I wish I’d known from early on how to properly handle money. I wished I’d know how to develop a budget and to spend and save accordingly. I wished I’d had, but I hadn’t.
I remember starting off at 17 in my first apartment with a spanking new checkbook and the assumption that the bank couldn’t know about any checks I might write because they would not be present when I wrote them. I was very silly in those days. For a brief moment, I fantasized about all the things I could buy without anyone being the wiser. I was clueless. I had no idea that all checks make it back to the bank. Fortunately, I was wise enough to know that if it were so easy, everyone would be doing it. Somehow the bank knows.
I remember also the mathematical circumstances of my first student loan. Having followed the directions on the application to determine the amount of interest over the life of the loan, I immediately convinced myself I was mistaken, math not being my strong suit. The interest amount was so shockingly high I was sure it couldn’t possibly be allowed. So I went ahead and borrowed … every semester of every year I was in school.
I wish I’d possessed basic knowledge (and maturity) about credit and interest rates and the horrors of debt collection. Growing up we never had money so I learned nothing about it except its lack. We mostly lived in hand-me-downs and shopped for school clothes once a year at places like Jamesway and the Big N (on par with K and Wal-mart). We never ate out. Our breakfast cereals were primarily Wheaties or Raisin Bran. Ma figured they’d last longer if we didn’t like them. True. Super Sugar Smacks were a step up and we got them some of the time, but cereals like Trix and Booberry were way out of our league. When money was especially tight, we ate meals of rice, milk, sugar, and cinnamon. We should have been grateful that we always had food on the table (remember those starving people in China?), but hey, we were kids and most kids aren’t grateful.
It’s not as though my mom didn’t try to educate us about the value of a dollar. For a short time I had a nickel allowance. Eventually, I graduated to a whole quarter, even fifty cents. That was an exciting time, because we could still buy penny candy at the gas station. But then Ma couldn’t afford allowances anymore and so we got nothing. As far back as I can remember, when we kids asked for something that cost money the answer was almost always “No” because as Ma said, “If I do it for one I’ll have to do it for all six.” There were six kids in our family. That’s why we never got Booberry – that little box would not have survived six kids chowing down two or three bowlfuls each.
As a teenager, I never went to the mall. There was no point in doing so. I didn’t even know that teens hung out there. Even as a young adult I didn’t care for the mall. It was too overwhelming. Everything I saw I wanted, yet I could afford nothing. It seemed like everyone in the world was there buying things except me. Why did they have money and not me? After college, I had money in my pocket for the first time. The mall became a fun place. Shopping made me feel happy and hopeful, like I could become that person I always dreamt of being. The self-confident, popular people I met all dressed stylishly and went places and did things that cost money. I wanted to live like them, be like them. It appeared as though money could and did bring love and good times and I wanted it. Oh, how I wanted it. So I spent every available penny I had on buying a little chunk of that heaven. Even though I paid my bills paid on-time, I saved nothing, but spent it all. And then I discovered the wonderful world of credit. The more money I made, the more I spent. It was never enough. Eventually it all landed on the card. And what a ride it was! Month after month I paid the minimum amount without understanding what that meant. By the time I learned the truth about credit, the habit was firmly entrenched and my debt was in the thousands.
After getting saved, I began to learn about God’s perspective on money and debt through many avenues such as Bible study, Christian Financial Concepts, and a wide variety of secular money management lessons. Yet even with education, debt does not disappear magically. I learned a lot over the years, but practiced little. Budgeting gave me a great deal of hope until some unanticipated bill messed it up and I had to rob Peter to pay Paul. Getting back on track was nearly impossible because unexpected bills came in the mail on a fairly regular basis. If I’d not had credit card debt, I could have paid these bills immediately and without difficulty. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.
“Will not your debtors suddenly arise? Will they not wake up and make you tremble? Then you will become their victim” (Habbakkuk 2:7).
I’ve struggled with consumer debt most of my life. Even though I’ve tithed since the beginning, practicing self-control has not come so easily. Letting go of greed and gluttony is far easier said than done. Our culture waxes on self-indulgence, indeed our very economy is based on it. I wanted what I wanted when I wanted it. I certainly did not want to deny myself. You know what really stinks about it all? God enabled me several times in those years to completely pay off my credit cards only to find me a year or two later, to my shame, even more deeply in debt. Isn’t that pathetic?
A few years ago, I paid off my cards yet again. Grabbing my scissors, I cut them into pieces, all but one, that ridiculously ill-named “emergency credit card”. There has never been an emergency for which it was required, but I am, once again, thousands of dollars in debt. This time, however, I’m certain I’ve learned my lesson. Actually, I learnt it years ago. I just didn’t follow its advice.
But I’ve been praying for God’s help. I have confessed my sin of greed, self-indulgence, and a total lack of discipline and self-control. I’m repenting. It has been 2 months since I last pulled that emergency card out of my wallet. Today, I put it through the shredder.
I want to live free, not only of consumer debt, but of the mold and shape and size the world says I must be in order to be accepted. My significance is in God. I am a Christian; the world will never accept me. Selah.
But God says I am His beloved and He is mine. He tells me to not worry for He will provide for me (Matthew 6:25-34) . I have fixed my eyes on Jesus and am running the race in such a way as to get the true prize, a crown that will last forever (1 Corinthians 9:24-25).
What about you? Where do you go when you are sad, bored, lonely, or hurting? Do you, like so many of us, spend money to feel better about yourself? I’ve heard it said that the way we handle money speaks volumes about our spiritual maturity. Feeling convicted? Get help. Go to God in prayer. Confess and repent. Determine in your heart to walk that way no longer. And may the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).
I have decided to follow Jesus. I have decided to follow Jesus. I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back, no turning back.