Proverbs 21:20

Are you frugal? Do you use up every bit of income you receive, or do discipline yourself to somehow get by on less than comes in and put aside a portion, however small, for the proverbial rainy day? Have you ever even considered that this is something you should be doing?

“There is precious treasure and oil in the house of the wise [who prepare for the future], But a short-sighted and foolish man swallows it up and wastes it.” (Proverbs‬ ‭21:20‬ ‭AMP‬‬)

We don’t particularly value oil these days, but it was a significant commodity in the lives of people when this verse was first written:

“Olive trees took a long time to grow and mature, but they also lasted for hundreds of years. Therefore, a good oil supply was a sign of stability and prosperity (e.g.,  Deut 8:8 ;  33:24 ;  2 Kings 20:13 ;  Psalm 92:10 ;  Prov 21:20 ;  Isa 39:2 ;  Joel 2:19  Joel 2:24 ). The lack of oil was a sign of the curse of God and agricultural disaster (e.g.,  Deut 28:40 ;  Joel 1:10 ). As a sign of judgment Micah predicted that the nation of Israel “will press olives” but not have the opportunity to “use the oil” (6:15). Oil was used as a commodity of trade or personal income, for various kinds of common daily consumption (as part of the bread diet in tabernacle grain offerings, as fuel for lamps in the tabernacle, or homes, as a lubricant for one’s hair and skin, sometimes with a special sense of honor, as an aromatic substance, as a medication, or in healing contexts, for royal and religious ritual procedures…” (

The point, then, is that a wise person has excess of good–whatever that happens to be–because they’ve lived off of less than came in, while a foolish person uses it up. It dovetails with Ephesians 4:28:

“Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.” (Ephesians‬ ‭4:28‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

We may not steal, but do we live off of less than comes into our lives so we have excess to share with others? Is there precious treasure (and whatever is the equivalent of oil these days–probably cash), whether physically located in our home or otherwise easily accessible by us (as in a bank account or investment), to not only help ourselves with when something unexpected happens, but also others?

My mother was born in 1926. Because she lived through the turbulent time in Europe during and right after the Second World War when there wasn’t enough, she learned to save. She saved rubber bands, safety pins, stray buttons, paper bags–anything that might be of potential future use. To be honest, I looked down on her, but do you know what I realized after she passed away? This woman, who lived so modestly herself, had several significant bank accounts, as well as two apartment buildings–one completely paid for! She had fulfilled the maxim of Proverbs 13:22, that “Good people leave their grandchildren an inheritance…” (Proverbs‬ ‭13:22‬ ‭CEB‬‬)

My point–and that of this verse–is twofold. First, we should not be living indulgent lives, but rather, godly and reverent lives conscious of the fact that God made us and we are accountable to Him not just of how we spend our time, but also what we do with the money He allows us access to–because, after all, it’s His to begin with. We are the caretakers of these resources–and He does not give them to us to lavish on ourselves, but to use as He would want.

Secondly, using up everything we get is not only being a bad steward of what God gives, it’s also foolish and short-sighted. Why? Because regardless of how much we have today, that rainy day is coming, and unless you’ve prepared for it, you’ll be in trouble. Granted, human beings are resourceful–you might be able to ask your parents if they’re still alive and able to help, or get a loan or a second job. But wouldn’t it be better to have saved up a bit so you don’t have to beg or go into debt or experience hardship?

Life has margin. There are typically leftover choices, even when bad things happen, to help us pull through. But at a certain point–if you keep using up those margins (like spending any and all available funds, going deeper and deeper into debt, working more and more, or taking on a second or even third job)–there will be no margin left and you, or your finances, will eventually crack. It’s inevitable.

So what should you do? How should you live in light of this? Regardless of who you are or where you’re at financially, if you aren’t already doing so, you need to begin today to set aside something, however small. Don’t say you can’t, because you can. I don’t care if it’s a hundred dollars, ten, one, or even a quarter–all of us can spend less than we do, even if we’re convinced we can’t.

There was a time not that long ago when I was desperately trying to pull together our older daughter’s last twice-yearly foreign college tuition payment, and because of how much I needed to come up with in so short a period of time, I didn’t allow myself anything–I didn’t feel I could spend an extra hundred, or even fifty dollars! Yet, I did still allow myself an occasional Starbucks or $5 meal from KFC. I eventually figured this out and began bringing lunches and a drink from home–but your leftover amount may differ. It may not be $5; it might be $100–or it might be $1. The figure matters less than the fact that you set a proportionate amount aside. If you’re regularly spending $500 on nonessentials, don’t set aside a dollar and feel proud of yourself; you won’t feel it and it’ll take too long for you to pull together anything that will have significance to your life. If, on the other hand, you’ve literally got your last dollar allocated for survival, even a couple of quarters set aside could make a difference.

So what’s the takeaway? What’s today’s lesson? This one’s easy to articulate–and challenging to implement. Right now, today, put aside a little money NEVER TO BE TOUCHED, to be forgotten, for you to live like you don’t have it, like it’s not yours.

This is not savings for something–it’s not your down payment for a car or house, it’s not savings for a trip or for a refrigerator or anything else. This is money that if you never undergo any kind of financial tragedy–if you never lose your job, if the roof doesn’t cave in or the refrigerator actually quit and not be repairable, if you never become disabled–will continue to grow and accrue each time you get paid and you keep adding the same amount to it regularly.

Yes, you may feel you’re depriving yourself, yes you could have more to enjoy now, but the point is that you cannot–you absolutely, positively need to begin putting this money away. Why? Because there will come a day you bless my name for having made you do this. And what if that day doesn’t come? What if I’m wrong?

It will come, I guarantee you, but in the hypothetical world most young people inhabit in which nothing bad that happens to other people ever happens to them, if nothing bad ever happens to you, you will eventually be the godly person of today’s verse who leaves an inheritance not only to his or her children, but even to your grandchildren!

Dear Lord God,

Help me be wise, not short-sighted and indulgent. Give me wisdom how much it should be, and help me today set aside an amount I mentally consider no longer mine but (in the absence of something catastrophic) given away to my future grandchildren (even if I don’t yet have children or even intend to!). Amen!

About essentialdailyscriptures

Do you want to grow in your knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, but aren’t sure where to start? Essential Daily Scriptures is a ministry for people who want to study God’s Word, but don’t have a lot of time. Each day’s study covers one verse and takes approximately fifteen minutes, incorporating significant amounts of Scripture directly from the NKJV Bible, so you’re able to get right into God’s Word with a minimal time investment on a daily basis. May “the Father of glory…give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.” (Ephesians 1:17b)
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