The Most Important Factor in Your Finances

What would you say is the single most important aspect of your finances? Your net worth? Your income? Your budget? Your investments? Insurance? To find the answer, let’s consider a famous ancient story:

Then Jesus told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops.  He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’  Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods.  And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’

But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’

“Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” (Luke 11:16-21)

In this parable (teaching story), the guy retired early, with plenty of savings to see him through a luxurious lifestyle for the rest of his life. The catch? His life ends just one day after he blows out the candles on the retirement cake.

Fortunately Jesus sums up the point of the story for us. It’s not that it’s wrong to be wealthy, save for retirement, or enjoy good food and drink. He says it’s foolish to prioritize getting rich while ignoring more important matters, namely, having a “rich relationship with God.”

Friends, you can have your finances in perfect order. You could be debt-free, with a solid income, and growing savings and investments, but still be headed toward disaster. Because the most critical factor in your finances is your heart.

Here’s why: your underlying goals drive your financial decisions. If your underlying goals are unwise and selfish, your money decisions will be unwise, too. Even if you follow the most conservative financial advice.

So what’s your goal? Do you want a super-successful career? Do you want to reach FIRE ASAP? Do you want a parent at home with young kids? Do you want to do full-time ministry or volunteering one day? Do you want to own a home? Just “be comfortable”? Impress others? Have nice things? Few of us would admit the latter goals, but I imagine they are latent in many of our hearts.

Many goals aren’t right or wrong in and of themselves. Our motives, our underlying heart attitudes, are what determine whether our financial goals and choices will lead us toward a good life, or destruction.

We’ve made a lot of inefficient financial decisions that would be considered unwise by many. Working part-time, refusing to relocate for career, giving away money while in debt, and volunteering instead of side-hustling all come to mind. Yet we don’t regret any of it because it flowed from our values and priorities.

We also toss around a lot of tips, tricks, and advice on this site. Buy a used car. Consider a 15-year mortgage. Shop at ALDI. And while we only share what has been helpful to us, the details of how one does money matter a lot less than why ones does it.

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)

This well-known verse illustrates just how closely related our hearts and money are. It’s descriptive: where your money/stuff is reveals your true values, what you care about most. Maybe your treasure is a fancy car, beautiful clothes, the latest technology, or an impressive investment portfolio. Maybe it’s your savings account, your home, or travel. We all have “earthly” things we treasure a little too much. What does your treasure say about your heart?

Will we treasure more those things that will outlast us? These are what make us “rich toward God.” This could be supporting your local church, charities, or humanitarian causes. It could be investing in your family, friends, church, and the less fortunate in your community or around the world. It could be taking a family vacation, taking your spouse on a date, or taking your sick neighbor some soup.

Your net worth, the term of your mortgage, or your paycheck simply do not tell the whole story when it comes to your financial health. I’m all for financial education, but never underestimate the importance of setting your heart on what truly matters. Someone with a heart that loves God and cares for others, and that views money as a tool to use toward those ends, will tend to make better choices with money than someone with the best financial training.

What are your top values or goals? Has your heart ever led you astray with your finances?

16 Responses to “The Most Important Factor in Your Finances”

  1. Josh says :

    Well managed finances are just one part of the equation as you mentioned. The two barns parable is a great example. Just because you can afford to do something doesn’t mean you always should.

    With any action in life, it largely depends on the intention of the heart as you mentioned.

    My wife & I are realizing as well that we want to teach lessons to our children beyond managing money like volunteering. Not because it makes us look better, but, out of love for helping others and the fact that the Bible is rather explicit about helping widows & orphans.

    • Kalie says :

      Yes, the Bible is clear and direct about helping those in need and we definitely want that to be part of what we pass on to our children.

  2. Mike says :

    You make a great point that a lot of people miss. Defining your financial well-being strictly on the basis of your net worth is oversimplifying things. For example, years ago my wife quit her job to stay home and raise our kids. If she had continued working full-time our finances would look a lot different and our overall net worth would be higher. But we decided that family was more important and that it was worth making some sacrifices for. Net worth might have taken a hit but in overall satisfaction with our lives I think we came out ahead.

    • Kalie says :

      Having made the same choice, I couldn’t agree more that for us, having me home with the kids is worth the net worth hit.

  3. Lydia says :

    Thank you for a lovely thought provoking post.

  4. Emily says :

    This is why you are one of my favorite finance bloggers! Love that you focus on what truly matters more than just getting ahead in life. Frugality has many uses and has helped us change our life drastically. But I have issues wrestling with the whole early retirement thing and this parable. Thank you for taking the plunge and facing this difficult issue head-on with grace and kindness.

    • Kalie says :

      Thanks, Emily. We seem to share many of the same values in this area. Frugality is just a tool, not a guiding value for our lives.

  5. Troy says :

    My top goal is get as rich as possible at a young age. It sounds crass, but it’s true. What I plan on doing after I have that kind of money, I haven’t thought of yet. Maybe I’ll go and start a space exploration venture like Elon musk.

  6. Fruclassity (Ruth) says :

    “it flowed from our values and priorities” – That is the position to live from. Even very good uses of money can be carried out “to be good” – not as an expression of the overflow of the heart. Great post, Kalie. This is the kind of reminder that we don’t often find in the pf bloggosphere. Thanks.

    • Kalie says :

      Great point, Ruth. I agree that even good steps like giving can come from misguided motives like trying to “be good,” or earn favor with God or others.

  7. DC YAM says :

    This is a heavy-hitting post! Definitely one to look back at from time-to-time. Ironically I had this thought on my drive home today “can Christians just admit that they are just as materialistic – or more – than non-Christians?” I rarely see Christians content with what they have, or content not having the security behind a large bank account, etc. This topic deserves air time.

    • Kalie says :

      I think materialism is the #1 personal problem of Christians in America and it goes largely unchallenged. It seems impossible to live in our culture and NOT be materialistic. We’d all be better off to just admit this is a real struggle.

  8. Frugal Millennial says :

    At one point, I thought having a successful career was my biggest priority, and that’s what led me to nearly six figure student loan debt. Now, I’ve realized that there are much more important things in life. I want to get out of debt and retire early so that I can focus on my blog (and helping others), give generously, volunteer, and spend money on experiences instead of meaningless stuff.

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