May 13, 2019 | Alex R
I’m searching my backpack for my wallet. I’m next in line at Tims, my stomach’s gurgling and the students behind me are already complaining about the long wait.
Bingo! I grasp the gold zipper to my wallet and unzip. Oh gosh, no. I left my debit card at home, probably in another coat because I was too excited to eat out (again) and forgot to put the card back in my wallet. I scramble to my backpack pocket and whip out a 20 dollar bill. It’s the cash I withdrew for my church tithe, the money that should remain untouched. Before I know it, I’m ordering a bagel, a small hot chocolate, and a pack of 10 Timbits for my friends and handing the cashier my bill.
Just this once, right?
Going to university, working, and having an appetite is no crime. But should we give more thought to where our money goes? Budget to spend guilt-free? Save to give treats? Organize to keep our finances in order?
Yes. Let’s get a broader perspective on things.
Lifestyle change = a change in your lifestyle
I love giving gifts. In fact, the majority of my spending goes to purchasing things for other people. I am happiest when I see something others will enjoy, then purchase it, wrap it in tissue paper and wrapping paper, tie it with a ribbon and voila! The look on their face, the compliments on my wrapping skills, and their momentary joy make my heart smile.
Maybe you’re thinking, “What’s wrong with that?” In short, nothing. But is there a point at which this becomes incompatible with my lifestyle?
“I’m a student on a budget.” It’s the most common phrase heard on campus. We face it early on, when we’re signing up for classes and watch the numbers grow further away from the decimal. We feel it when the receipts from the bookstore loom on our desk. We see it on our screens, simply signing into our bank account.
So what happens when we refrain from adjusting to a new lifestyle? It doesn’t work. As much as I love giving gifts, I couldn’t buy fancy ribbon during university without needing to budget for school supplies, bills, or groceries!
A change in our lifestyle means we need to adapt to a new way of life. So YES, as students (or even recent graduates), we need to approach money differently.
It’s not about how much you have, but how you use it
Maybe you’re feeling the tension between wanting to give to church, to your favourite organization, to your friends, and of course, to yourself (who doesn’t love a little shopping spree once in a while?). I understand the tension and struggle between wanting to “live” and feeling restricted.
In order to better understand how God sees our financial situations, and gain a better perspective on living with a healthy budget, I looked to the Bible.
In Mark 12:41-44, Jesus sees a woman giving a couple of cents for tithe. Instead of asking, “Wow, that’s all you can give?” Jesus admired her willingness to give even when she didn’t have a lot. From this, we learn that Jesus loves a generous heart that desires to support the church. Jesus is interested in our heart and our motivations with money, not the amount of funds in our bank account.
In Matthew 6, Jesus teaches the people to give without boasting, and concludes with, “You cannot serve both God and money” (v.24). Uh-oh. This invites us to consider: Are we trying to please others with our investments? Do we seek self-praise from our money? Am I choosing to serve money rather than God? It’s so important to pray and ask God, “Please search my heart, help me to place you above all else, and show me how to honour you.”
Matthew 6 ends with this: first seek his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things (clothes, food, and shelter) will be given to you as well (v.33). In other words, Jesus calls us to pursue heaven, holiness, and purity, knowing God, our sole provider, will help us with our needs.
In these passages, Jesus implores us to think outside of ourselves with our money, and to be strategic in the way we use our resources. He says that we must invest in the Kingdom of Heaven instead of “treasures on earth” that can decay (Matthew 6:19).
Creating a budget
Let’s jump into budgeting. You can even find a lot of budgeting plans online (YNAB is an excellent one, and EveryDollar is even free). Before you start making a budget, start with figuring out your current monthly expenses in light of your current monthly income.
Start by writing down all of your credit card balances, school loans, and other debts… chances are you need to pay off your debts and bills each month, so line them up and calculate out the total monthly cost.
Next, think of any monthly essential costs (rent, transportation, groceries, etc.). This can even include giving to your local church, even at a small amount. It’s wise to build regular giving into your financial routine, developing patterns that you will follow when you graduate. This number is your living essentials.
Finally, like any normal person, each month (or every few months) you’ll probably want to watch a movie, go shopping, give to a friend going on a mission trip, and go out to celebrate birthdays. Try to think ahead about how much those expected monthly costs may be and total them at the end of your budget. Those are “fun expenses” that you can plan for on a monthly basis so that when they come up you’re not scrounging and taking money from other places. It’s important to have your bills, loans, and essentials at the top of your budget and pay those off first, and then think about the fun purchases.
Now that you know your monthly expenses, starting with debt and bills, then living essentials, and finally fun purchases, you can compare that to your monthly income. Ideally, you would have more money coming into your bank account than going out — but for many students and young adults this isn’t a reality. And that’s okay. For a season your monthly income may mostly come from student loans that you receive yearly and need to spread out for 8-12 months. Hopefully you’re able to work a summer or part-time job to cover some of your monthly bills and expenses, and even save for the months you’re in school.
For me, thinking about paying my bills on time and managing my finances wisely to incorporate giving to my church, meant rolling back on personal “fun” purchases. Like time, money is a limited resource, and we can’t buy everything (unless you want to rack up thousands in consumer debt, but I warn you that’s a deep pit to dig yourself out of later). The easiest way to increase the amount of money you have (other than getting an extra job or side hustle), is to limit your spending. The less you spend today, the more there is in your account to save up for future purchases that may be more important.
In order to scale back my own spending, I needed to reshape the way I thought about budgeting, saving, and tithing.
Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
- Prioritize giving . Make sure to set aside money to give to your local church and donate. Prioritizing giving renews your perspective of a dollar. Consider this: you have fifty extra dollars, thirty of which can be donated to send school books to Africa, and twenty to spend on four visits to Starbucks. Here’s the catch: knowing how much thirty dollars can do changes the value of the remaining twenty. We’ll need to consider if the cost of the item is worth the investment.I used to forego tithing without thinking about how much it impacts the church. At church, I took a class on global missions, and learned that supporting the local church financially allows them to run all of their ministries, send people on local and global missions, and host programs for those dealing with grief, battling addictions, or in need of biblical counselling! Perhaps you have a heart for missions in Canada or beyond—research different organizations and select one to give and pray for. Maybe you want to help the less privileged in your neighbourhood. In this case, you’ll need to set aside funds to buy resources for the local soup kitchen.
- Ask: do I actually need it? It’s important to consider whether something is a necessity before purchasing it. Maybe you already have a fancy outfit, and a fun snack at home, or enough school supplies. Pray over your spending, and seek wisdom and counsel. And yes, it’s totally okay to ask a bank associate or your mentor for financial advice! This question helps you refrain from splurging on luxuries, and will help you save for for the future.
- Get a library card or purchase used books. Instead of binging on Netflix, I switched to reading more. Not only did I have a better selection of entertainment, but my eyes also got time to relax from screens. With that said, new books can be pricey, so choose to go thrifty and find a used bookstore, or hit your local library! Oftentimes a library card is free, and libraries will take book purchase recommendations. And if you’re really missing your TV fix, the library holds a slew of movies and TV shows you can take out too.
- Plan ahead. Consider public transportation (bus, train, subway) before driving. This reduces the wear and tear on your car, as well as your carbon footprint, and gives your brain a break from the concentration required to drive. Planning ahead, as in mapping out your travel, decreases the amount of gas and money you could’ve spent on getting lost…
- Make your meals. This is so hard for me. I like Chinese takeout—so yummy—but it’s really expensive. In order to cut costs, I’ve scaled way back from ordering out, and purchasing packaged and frozen food. Try cooking your own food instead. Take a look at Instagram, Youtube videos, and Facebook links to find easy recipes, meal planning, and how-to cooking content. The best part is that you’ll end up eating healthier too!
- Think about the experience, purpose, and longevity. Life is tricky; sometimes you need a fancy outfit, or want to treat your family to a movie or go on a holiday. So, to flesh out the unnecessary and, dare I say, useless spending, consider whether investing in the experience is possible and well worth it. Why are you purchasing the item? Can you shop the sale rack or head to a thrift store instead? Are you buying for a one-time use, or can the item be used again over time?
While budgeting, saving, and thinking about money may feel more like Wall Street’s responsibility than yours, know that God cares about what you do with your resources. He cares about the funds he provided you with, and he desires your affection above all else. Choose to take care of stewarding the resources he’s given you. Know that when you invite God into the money business, he can provide the guidance needed to make good decisions.
How can you rethink your purchases in order to serve God better?