Book Review: Your Money Counts
By Howard Dayton
Howard Dayton wrote yet another Christian book going over very basic Biblical principles. The work should be quite helpful at helping people who have given very little thought to managing their money and is good at referencing Scripture to support its points. Sometimes, however, it forces Scripture into a point the verses don’t really say, such as taking the injunction to not withhold helping people when it is in your power to do so (the story of the neighbor who needs something being told to come back later) to mean that we are obligated to pay our bills before they are due. The book also uses bad logic at times, such as when it tries to show that a house is much more expensive when financed over 30 years instead of 15 while conveniently ignoring what would be done with the incremental payment over those 15 years.
The book is organized well. Dayton introduces the topic by describing how poor financial management puts people into stressful situations where relationships crumble, giving becomes tough and life is unenjoyable. The solution is following Biblical financial principles. Each chapter thereafter ends with a contrast between “worldly” financial principles and Biblical principles. Of course, the “worldly” principles are not usually espoused by secular financial planners or writers as they defy common sense in most cases, but they certainly are temptations we can fall into, especially if we do not thoughtfully manage our money.
Dayton stresses that our money is really not ours. God owns everything. He retains ownership and control of “our” assets, and promises to provide for us. This is probably the most challenging thing in the book. While it is obvious when we think about it, the practical implications are radical. He quotes John Wesley, who, upon hearing that his house burned down exclaimed, “The Lord’s house burned down. That’s one less responsibility for me.” That is an attitude consistent with a proper understanding of wealth. Our job is simply to be faithful. We are to be faithful with all of our resources, regardless of how much we have. We should be faithful with the little things, and with the things of others. Faithfulness builds character and leads to contentment.
There is a big chapter on debt, which is probably a focal point of Crown Financial Ministries (Dayton’s ministry) as it is a struggle for so many people. After painting a dire picture of the supposed wide-spread endemic of debt in America, he explains the cause and the effect. Debt is the result of people not “living their own wage.” People want more than they can have and are never satisfied as there is always something more to buy, and they have to keep up with their neighbors who are always buying more. The result is stress, which leads to mental, physical and emotional fatigue. Debt also leads to damaged relationships. The solution is to be content with what you have, to not focus on things so much, and to not buy things until you have the money. This is all good, but where he gets carried away is when he focuses on debt independent of a person’s total financial picture. He does allow for debt in the case of purchasing a home, an education or a productive or appreciating asset, provided the debt service is not a burden. Even then, he says the debt should be repaid as quickly as possible. A better approach would be to look at net debt. Debt is not a burden when it is simply a financing decision – that is a person can pay it off whenever it makes sense to do so. In this case debt is simply leverage – a tool. He sees it simply as a risk, however, and believes that all risks are to avoided whenever possible. The next chapter is on becoming debt free, which is his nirvana. It is mostly basic common sense advice, but includes the ridiculous statement, “Godly people should pay their debts and bills as promptly as they can.” By this he means to pay bills as early as you can, rather than when they are due, which he calls “living on the ragged edge of being a deadbeat.” He pays his bills the day they are due, probably only because it has never occurred to him to prepay his bills. I would counter that since money has time value, paying bills before they are due is being a poor steward as it is overpaying on all your bills. That float could be used to maintain a higher investment level, generating more money that could be used to fund missions, etc. Further chapters encourage readers to seek council and to be completely honest.
The chapter on giving is good. He points out, “Giving is not God’s way of raising money; it’s his way of raising people into the likeness of His Son.” Giving builds character, increases our love for God (where your treasure is, there your heart will be also), invests for eternity, and increases our material blessings. Giving should be personal, periodic, premeditated. He says giving should be directed to our family, the Lord’s work, the poor. My problem here is that most people already take care of their family, so they could use that as justification of not giving to the Lord’s work.
Dayton describes a Biblical perspective on work, as being something God gives us to do which is good for us. “A primary purpose of work is to develop character. While the carpenter is building the house, the house is also building the carpenter.” We are to work hard, but to balance our jobs with life’s other priorities. Dayton is opposed to the idea of retirement, since it is never explicitly mentioned in Scripture. He figures if work is good, we should never stop. He does allow for retiring from a job to go into ministry.
Regarding investing, Dayton is reliably conservative, and his advice is mostly good, though very basic and overly generalized. He recommends diversification and “steady plodding”, by consistently spending less than you make so you can set aside money and let compounding do its work. He gives four steps and says they should be followed one at a time. First, set aside one month’s income and secure insurance protection. Second, set aside 3-6 months living expenses, save for major purchases and invest in skills/business/education, etc. Third, purchase a house. Fourth, make other investments. He recommends setting a limit beyond which you will not save. He says we should NEVER want to be rich.
Dayton closes the book out with tips on how to teach children financial acumen, raising the excellent point that most people are not taught how to handle money. He then discusses budgeting, with practical advice on how to do this. He concludes with a Gospel presentation that is very well done.