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Domestic Church Finances Ink Slingers Kathleen Marriage Vocations

Holy Budgeting: Practicing Detachment and Stewardship in a World Filled with Money

Holy Budgeting_ Practicing Detachment and Stewardship in a World Filled with MoneyMoney, more specifically budgeting, is one of those topics that everyone urges you to sort out before you get married. Make sure you are both on the same page! It can put a big stress on the marriage if you are not! It is also one of those topics (see also: child rearing) that I thought I totally had figured out. Or at least I did before I got married.

If you asked me, I would say I am financially conservative. I like having a savings, I think it is important to plan for a rainy day, I do not gamble, and I do not think that spending an exorbitant amount of money on frivolous things is a good idea. My husband feels exactly the same way.

The problem is we differ on what exactly “exorbitant” and “frivolous” mean. So if you put us in a Sephora, we will have very different reactions to a new release of an Anastasia Beverly Hills eyeshadow palette. I will be super excited because her shadows are super blendable and I love the way they bring out the blue in my eyes and it is only $42! My husband will question spending $42 on anything to put on your eyelids, especially when it looks exactly the same as the other ten palettes I have at home. (He is wrong, all palettes are as unique as children. But point noted.)

After five years of marriage to an actually fiscally conservative man, I have to admit that I am much less conservative than I thought, and much less conservative than my husband. I love buying things. I buy things when I am happy. I buy things when I am stressed. I buy things when I am sad. I just really enjoy buying things. That is not inherently wrong- it is fine to take pride in ourselves, our appearance, our home, etc. But it should never come at the expense of putting things above the true goals of our life and marriage- to imitate Christ and gain everlasting life with Him in heaven.

So obviously, something in my attitude had to change. I had to reevaluate my approach to money, and budgeting, and how I viewed wealth in general. Wealth is not bad. The gospels speak often of feasting, of wine in abundance, and of expensive oils being literally poured out for the betterment and the enjoyment of Christ and his friends. God made everything, and enjoying the good things of His creation is not a bad thing. It is a good, worthy thing to enjoy the goodness of creation. Christ did it. We should not hesitate to do it either.

The problem comes in when we elevate these mere things to the level of attachment. To remain complete disciples of Christ while not eschewing the world and its goods (which those of us who are married are certainly not called to do), we must practice detachment, or an attitude of financial stewardship. All that we have is God’s. Our homes, our things, our health, our husbands, even our children. They are all God’s. We have been given the opportunity to enjoy and take care of them for Him while we are here on earth. That is wonderful! We should take pride in the beautiful things that God has given us, and care for them.

But we must be frugal. I recently attended a talk with Milwaukee area accountant Maria Johnston, a faithful Catholic wife and mother who knows her way around a spreadsheet. She urged frugality in all things, but to be careful to understand that frugality means different things for people in different situations. Having a lovely home can be good- you can welcome people and bring people together in a way that a slovenly home that is uncared for does not. This does not mean you need a seven-bedroom mansion. Taking care of your things- your car, your clothing, your electronics, with great consideration is frugal. This does not mean that you need to have the newest or most expensive versions of everything- sometimes the opposite, in fact. Even carefully considering a date night with your husband can be a good use of your income since taking time together can strengthen your marriage. This does not mean that you need to spend $300 on dinner and a babysitter twice a month if it is not in your budget. (It certainly is not in mine.) All of this makes sense when you consider that our lives are entirely stewardship. All that we have is God’s, and we are merely caretakers of His goodness.

STEPS FOR IMPLEMENTING

Johnston had several tips for implementing this stewardship and detachment mentality to our lives and budgets.

 

  • Give first!

 

Catholics get a bad tithing rap sometimes. It is urged that Catholics give a portion of their income to the Church and charities. This is a suggestion that fits in perfectly with a stewardship mentality. It is important that we do this this first on our budgeting, not at the end. Our first  priority needs to be the care of Christ’s Church and his poor here on earth, even before our own needs.

 

  • Pray about budgeting. All the time.

 

This suggestion really helped me. When I feel myself wanting to stray from my budget, urge myself to pray about it. Do I need to spend $20 on lunch for the kids because I am running late and cannot get it together to pack one? Nope. Get out the sandwiches. Does the home decor purchase I am contemplating really help accent my home and therefore help my hospitality? Or is it just a throw pillow? Are those eyeshadow palettes all really the same? Sometimes, yeah. This is not to say you need to talk yourself out of buying everything, certainly not. But stepping back and praying about your budget, your purchases, and how you and your spouse view them can foster a detachment from things and a stewardship mentality.

 

  • Acknowledge that you will not be perfect.

 

Budgets are goals, and our entire faith life should be striving towards greater holiness.

We are never done, we are never perfect. We can always do better, appreciate more, and give more. The important part is to not be discouraged when we fail, but to pray and try again.

 

  • Understand that your detachment and frugality will not look like your neighbor’s.

 

A homeschooling family with eight children and medical bills whose sole breadwinner is either starting a new position or in a lower economic bracket will obviously not have the same budget as a newly married couple with two established incomes. Both families can be faithful stewards of their goods, however. But they must understand that their realities will look completely different.

Spending money is not evil. Having nice things is not evil. Ignoring the poor, the Church, and elevating mere things to a level that they are not accorded is evil. We are all given different gifts, but we are ultimately all stewards of the King.

 

Categories
Domestic Church Mary P.

Financial Stewardship: Creating A Family Budget

Happy 2017! The new year means that people are thinking about ways to change and fix all the things about their lives that need changing and fixing. Faithful Catholics might think about improving their spiritual lives – resolving to start praying more, going to confession more, yelling less, being more grateful, etc. In the midst of that crucial spiritual stock-taking, I want to propose a more “practical” item that deserves consideration – finances. Specifically, I want to address creating a budget.

Money issues are a practical matter, but they have spiritual implications as well. For example, one of the major causes for marital strife and even divorce is financial difficulty or disagreement. Having a workable family budget goes a long way toward creating personal and familial harmony. Without a budget, there is much more room for stress and conflict. More broadly, money is a tool to be used in the service of our calling as spouses, parents, and missionary disciples. We must be good stewards of it in order to carry out that calling. Budgeting is part of that stewardship. 

I’m not in any way a financial professional or expert. Rather, I’m a wife and mom who takes care of the family finances, and has finally found a budgeting system that I can stick to (after eight years of marriage and many failed attempts). I’m someone who has witnessed the dire consequences in people’s lives of not being good stewards of their money. As such, I believe in the importance of budgeting, and want to share some tips for those who do not have a budget.  (There are many resources out there for further information on the topic of budgeting and being a good financial steward). 

  1. Recognize your need for a budget. Even if you are in the top tax bracket, you need a budget. Budgeting isn’t just for those who must watch every penny simply in order to feed their families. On the flip side, even if you think your budget would never be “in the black,” you still need one. You might think that your necessary spending outweighs your income (and thus rely heavily on credit), but creating a budget and tracking your spending will help you see where you might be able to cut back so that your budget can balance.
  2. Find a budgeting tool that works for you. Even if you use pen-and-paper or an Excel spreadsheet, it’s critical that your craft your budget in a way that makes the most sense to you and is easily implemented in your life. I use a website called EveryDollar (created by financial guru Dave Ramsey). Until I discovered this website, I had never been able to create a budget that accounted for all my expenses (not just the monthly, predictable ones), let alone one that I was able to stay on top of. There are other websites and apps out there. Look around to see what will work for you. Take advantage of free trial offers for paid programs (as long as you can trust yourself to cancel before the trial is over if you decide you don’t want to use it!)
  3. Work with your spouse to create the budget, and make a mutual commitment to stick to it.  You both need to be on board with the budget in order for it to work! If either of you are reckless spenders, the budget will be sabotaged. (If you or your spouse are unable to get your unnecessary spending under control, considering talking to your priest or a counselor). Communicate and re-evaluate the budget often.
  4. Use a “zero balance” budget. This is a type of budget where you account for every penny that comes in. If you bring in more than you spend each month on necessities and “extras,” consciously allot the rest to savings or to paying down a debt. By using this kind of budget, my husband and I were able to pay off our student loans more quickly. You should go back and adjust the budget at the end of the month to make sure it zeroes out. If you over-budget in a category like groceries or gas, you can put that extra money toward a category you may have under-budgeted for, or toward debt and savings. Adjust the next month’s budget to reflect your actual spending habits.  
  5. Budget for the bills that you pay on a non-monthly basis, and other irregular expenses. For example, our water bill is paid quarterly. Each month, I set aside one-third of what I expect the bill to be, so that the money is all there when needed. I also have funds set up in my budget for things such as clothing, homeschooling materials, and home maintenance. I put some money into each of those funds every month so that it’s there when I need it.
  6. Track everything that you spend. This is where the website/app I use has made all the difference. I am not “on top of things” enough to record every purchase I make or keep every receipt. For a fee, my budgeting tool imports all my bank activity. I can simply drag and drop each item into the appropriate budget category. Since I rarely use cash to make purchases, this has made it extremely easy to keep track of every expense.
  7. Be realistic. For example, if you think you “should” be spending only $500 on groceries every month, but you can’t seem to come in under $600 no matter how hard you try, then budget for $600 and cut back somewhere else. Part of being realistic is budgeting “fun money” for you and your spouse to be spent however you want (barring anything immoral of course). This helps cut down on the frustration of adhering to a strict budget. If you create an overly-idealistic budget that you can’t adhere to, you are likely to give up on budgeting. 
  8. Set specific financial goals and use your budget to work toward them. One of these goals should be an emergency fund for those unforeseen large expenses (which tend to pop up in clusters). Other goals might include saving for a house or a new vehicle. (It’s best to pay cash for a vehicle rather than incurring debt. But, if you have to take out a loan, you still need to have a down payment saved up). You should think about long-term goals, such as retirement and college funds, as well. 
  9. Make charitable giving (especially to your parish) a non-negotiable. The Church does not require us to give a specific percentage of our income. But we are required to help provide for our parishes. Do not give from your surplus. Instead, give sacrificially, like the Scriptural widow who gave her last coin.

Successful budgeting usually involves a lot of trial and error. Like all efforts at self-improvement, it’s probably not going to come easily at first. Don’t give up. Financial stewardship -of which budgeting is a critical aspect- is part of a life of discipleship. 

Categories
Catechism Discipleship Doctrine Faith Formation Ink Slingers Karen Saints

Is Gambling A Sin? A Quick Visit with the Catechism

The NFL season is around the corner and with it is the even bigger and more lucrative sport: gambling. Fantasy football and office pools are the shop talk at countless places of business. The cumulative football wagers across the country were estimated to be in the billions—and that was just for Super Bowl 2015.

The morality–and legality–of sports gambIs Gambling A Sin- A Quick Visit with the (1)ling is a hot topic and it’s easy to see why some might be inclined to say it is wrong. After all, the Bible details how Roman soldiers cast dice for Jesus’s garments while Our Lord died on the cross. No one wants to be like those guys, right?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “2413 Games of chance (card games, etc.) or wagers are not in themselves contrary to justice. They become morally unacceptable when they deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs and those of others. The passion for gambling risks becoming an enslavement. Unfair wagers and cheating at games constitute grave matter, unless the damage inflicted is so slight that the one who suffers it cannot reasonably consider it significant.”

The position of our Church makes sense. In Her wisdom, She points out that gambling in and of itself is morally neutral. But like many things, using it inappropriately (and moreover, its overuse) is where it becomes sinful.

As Father William P. Saunders wrote:Is Gambling A Sin- A Quick Visit with the (2)

“He must not risk money that is necessary for the livelihood of himself or those entrusted to his care. Moreover, a gambler should always weigh whether that money could be better used for something of clear, tangible benefit. Even a wealthy person who may have great disposable income must use moderation, recognizing that the money risked on frivolous gambling could be used to help those less fortunate.

With this foundation in mind, several “classic” rules govern gambling:

  1. A player must be free to dispose of the stakes wagered in the game. He must be able to accept the risk of losing the stakes without incurring harm to himself or to others. Basically, the stakes should be “disposable” money.

  2. The player must make the gamble with full knowledge and consent.

  3. All players must have an equal chance of winning.

  4. The game must be fair. All fraud or deception is prohibited.

  5. While everyone enjoys winning, the motive for playing the game should be one of pleasure rather than of gain. One must not depend upon gambling for one’s livelihood. (Prummer, Handbook of Moral Theology)

So where does that leave the office pool? Rest assured, you or your husband can participate if it is affordable for your family (although there is still a question about the ethics of taking away time from your work with this “hobby”). If you’re looking for some saintly guidance, look to St. Cajetan, the patron saint of gamblers.  And if you or anyone you know is experiencing a dependency or addiction, seek help. Talk to your parish priest, pray for the intercession of St. Bernardino (the patron saint of impulsive or uncontrolled gambling), and call the National Problem Gambling Hotline at 1-800-522-4700.

Source: http://catholicherald.com/stories/Is-Gambling-a-Sin, 3367

 

 

 

Categories
Fatherhood Ink Slingers Marriage Matrimony Misty Motherhood Parenting Sacraments Vocations

Why We’re NOT Saving for College

One of the first things people used to say to us when we told them we wanted a large family was, “But how do you plan to pay for college for all those kids?” My answer was simple and usually shocked them: “We don’t.”

It’s hard to argue that we don’t encourage an extended adolescence for our children these days. In addition to providing the right clothes and expensive, popular electronics during childhood, we’re now also expected to:

  • buy our children’s first car (at age 16, of course),
  • replace that car when they wreck it,
  • pay for college (of their choice),
  • pay for at least one semester abroad,
  • help them get their first job and apartment,
  • pay their credit card bills if they can’t,
  • pay for their wedding,
  • let them move back in as an adult (indefinitely and rent-free), and
  • help raise our grandchildren.

In fact, adults moving back in with mom and dad has become so common we have a name for them: boomerang kids.

It goes without saying that we’re not going to feed into the clothing and electronics competition so many parents fall prey to today, mostly because we can’t afford it. But we’re also not going to subsidize my adult children’s lifestyles, either. And that starts with paying for college.

First, it’s not our job to pay for college. As parents, we’re morally obligated to provide the material needs of food, shelter, and clothing, along with basic secular and religious education. Beyond that, my children are not entitled to a new car, a college education, or a big wedding. They’re not entitled to a certain standard of living, either. They’re only entitled to having their basic needs met by me and their father until they’re capable of providing for their own needs.

Second, we’re not going to compromise our family’s quality of life now to save for something our kids may not even need in the future. We have no idea what vocation God will call our children to; to follow Him, they may not even need a college education or a wedding. If they’re unsure of their vocational calling as young adults, they can go into the workforce or military. Too many young people go to college with no clear vocational direction, spending their parents’ money or racking up debt for themselves unnecessarily.

If God does call our children to a professional career that requires college or to married life, they can 1) worry about it once they discern that call, and 2) trust that God will provide what they need THEN to follow His will. Jesus tells us over and over that we’re to trust God to provide what we need, when we need it.

And He said to His disciples, “For this reason I say to you, do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds! You men of little faith! And do not seek what you will eat and what you will drink, and do not keep worrying. For all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you. (Luke 12)

Obviously, we have to work and do our part, too. We also have to be good stewards of His financial gifts and part of that is saving money when we can. Even then, though, like everything else, we must consider the reason we save and its impact on our spiritual lives and families. It’s hard to argue that saving to afford another child, for a sterilization reversal, for emergencies, or for retirement is the same as saving to buy your teenager a car or a lavish wedding day. “What’s the highest good we can achieve by using God’s money?” we’re required to ask. Rarely is the answer, “To pay for things my adult child may want in the future.”

My three older kids actually fight over who’s going to play with and take care of our 2-year-old toddler. What a loss if we’d stopped having children to save for the older ones to go to college.

One of the saddest outcomes I’ve seen among couples who believe they’re obligated to pay for college is that they limit their family size to do so. I simply can’t imagine God wanting us to deprive our children of more siblings so we can save for the day when one or two of them might need to go to college. A sibling is a friend given to you by God to accompany and support you on the journey of life. My youngest sister, Darlene, is priceless to me. I’m the oldest and she’s the fourth child; I shudder to imagine the richness my life would have lost without her in it, if our parents had decided to stop at two kids to save for my college or wedding. A sibling is an incomparable gift infinitely more valuable to our children than any future financial benefit we can offer them.

Finally, paying your own way builds character and we don’t serve our children when we pay for things that are actually their responsibility to earn. I’ve seen so many middle-aged couples who’ve taken out a second mortgage, dipped into retirement savings, or even taken on a second job to pay for their child’s college or wedding. No matter how extravagant, selfish, or unnecessary the child’s wedding wish, the parents bend over backwards to provide it because it’s their baby’s “special day.” They forfeit their own financial security to cater to their adult children, spending money they don’t have because they can’t bear to say those terrifying four words: “We can’t afford that.” Or better yet, “Pay for it yourself.”

If my kids want a big wedding, they can work, save, and pay for it. If they want a new car, they can work, save, and pay for it. If they want to go to college, they can apply for scholarships and grants, work part-time, and take out loans to pay for it. They can decide whether wracking up $120,000 in student loans to earn $30,000 a year as a teacher is prudent, or whether half that time at community college and the rest at a cheaper state college would achieve the same goal. Let them learn to assess the true value of things and decide whether the sacrifices to obtain it are worth it. It’s amazing how frugal young people become when they’re bankrolling the venture, not mom and dad.

I also want my children to become caring adults who consider others’ needs before their own. Which is why they won’t see me or their father taking out an extra mortgage or working overtime in our 50s or 60s to provide things they ought to be earning themselves. I attended a reputable liberal arts college in the mid-1990s, and saw countless young adults disregard the financial sacrifices their parents made to pay for their education. I’ll never forget my roommate calling her parents and screaming at them because they hadn’t sent enough spending money in the latest care package. (Never mind that her middle-class parents had taken out personal loans to put both her and her sister through college at the same time.) Most whose parents were footing the bill for college expected their parents to pay for spring break vacations to a tropical locale, too. My peers’ lack of gratitude was disgusting. And that was 20 years ago; young people today have an even stronger sense of entitlement toward their parents.

I’m sure by now my husband and I sound like stingy, selfish ogres. We’re really not. Like all parents, we want our children to lead happy and productive lives and to the extent we’re able, we’ll help them financially–when they NEED it. But the fact is, our family is solidly middle class and we have five children (so far). Whatever financial help we’re able to provide will necessarily be limited to what we can spare without compromising more important goals like having more children, providing for our younger children’s needs, and saving for retirement.

Even if we got a huge windfall tomorrow, however, and became fabulously wealthy, we still would not be financially supporting our adult children. We’d still expect them pay for the majority of their college education. We’d expect them pay their dues, which means making their own sacrifices to reach their goals. And be grateful for whatever we can contribute to their goals, without feeling entitled to spending our money as if it’s their own.

Yeah, it’s tough love. And I expect plenty of folks to disagree…especially our children! Oh, well. They’ll just have to thank us in hindsight.