Proverbs says, “He who gives to the poor will not lack, but he who hides his eyes will have many curses” (28:27).
I don’t think most of us ever actually hide our eyes; I just think the pressures we’re under keep our heads down so we can’t see.
But if we work through the following biblical principles about taking care of our family first, casting a vision for the future, and leaving an inheritance to our children’s children, we’re able to lift our heads and look clearly into the future.
In my classes and books, I explain in detail what I call the Baby Steps. This is the process for taking control of your money, getting out of debt, and starting your family on the road to financial security and long-term wealth building. I’m not going to re-teach all of that here, but I will take just a second to review the seven Baby Steps:
1: Place $1,000 in a beginner emergency fund ($500 if your income is under $20,000 per year).
2: Pay off all debt except your home mortgage using the debt snowball.
3: Put three to six months of expenses into savings as a full emergency fund.
4: Invest 15 percent of your household income into RRSPs.
5: Start college funding for your kids.
6: Pay off your home early.
7: Build wealth and give.
The first three Baby Steps are all about taking control of your money. In those steps, you’re correcting bad behaviors, getting out of debt, putting some money in the bank, and basically cleaning up a mess. Those months or years can be tense, but they are crucial to changing your legacy. Once you hit Baby Step 4, though, you start to feel a different kind of tension. For maybe the first time, you’re able to relax a little bit, take a breath, and realize that you’re in a position to build wealth. And that’s when you start facing the questions that popped into my head that day as I was looking at my new car. For this, there’s a different process in place that works alongside the Baby Steps. I call it NOW–THEN–US–THEM, and it’s the framework for your legacy journey.
NOW: TAKING CONTROL
When you first have that wake-up moment and start doing a budget and working through the Baby Steps, you are laser focused on taking control of your money and cleaning up a financial mess. I call that stage the NOW. At that stage, you may be broke, behind on your bills, struggling to put food on the table, and always worried about making one paycheck last until the next one arrives. Picture it for a moment: You are at the kitchen table with your head down, slumped over a pile of bills. You can’t look up, because there are about a dozen different crises right under your nose. All you’re trying to do is take care of all the little fires going on right now. That’s not a fun place to be, but that’s where a lot of us start.
In the NOW, your job, first and foremost, is to take care of your family. The Bible says, “If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). At this stage, if you are a believer, you should be tithing (giving a tenth of your income) to your church, but now is not the time to give extra beyond that. And you shouldn’t feel guilty about that either, because you are obeying your biblical mandate to take care of your family. This is also not the time to invest or fund the kids’ college accounts. The long-term plan is to completely change your family’s legacy, but that may seem like a tiny dot on the horizon at this stage. In the NOW, the goal is to stop the bleeding and get your feet under you.
THEN: GETTING A FUTURE FOCUS
Getting through NOW may seem like an eternity because you are working so hard and feeling completely stressed out, but over time, you start to take control of things. As you keep moving through the Baby Steps, you start to relax and are able to breathe again. Finally, you start to get a little wiggle room. If you’ve already been through the NOW, you know exactly what I’m talking about. You might even remember a specific moment when you realized that things were changing. That’s a great place to be because as soon as the pressure eases, you are able to lift your head up a bit. When that happens, you can take your eyes off the NOW and start focusing on the THEN.
The THEN stage challenges you to adopt a future focus. By this point, you should be at Baby Step 4, investing 15 percent of your income into retirement, and Baby Step 5, funding your kids’ college accounts. You can even start attacking the mortgage to pay off the house early, which is Baby Step 6. That’s a much different place mentally, spiritually, and emotionally than the NOW, isn’t it? With NOW, you’re just trying to make it through the end of the week, but in THEN, you’re able to look out at the future you’re working so hard to create for your family. Scripture says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18 KJV). At this stage, you’re getting a vision for where you’re going, which is crucial to your long-term success.
US: CREATING A FAMILY LEGACY
While you’re working on NOW and THEN, you often have tunnel vision because you’re so focused on getting your own finances and future under control. But once you start building some wealth, and as you get closer to finally paying off the mortgage, you start to realize that you really are going to retire with dignity. You’re not ready to retire yet, but that tiny dot on the horizon has gotten bigger.
It’s coming into focus, and it doesn’t feel like a daydream anymore. This is going to happen, and you’re going to be fine. Just breathe that in for a second. Imagine your family — your kids, your grandkids, and maybe even your future great grandkids — taken care of for generations to come.
I call this stage US because it’s not just about you and your spouse anymore. The Bible says, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children” (Proverbs 13:22). This isn’t about getting out of a mess; this is about changing your family tree. In the US stage, you’re talking to your kids about money and making sure they have the emotional and spiritual maturity to manage the wealth you might leave them someday. You’re also teaching them to build wealth themselves. And more than anything, you’re making sure they’re not confused about God’s ownership and their role as manager of what He’s provided. If you’re not intentional about growing your kids’ characters and ability to handle money, you can work your whole life to build wealth only to have it end up ruining them. As you work through US, you’re making sure that will never happen.
THEM: LEAVING A LEGACY FOR OTHERS
As you get to the end of the legacy journey framework, you know that the bills are paid — that’s NOW. You know that you’re going to be able to retire with dignity and send your kids to college — that’s THEN. You know that you are taking steps to prepare the next generation to carry your new family legacy forward — that’s US. And then, finally, you see the big picture — the THEM. The THEM stage represents all the needs in your community and around the world, and you begin to see how God can use you to meet some of those needs. Your vision expands and you start to see the world through Christ’s eyes. Suddenly you see wells that need to be drilled in Haiti. You see the HIV prevention efforts in Africa. You see mosquito nets that can be used to prevent malaria. You see the hungry children right down the street. You see the broke, scared single mom at the other end of the pew who can’t pay the light bill this week — and who might need a reliable car too. At this stage, you’re able to open your eyes and see — maybe for the first time — how you can make a difference in the world.
God can do amazing things through us in that future. But we have to take it one step at a time, first through NOW, then THEN, then US, and finally to THEM. And that’s where we get to help change the world. That’s a powerful legacy.
Dave Ramsey is America’s trusted voice on money and business, Dave Ramsey is a personal money-management expert and extremely popular national radio personality. His company, Ramsey Solutions offers a message of hope, through various means, to anyone who wants to better understand the principles of proper money management.
Ramsey has authored seven best-selling books. “The Dave Ramsey Show” is heard by more than 13 million listeners each week on more than 600 radio stations and digitally through podcasts, online audio streaming and a 24-hour online streaming video channel.