The Divine Economy
How one woman's unique method for managing her funds led to a revelation about her faith.
Imagine Jesus preaching a modern-day Sermon on the Mount. He comes to the part about sinning.
“If your credit or debit card causes you to sin, cut it up and throw it away. It is better for you to lose all that plastic than for your whole body to burn in hell.”
Harsh, perhaps. But if we take Jesus’ intended meaning to be that we’d be better through life without things we value if those things lead us to sin, then it is ever so fitting.
Americans have no shortage of worries when it comes to their wallets. According to a Gallup survey, 43 percent of Americans are moderately worried about meeting their monthly payments of daily living. Moreover, the average college graduate is sacked with over $25,000 in student loans, and carries more than $4,100 in credit card debt. Then there’s retirement to worry about down the road.
Simply stated, folks are stressed out, and money is primarily what is ailing them.
But does it have to be this way?
Author and United Methodist pastor Adam Hamilton concedes that money is a catalyst for our financial malaise. But in his book on the topic, Enough, Hamilton argues that ours is a crisis that is deeply spiritual in nature. At its heart, the crisis is one of faith.
It all comes down to how much a person trusts God. In what (or who) do we trust and place our faith – God or money? What (or who) determines our value? When we feel empty, what (or who) fills us? Unfortunately few Americans, believers included, are able to answer “God” to each question. This means that we’re serving the wrong master (Luke 16:13), and we’re aching because of it.
Yet getting our finances under control are possible, especially when our priorities are kept in order.
“This is the high-tech way of budgeting that our family uses,” said the pastor as he held up an envelope. The envelope flopped as he waved it to and fro, belying its frequent use.
“At the beginning of each month the budgeted amount of cash is placed into the envelope of the line item’s category. Most things are paid in cash. The money in an envelope may be spent or saved. But, when an envelope is empty no more spending is allowed for that line item.”
It struck a chord in my husband and my ears, as if someone had just sounded the alarm. Like many Americans today, we were hurting from the economy and self-inflicted financial wounds, and we decided to give the envelopes a shot. Four months into our own envelope adventure, we have learned much.
As credit card companies have advertised so well, a quick swipe of a credit or debit card enables us to keep moving “at the speed of life.” The unspoken ramification of this pace is that we are unable (unwilling?) to slow down and think about what we’re buying and how much we’re spending.
Actually seeing and touching the cash has made me mindful of how I spend our money and on what we’re spending it. As the month progresses, I can see the cash in each envelope dwindle. It’s an eye opener. I used to stare at the low balance in our bank account in disbelief (far too often) and say to myself, My husband just got paid! Where did all of our money go? Now, I know.
Discipline Is Easier Without Other Options
Good stewardship of our money is just as much of a spiritual discipline as prayer and Bible study. Purchasing with cash only is almost unforgiving in this area, but it is a good thing. When the cash is gone from the envelope, we can’t buy anything else. It’s put us a in a few binds, but it wouldn’t be called a discipline if it were easy to do.
Great teaching moments with my children—not being able to eat lunch out, purchase a toy or register my girls for an activity because the money isn’t in the envelope has launched excellent conversations with them. Also, if we do not spend any or all of the cash for a line item in a month, the money stays in the envelope, and in essence becomes a mini-savings fund for each line item. Unexpected auto repairs now pack less punch.
Paying with Cash Opens New Ministry Opportunities
Paying in cash restores human interaction that plastic card machine convenience removes. When getting gas in my vehicle, for example, I actually have to walk into the convenience store and speak to the clerk to pre-pay and get my change. Translation: thanks to our cash system, I now have ample opportunity to get to talk make face-to-face connections with people, encouraging farewells and respectful interaction with hardworking human beings who may not be getting enough of it.
Financial guru Dave Ramsey is amongst the many who espouse the cash payment system. This “Grandma’s way” of budgeting and handling money is a key component to his Total Money Makeover, as a matter of fact. Why? Ramsey’s assertion is short, and to-the-point: it works.
Ramsey does not sugar coat this unconventional method, however. The cash system is a discipline, he confirms. Indeed, it takes commitment and dedication because paying off debt and amassing savings do not happen over night. The solution will be no less immediate.
But it doesn’t have to be a ball and chain. Having a “fun money” envelope that functions just like the other ones is a great idea that Ramsey suggests. We can spend that money on whatever we want (within the budget, of course), and not worry about regret.
Perhaps the best gift of the cash system, or any system that helps you manage your money in a God-honoring way, is the freedom that it provides. Simply knowing that we have a plan and that we’re working that plan to get out of debt and build savings can dispel stress, fear and worry. As months pass and the ratio of debt to savings begins to shift from red to black, rejoicing might just flow from that freedom.
And rejoicing in the Lord, not worrying about finances (or anything else, for that matter), is what we’re supposed to be doing, anyway (Philippians 4:4-7).