What Joseph Can Teach Us about Our Finances

Written by Gary Foreman
From his column Life Stewardship

  • “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest” (Pr. 6:6-8 NIV).

We all know the passage about Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s prophetic dream in Genesis 41. Seven fat, sleek cows followed by seven lean, ugly cows. Joseph understood the need to build stores during good times for use later when it was needed. In today’s financial world we’d call what Joseph accumulated an “emergency fund.” We can learn from Joseph’s experience—even without a prophetic dream from the Lord.

Certain financial events in our lives are unpredictable but can be expected. We don’t need a gift of prophecy to know that our car or refrigerator will need repairs or replacement at some time or another. We just don’t know exactly when they’ll happen.

Joseph did have one advantage. He was able to build the storehouse during fat years. For those in ministry there are very few “fat” years!

We don’t need a gift of prophecy to know that our car or refrigerator will need repairs or replacement at some time or another.

There are a number of excuses folks offer for not creating an emergency fund:

  • I need a salary increase first.
  • I have other financial priorities.
  • I need to pay off debts first.
  • I use credit cards for unexpected expenses.
  • I can always borrow money if I need it.
  • I’d rather invest for retirement.
  • I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

While all of these seem reasonable when we’re not facing an unexpected bill, they feel more like excuses when confronted with a major car repair or furnace replacement and an emergency fund would come in handy. Instead of waiting for seven fat years, let’s look at how we can start an emergency fund today. We’ll begin by searching for ways to free up extra cash.

Found Money - Occasionally our grocery or electric bill is less than expected, or someone in the congregation wants to bless us with a cash gift. If we don’t put it away quickly, that money will simply disappear.

Automatic Transfer - It’s relatively simple to have a few dollars transferred to an emergency fund out of every paycheck. It’s also amazing how our spending adjusts to the new slightly lower income level.

Save the Change - We used to throw our pennies, nickels and dimes into a jar and take it to the bank when it was full. Inflation has made that less productive. But how about setting aside every $5 bill we receive in change? Deposit it when the jar is full or once a month.

Become a BOGO Shopper - Many grocers have “Buy One Get One” sales. We can set aside money saved from BOGOs or from other sales, discounts, and rebates.

Stash Your DIY Savings - Professional service calls are expensive. If you’re handy around the house, you can save a lot of money. Even if someone in your congregation discounts the service, add your DIY savings to the emergency fund.

Sell Your Way to Savings - Most of us have unused items stored in closets, basements, garages, and attics. We can sell unused electronics, exercise equipment, or hobby supplies, make the house neater, and set aside the cash. It’s easier than ever to sell used stuff.

Storage Savings - In the last 25 years the average home has grown by 50%, yet there are storage facilities in every town—even small ones. Many of the things being stored aren’t worth the cost. Consider keeping important items you actually use at home, and add the rest to your sale (see above).

Check Big Expenses - Mortgages, auto payments, credit card payments, home and auto insurance are all big bills for the typical family. Taking a bit of time annually to compare rates and prices can result in savings, and comparisons are easy to obtain. Funnel any savings into your emergency fund.

Eliminate Unused Expenses - The internet has made it easy to add automatic payments for subscription services—everything from gym memberships to pet box of the month clubs. It’s a good idea to review credit card statements and eliminate any automatic payments for services that are no longer used or not needed.

Diet Your Food Budget - Depending on size, families spend up to 20% of disposable income on food. Much of that goes to food prepared in restaurants and food waste. Meal planning and cooking are easy skills to learn and can reduce the grocery bill and overall expenses. You just found money for your emergency fund.

Joseph wisely listened to the Lord, saved for hard times, and was rewarded for his obedience. We too will be rewarded if we set aside funds for future expenses.

Gary Foreman is an assistant pastor, author, former financial planner, and founder of TheDollarStretcher.com. If you have questions or suggestions for columns, send them to us at pensions@nazarene.org.