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this is how we do it

Getting back to answering your questions here.

So many of you asked me about how we budget for a large family.  I know, these days it is one of the hardest things to do. It’s tough trying to stretch our money.  Anthony and I have been married for fifteen years.  We have always been a one-income family.  For the first ten years of our married life we were missionary family–trusting the Lord for each and every dollar we needed.

Today I can declare with all my heart that God has been faithful to take care of our family.  He has never, ever, not once, let us down.  We have never gone without and our children have always had food in their stomachs and more than they could ever want or need.

God has been good to our family.

I will definitely share one of these days on how we make our money stretch.  But tonight I thought I would share three principles with you all which are non-negotiable for the Salems.  They are the benchmarks of our budgeting.

Again, this is what we do for OUR family.  I know that every family does things differently.  But this is what is important to US.

1.)  Tithe

By just reading that one little word, I’m guessing that half the people who started reading this post clicked the X at the top of this page when they read tithe. “Not that again,” some may think.  I know how it goes.  Not many people want to talk or are willing to talk about tithing.  But for our family, it is a huge part of what we believe. The Bible says it, we believe it! 

Giving ten percent of our first fruits (not scrounging for the morsels we have remaining after everything has been paid) is a biblical mandate that threads through the Old Testament and through the cross of Jesus into our lives.  Not all people, including pastors and church boards, believe as we do about tithing. We’ve heard a lot of Christians, even friends of ours, say that tithing is an Old Testament principle, that it’s better to just give what the Lord has placed on your heart.  We’ve found it’s usually these people who end up giving hardly anything at all to the Lord.

From what we read in the Bible, the tithe went to the Levites, those who did not receive an inheritance of land as the tribes did in the Old Testament.  The Levites cared for the temple.  They were the ones doing the Lord’s work directly.

Similarly, we believe that the tithe goes to PEOPLE who do the work of the ministry.  Not to pay bills.  Not to go toward building funds.  Not to buy a church bus.  Not to pay our children’s Christian school fees. It goes to those in our “storehouse” who are doing our Lord’s work.  Anything above and beyond this is what we call offerings.

I know it’s very painful for people to give like this.  But if it’s painful, then it’s not done with a cheerful heart anyway and probably shouldn’t be given.  God looks at the heart as we look at our finances.  What helped us keep a pure heart is to remind ourselves that the tithe is NOT OUR MONEY ANYWAY!

Knowing that it belongs to God, we are able to say, “Here, Lord.  We give it to you with pleasure!”

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” Malachi 3:10

2.)  Give It Away
When I was a very new Christian, someone told me that you can never outgive God.  I have always remembered that.  It really stuck with me.  Over the years I have discovered for myself that it is indeed truth.  It is impossible to outgive the Almighty Father.  We give…He blesses us back. It’s as easy as that. 
When Anthony and I lived in South Africa, we attended the most amazing church.  The humility, compassion and Godly leadership of the pastor had such a profound impact on our lives.  At that time, the church was going through some severe financial challenges.  One Friday afternoon we sat in a meeting and listened as the pastor shared his heart on what was happening.  One staff member asked him if God had given the leadership any wisdom on what they should do about the money shortage.  His response?  “We will give away MORE of the church’s money!  We will sow more seed into various places and we will increase our giving like never before.  Though we have very little right now, we will give everything we have away. This church will give until it has nothing more to give.”
And so they did.  Within weeks the financial situation had changed dramatically.  That was so many years ago and yet Anthony and I still talk about it from time to time.  It strengthened our faith big time when it comes to how we should give—whether we have plenty or precious little.  God wants us to give, give, and give some more.
We can never outgive the Creator of the universe!
We believe that God LOVES for His people to be generous and giving.  Now, I’m not talking about sowing our tithe.  That’s different.  I’m talking about giving IN ADDITION to our tithe.  Our giving is above and beyond what we sow into our local church.  It’s the seed we sow into people who need a helping hand financially, missionaries in faraway lands who so desperately need support, ministries close to our hearts, adoptions, orphans, and any other cause God lays on our hearts. 
Anthony and I are fully convinced that God so desires for His people to be a giving, generous people.  Our money is NOT our own—it has been given to us so that we can not only take care of our families, but so that we can be a blessing to the body of Christ too.  If we are created in the image of a giving, generous, most loving God—then surely we are to emulate that and be like Him.
I love what Luke 6:38 says, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
Give and it will come back to you!

3.)    Live Debt Free

Debt is such a trap; one which is so hard to get out of.  From the day we got married we purposed in our hearts to do everything we possibly could to live debt free.  Our motto has always been, “If we can’t pay cash for it, we don’t need it or want it.”
That’s not to say that we have never been in debt.  We have always had one credit card for emergencies. There have been the odd occasions when we have been forced to use the thing.  Like a  few years ago when we went through a really hard time financially.  We had a major issue with a carpet in our home.  It ended up being a health hazard and we had no choice but to remove it.  Unfortunately we just did not have the cash to pay for the replacement carpet.  So we used our credit card to buy the cheapest carpet we could possibly find.  We spent the next few weeks cutting back all over the place and Anthony worked overtime to enable us to pay back our debt in a few short weeks. 
We know that sometimes it’s hard, and we are forced to make alternative plans to meet a need.  It’s life.  But for the most part we, as a family, do everything we can to remain debt free.  Our only debt is our home.  We drive used cars until they literally end up in the salvage yard, and we pay cash for everything.  Most of our possessions we buy used.  We shop at thrift stores and bargain places for good, used things that we need.  Only if we cannot find something used do we buy it new.  
For our family, we have found that by living within our means, being good stewards of the money God has blessed us with, never buying more than we really need, and staying out of debt–we have been able to always live on one (very average) income.
There you have it. Those three principles are key to every budgeting decision we make as a family.