Practices for Paying Attention to Money

Theology of Money, part 3

First, budget. If at your house, there is a precise monthly budget, and you keep track of every dollar spent and what budget category it falls under, then you are doing a wonderful spiritual practice of noticing your life and what it is for. Budgeting is a spiritual practice (SEE HERE). Making a budget and knowing where and when you exceed it really is a deep spiritual practice of paying attention to your life. Awareness of where and when you exceed your budget lines is a spiritual grounding that then allows you to be intentional about deciding what to do about those overruns.

Second, take a hard look at what your spending on yourself does for you. There are three overall categories for where your money goes: saving, giving it away, and everything else is spending. When you’ve been budgeting for a while, tracking your spending, you can begin to see the patterns more clearly. Then the question for each expense: Is this really helping me? What spending is helping you be happy, improving your overall well-being, and what really isn’t? Are you spending more than what’s doing you any good? Maybe your next budget can begin shifting some money out of the spending categories and into one of the two other categories: saving and giving.

It’s amazing how willing human beings are to keep buying stuff that not only isn’t helping them be any happier, but is actually making them unhappy. Studies show that as we become less materialistic, our well-being improves, and that as our well-being improves we become less materialistic. It’s a spiritual practice of health and joy to intentionally assess whether the spending on yourself is helping – and how much of it is harmful habits that are only weighing you down.

In particular, if that spending has been leading to debt, then it’s a double-killer: you carry the burden of the debt and of the materialism. I read that in 2017 the average American has a credit card balance of $6,375 – and that’s up nearly three percent from the year before. Oh, ouch. That’s a spiritual issue because it’s such a weight on the spirit.

Third, give. What’s your money for? It’s for doing good in the world. Take care of yourself – which includes stopping spending on what you don’t need – and give away the rest. Give away more. I like the website givewell.org for rating charities for maximum effectiveness for every dollar you give. Some charities directly help people who are suffering and others work for systemic change so that the systems that create suffering can be reformed. Giving food to the hungry doesn’t address the need to change the system that leaves people hungry. At the same time, supporting systemic change so that eventually everyone will be able to feed themselves doesn’t feed any of the people who are hungry right now. So my suggestion would be dividing your charitable giving evenly between those two categories, 50-50.

Fourth, get used to thinking in terms of percentages of your income. I always like to see non-round numbers being pledged. A pledge of $3,142 and 18 cents tells me that this is a person who thoughtfully determines their pledge as a percentage of income. They know what their adjusted gross income is, they decided what percent of that was what they wanted to give to our congregation, and pledged a percent, rather than picking a round dollar amount.

Once you’re thinking of the allocation of your resources in terms of percents, a good starter guideline is 10-10-80. Save 10 percent. Give away 10 percent. Live on the other 80 percent. 10-10-80. (More on 10-10-80 budgeting HERE.) Certainly at different phases of life, and at different income levels, those percentages need to be different. Maybe you can afford to be giving away 20 percent. Or 50 percent. Don’t be stuck on 10 percent giving if you have open to you the possibilities of giving away much higher percents. There is such amazing joy in that – don’t hold yourself back if you don’t need to.

Or maybe saving 10 percent is too much because your retirement is as set as it needs to be, and you have no debts, and your kids inheritance is already all that it needs to be – any additional wouldn’t really be doing them any favors -- so you’re at a place where saving 10 percent is too much. Don’t be stuck on that 10 percent either. But as a beginning point for being intentional about who you are in the world, what your resources stand for, 10-10-80 is a good starting point. You might adopt 10-10-80 and live into that for a year or so and then see what adjustments would be fulfilling, given your position.

Spirituality is a path – it’s a path of awareness and intentionality, of waking up to ourselves and what we are and what we’re doing instead of being pulled along by unexamined habits and impulses. Spirituality of money recognizes that what we do and are includes what we do and are with our resources.

So tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious cashflow?

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This is part 3 of 3 of "Theology of Money"
See also
Part 1: Erosion of the Nonmarket
Part 2: Market Harms and Market Benefits

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