Today, we're bombarded with advertising designed to convince us that we need the latest, the fastest, the biggest, and the best. Our children are especially vulnerable to the constant saturation of marketing messages. Even if we have a real need, the vast numbers of consumer options are overwhelming and also attractive.

Shoes not only come in a broad range of choices in style, color, materials and price, but the variety of specialty shoes is getting ridiculous. If you need a pair of athletic shoes, you must decide if the primary purpose is for walking, running, hiking, climbing, or biking. Once you've determined you need running shoes, you must then decide if you need the kind for sprinting, distance running, off road, cross training, the amphibious model, or the ones that look like a glove for your feet.

To maintain financial priorities and live within your means, you must reconcile your needs and your wants.

When I was growing up, consumer choices were fairly limited. If the rabbit ear antenna was situated just right, our television was able to receive programs from three networks. Levi Strauss was the main source for those who wanted durable, straight-legged blue jeans. If you needed basketball shoes, canvas high-tops were available in either black or white.

It's easy for something as basic as shoes to become a want instead of a need. So how do you keep your children and yourselves from falling in the marketers' traps? Here are some steps that work for our family.

Define a Need

A need is something that's essential to our lives. In 1 Timothy 6:8, Paul said, "But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these." This is the baseline for our true needs. We need food, water, clothing, and shelter. Everything else beyond that is a want.

Set Priorities

A proper budget allocates resources to ensure that the essentials receive first priority and that wants are placed on the waiting list. Without a budget to designate where your income is used, you'll be vulnerable to constant stress and instability regardless of income.

I recently received a phone call from an adult who was in a financial crisis. He was a respected professional with an annual income in excess of $100,000 per year; yet, he was living paycheck-to-paycheck without any savings, juggling past due bills on his credit cards, and owed the IRS money from a previous year tax liability. Here was his question: "Should I borrow money from a payday lender (extremely high interest rate) to treat my family to an expensive vacation?"

He obviously didn't have a system for allocating his resources to where they were truly needed.

Create a Want List

In our home, we begin to talk about what we want long before it becomes time to make the purchase. This gives us time to shop for a good deal, save the money we need, and avoid spontaneous spending. For instance, when our cars are getting older and repairs are becoming expensive, we establish that a newer model used car is now on our want list. The children know we may wait one or two years before making the decision to replace the car we have. This method allows us to do the same for them when they begin to express the things that are on their want lists.

Establish Spending Principles

Before we make a purchase on the want list, we ask ourselves these questions:

  • Can we live without it?

  • Can we postpone the purchase?

  • Can we really afford it?

  • Can we purchase it without debt?

  • What should we toss before we add something else to our possessions?

For major purchases, we research, pray, and discuss the purchase to ensure we have peace about it. We don't proceed unless we have unity and a sense of peace that we aren't being frivolous or giving in to our materialistic desires.

A family should operate with a high level of transparency when making financial decisions. This is a golden opportunity to disciple and train your children. When parents model the behavior for their children, they're much more likely to follow in a similar pattern. This is "training a child in the way he should go" when it comes to managing money.

By having a clear method to model for your children, you can help them to understand the "why" behind your decision when you say yes or no. It also gives them a method to use as they begin to manage their own finances.


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This article is courtesy of HomeLife Magazine.

Chuck Bentley has been a guest speaker addressing churches, business leaders, and radio listeners on biblical financial topics for over a decade. He serves as CEO of Crown Financial Ministries. Chuck and his wife, Ann, live near Knoxville and have four sons, a daughter-in-law, and three grandchildren.