I have always been mindful of how I spend money. Some of my habits are a reflection of my nature. I always think with the future and its unpredictability in mind. Then, after thorough inspection of the state (or potential state) of things, I act. Other habits reflect my upbringing. My parents are good budgeters and are very thrifty. I am pretty good at both, though I have observed room for personal improvement.
While being thrifty, cheap, fiscally conservative, or whatever adjective you prefer to use, is not a bad thing, it is not good allow money or the thought of spending it to be a source of bewilderment, anxiety, or fear. I have always felt this way about money.
Combined, the habits I acquired from my parents and my cautious nature compelled me to be frugal, and my financial habits carried from my teenage years into adulthood. I learned how to make my money last at a young age. I had my first job in high school, and I stretched the money I earned each summer so that it lasted until the next summer. I did the same in college. The money I earned would afford me the ability to buy books each semester, eat out if I wanted, and purchase gifts. I always had money leftover, but only because I monitored my pennies.
When I had my first, full-time job after college, I hoarded money because I wasn’t used to having a salary, and I was used to making the little I had last a long time. I always ordered the cheapest meals at restaurants, and I would purchase non-essential items occasionally, such as a coat for work, a pair of nice, professional shoes, and a new computer when mine displayed the blue screen of death, but spontaneity was very unusual.
I remember the first time I realized that having a full-time job means, in some cases, that you have the ability to buy what you want when you want it. At the time, I had started running, and I wanted an iPod Shuffle, which was about $50. I was scared to spend the money. I told my friend about the iPod Shuffle while we hung out one evening.
“Rachel,” she said. “You know you can just buy it. You have a job.”
I stared at her. “Wow. You’re right.” We walked to the Apple store, which was in the area, and I bought the device that day.
During that time, the Lord, I believe, placed certain friends in my path to show me that money should be managed well but it should also be spent and enjoyed. I lived with my friend and her mom during those days, and they loved to eat out, shop, and travel. I was surprised because my family rarely ate out, didn’t shop a ton, and barely traveled. However, in time I realized that as long as you take care of the necessary things each month and save, it is okay to enjoy the fruits of your labor. It is okay to live. Money is designed to meet our needs and bring us joy.
Gradually, I stopped being so cheap and began to buy what I wanted a little more often. In 2011, I booked a flight to visit a good friend who lived in Asia. I checked my finances, and while I was scared to spend so much money at once, I knew that the Lord had made a way for this adventure. My boss gave her blessings, I had the financial resources, and the timing was perfect for my friend.
The 2011 trip and subsequent adventures abroad have been scheduled with some trepidation. I worry that an emergency will arise and that the money would have been better dedicated for a different purpose. I worry that I am being frivolous. I worry that I shouldn’t take a vacation when so many people cannot. I feel guilty for spending money, even though I know I am responsible.
The Lord is still changing this mindset. He is teaching me that money comes, and money goes. Money is designed to be spent. And, it is also designed to be saved and given away. Money, in a way, is a lot like the seasons of life. There are times of drought. Times are harvest. Times to spend. Times to save. And times when money that was stored away is brought out in order to provide for the present. It is not good to hoard money out of worry, selfishness, and fear. Nor is it good to spend it recklessly or fail to meet the needs of oneself and others.
It is good, however, to be thankful for the gift of money. To be thankful each time money is spent on the necessities of life, such as food, clothing, and shelter. To be thankful each time there is wiggle room in one’s budget that allows for a fancy meal, a new coat, or a vacation to a far away land.
Rather than worry each time I spend money, whether it be for groceries or for a new dress, I have resolved to give thanks. I pray, “Lord, thank you for providing for me. For giving me everything that I need. I thank you because you have provided for me in the past, are providing for me right now, and will continue to do so. Please forgive me for being selfish and for worrying that I will not have everything I need. Please forgive me for the times I hoarded what I earned. Your faithfulness has shown me that I should relax. Please show me when to spend and when to save. Please show me when and how to be generous. Give me confidence in what you have provided and help me to honor you through my finances.”
I hope that these prayers will begin to reform my relationship with money into one that is not bound by anxiety, but rather, is characterized by freedom and joy in the harvest the Lord brings each month.