Jesus once said something that at first glance seems a bit strange: “If … ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon [worldly riches], who will commit to your trust the true riches?” (Luke 16:11). In other words, if you have not faithfully managed your worldly wealth, who will give you heavenly wealth?
Although the Lord has cautioned us that we cannot serve both him and money (see Luke 16:13), he has given us worldly goods to see if we will manage them wisely in his service. One of the best places to learn how is from the Lord himself, through his words and example as recorded in the scriptures.
Lesson 1: Know How Much Money You Have
It’s important to know at all times how much money you have. “Not enough,” you may say. And that may be true. But remember the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. The Savior needed to feed five thousand people. The first thing he did was to ask his disciples, “How many loaves have ye?” (Mark 6:38). He knew they didn’t have enough food, but he still had them count up what they had—five loaves and two fishes. Knowing how much you have, even if it’s not enough, gives you a little more power over your circumstances and makes it possible for you to plan what you will do with what you do have.
Even if you have been blessed with abundance, the Lord expects you to manage it wisely. After the multitude had been fed, Jesus told the disciples, “Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost” (John 6:12). Then they counted the surplus food. Mark reports that “they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments” (Mark 6:43; see John 6:13). Whether we have little or much, we need to keep careful track of our resources.
Lesson 2: Know How Much Money You Owe
Do you know how much money you owe? “Too much,” you may say. Yes, but how much is that? And how can you plan to pay it if you don’t really know? After the Savior had counted his resources, he had the people sit down on the grass in carefully counted groups, “by hundreds, and by fifties” (Mark 6:40). Perhaps he did this to see exactly how far he had to spread his resources, even though there were far more people than there was food.
The Savior once carefully explained this principle: “Which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?
“Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him,
“Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish” (Luke 14:28–30).
Knowing how much you owe gives you some control over your obligations and, surprisingly, gives you a sense of security, even if what you owe is much more than what you have.
What if you are unable to meet all of your obligations? The Lord has given counsel on that, too: “Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison” (Matt. 5:25).
In other words, before you get into legal entanglements, talk to your creditors. Let them know about your problems. If they can see that you are honest, are willing to work out a plan for payment, and are not evading them, many may be willing to make adjustments.
Lesson 3: Thank God For What You Have
When Jesus fed the five thousand, he “gave thanks” for the food he had, even though it wasn’t enough. (See Matt. 15:36.) In our anxiety over financial problems, sometimes we become bitter and ungrateful. But we will handle our problems better if we humble ourselves and thank God for what we have rather than worry about what we don’t have. The Savior literally did “count his blessings,” and the people were surprised at what the Lord had done.
Lesson 4: Ask God For Help
The Lord commanded his disciples to ask for what they needed, then promised that “every one that asketh receiveth.” We need not suppose that our asking must be limited to requests for inspiration, though that is important. Our Father in Heaven is willing to “give good things to them that ask him” (Matt. 7:7–11).
Jesus himself looked to his Father for help. Mark notes that in feeding the five thousand, Jesus “looked up to heaven, and blessed, and brake the loaves.” Then he divided the food among the people, “and they did all eat, and were filled” (Mark 6:41–42).
Our Father has not promised us something for nothing, but he expects us to ask righteously for things we truly need. If we have faith in the Lord and ask for his help, surely he will open up ways for us to meet our obligations, even when it seems impossible.
The Lord has resources we know nothing about. When Peter was asked to pay taxes, Jesus told him: “Go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee” (Matt. 17:24–27).
This is not to say that God will simply send the money you need, though that is possible. More likely, he will bless your efforts to get out of debt and help you manage better on what you have. If you are teachable, he may bless you to remember resources or possibilities you had previously overlooked. In faith, heed the promptings of the Spirit, and the Lord will lead you along.
As the Savior said: “Seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind.
“For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.
“But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Luke 12:29–31).
Lesson 5: Save Something
Part of wise money management is saving for the future. If you have more money than you need, this should be easy. But even if you don’t, try to save something, even if it’s only very little each week or each month. This will help you establish a habit of saving. Also, eventually it will begin to add up, and this will encourage you to save more.
The Lord expects us to increase what we have, no matter how little it is. In the story of the talents, one servant received five talents; another, two; and the last, one. The servant who received two talents and invested them wisely received the same praise from his lord as the one who had received five talents. He was called a “good and faithful servant.” Because he had been faithful over a few things, his lord made him a ruler over many things. (See Matt. 25:22–23.) Only the servant who did not invest any of his money was condemned. The Lord said that, at the very least, he could have earned interest on it. (See Matt. 25:27.)
We can learn to manage our money more effectively by applying the lessons Jesus taught. You can find many more of these lessons in the scriptures, for they contain dozens of references to money and its place in our lives. (See some examples in the accompanying list.)
As you apply what you learn, you will begin to see your financial situation improve. While you look forward in hope to the day when the Lord will give you the riches of eternity, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you are faithfully managing what he has given you now.