A week or so ago I wrote a review of the book Money. Purpose. Joy. by Matt Bell . I enjoyed the book thoroughly, and after discovering the author was on twitter I decided to see if he was available to do an interview and possibly a guest post on this blog. Mr. Bell was extremely gracious, and agreed to do both. You can find his guest post here, and my review of his book here. So without further ado, let's jump right to my interview with personal finance author and speaker Matt Bell. (Please read the interview, then read how to enter to win a free copy of his book!)
Bible Money Matters: How did you come up with the idea for Money. Purpose. Joy., where did it have its beginnings?
Matt Bell: It’s a message that God has been stirring in my heart for many years. In fact, it got to the point where I was talking about the book so often that my friends finally gave me an ultimatum: write the book or stop talking about it. So I decided to write the book
BMM: You write about how many in our culture don't know how to find true joy or purpose in their lives because they've focused on all the wrong things. Where do you feel their focus should be, and how do you think people can begin to change their outlook to find true purpose in their lives?
MB: The messages of our culture tell us that life is about us – our comfort and pleasure. They tell us happiness is found in money and what it can buy. And they teach a competition mindset, encouraging us to compare what we have to what others have. But researchers studying what constitutes a meaningful, joyful life say those approaches are all wrong. Rather than living for ourselves, they say we’d be better off living for something bigger than ourselves. Instead of loving money and stuff, they say we’d be better off loving people. And they say happiness isn’t found in competition; it’s found in contribution – using our gifts, talents, and passions to make a difference with our lives.
As I did research for the book, what I found fascinating – although I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise – is that the findings of today’s leading social scientists only affirm what the Bible has been teaching for thousands of years. Live for something bigger than ourselves? There’s nothing – or no one – bigger than God, and loving God is the first and greatest commandment. Love people? That’s the second greatest commandment. And make a contribution with our lives? The Bible says we were made for lives of good deeds prepared in advance for us to do.
So, those are three purposes that we all have in common – love God, love people, and make a difference. The book teaches a process for using money in a way that enables us to fulfill those purposes.
BMM: You share in your book about how making a decision for Christ changed how you view your finances. Can you explain how your Christian faith impacts your decisions about money?
MB: The Parable of the Talents had a big impact on me. As I came to see myself as a steward, as having been entrusted with everything I have by God, that began to change how I viewed and used money. It’s sort of like driving a great car that was loaned to you by a friend. How do you treat that car? You’re thankful for the use of it, right? You take care of it. And you’re more likely to share with others because someone shared with you.
BMM: In your book you examine how people can begin finding joy through the “irrational act” of giving. Can you explain the concept for my readers?
MB: Being generous is the most other-centered use of money. And that’s how we were designed to live. But I also have to say that this is an area where I had to grow over time.
At first, giving money away was more of an act of obedience than anything else for me. God’s Word teaches that generosity is to be our first financial priority, so I started to give some money away every month. Over time, that act of obedience did something to my heart. I experienced first hand the biblical teaching that our heart goes wherever we put our money. The more that I gave to God-honoring causes, the more my heart was turned toward God and the things he cares about.
I remember one time when my wife wanted to help support a missionary friend who was working in Peru. At the time I had approximately zero attention focused on Peru. But once we started giving money to support her work I began to notice when Peru was in the news, and I always read her newsletters with a lot of interest. My heart went there because some of our treasure went there.
BMM: If you could tell someone 1 or 2 things they could do to improve their financial life, what would they be?
MB: First, develop and use a budget, or what I call a cash flow plan. And second, get out and stay out of most forms of debt – at very least all debt except an affordable mortgage. A lot of people think of a budget as a ball and chain, or they think of it as something you go on like a diet – “Poor Joe and Sally, they’re on a budget.” But I believe a budget is one of the most powerful, productive, and freeing tools anyone can use to manage money well. When you know where your money is going you can start to be a lot more proactive and effective in choosing what to do with it.
As for debt, I once had $20,000 of credit card debt, so I know first hand what it means to be “servant to the lender.” Having lived with debt and without debt, I can tell you that living without debt is way better! If anyone reading these words is struggling under a load of debt, choose to stop going any further into debt today. Take your credit cards out of your wallet or purse. Make it as tough as possible to take on any more debt. And tell a friend about your commitment to get out of debt. Then one of the easiest steps you can take is to fix your payments on today’s minimum required payment. Next month, if your card company tells you your minimum is now a few dollars less, keep paying what you paid this month and you’ll get out of debt way faster.
BMM: America has become a culture of consumers, where things are made to be used up and discarded. Do you think there is any hope for our culture as a whole, and can we ever become a nation of builders – people who use money for a purpose?
MB: I do think there’s hope! An important key is understanding the purpose of our life. One of my favorite stories is that of a couple I know. They bought a house that required both of their incomes. They didn’t think they could have children, so they figured it was okay. But sure enough, right after they moved in, she became pregnant. After their daughter was born, the woman longed to stay home, but they couldn’t afford to live on one income. After five years, they finally decided to sell their home and move to a less expensive community. It was a hard decision, and they wondered if they’d even be able to sell their home since many houses in their town were sitting on the market for a year or more. But their home sold within a month and for nearly their full asking price. They saw it as an affirmation from God that they had made the right choice. The move enabled her to quit her job and home-school their daughter.
A lot of people might look at their situation and conclude that they took a step backwards. After all, they moved to a less expensive home in a less prestigious area. But I think they took a bold step forward by arranging their use of money around a key purpose of their life.
BMM: Anything else you'd like to share with my readers?
MB: I encourage people to talk with their friends about money. The recession has broken down a lot of barriers around talking about money. We’ve all been impacted by the tough economy; it’s been a shared experience. By opening up conversations about money, people will discover that they’re not the only ones who have financial questions or concerns. We can learn from each other and encourage each other. Developing a greater willingness to talk about money with our friends would be one really good outcome of the recession.
Thanks to Matt Bell for his time and for being kind enough to answer some of my questions. If you would like to read more of his work, you can win a copy of his book, Money. Purpose. Joy. All you have to do to win is
- Leave a comment on this post telling us 1 or 2 things that YOU think people should do to improve their financial lives.
- Optional: Subscribe to this site's RSS feed
On Friday of this week I'll choose a winner using a random number generator, and contact the winner via email.
UPDATE: We have a winner! Nate from debtfreescholar.com was chosen by random.org as the winner of the book. Congrats!