When I say steward, my mind inevitably jumps to church and elders and offering plates. I'm not sure why, though, because stewardship is a thread woven through each day and almost all decisions.
To be honest, money kind of scares me. It nearly always has. I grew up in a beautiful family and we survived on SO little for most of my childhood, so why am I so nervous now about my finances?
Maybe it's because I went through college working two jobs to make the next payment or maybe because I'm constantly bombarded with messages that I don't have enough. Or maybe it is because I am just nervous that I won't do what is best with what I have and then later regret it.
For whatever reason, I fear debt like the black plague and my private-school-tuition-condition is not easily cured by a simple vaccine. What is more is the addition of living and working at a Christian school in Honduras, partially supported by people in the States who believe in the the work the Lord can accomplish through me. They are taming the lion of loan payments, supporting outreach ministries, and blessing me in so many ways. Though I labor joyfully to write updates regularly (see my newsletters), I still want to show people exactly how their money (or God's money, rather:) is being used to further the kingdom.
How can I live and work here, accepting generous gifts and tithes AND also be at peace with my spending habits? I needed accountability!
Enter Dave Ramsey.
Though I never took the class, I had seen several videos, listened to his radio show, and heard many friends rave about the transformational nature of his philosophy of money. I know my situation is different. I am not the person who will call into his radio show, distraught at making $600 rent payments for an apartment, $400 payments for my brand new car, and paying minimum on at least 4 credit cards, not to mention the horrendous burden of college debt.
This is not me (if this is you, don't freak out, just go to Dave Ramsey's website!), but these concerns I do have: college debt and financial accountability for funds raised. After much thought this summer, quickly reviewing some of Ramsey's materials, and talking with several people who had been through the class, I realized that discipline was the one ingredient that would help put my mind and heart at ease this year.
Last year, when I arrived, I tried to enter every single receipt into an excel document, which of course, was a great idea until I could no longer fit my purchases into the categories I made and the receipts started to get so burdensome.
So, now I am working on a new system. I planned out what I thought my budget could look like for each month (with the helpful planning materials) and commandeered some very nice looking, large manila envelopes which I made into my organization system in my closet.
Though it may not be wise to keep large amounts of money lying around my house, I am thinking of adapting Ramsey's suggestion of all cash and putting "play money" in the envelopes. Most of my transactions can be done with a debit card here (and this is much safer). But, if I take the fake money along, I know that there is a limit to my spending. I also know where the money is coming from and can track it by category.
This first month has been hard, I'll admit. I'm trying to figure out just how much of what I am spending is one-time costs and what will be recurring. I moved into a new apartment, so there are many things (like a mirror or mosquito spray or a mop) that will not be monthly purchases. I guess I'm just trying to get an idea of what is necessary in each category. So far, I've been filing each receipt in its proper envelope. At the end of this month, I will go through and see how much I spent in each category.
I'm not sure how this will work, but I do know one thing: it feels much better to have my finances out in the light instead of haphazardly stored in the creative filing system of my brain. I truly, truly want to live as a wise steward of the resources I have been given.
When the students ask me how I got my car I usually say something like this, "Well, it's actually not mine. It's the Lord's car. A lot of people were very generous to make it possible for me to pick you up tonight. This is the Lord's car that He is letting me use for ministry."
I love saying that because it reminds me that every single thing I possess is really just on loan. I want to be faithful with the littlest of bits because I know nothing material can echo in eternity.