Ronnie was more than an acquaintance, but we weren’t close friends. So until we bumped into each other on the street one particular day, it hadn’t occurred to me how long it had been since we had seen each other.

"Hey man, where have you been keeping yourself?" I inquired lightly.

"Well, Steve," he began slowly, "I’ve just gotten out of prison."

Then with sadness in his eyes, the young man began to relate a painful story. Ronnie told me about the successful small business he had owned. He was earning $5,000 per month making keys and doing lock work. And his business was growing. But, despite all he had going for him, Ronnie had thrown it away. Instead of controlling his money—he had allowed his money to control him. In the hope of making an easy score, Ronnie had begun leaving his business early to play video poker games. The habit soon became an obsession. Before long he was spending (and losing) over a $1,000 a week on the machines! Eventually, he was left broke, hungry, and without gas money. Too late, Ronnie realized that it had all happened because of his greed and lack of self-control.

A Very Common Problem

Most of us don’t lose everything we have, and most of us don’t wind up in prison. But, in a more general context, can’t you relate to Ronnie? Haven’t there been times in your life when you lost control of your money, and a sense of desperation gradually destroyed your joy and peace? If not, you’re a better man than I!

As many of you know, my ministry is an unusual one: I travel the country presenting the No Debt No Sweat! Christian Money Management Seminar at churches, colleges and other venues. Often people mistakenly assume that because I teach this stuff, I must do everything right with my own money. As my wife Bonnie would say, "Yeah, right!?!?" I try hard to practice what I preach. But the truth is, I’m a fellow struggler too. One of the reasons I teach this material is because I need it too.

I can remember a number of times when laziness took over and I failed to maximize my earning potential, or, I overspent—and I found myself in financial quicksand. Maybe you are there right now. If so, this article is for you.

My purpose is to make the case that one of two things is going to happen in your financial life. Either:

1) You will control your money, or

2) Your money will control you.

It can all be summed up in one statement:

Money is a wonderful servant—but it is a terrible master!

A Typical Story

Over the years I have seen a lot of get-rich-quick schemes come and go. I have seen good people like Ronnie swallowed up in systems that wouldn’t work, couldn’t work, and didn’t work. Most of these people didn’t fall into gambling or criminal behavior. Most of them are normal, typical, everyday people like you and me—but they ended up equally broke.

Many are more like my friend Dennis. The two of us grew up together—we were best friends. Dennis always dreamed of financial tranquility, but was never willing to pay the price. As college men, the two of us decided to spend a summer doing sales work together. It was a great opportunity to be productive and earn the money we needed. But, since we would be working without supervision, to be successful we had to be self-starters. Dennis began with great intentions—but as the summer went on, he lost his desire to succeed. Although success in our jobs required getting up early and working late, Dennis spent many of his days either sleeping in or visiting a theme park in a nearby city. Needless to say, the summer was not a financial success for Dennis.