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The Divine Economy

How one woman's unique method for managing her funds led to a revelation about her faith.

Imagine Jesus preaching a modern-day Sermon on the Mount. He comes to the part about sinning.

“If your credit or debit card causes you to sin, cut it up and throw it away. It is better for you to lose all that plastic than for your whole body to burn in hell.”

Harsh, perhaps. But if we take Jesus' intended meaning to be that we'd be better through life without things we value if those things lead us to sin, then it is ever so fitting.

Americans have no shortage of worries when it comes to their wallets. According to a Gallup survey, 43 percent of Americans are moderately worried about meeting their monthly payments of daily living. Moreover, the average college graduate is sacked with over $25,000 in student loans, and carries more than $4,100 in credit card debt. Then there’s retirement to worry about down the road.

Simply stated, folks are stressed out, and money is primarily what is ailing them.

43 percent of Americans are moderately worried about meeting their monthly payments of daily living.

But does it have to be this way?

Author and United Methodist pastor Adam Hamilton concedes that money is a catalyst for our financial malaise. But in his book on the topic, Enough, Hamilton argues that ours is a crisis that is deeply spiritual in nature. At its heart, the crisis is one of faith.

It all comes down to how much a person trusts God. In what (or who) do we trust and place our faith – God or money? What (or who) determines our value? When we feel empty, what (or who) fills us? Unfortunately few Americans, believers included, are able to answer “God” to each question. This means that we’re serving the wrong master (Luke 16:13), and we’re aching because of it.

Yet getting our finances under control are possible, especially when our priorities are kept in order.

“This is the high-tech way of budgeting that our family uses,” said the pastor as he held up an envelope. The envelope flopped as he waved it to and fro, belying its frequent use.

“At the beginning of each month the budgeted amount of cash is placed into the envelope of the line item’s category. Most things are paid in cash. The money in an envelope may be spent or saved. But, when an envelope is empty no more spending is allowed for that line item.”

It struck a chord in my husband and my ears, as if someone had just sounded the alarm. Like many Americans today, we were hurting from the economy and self-inflicted financial wounds, and we decided to give the envelopes a shot. Four months into our own envelope adventure, we have learned much.

Convenience Kills

As credit card companies have advertised so well, a quick swipe of a credit or debit card enables us to keep moving “at the speed of life.” The unspoken ramification of this pace is that we are unable (unwilling?) to slow down and think about what we’re buying and how much we’re spending.

Actually seeing and touching the cash has made me mindful of how I spend our money and on what we’re spending it. As the month progresses, I can see the cash in each envelope dwindle. It's an eye opener. I used to stare at the low balance in our bank account in disbelief (far too often) and say to myself, My husband just got paid! Where did all of our money go? Now, I know.

Good stewardship of our money is just as much of a spiritual discipline as prayer and Bible study.

Discipline Is Easier Without Other Options

Good stewardship of our money is just as much of a spiritual discipline as prayer and Bible study. Purchasing with cash only is almost unforgiving in this area, but it is a good thing. When the cash is gone from the envelope, we can't buy anything else. It's put us a in a few binds, but it wouldn’t be called a discipline if it were easy to do.

Great teaching moments with my children—not being able to eat lunch out, purchase a toy or register my girls for an activity because the money isn't in the envelope has launched excellent conversations with them. Also, if we do not spend any or all of the cash for a line item in a month, the money stays in the envelope, and in essence becomes a mini-savings fund for each line item. Unexpected auto repairs now pack less punch.

Paying with Cash Opens New Ministry Opportunities

Paying in cash restores human interaction that plastic card machine convenience removes. When getting gas in my vehicle, for example, I actually have to walk into the convenience store and speak to the clerk to pre-pay and get my change. Translation: thanks to our cash system, I now have ample opportunity to get to talk make face-to-face connections with people, encouraging farewells and respectful interaction with hardworking human beings who may not be getting enough of it.

Financial guru Dave Ramsey is amongst the many who espouse the cash payment system. This “Grandma’s way” of budgeting and handling money is a key component to his Total Money Makeover, as a matter of fact. Why? Ramsey’s assertion is short, and to-the-point: it works.

Ramsey does not sugar coat this unconventional method, however. The cash system is a discipline, he confirms. Indeed, it takes commitment and dedication because paying off debt and amassing savings do not happen over night. The solution will be no less immediate.

But it doesn’t have to be a ball and chain. Having a “fun money” envelope that functions just like the other ones is a great idea that Ramsey suggests. We can spend that money on whatever we want (within the budget, of course), and not worry about regret.

Perhaps the best gift of the cash system, or any system that helps you manage your money in a God-honoring way, is the freedom that it provides. Simply knowing that we have a plan and that we’re working that plan to get out of debt and build savings can dispel stress, fear and worry. As months pass and the ratio of debt to savings begins to shift from red to black, rejoicing might just flow from that freedom.

And rejoicing in the Lord, not worrying about finances (or anything else, for that matter), is what we’re supposed to be doing, anyway (Philippians 4:4-7).

10 Comments

Angie Mabry-Nauta

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Angie Mabry-Nauta commented…

Thanks, April! God's blessings to you!

Kris Wise

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Kris Wise commented…

I feel the exact opposite works best. Cash burns a hole in my pocket. The best thing you can do if you have no self control is get rid of your credit cards(not debt), get ONE bank account for your family (not one for husband and one for wife), get a budget tool (Mint.com, Mvelopes, "You Need A Budget", Google Spreadsheets or Excel), and stick to it! If you're married you should both sit down and agree to the numbers even if it takes a few days to agree its worth it if you both know what yoru getting into. As you mentionedconveniencekills a budget and I find that cash is the most convenient of all payments (everyone takes it). Also there are no indicators or alerts to low funds with cash. Some might say when you are out of cash is an alert in and of it self but how many of you carry all your cash all the time? At a glance with most budget tools you can see how much you have in each category:groceries, gas, entertainment, tithe, gifts, office supplies. I don't know if its just my generation who has grown up with plastic as the norm (that "Available Funds" amount or status bar has more power in our digital upbringing) and cash as the stuff you get in birthday cards to do what you want with but as I said, cash is more dangerous to me. Even after taking Financial Peace University I still recommend others to skip the envelope system (and overpriced gazelle budget software). I used Excel/Google Docs and saw the value of a budget, not just in getting out of debt but also a lot more giving and special treats for meeting my goals. Once I saw that keeping a budge was worth it I moved to Mint.com to help me take it on the go and set goals. Mint is where I tell most people to start now but now I use YNAB (You Need a Budget) so I could get down in stats of my spending to cut even more wasteful spending. This whole process helped me pay of $20,000 in student loans in about a year/year and a half. We are debt free other then our house. We are looking to purchase a car and we may do this with cash or small loan with rapid payment schedule.

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Angela commented…

Great article with good advice, Angie!

Heather René

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Heather René commented…

I've heard a lot about the envelope system, but in today's technological age, how do people deal with purchasing online?
This is the one snafu that has stopped me from implementing the system myself.
My only thought is that I could have an envelope that starts empty and any time I have to use my credit card (online mostly) I just transfer money out of the envelope that should have paid for that purchase & put it into that one, then I can deposit it back into my bank account to pay the bills.

Does anyone else have any suggestions or things that have worked for them???

Kris Wise

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Kris Wise commented…

I made a lengthier comment that explained my experience but has yet to be approved by moderator.

@google-21377f0b6d8f861573d920f197223eb6:disqusI would suggest just getting rid of your Credit Cards, don't do cash (its too easy to spend), get Mint (mint.com) and use sub accounts as digital envelops. I went through FPU. I dont know if its just my generation but my balance totals and "progress bar" like tracking is much more of motivator/fear-inducer to me then cash. Also If your married I would suggest only one bank account and make a budget WITH your spouse. Even if it takes a few days to hammer one out and agree on amounts its worth it in the long run to be on the same page and understand where you money comes from and where it goes. Give every dollar a job and if you end up spending less in a category... Congrats move it to savings or double down on paying off debt.

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