Following Tuesday's post about Jen Hatmaker's book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, I said I was going to write a series of posts examining areas in which changes need to be made to realign my habits and choices with my purpose and beliefs. This week I'm rethinking my financial habits. I know I've written about taking Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University course, which transformed my views about money. I began budgeting and have been faithfully using my Excel budgets every month since, keeping up with balancing my checkbook, and trying to control where my money goes.
It's been a bit of a difficult balancing act, though, to be honest. I tend to get too strict with myself, allowing no wiggle room within budget categories, counting costs down to the last dollar, restricting personal expenses as much as possible, constantly looking for ways to save a dollar here or there to funnel toward debt and savings.
Such intense preoccupation with my budget and money-saving measures allowed me to pay off my debt faster than I had imagined. Doing so afforded me a bit of a more relaxed approach to my budget, since I had fewer bills to pay, but I was still carefully calculating how much money I should set aside for every type of expense so I could save as much money as possible. I wanted to quickly build up my full emergency fund (enough for six months' expenses, in case anything unexpected should happen), and then save for traveling.
Reading Jen's book reinforced my opinions about trying to live simply, but with a slightly different aim. I began to see just how selfish my saving habits were. I wanted to see how much I could save, to feel like I was doing everything in my power to provide a secure financial future for myself, saving enough to cover my current monthly expenses, building up a fund for any emergencies I might encounter, providing for my own travel, hoarding away every last dollar for my own use and security. It was just one more way I could provide for my own needs, removing any need to rely on God for provision.
I know it was no coincidence that I came upon Jen's book, as well as others that talk about consumer Christianity, American culture, greed, and worldwide poverty. I have caught a glimpse of the great need in the world. I have been blessed so greatly with a job that affords me the ability to not only pay off my debt (from college and buying my own car, two huge privileges), but to set aside money for the future, and give a portion of my income to others who aren't as fortunate and don't have enough, as I have more than what I need. I have a roof over my head, food for my table (and refrigerator, pantry, and deep freezer), clothes on my back (and in my drawers and closet), shoes on my feet (and more in the closet), and so much more. I have been blessed, but I shouldn't take that for granted and keep it all for myself. After all, I can't take any of it with me in the end. I might as well spread the wealth. Literally.
I still see the value in saving and using my money responsibly, not throwing it recklessly at frivolous things, finding small satisfaction in passing up things I would have previously bought but have since realized I really don't need or even want to invest my money in. I have had my eyes opened to much greater needs that I can have a part (although a small one) in helping with by financial contributions. There are so many great organizations serving the marginalized and needy, making every dollar go so much further than a new pair of jeans or fancy dinner, and I want to invest more of my money supporting those causes, doing my part to help others and share God's love with the needy people of this world.
I'm still saving for my emergency fund, travel, and retirement, but I'm also prioritizing some giving. I have begun giving more towards causes I'm passionate about instead of saving every penny for myself, but I know I have a long way to go before I can consider myself a generous person. I've always struggled in this area, and I need to work out the balance in regard to the amounts going in each of these directions, but as I continue to pray to be a better steward of all the resources I have been given, I feel much more at peace regarding my finances knowing I am growing in my generosity, one little step at a time.