My job in the economy of our family is to plug the holes of unnecessary spending in order to stretch my husband’s income as far as possible. It’s a challenging position, but one that has become a bit easier since the advent of the “economic downturn” of recent years. Yes, that’s right, I did write easier, not harder. It’s easier because after living for so long in a prosperous society of shoppers, it is a welcome relief to witness a comeback of such basic, budget-stretching concepts as resourcefulness, thrift, and self-denial. It’s even somewhat humorous to see people treating these old-fashioned concepts like trendy new innovations!
On the last day of school, for instance, I had a teacher congratulate my daughter for “going green” because she reclaimed some high-quality, three-ring binders that had been left in the hall as garbage. I could have hugged that teacher right then and there, but I also had a good chuckle because her remark, which appropriately tied in the environmentally-positive dimension of my daughter’s resourcefulness, made my daughter feel like she was on the cutting edge of societal good for doing what anyone who lived through the Great Depression or World War II would have done as a matter of common sense. The greatest thing this teacher did was exemplify for my daughter the Bible verse that says, “ Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as you also are doing” (I Thessalonians 5:11) .
On top of continuing to share our resources with those who are less fortunate, I believe we can help each other through this financially stressful time, by encouraging one another to rethink and to act differently toward our newly uncertain and more limited resources. Viewed in the right light, the economic downturn has given us a great opportunity to teach our children a truly Catholic and critical life lesson from the writings of St. Paul. “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:12-13).
If, because of the uncertain economy, we begin to live and to impart to our children St. Paul’s secret of contentment, then we will have given them a treasure a thousand times more valuable than an inexhaustible trust fund. By turning to God’s word we learn that all along we should have been focusing on trusting God rather than on “building bigger barns” for amassing earthly fortunes (Luke 12:16-21), on not being slaves to fashion or food or any other human appetites (Romans 16:17-19), and on believing the promise that “God will meet all our needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). These are not easy things. They run counter to our human nature. And, because we each have different resources and ambitions, it’s nearly impossible to come up with any universal ideas about making or saving money that apply to all of our unique family situations.
Speaking as one in charge of plugging holes and stretching pennies, however, I know that saying “No” to excessive spending is almost always a good thing. It’s like putting a thumb over the nozzle of a hose. By reducing and purposefully directing the outflow of the same amount of water, one can water a much wider area of lawn. It’s the same with the outflow of money from a budget. By reducing and purposefully directing the outflow of the same amount of money, one can spread it over a much broader range of financial needs.
Before the economic downturn, the metaphorical pressure behind our thumbs was pretty high, daring us to just let go and overspend. Today the societal pressure is turning in the opposite direction, challenging us to reduce, reuse, and recycle not only for the good of our planet, but for the good of our personal finances as well. Let’s continue to encourage one another and our children to follow this “new” trend, and to use today’s struggles as opportunities not to despair, but to place our trust more fully and intentionally in God, the true source of all we have and are.
(© 2011 Heidi Bratton)