Written by Gary Foreman
From his column Life Stewardship
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it” (Mt. 13:45-46 NIV).
Jesus’ message was clear: there’s nothing on earth more valuable than His grace, and as His followers, we need to carefully consider what we most value and act accordingly.
While this is true of eternal treasure, the principle also applies to our earthly possessions. Trades and purchases should be made thoughtfully; not on the spur of the moment. Today, let’s look at some questions we should consider before we reach for our wallets.
Can I Really Afford It?
Credit cards and “easy financing” make many purchases seem affordable, but are they really? Are we committing to making payments from an uncertain future income? Many find themselves in trouble when sickness, crisis, or loss of a job make keeping up with payments difficult or impossible.
Do I Need It or Just Want It?
We are assured the Lord will provide our needs, but there sure are a lot of wants to tempt us. Not all wants are bad, but it’s wise to consider where a purchase falls on the scale of “needs vs. wants” before we buy.
If we’re fighting with debt, this is particularly important. Eliminating purchases of things we want but don’t need frees up money to put debt to rest.
Can I Borrow or Rent It?
Just because we need something doesn’t mean we have to buy it. In the last 30 years, the size of the average home has grown by 50%, and we still spend nearly $40 billion on storage facilities annually! Many of the items stored were bought, used infrequently, and now take up rental space. Borrowing or renting items as needed not only saves space but money, too!
Can I Get It Used?
Many items lose much of their value as soon as they leave the store. For instance, most cars drop about half their value in the first three or four years. Why not shop for gently used items and let someone else suffer the initial loss? You’ll find lots of options online at Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, and eBay, or at places like Salvation Army Thrift Stores, Goodwill, Savers, etc.
Is It In the Budget?
If you don’t have a spending plan or budget, you should, and this is an excellent example of why. Budgeted spending is generally necessary and planned for in advance. Unbudgeted spending is unplanned and the financing uncertain. Most unplanned spending is the result of impulse buys we regret later.
Can I Delay the Purchase?
It’s surprising how often delaying a purchase can end up preventing a purchase. Perhaps thats why salespeople press us to act now! They know that if we take time to weigh the pros and cons, we might not buy. Delaying a purchase offers time to consider whether to buy it, find a less expensive alternative, borrow it, or decide if we even need it.
One way to put this into action is to keep a list of possible future purchases. When we add an item, we should create a “wait until” date for purchase. In many cases, we’ll find ourselves simply scratching items off the list without spending a dime.
Do I Already Own a Substitute?
Whether it’s a tool for a DIY job or a lamp to change the look of the family room, we should consider things we already own that might accomplish the task. For instance, we might move an end table or wall hanging from one room to another and still achieve a desired result.
Can I Trade or Barter?
If we don’t have an appropriate substitute, perhaps a sister, friend, or neighbor does. Consider trading table lamps—either for a short time or permanently. And we don’t have to limit this principle to home decoration. We can swap kitchen appliances (perhaps a waffle maker or toaster oven) or even items of clothing. The key to success is being creative and imagination!
Can I Pay Cash for It?
Or pay off the purchase in full if I put it on my credit card? Scripture cautions us to use debt carefully. Any time a purchase requires us to make a series of payments, we should be cautious.
How Long Will I Have to Work to Afford This?
Knowing what something really costs is hard when all we have to do is pull a piece of plastic out of a wallet and swipe it. But if we calculate how many hours of work will be required to pay for it, we might leave it on the shelf. All we have to do is divide the cost of the item by our hourly take home pay.
We live in a world where marketers tempt us with countless “pearls,” but few are truly valuable and most can be considered “wants,” not “needs.” I hope these questions will be helpful next time you face a purchasing decision.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.