In late January, the car that I had been driving for the past ten years, my Volkswagen Bug, decided to call it quits. I soon found out that getting a new vehicle brought with it a whole new set of expenses, namely car payments and higher insurance rates. I spent many nights staring at my budget wondering how on earth I was ever going to make these payments happen. I cut down much of my discretionary spending, like entertainment and dining out, but the hardest expense for me to cut was my giving. For the first time in my life I had to cut the percentage of my income that I give to the church and other non-profits that I really care about. The decision grieved me, and quite honestly still does. One of my greatest joys in life is giving money away to causes that I care about. But, I knew that this is what I had to do for the time being.
As I have talked to other young adults, I’ve realized that I am not alone. Those who come to graduate school after being in the work force often face decisions like this as they learn how to live on a considerably smaller income. Young adults coming out of college or graduate school with debt feel this tension as they realize what portion of their income will be going towards their student loans. Similarly, young couples who are buying their first home also have to make these sorts of tough decisions as they realize that their mortgage payments will consume a large portion of their budget. In the face of such financial pressures, giving often ends up on the bottom of our budget or as a piece of what is left over (if there is any).
But, what would it look like to give first?
In The Soul of Money, Lynne Twist writes, “You feel vibrant and alive when you use your money in a way that represents you, not just a response to the market economy, but also an expression of who you are. When you let your money move to things you care about, your life lights up. That’s really what money is for.” (119) When I think about the things that I really value in life the first things to come to mind are not usually my apartment, groceries, or student loans, while I know that I need all of those things. Rather the first things to come to mind are sustaining my relationships, fostering my faith community, ending world hunger, and providing scholarships to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to get a good education. What comes to mind for you?
Giving first, as a part of my normal budgeted expenses, no matter how small the amount, makes me feel alive! It reminds me that no matter how little I have to give I can still make a difference in the world through the causes that I believe in. This is not to say that there aren’t other ways to give outside of money. There are many great ways to give of our time and talents that make a huge difference for the causes we love. But, when we only give of our time and neglect our money we forget the great power that money has. Twist writes, “One of the greatest dynamics of money is that it grounds us, and when we put money behind our commitments it grounds them, too, making them real in the world . . . Money is a great translator of intention to reality.” (194) When we give money to places that we value, it reminds us that we are not only consumers but also givers and that economic pressures do not need to have the last word.
So, I challenge you to join me in giving first; to let your giving be intentional, rather than an after thought. In the worlds of Lynne Twist, I invite you “to imbue your money with soul—your soul—and let it stand for who you are, your love, your heart, your word, and your humanity.” (257)
Join the Conversation: What do you think about giving first? Is this something that would work for you?