Recent estimates suggest that the traditional $1 million life savings target before retirement is just not enough. Financial planners suggest that we now need $2 million to have “financial security.” In Monday’s (April 28) USA Today a report on this led to the response of various people. A person who seemed to be in the know about these matters said, “A $1 million nest egg along with Social Security isn’t really that much. Some accident or calamity would have the potential to drain away a big chunk of your principal, after which you can be destitute.” If you think this is crazy talk you should read the mainstream financial columns and see the advice that major investors give on these matters.
Another respondent to this story wrote: “We all need to take a hard look and figure out how to put away more for retirement.” Still another, “I now put away the maximum amount in my 401(k) that my employer will match. I also ditched a $275-a-month whole life policy in favor of a different policy for $25 a month. Plus, I cut way back on eating out. I save $100 a week now and eat healthier.” This advice has some pretty good ideas in it but the real kicker is not the “saving” part but the emphasis on making sure that you have enough.
Just how much is enough? And how do you practice good stewardship when it comes to thinking about your last years? Now that I am 65 these questions have been all but answered for me. My wife and I took a number of proactive steps a few years ago. We did this not to retire to luxury but to plan for a future that would not unduly burden our children. We also did this so our wishes would be carried out when we are unable to do what we desire. I think this is good stewardship.
Missing in all of this is the financial stewardship of Christians to kingdom work. Even some of the best Christian financial advisers say little or nothing about generosity. Is there any surprise? If you need to secure your own future first then why give too generously now? Delay and give later, if you have enough left over from your savings to give. But that is a big if when you are not sure just how much you will need.
I am persuaded that all of us should practice frugal savings. I have not been the most diligent soul about preparing for my future but I am told by my adviser, who is a friend, that I am better off than 95% of his clients. (I am amazed at that, not because I have a great deal but because apparently most people have not seriously prepared for their future.) But having noted this personal fact I cannot help but recall the clear teaching of my Lord at this point.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19-21, NRSV).
Jesus’ kingdom teaching for finances is not about 501(k) plans but rather about investing in a kingdom that is eternal. We are to give to an account where no economic downturn or taxing program can take away our investments. We will do this if we really believe the future is about what we do now.
Recently, I came across an explanation for how various ancient philosophies and religions impacted people personally. The author noted that the truly unique thing about the early Christians was that they placed their entire hope on the life to come. They lived in the now to serve their friends and neighbors. They gave generously and invested what they had in acts of mercy and compassion. But most of them had very little. This is still true in the majority of places in the world where Christianity thrives. Perhaps we should rethink our approach to both savings and retirement. You think our prosperity thinking hinders our all-out commitment to the kingdom of God?