The right way to handle money is not the same for everyone. Each person has his or her own personal opinions and strategies, and everyone has learned something about money in their lifetime, be it through mistakes or through successes. The following is an interview with Mark Evans of Shawnee, Kansas. Mark Evans has been an accountant for nearly 20 years. He is a certified public accountant in the states of New Mexico and Kansas, and currently works for one of the top 10 accounting companies in the United States. His primary focus is litigation consulting, but personal finance has always been an interest of his.

Do you believe the Bible has instructions for handling money in modern times?
I absolutely do! I think money is one of the most mentioned principles in the Bible. A lot of our personal principles (my wife and I) are based on what is found in various places in the Bible, particularly about God being the source of everything and the need to respect that. Tithing is an important one we find throughout the Bible. Saving money and not squandering what’s given to us is also found in the Bible. I think those are good. I think anyone who develops their personal financial principles based on the Bible can’t help but be successful. Work hard, but also save, spend, tithe and give.
Did your parents teach you about money?
My parents did teach me about money. They had a small business growing up. My mom was the bookkeeper and my dad operated the business, so I learned a lot from them. Some of the core principles about saving money and operating a small business I learned from my parents. They did very well at it, and they had their business for 30 years. I actually worked there growing up too, so I learned firsthand exactly what was involved in operating a small business. It was a cash-based business, so there was a lot of counting of coins. As a kid you get very interested in stuff like that. I think that was my first exposure to business. I would also credit my grandparents for some of my understanding of finances and how they treated money, though. They helped me understand what we should and shouldn’t do with money in our lives.
How are financial decisions made in your household?
For the bulk of our financial decisions, we jointly make them. Certainly the larger ones we give a lot of prayerful consideration and see what we really should do. As far as buying a house or selling a house or buying a car or where to invest money, we jointly make those decisions. The smaller ones that are not so important we don’t necessarily consider together. I think it’s a vital requirement for any married couple to both be involved, even though one might do more of the mechanics of it. I think both spouses need to be jointly involved in making decisions.
How would you recommend a couple figure out how to make financial decisions together if they are unsure of it?
Ideally that would be a discussion that occurs before two people get married to make sure they are on the same financial page. A lot of successful marriages involve one person who is more of a saver and one who is more of a spender, and I think those two minds brought together can work very well in a marriage. But I think a lot of the details can be discussed before two people get married. Of course, if it doesn’t get discussed before they are married, I certainly don’t think it’s too late. There are a lot of very good Bible-based programs like Dave Ramsey that are good for young couples. It is good to understand the principles Dave Ramsey teaches, which are founded in the Bible. It’s a good starting point, but two people really need to understand how they fit together financially, ideally before they get married, to make sure they are compatible.
What are common mistakes you see in handling money?
I’d say I see most people taking on too much debt. People don’t have any hesitation to borrow today because in the culture we live in money is easy. A lot of people can get easy credit and they don’t understand that anything you borrow has to be repaid. People get in over their heads and borrow for anything: a house, a car, education. For some things it’s good but the amount of debt is what people need to keep under control. That is another Biblical principle: to avoid debt. The Bible doesn’t say that debt is bad, but it does say not repaying it is a bad thing. I think people need to look to the Bible to see what it says as far as what we should and shouldn’t do with debt. If you could avoid debt, that’d be ideal, but in this day and age it is very hard to get ahead without it. I think understanding that it has to be repaid, and repaid in a timely manner, is the most important part of it.
What are some financial mistakes you have made?
I’ve done a pretty good job my whole life of avoiding debt, but I also think just spending money rather than putting it away for a future time is a mistake. I probably didn’t start out doing as well as I could have with that. I think it is important from the very beginning of anyone’s professional life to get out there and always live below your means, which inherently means don’t borrow to finance your lifestyle. I went down the road of “if I get a paycheck of $500 I have $500 to spend,” and I think it would have benefited me more to start saving from my very first paycheck.
Do you have any financial rules or guidelines you follow?
There are definitely guiding principles I think people should operate by. I don’t think they are the same for everybody, but I do think everyone should sit down and figure out what is important to them and boil them down into some guidelines they can make decisions based on, and then refer to them often. About 10 years ago, between the time my wife and I got married and our first child was born, I wrote up a document of guiding financial principles. It’s a two-page document, which is not so much about high level principles but more about things I have seen in practice that my parents or grandparents did or didn’t do correctly. I boiled them into 12 principles that we as a family follow.
Do you have any resources you would recommend?
A lot of what we use in the financial planning field are programs as simple as Microsoft Excel to put together a basic budget. First of all it’s understanding your spending and then boiling it into a budget. But there are a lot of online apps I know you can get. Dave Ramsey has one. I’m a big believer in 95% of what Dave Ramsey preaches. He has a lot of good books and his program Financial Peace University is good. I think he’s got it well covered, as he’s been doing it for about 30 years. The best advice I can give is that nobody cares about your finances more than you do, so you should learn a lot about finances. Learn as much as you can to run your life. But you should also not hesitate to seek professional help if you need it. And that is what accountants and financial planners do. We help a lot of people do things they don’t or won’t do for themselves. (Watch for the full interview in the form of a podcast coming soon.)

Evans Family Financial Principles

1. Our personal finances should not be our primary focus.

2. Tithe and give charitably.

3. Always live beneath our means.

4. Live in the smallest house possible.

5. Purchase good vehicles and keep them a long time.

6. Spend as much time as possible raising our kids.

7. Take vacations every year.

8. Be in business for ourselves.

9. Avoid borrowing money.

10. Keep plenty of cash on hand for rainy days.

11. Do not count on inheritances.

12. Maintain adequate insurance.