Expert Interview with Peter Anderson on Faith and Finance for Mint

There are personal finance blogs focused on everyone from kids to colleges students to retirees, so why not offer money management advice from a Christian's perspective?

Peter Anderson explores the intersection of finance and faith on his blog, Bible Money Matters.

"For me, my Christian faith is the most important thing in my life, and it informs the way I live. It isn't just something I turn off when I'm thinking about managing the money that God has entrusted us with," he says. "I think the Bible has a lot of common sense wisdom about money that can help not only Christians - but others as well."

There are well over 2,000 verses in the Bible that relate to money, and about 15 percent of all that Jesus ever taught related to the topics of money and possessions, so it's an important topic, Peter adds.

And some of his favorite verses speak to the dangers of debt and the problems surrounding putting too much stock in money to make you happy:

Proverbs 22:7 The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.

Ecclesiastes 5:10 Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.

Peter recently checked in with us to talk more about his site and how to approach managing your family's money with your values in mind. Read on to learn why he advocates debt-free living, how to tackle your debt and what his favorite personal finance tools are:

Tell us about Bible Money Matters...when and why did you start your site?

I started Bible Money Matters in January of 2008. I started it at a time when my wife and I were taking part in Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University classes through our church, and I was learning a lot about money and finances. I just decided I wanted to share some of the things that I was learning. I started the site with more than one goal in mind, however. I started it initially because I wanted to help other people by sharing the things I was learning, but I also had the goal of turning it into a side income for my family. It has done just that.

Why is it important to you to approach your finances with your Christian values in mind?

For me, I believe that there is a deep connection between our spiritual lives and how we interact with and handle money. Since my faith is so important to me, it means that I take seriously the admonitions to put God first in my life, and to be careful of allowing money, prestige or anything else become too important. If you allow money to become too important, it can consume you. You can spend a lifetime chasing it, but in the end it just leaves you with an empty promise. My faith in God, however, gives me contentment, happiness and strength. Allowing my faith to be important when it comes to my finances means that I'm not allowing money to become too important in my life, while at the same time realizing I need to do my best to be a good steward and to help others with what I've been given.

In your opinion, what are the most interesting, strangest or inspiring things the Bible says in regard to money? What passages stick out to you the most?

For me, some of the strangest and interesting verses are the ones that talk in terms that would have been familiar back in those days, but today sound strange. It's interesting to me because often the verses, despite a different context, are still extremely relevant. For example, here are a couple of verses related to making sure you stay on top of your financial affairs, and the importance of saving:

Proverbs 27:23 Be diligent to know the state of your flocks, and attend to your herds.

Proverbs 21:20 The wise store up choice food and olive oil, but fools gulp theirs down.

Some of the most inspiring verses for me involve assurances that I don't need to worry about money or things, that God will provide:

Matthew 6:25-26 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your div, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the div more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?"

Why do you advocate for debt-free living? What are the advantages?

Debt free to me is the only way to go if you want to live without a lot of worry and stress. I don't necessarily think it's a bad thing to take on any form of debt, and I realize that in some cases it may be necessary (medical debt, for example), but when it comes down to it, debt is a burden that you place on your shoulders, and it's something you constantly have to worry about when you have it. It is a form of bondage. I can still remember the feeling of happiness and sense of freedom I got when paying off our last non-mortgage debt. When it all comes down to it, the question is, do you want to live with obligations to another, or do you want to live free and have more options?

Benefits of living debt free:

  • Freedom from living with the stress of debt obligations.
  • Availability of more options in your life.
  • Leads to a different way of thinking about money and things because you appreciate how hard it is to save up and pay cash for things.

What advice do you have for attacking debt? What methods seemed to work the best for your family?

For us, we used the debt snowball method for attacking our debt, which was popularized by Dave Ramsey. Basically this method for getting rid of debt tells you to order your debts from smallest to largest (in dollar amount), pay the minimums on all of your debts, and then put any extra money you have towards the smallest debt first. Once that debt is paid off, you roll over the extra amount to the next smallest debt and pay that one off. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Some have criticized this method because it isn't mathematically the best way to pay off debt, but getting rid of debt is about more than just math. It takes behavioral modification to get rid of debt as well, and the psychological boost you can get from small debt payoff wins in the beginning can help to encourage you to stick with it. It's about modifying behavior, and some studies have suggested that using a method like this may mean a higher rate of success for most people.

What strategies did you try but eventually ditched?

At one time we used the cash envelope system at our house while we were going through debt reduction to help cut our spending. Basically you set up a family budget and budget a certain amount of money each month for all of your major spending categories. Then, you go to the bank and get out cash every month and put it in envelopes for those categories. You're allowed to spend money out of your envelopes, until you run out - and then you stop - or sacrifice money from another category.

While the method was sound, and we did save quite a bit of money using the cash envelopes, we just found it to be too cumbersome to carry around envelopes full of cash. Instead, we switched to using a virtual envelope system and budget using the You Need A Budget software. We still had a budget and a set amount we could spend every month - we just weren't doing it with actual cash anymore.

What piece of personal finance advice do you find yourself repeating over and over again?

Lately, I keep finding myself telling people who are struggling with debt or not being able to save to take the time to sit down with pen and paper (or a spreadsheet on your computer) and just track everything for a month or two. Track your income and all your regular expenses. Then track all of your miscellaneous expenses beyond your regular monthly bills and you'll start to find where all of that money that "just disappears" is actually going. Then you can set about finding ways to cut those expenses, as well as other regular expenses that might not be necessary.

What are some of your favorite money management tools or resources?

My current go-to financial money management tools that I use include:

  • Mint.com: To track all of our bank and investment accounts all in one place. Also love their Android app that I use almost daily on my tablet.
  • Personal Capital: A more in-depth aggregating tool more focused towards tracking and optimizing our investments. Also has a great Android app.
  • You Need A Budget: YNAB is our go-to budget software that helps us to track how much we're making, spending and saving every month, and helps to make sure all income is allocated to a spending, saving or giving category.

There are other great tools out there, but the ones above are my mainstays.

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