If there is a phrase which characterizes my closer family, parents and siblings, is the following: “Money must not be squandered.” My parents used to remember this to me while growing up. I can say that my family cannot be considered spenders at all. It did not matter how well or not our finances were, my parents always encouraged me to put some money into the bank. Not a surprise, they did not have doubt to open saving accounts for me and my siblings. In this respect, the message I received from them was that money can help someone or causes damage. Such an idea shaped my perspective on finance significantly.
I still remember that during my first year of college, I used to visit the bank before arriving on campus. The bank was located in the downtown and it was near to the bus stop I usually took. One day, I tried to deposit a couple of dollars in a portable saving account (It was my college university ID which at the same time it served as a portable money account to pay for printing, buying food, etc). The teller could not believe I was indeed making a deposit of such a small amount. After having a brief argument with the teller, he recognized that I was serious and wanted indeed to make that small deposit.
As I reflect today about this story, I came to the idea that when we try to save money, most people start with small amounts of money. However, in our fast-driven society such fact is not always given any worth.
While my parents valued saving money, they also taught me about giving money to the church and non-profit organizations. They both encouraged me to give around 20% of all my income. Definitely, a hard decision for a young guy!
A question I have made several times is whether my parents were right in their idea about money and donations. If there’s something both of my parents explicitly taught me was about never let money dominate my life or what I think about others. As part of a middle-class family, I think my parents’ advice modeled me significantly. Of course, the most affluent members of the larger family did not like this. Their secular worldview of money led them into trouble about having significant expenses. Many times they told us that money was a means to reach power and status in society. Twenty years later, many of these people lost their money in bad investments, in futile things, and vanity.
In this respect, my family’s focus on money was shaped by their notion that with money we also glorify God. We can use money for good or for bad. The way we use money is part of three areas which reflect who we are: power, sexuality, and money. Interestingly, these three areas are related to the relationship between us and our neighbor. If we glorify God in these three areas, we will be able to flourish in life. I think this is the first principle to live by. The second principle was about making plans about how we are going to use the money we earn that focus not only on us (private use of money) but also in people around us (a communal sense). That is, God, blesses us not to keep all blessings for us, but he blesses us in order that we can bless others as well. This second principle is perhaps the most misunderstood by many. Throughout the years I heard many friends defending the wrong idea that everything we earn belongs solely to us. However, I understand that this is not true at all in light of a Christian understanding of money. God is the owner of all riches and money. We are simply administrators. Last but not least, the rampant individualistic approach to money, even in the church, causes a lot of damage. The more I think about this the more I am thankful for the communal sense of my parent’s view on money. It kept me in perspective!
In summary, saving and spending are not the only stuff we should pay attention when we talk about money, there is also a spiritual dynamics at play which focuses on the idea that we save money not just for ourselves, but to help others. In this respect, the theological concept of stewardship emerges: Stewardship is based on the idea that we are more than money holders, but caretakers of God’s gifts and possessions, including money.