Actions speak louder than words. My children won’t listen to what I merely say. They will do what I do. Everyday what I choose to model with my actions matters.
Money is the same way. Money speaks louder than words alone, yet how many people in today’s world actually ask for financial accountability? Finances are right up there with politics and religion in the realm of taboo topics. But why? Whatever we care about most, that is where we will spend our resources, our time, our energy…and our money.
Make a Statement
Is your life aligned with your values, or do you say one thing and then do another? Your Money or Your Life calls this alignment Financial Integrity. If your values and your money / energy aren’t aligned, it’s time to either change your spending or change your purpose.
How do we even know what our purpose is? I believe we should all take the time to create a personal mission. (This idea comes from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.) Slow down and decide what truly matters to you. Art? Social justice? People? Travel? Faith? Community? Prayer? Make a mission statement. It can be a few words or a few paragraphs. Your mission statement should summarize your underlying beliefs and the passion that drives you. It should be specific, and narrow down all the myriad of things out there that people care about. Life has limitations. Since we are physically incapable of caring about everything, knowing what we do care about is quite important. When we’re bombarded with choices and feeling overextended and overbooked, Josh and I look at our activities and commitments through the lens our family mission. The activities that don’t align with our mission are the first to get cut.
Josh and I have a pretty simple family mission: Simplicity. Generosity. Hospitality. Community. These are more than just words to us. They are the fabric of our daily life. They are the target that we’re shooting for. We may never hit the mark, but we get closer than if we had no target at all and were blindly throwing darts in every direction. As I mentioned, our mission helps us decide what to say yes to and what to say no to. It helps us make big decisions like: “Should I take this job?” “Which house should I buy?” And little decisions like: “Should I drive or walk?” “Should I buy this now or wait till I can get a used one?”
Make a Change
Once you’ve developed your mission statement, you can start to pivot your life into alignment with your mission. This definitely includes your spending.
It’s easy to decide minimalism and simplicity matter, but not actually stop buying new things and start purging clutter.
It’s one thing to say you care about a cause, but if you don’t contribute your time or money to that cause, how real is your involvement?
It’s one thing to write a blog post or share an article online. It’s another to actually show up at a fundraiser or volunteer on your days off. (I believe this growing phenomenon has been dubbed “slacktivism.”)
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
A statement of faith or purpose is a great starting point. But it cannot be the ending point.
Ask for Accountability
This is where it gets awkward. I want you to take your freshly-minted mission statement and show it to someone else. Ask them to help you stay on the path and remind you of your mission statement whilst in the throws of daily life. And then….gasp….ask them to hold you accountable financially.
Is there more to your mission than finances? Of course! You are a lot more than the money you earn and spend. However, money is the biggest hangup most of us have with living out our beliefs. It’s not that we don’t have values, it’s that money feels off limits. It’s ours. We earned it. End of story.
No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
I definitely don’t believe money itself is evil. I believe it represents a lot of different things to different people, and some of these things can be problematic. Money can represent safety, it can represent fun, it can represent our plans and future hopes. Would you be ashamed to show everyone your bank statements for the past year? What would that information tell them about what you truly value?
Josh and I have likeminded mentors around us with whom we’ve shared our financial situation. They’re here to cheer us on and steer us in the right directions, keeping our values and our resources more or less aligned. (This blog is also a form of accountability for me. I’m sure I’d be flooded with questions if we suddenly purchased a new Mercedes out of the blue…. And that’s a good thing!)
Accept What You Can’t Control
Lately I’ve been a little frustrated on money we’ve had to spend around the house. Two faucets and a dehumidifier broke in the same week. They weren’t huge expenditures, but you know the feeling. “When will everything just work like it’s supposed to?” I personally like to think of money as a resource, and I’m a steward who’s trying not to waste the resources I’ve been given. I get bummed when things need replaced, not because I’m attached to the material things, but because it’s wasteful.
Yet I strive to choose thankfulness in those moments. Some expenses are simply outside my realm of control. When there’s nothing I can do to prevent those problems, I’m thankful for the money to satisfy those little irritating problems. The accompanying stress is merely stemmed from my desire to spend money in meaningful, intentional ways. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be intentional. There is nothing wrong with fixing the faucets either.
Time is Money
The flip-side of how you spend your money is how you spend your time. The two are often interconnected, since many of us get paid for at least some of our time at a job. Do you mostly waste time when you aren’t working? Do you invest in others? Do you invest in yourself?
We all have things that we would like to do “if we had more time.” Write some of those things down. This is your chance. If you aren’t intentional and make time for those things now, guess what? They will never happen. I promise if those things become a priority, you will find the time. It might mean making big sacrifices like taking a pay cut. It might simply mean waking up an hour earlier or not regularly wasting time on your phone.
“If I had more time” things are often in line with our values. They are often deep, meaningful, and worthwhile. But since there’s no due date or sense of urgency, many of those precious ideas and intentions will go un-lived. Grasp and pay attention to those “Important but not Urgent” activities (term taken from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.)
Live Your Values
The American Dream is overrated. I would personally rather “live my values” than “live the dream.” What does this look like? It will look different for all of us since we all have different values.
For us it meant simplifying our lifestyle and becoming more frugal. It meant moving out of the suburbs. It meant selling a car. It meant buying some bikes. It meant eating simple, meatless meals at home rather than eating out. It encompasses every aspect of life. Nothing is off-limits. Our life choices are all interwoven, and our values are in the center of it.
I hope I’m not making this sound like my family is perfect because we are definitely not. We don’t have it all figured out. We’re on a journey and that’s exactly why accountability and transparency are so important. I’m right here with you and I know what it feels like. We strive to be frugal so we have more to give, but we’re aware that it’s an extreme privilege to be frugal by choice rather than necessity. We’re well aware that the rich, the poor, and everyone in-between all need each other and can learn from one another. We strive to be a small part of the change every day.
Okay, time to take some action. How does your spending align with your values, passions, and life mission? What can you stop doing and what should you do make more time for?