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How Can I Save for Retirement Without Being Greedy or Foolish?

My company offers a retirement plan, and my wife and I also have an IRA. I don’t want to foolishly save too little, but neither do I want to greedily save too much. How can I know how much to save for retirement? Also, is there any way to know where and how my money is being invested? I don’t want to hound my retirement-plan manager, but I also worry a little about where my money is being invested. What can I do?

I’m encouraged by these questions and am glad you are wrestling with them. Scripture calls us to honor the Lord with our wealth (Prov. 3:9). Yet many of us struggle to see the connection between having retirement savings and following Christ.

Heart-Level Response

From my work in financial services, I have seen the financial pictures of many individuals and families. Even among Christians who worship at the same church, one couple might approach retirement with millions while another will retire with very little. Additionally, their cost of living may vary widely.

This reality makes it unwise to give specific answers to “how much” without tailoring it to the individual. As J. D. Greear helpfully elaborates, from a biblical perspective there is no single rule for answering “how much” but rather a matrix of principles to guide our money decisions.

My thoughts on retirement savings are shaped by at least four biblical concepts.

1. Diligence

From the beginning, God blessed people to be fruitful and to work (Gen. 1:28; 2:15). God’s image-bearers are called to reflect his creativity, productivity, fruitfulness, and labor in the world.

One natural place to display productivity and diligence is the workplace. Our approach to work should not be How little can I get away with doing? but How much can I honor God, bless others, and maximize my gifts here?

In many cases, diligent work can lead toward an income that exceeds the minimal cost of living, creating greater financial capacity (Prov. 10:4b). As noted in the Theology of Work Project, “God’s intent is that people would not merely subsist, but have good things in abundance.” Fruitful labor is God’s way of allowing us to create this abundance.

2. Responsibility

As a general guide, Scripture encourages people to support themselves financially—to “work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may . . . be dependent on no one” (1 Thess. 4:11-12). While Scripture calls us to support those in need (i.e. gleaning laws, supporting widows), those who can work should aspire to be self-supporting whenever possible (2 Thess. 3:7-10).

Given our American context, most of us would be wise to plan to support ourselves financially beyond a reasonable working age. This is not an endorsement of the media-hyped dream of retirement, but simply an acknowledgment that we should plan to meet our future needs, like the ant (Prov. 6:6–8).

We should plan to meet our future needs, like the ant.

Providing for the needs of ourselves and our household is a biblical priority (1 Tim. 5:8). The question of “how much” leads us to consider the expenses we and our dependents will likely incur after our working years. And, where possible, believers can also aspire to leave a financial inheritance to future generations (Prov. 13:22).

3. Generosity

Biblical thinking about saving does not stop with supporting our household, but goes beyond to sharing with others in the community. As Paul pointed out, “these hands ministered to my necessities . . . by working hard in this way we must help the weak” (Acts 20:34–35).

Generous giving is not an optional add-on for wealthy Christians; it’s a core characteristic for all disciples. Even single parents and adults in the “sandwich generation” are called to show generosity according to their means (2 Cor. 8:12). We can all be generous with something, whether time, money, or abilities.

Generous giving is not an optional add-on for wealthy Christians; it’s a core characteristic for all disciples.

Saving for retirement should never become an excuse to hold back from giving. Responsibility and generosity must grow together and be held in tension. A long-term savings plan can actually enable you to be more responsible and generous over time.

4. Wisdom

Only a few topics in financial management are universally right or wrong from a biblical perspective, such as honesty or paying your taxes. On the other hand, many decisions about saving and investing are matters of discernment.

Yes, it is true that wisdom may lead you to avoid consumer debt and review your lifestyle expenses. Wisdom may lead you to buy insurance and save a large portion of your income for the future. But since we don’t know what the future may bring, we apply God-given wisdom and seek advice along the way. In this way, we combine doing our best with leaving an unforeseeable future in God’s hands.

Numeric-Level Response

After all these principles are considered, believers still have to decide what number to plug into their long-term saving rate. Will they save 5 percent? 10 percent? More?

Online calculators illustrate how a particular savings rate may affect your future financial picture. But when taxes, children, insurance, social security, and investing get more complicated, many seek out the advice of a financial planner. Thankfully, the Lord has raised up literally thousands of dedicated Christian professionals to help believers with this level of detailed planning.

Can Retirement-Investing Align with My Values?

Increasingly, people are asking questions about the companies in their investments. Should you be worried about the companies listed there? Thoughtful Christian professionals hold a range of views on this topic. Some feel an obligation to avoid certain investments; others see it as a matter of discernment and Christian liberty.

The short answer is that employer-sponsored retirement plans are restricted to a set number of pre-approved investments. Therefore, most employees have little to no options within their retirement plan for biblically aligned, values-based investing. (Some churches and ministries are an exception.) You can always reach out to the plan provider to see if their plan offers self-directed options, or request them to add biblically responsible fund options.

In the context of a traditional or Roth IRA, though, investors likely have a broad range of options. In recent decades, great strides have been made by several Christ-honoring fund companies. This is an exciting opportunity, as many of these funds not only pursue financial returns but also seek to make an impact through community development, supporting medical research, reducing human trafficking, advocating fair wages, and avoiding harmful businesses.

Yes, God cares about your retirement savings because he cares about you, your family, and all those around you. Long-term, values-aligned investing can be one way to meet your needs while simultaneously blessing others and honoring Christ the Lord.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. No investment strategy ensures financial success or protects against loss. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. All investing involves risk, including possible loss of principal.

Securities and advisory services offered through LPL Financial, a registered investment advisor, member FINRA/SIPC. WaterRock Financial, LLC is a separate entity from LPL Financial.