way to be sure money never becomes more important to you than it should, and often it’s a good way to share with others as well.
4. Where should your money go, and when?
The Bible says, “An inheritance quickly gained at the beginning will not be blessed at the end” (Proverbs 20:21). Is it possible that standard assumptions about building wealth and leaving it behind when we die may be exactly the wrong way to pass money on to those you care about?
Successfully acquiring wealth is one of the greatest advancements a family can ever experience. But it can also trigger problems within the family and confuse even the most basic communication between people.
Wealth may be inanimate, but it has power – to kindle parched dreams, to change a person’s standard of living, to enable a person a measure of autonomy. Without wealth, a person faces one set of circumstances; with wealth, the picture changes dramatically. When a person’s future hangs in the balance like that, it’s only natural for sensitivities to be heightened, expectations to develop, emotions to be amplified. And it can do strange things to family relationships, which is why communication and family involvement is so important.
5. How do you want your children’s children to view money?
Is your financial philosophy clear enough and strong enough to last generations? Are you committed to it? Are you living it out, even finding ways to memorialize it? Will your family be prepared as they receive money to steward too?
If you want your children to share your financial philosophy, start as soon as you can, talk about it candidly, and often. This can make these conversations much more natural. Here are a few more things you can do:
- Be sure you’re sharing about your values. Tell your family what has shaped your life and impacted your beliefs.
- Develop a family purpose statement. What unique purpose does your family have, and what is your family’s shared view of wealth management (don’t forget to talk about ownership)?
- Talk about why you accumulated wealth and what you hope your heirs will do with it. What are the temptations surrounding it and the negative consequences of succumbing to those temptations?
- Discuss what lifestyle is reasonable for your family. What can protect you from materialism? What is your “financial finish line?”
- Determine your family’s plan for wealth transition and stewardship of that wealth. What are your expectations of your family, and how and to whom do you plan to transfer your wealth?
Your life will be a living response to each of the questions you answer about money. You have the opportunity to determine your own responses … even to change them. But you can’t do that if you don’t start.
If you and your family have more detailed questions or would like help determining a plan, call your local NCF office.