When I showed up for my first day of work at Grad Resources, I received a credit card linked to our ministry’s operating account. As weird as it might sound, it was a pretty cool feeling. In the two churches I worked at beforehand, I didn’t have enough responsibilities to merit having one. I didn’t even have much of a budget to spend any money with. But while I’ve been given the right to spend the ministry’s money, they are also very strict about how I use it. There are limits on how much I can spend while booking airfare or a hotel. Every purchase has to be documented with an itemized receipt. If I take a few volunteers out for coffee on a campus visit, I even document who ordered the vanilla latte.
Why are they strict about this? Because the money isn’t mine. I’ve been given the right to spend it appropriately but the funds behind that credit card don’t belong to me. Every dime came from faithful donors and they expect it to be used efficiently and honestly. And if the donors don’t care, the IRS certainly does.
What’s funny is on the other side of my wallet is my personal credit card that looks very similar. Before any Dave Ramsey fans go crazy, we use it for all of our monthly spending to accumulate airline miles, then pay it off at the end of the month (I promise!). But when I use my own card, I’m much less cautious. If I do end up walking out of a store with a receipt in hand, it usually just ends up in the driver-side door of my car. It’s easy to be more relaxed about my personal spending, living with the sense that the money is mine. In reality, no one is going to care how Holly and I spend it, as long as our bills are paid. But this attitude is ultimately flawed.
To be honest, I was never really great at budgeting when I was in high school or college. I didn’t have any bills and I made more money in my senior year of high school than I did in my first two years out of college. But when Holly and I got married, I was instantly slapped with the reality of a monthly rent payment, an electric bill, car maintenance, and more. Suddenly, I was in a “budget or die” situation and my wife was depending on me to get it right. And as if I wasn’t already aware of this, we got married in May 2009 when the unemployment rate was at its highest and every other home on the market was a foreclosure.
The Real Victim
Believe it or not, financial irresponsibility is a sin and when everything comes crashing down, you don’t just hurt your family or your debtors. Your sin is really against God. In the end, everything you own is really his – and I don’t just mean the first 10% you decide to tithe each week. Budgeting is so important because it ensures that we are responsibly using the blessings God has given us for his glory and his Kingdom. It’s like Jesus’ parable of the talents. He tells his disciples of a master who, before leaving on a journey, entrusted his servants with a portion of his money. The first two took the money given to them and invested it wisely, even doubling its value. When the master returned, he praised them for their faithfulness and entrusted them with even more. However, the third servant took the money and buried it, even accusing his master of being shrewd.
When Holly and I originally designed our budget, we did so with two primary goals in mind. The first was to make sure we were living sustainably while saving for our future needs. The second was to ensure that we are maximizing what we are able to give back. We set up an account with Mint.com and began tracking how much we really needed to spend on groceries, gas, and our utilities. We set allowances for each of us to use for things we might want individually, and a shared allowance for date nights.
Needs vs. Wants
But we also set limits on ourselves. When buying a house, we spent roughly $20,000 less than what our mortgage agent was willing to qualify us for. We decided years ago that we’ll never own some monstrosity of a house, regardless of how much we eventually make. A family with a couple of kids only needs so much space. We also make purchasing decisions based on how much we need something and how long it will last. With the money we save, we’re able to tuck some away while also giving to ministries that we feel led to support.
I don’t write this to say we are the shining examples of fiscal responsibility. I’ve struggled to keep to the budget in recent months. In those times, we’ve been terrible about even tithing. I’m fairly certain I have singlehandedly kept Home Depot in business since closing on our house. But in the end, I want everything about my life to count. I want to maximize my time in such a way that I can pour into my wife and my son at home while taking advantage of every moment in the office and every conversation with close friends over lunch. I want my career to make an impact for the Kingdom too. Why should my attitude towards my money be any different? If my every breath is a gift from God, so is every dime that goes into my bank account. If I don’t take control of my money, it will take control of me and ultimately, that makes it an idol. That’s what makes budgeting spiritual. It takes something that has great power and tames it to serve something far greater.