God expects us to have faith, but also to use common sense and wise planning in allocating the resources He has given us. The best way to manage your money and stay out of debt is to have a strategy in place before the expenses or temptations arise.

  • Begin with a budget. A budget is a road map that guides you and tells you when you are on course. Budgeting won't ensure prosperity, but it will keep you from overspending your resources and will help you avoid the debt trap.

  • Decide to follow the budget. Most people understand the need for a good budget, but few follow through. Only 25% of American families operate on a budget. Fifty percent say they want to budget but never get around to it. Make your plan and stick to it.

  • Prioritize your expenditures. Make a list of what is most important to you. Start with the necessities (housing, food, car, utilities, insurance, and taxes). Then list what you "should have" (clothing, furniture, etc.). Finally, list the things you'd like to have.

  • Involve your family. When you create a list of priorities, it's important to involve your whole family so everyone understands the priorities and is focused on the goals.

  • Pay the Lord first. If you get this first priority right, each step thereafter is easier. God makes it clear He is to receive the first fruits of your income, not the leftovers. The key to honoring God with your finances is remembering that your money is not your money. God owns it all and gives to us as He pleases.

  • Pay bills on time. Establish a budget that allows you to pay all your bills in full and on time each month. If you can't pay them all, pay something on all of them and communicate your intentions of paying everything to those you owe. If you can't pay your regular bills, it's time to move to a smaller house, drive an older model car, or make drastic cuts until your outgo matches your income.

  • Assign the job of paying the bills. This isn't about control, since both should fully understand the financial situation and goals, but about the most capable person taking on the job.

  • Get out of debt as soon as possible. Debt carries with it heavy responsibilities. Don't allow yourself to become a slave to creditors. Don't take on debt unless you have a clear plan for repaying it. Certainly stay away from debt if it is a habit out of control.

  • Plan for emergencies. Small emergencies can eat at your budget every month unless you begin to set aside funds as part of your budget. (E.g. the dog gets sick, your car radiator dies, time for back-to-school clothes, etc.)

  • Have some fun. Use some resources for personal enjoyment. After you have managed your money wisely and given generously, there comes a time for you to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

  • Invest the remainder wisely. Make wise, long-term investments that could substantially increase your money in a few years.

Taken from Money: A User's Manual by Bob Russell with Rusty Russell. Copyright (c) 1997 by Bob Russell. Used by permission of Bob Russell, Louisville, Ky. Available only through The Living Word, 1-800-366-9673, \$7.79 plus shipping (tax where applicable).

Bob Russell pastors Southeast Christian Church, a 10,000-member church in Louisville, Ky. His previous books include Marriage by the Book and When Life is a Zoo, God Still Loves You. Bob and his wife, Judy, oversee Living Word Ministries, a tape ministry.Rusty Russell holds a B.A. in Biblical Studies from Cincinnati Bible College. A former teacher, school administrator, and preacher, he now serves as a research associate for Southeast Christian Church.