Surviving in a Financial Red Sea

Seven ways to overcome the Pharaoh of debt

 All throughout the Bible, especially in the book of Exodus, the plight of the children of Israel can be read. Because his son Joseph had received acceptance in the Pharaoh’s house, Jacob’s family moved to Egypt. Years later a new Pharaoh took Jacob’s descendants as slaves. In an effort to slow the population of the Israelites, and to prevent them from rising up against the Egyptians, the Pharaoh ordered all Israelite male babies to be thrown into the Nile River. 

Through divine intervention, the Pharaoh’s daughter found one of these babies hidden and she raised him in Pharaoh’s household. Ironically, his own mother served as his nurse and cared for him until he became older. This baby was Moses, a descendent of Jacob. Although he began life as the son of a slave, he received an education and training that never could have been afforded him otherwise and which also prepared him for the future. 

When Moses was forty years old, he was forced to flee Egypt. After spending forty years away, he returned to Egypt to free his people, per God’s command (Exodus 3:7-10).  The people had been slaves for so long, they did not believe that God truly loved them.  In fact, they were too scared to flee because they feared starving to death in the desert. They almost chose the outlandish ‘security’ of slavery over the uncertainty of freedom.  Moses had a tough job ahead of him. He eventually convinced the children that freedom, although strangely daunting, was worth the risk of escaping. He eventually became the great leader of the children of Israel.

Much can be learned by reading the story of the Israelites in regards to financial bondage and freedom. We are often like the children of Israel concerning the financial slavery in which we allow ourselves to live. We seem to prefer reliance on “Pharaoh the Creditor” over dependence on El Shaddai, “God the Provider”. 

Debt may have come upon you because of someone else, a loss of employment, a failed business, or for virtually any reason. It may seem as though you did nothing sinful to cause the debt in which you find yourself. However, upon closer inspection, you may very well see, in hindsight, a preemptive warning flag that, if heeded, could have prevented the bondage from which many of you are currently suffering today. The cause may be something as drastic as lavish living or truthfully, as basic as poor planning. One-income families often fall into debt unintentionally. 

The question is…how do you get out of that bondage? 

The children of Israel had to flee Egypt with Pharaoh and his men literally chasing after them. They were definitely afraid for their lives. Once they made up their minds to flee, the threat did not disappear. In fact, it grew worse. 

You may be able to attest to the fact that simply deciding to be debt free does not instantly make you debt free. If the truth were told, making the tough decision to get out of debt can bring about horrible consequences when you realize how dependent you are upon credit cards and you have no money for food, gasoline, or other basic living expenses. 

This article is written for those of you who are currently in serious debt, but serves as a preventative measure for those who have not yet suffered from debt-slavery.

There are seven ways to overcome the Pharaoh of debt.

1. Admit that you are in debt.

Just like with any addiction or damaging situation, denial is your worst enemy.  You must first admit that there is a problem.  If you do not admit that you are in debt, then this article cannot help you.  You may think if you have less than five thousand dollars of credit card debt, then you are in a safety zone.  Many think as long as they can pay the minimum payment each month, then they are honoring their debt.  Still other people do not have credit card debts, yet they have two, three, or more car payments a month. 

Debt is debt.  Debt is much like the crocodiles that would have been swimming in the Nile River when the Israelite babies were thrown in.  Debt will devour you, if given the chance.  Stop now and consider whether or not you are willing to admit to being in debt.  If you realize that you are, then continue.

2. Live on what God gives you and do not use credit cards!

Not until you decide that you no longer want to live above your means can you experience the freedom God has for you.  Not until the Israelites stepped out in faith did God part the waters of the Red Sea and allow them to cross to safety.  

Credit card use is hard to resist.  There will always be something you need that you do not have the cash for which to pay.  You promise to pay the debt back on payday.  However, when payday comes, there is something else that takes priority over your debt, and therefore it goes unpaid.  From that point on, everything will snowball. And this does not take into account the day that the paycheck stops. In our current economic condition, jobs are lost daily. It is a very real threat.

Let me tell you from experience, over thirty thousand dollars worth of experience, you do not need credit cards nor do you need the items you purchase with your credit cards.  Credit cards keep you in a euphoric state in which you believe you have more money than you do.  They keep you in denial and prolong your acknowledgment that you are living above your means. 

Credit card debt is nearly impossible to get out of without great sacrifice.  At the height of our debt, we were acquiring seven hundred and fifty dollars a month in interest and late fees!  We would have had to pay over one thousand dollars a month just to keep our heads above the water.  We may not literally have had a Pharaoh pursuing us, trying to take our lives, but it sure felt that way sometimes. 

3. Think ahead to lean times

If you are self-employed, as we have been in the past, you may not receive a paycheck every week.  If you operate a service-oriented business, you probably only get paid once a job is completed.  If that is your situation, you may do as we have done so many times…you may spend when you have it and starve when you do not. 

I would recommend setting a budget for your normal living expenses.  Now, this does not incorporate eating out, entertainment, spa treatments, beauty salons, sporting events, and vacations.  These are not, although you may fight me on this, necessities.  If you cannot pay your daily living expenses, then these items cannot be deemed as necessities.  These luxuries can be added as you get your budget balanced. 

I thought we were living at bare bones for quite some time, but when you have to give up something you really enjoy for the sake of your family, then you will see that most of what we as Americans consider to be necessities are truly luxuries.

An area we all tend to overspend in without realizing it is the grocery allowance.  We go to the store and buy basically whatever we want and then we complain about how much groceries cost.  Practically everyone has done this.  Right?  In an effort to cut back, we shop at warehouse-type stores, buy store brands, and use coupons.  However, when you begin eliminating the tabloid magazines, cookies, chips, soft drinks, cigarettes, and alcohol, then you are headed in the right direction.  Moreover, when you begin rationing out what you have purchased and begin to make homemade snacks and drinks, you are well on your way. 

I had wanted a mini-van for years.  I finally bought one and paid cash for it with my inheritance from my father.  Two years later, I had to sell it and use the money toward debt.  My husband had to sell all of his music recording equipment and his guitars and even his power tools because at one point we did not have gas money or grocery money for the next two weeks.  We actually placed our home for sale and planned to downsize because we realized that we had thirty thousand dollars of equity in our home and that with one simple transaction, we could be credit-card debt free. 

To be a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom necessitates a lot of sacrifice.  Let me tell you, it is worth every sacrifice required.  When I hear people talk about their achievements in the corporate world, yet their families are wrecks, I know that I would choose the route I have chosen again and again.  We do not eat out very often, rent movies, or go to the theater. We do not travel on vacation except for once every other year on average. We do not buy clothes unless it is an item that is a necessity.  However, we are together more than most families and we enjoy, even cherish, the times when we do go on vacation or purchase an extra item.

4. Tithe and give offerings

You have probably heard this saying before:  God can do more with 90% of what you earn than you can do with 100%.  It is indisputable.  If you think you cannot afford to tithe, then think again.  You really cannot afford to withhold your tithe. 

Years ago, I created a separate ledger page in my checkbook for our tithes.  Every payday I transferred a tenth of our earnings to the tithe ledger. If, during the most awful times of debt, I could not tithe, I still had a record of my tithe balance. When times got better, I gave the amount that had been allotted. Sometimes, I added just ten dollars a week to our giving. At the end of the year, I usually found we had given more than our tithe.

More recently, during my husband’s nine-month time of unemployment, we tithed anyway. We never missed a week. And I must say that God provided far better for us and provided far more for us than during those previous times that we chose not to tithe or thought we could not afford to do it. I think the lesson we learned this year is that we could not afford NOT to tithe.

If you are not currently attending a church, what do you do with your tithe? Again, the separate ledger page in your checkbook will help you. If you have found yourself, for whatever reason, churchless, you can still give. There are countless Christian organizations to which you can give.

Now, if you find yourself in a situation where you cannot pay your utilities or even buy groceries for your family, tithing can be difficult, to say the least. What do you do? Again, if you must, keep a record of what your tithe would be and commit to pay it when you are back on your feet. 

Remember, giving does not just involve money.  If you have clothes to give to a less fortunate child or adult, then do so.  If you have time you can spend with a sick person or an elderly person, then God honors that time spent.  The important thing is to give with your heart.  God will always bring a return on that kind of gift. God ALWAYS honors our obedience.

5. Be a gracious receiver, but not a beggar

It can be very difficult for some people, including myself, to receive help from others.  Something called “pride” is usually what tenaciously stands in the way.  We do not mind being givers, but there is something humbling about having to receive.  The lesson that should be learned while being a receiver is the importance of giving.  When we keep others from giving, when the Lord has placed it on their hearts to do so, we rob them of their blessing.

Now, on the flip side, some folks have no problem receiving and seem to walk around with their palms turned upward always looking for a handout.  When we take more than we should, then we not only rob the giver, we rob the one who should have received the gift in our place and we ultimately rob ourselves.  There is a fine line between being a receiver and being a beggar.

Vow to give something to someone as soon as the opportunity affords itself.  A dear friend recently told us that when he gives it is not a handout but simply a hand.  A helping hand.  That is what we so often need.  Many of us get down at times and just need a push in the right direction.  It is nothing of which to be ashamed.  That same friend told us that when times got better, we were not to give to them, but to give to someone else and that would be a gift and a blessing to them.

6. When you get a bonus, budget it out

Instead of planning what trip you will take or what new gadget you will buy, find a new way to honor God with his blessing. Give a gift offering of ten percent off the top. So, if you get a five thousand dollar bonus, gift five hundred dollars. Then, after taxes and the gift, whatever is left, place it into savings and divided by six (or however many more months before another bonus will come). If you have four thousand dollars left, you will budget around six hundred dollars per month for the next six months. That does not mean you will use that money every month; it just simply means it is there if you need it.  Any car repairs, home repairs, clothing or entertainment money would come from that.  If a major repair is necessary, then something else must wait.  Your actual monthly budget should not include this amount, since bonuses are never guaranteed nor are they always the same each time. 

A word of caution:  I have known people who receive sizeable annual bonuses who use this money to pay back all that they have charged on their credit cards throughout the year.  May I be so bold as to say this is foolish?  Never spend what you think you are going to get.  Instead, tighten up the budget and live freely, enjoying the fruits of your labor.  No farmer eats the fruits or vegetables from his field before they have even grown.

7. Rebuke Satan and praise the Lord anyway!

God allows us to be enslaved, to walk through the desert, and even to cross the Red Sea at times in our lives. He does this to teach us important life lessons. If we do not glean from these experiences what the Lord wants us to glean, then we may very well repeat them again. I can attest to the fact that many of these situations will most assuredly be repeated until the lesson has been learned.

When the children of Israel crossed over the Red Sea, the Bible says the ground was dry.  Think about how high the walls of water were on either side of them.  I am sure, although the Bible does not say, that they were afraid at times.  I am sure they even had periods of doubt.  Wouldn’t you?  I believe the Lord knows we will have times when we fear he is not going to get us to the other side.  We are human.  We must realize that this quest to be debt free will never happen in our own strength. 

Although the children crossed on dry ground, they probably felt some sea spray.  That must have been very frightening and they must have feared that the water would come crashing down on them and drown them.  Satan wants us to fear that our lives will end when the bill collectors call and threaten to take away our homes or garnish our wages.  This can be a very frightening and sickening feeling.  The Lord does not want us to live in fear.  For whatever reasons you are going through this financial struggle, remember that God will bring you safely to the other side if you allow him to do so.  So, when the creditors call continuously, consider them nothing more than sea spray. 

One thing our family has learned throughout our financial trials is not to be reluctant to let others know of our experiences.  We formerly let pride creep in, stopping us from talking about our skeletons in the closet because we feared rejection or gossip.  In the past, we were ashamed of what we had been through and we tried to shove the dirty secrets under the rug.  Now, we have committed to being open about our mistakes so that God can use our journey across the seabed and through the desert to help others.

The children of Israel successfully crossed the Red Sea unharmed.  However, they complained about the food and the weather conditions and told Moses that they would have been better off in slavery in Egypt.  God allowed them to wander in the desert for forty years.  After forty years of wandering, the children were finally in the Promised Land.  Do not let Satan cause you to complain about your situation to the point that God allows you to continue in the state you are in for far longer than you would have to do so. Give God the glory for all circumstances and use everyday and every situation as a learning experience and a teaching tool for others.

Exodus 14:13-14 says: Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

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