Priorities and Planning

My wife and I were at a dinner a few years ago with a group of friends and the topic came up of what was our favorite Christmas gift we had received as children. I did not have to think about mine for very long – my favorite Christmas gift every year was a piece of paper from my Dad.  Pretty awesome, right?  Every year my Dad would give each of us a piece of paper with four to five activities that we could choose to do with him.  They would be things like: go to a Braves baseball game, go on a shopping spree with $25 to spend, or the best: go on a business trip with Dad!  I don’t remember many of the activities I chose, but I do remember getting to go to San Francisco with my Dad one year.  I also don’t remember much of what we did on the trip, but I do remember that we got to spend some time together and that he had made me a priority.

Just as I only remembered feeling like a priority through this Christmas gift, I believe that when we look back at how we spent our money we will be able to remember and identify our priorities. Was I generous? Was I greedy? Was I wise? Was I selfish? 

Too often we begin our planning with a focus on a number or on a thing we want to buy instead of with a reminder as to what our priorities are.  At the end of our lives, we really aren’t going to look back and remember many of the things we acquired or long for the things we once had, instead I believe we will look back and be reminded of the priorities we set.  

Assume that I begin my planning with the following stated priorities:

  1. Give 15% to church and charity
  2. Save 10% of my income toward retirement
  3. Provide for at least 2 years of college funding for my kids in a college fund
  4. Save for a new car in 3 years
  5. Teach my children how to manage their money

If I create a spending plan/budget for the upcoming year I should begin with these priorities in mind and should set aside money for them.  Once these priorities are accounted for, I then begin to look at how I may allocate the rest of my money.  Unfortunately, the tendency for many of us is to do this in reverse.  We live at a lifestyle that we view as comfortable and then we look to see what is left over at the end to fund our future goals.  When we get this backward, we fail to account for what is needed to accomplish our priorities and we fail to accomplish our priorities.  

The priorities we set are what will remain when the planning becomes the past.  The priorities we set tell us where our heart is.  Matthew 6:21 tells us: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Don’t forget to start with your priorities when you begin your planning!