Jesus was clear.
You cannot serve both God and money.
Throughout my 20s, this was not a problem I thought I struggled with.
First of all, I didn’t perceive myself as having all that much money. So, how could I be serving it? (I deal with the inaccuracy of how I perceive of my own wealth here.)
Second, money was never a part of my thought process when choosing my career. If money wasn’t the motivator for choosing my job, how could I be in danger of “serving two masters?”
It’s been said that one of the greatest tricks devil ever played was convincing most of the world he doesn’t exist. His greatest encore might be wrapping up vice in the midst of a big ball of virtue and letting the whole thing rot from the inside out.
I might not struggle with being a slave to money in the sense that I obsess about how much I make. But, in looking back over the past 10 years of my life, I’ve found myself serving the master of mammon precisely in the ways that I DIDN’T think about money.
The accumulation of things that aren’t necessary is warned against (see the lilies of the field in Matthew 6), but the wise stewardship of resources also allows us to invest in other values (see Joanna and Suzanna in Luke 8).
I’ve prided myself that “I don’t think that much about money.” But it is exactly because I haven’t been thinking about financial decisions that I have not been able to be as generous, hospitable, or responsible as I could have been.
The money that we DON’T spend on things we DON’T need can be money that we DO give for things others DO need.
I don’t write this from a perspective of having mastered a “Christian approach to finances” or being a sterling success story of generosity, but rather from one of having just finished my third decade of life, which was full of the most significant financial decisions of my life to date.
There are a lot more things to be said about the way we should spend the money we do have. But here are a few lessons I’ve been learning about how to save money so I can be more responsible, generous, and hospitable.
1. Live with people.
Never pay all that you can afford to pay in rent. You might be coming off years of sharing a room during college and are thrilled to get your own apartment. But just because you can afford to live alone doesn’t mean you have to. Rent (or mortgage) is likely going to be your single largest monthly expense for years to come. Saving even just $200-$300 dollars a month over the course of your 20s can mean $24,000 to $36,000. And it is a lot harder to get a nice place early and then have to downgrade later than going as cheap as you can at first and then spending more as your needs change.
2. Be creative about community.
When I first graduated college, one of my priorities was investing in friends and building community. What that often meant was that every time a friend invited me out for dinner or a drink, I would say yes. This got pricey. But I didn’t want to skip out on building relationships with people I cared about. Things got a lot cheaper (and the quality time together improved) when I started being more proactive about how I spent time with my friends. Hosting them (at my group house) or offering to bring a bottle of wine to their place was a lot less money than splitting the check at a restaurant.
3. Make your coffee. Make your lunch. Seriously.
I get it. Everyone forgets lunch sometimes. I do to. There might be times when it’s a choice between a trip to the coffee shop or falling asleep in a meeting. But there is a BIG financial difference between making that the exception or a habit. Scenario A: $3 a day on coffee at Starbucks and $10 a day on lunch at a sandwich shop. Scenario B: $0.33 a day on coffee and $3 on leftovers from dinner or a homemade sandwich. Five days a week, 50 weeks a year for 10 years, and Scenario A is going to run you $32,500 over your 20s. Scenario B is going to run you $8,325. That’s a $24,175 savings your first decade in the work force.
4. Watch your monthly expenses.
To date, there are no known fatalities as a result of not having a cable subscription. Netflix might be a nice cheap alternative, but do you also need Hulu Plus? Do you need a car? The most expensive cell phone plan? I’m highly in favor of supporting high quality journalism and writing through having magazine and newspaper subscriptions but … If you aren’t sure, try this test: Take a look at your weekly, monthly, or annual cost for something. Project your total cost over the next 10 years and then ask, “Will I look back and still be glad I spent $XX on Y?”
5. Redefine entertainment and relaxation.
Enjoying music, theater, and film isn’t a bad thing. Neither is being proactive about having a healthy mind, body, and spirit. But achieving your personal goals doesn't have to be expensive. Just as you can cultivate a taste for the “finer things in life,” you can develop a taste for the simpler. Hosting a local amateur musician at your house for a concert can be far more fulfilling (and go further to build community) than purchasing tickets to the concert of a well-known artist. A walk through a public park, a short hiking trip, or a nice cup of homemade tea can all ultimately do more to restore your spirit than the costly “relaxation” options marketed to us every day.
These lessons aren’t comprehensive and are written by an unmarried guy who just hit 30 — and are limited as such. If you have more thoughts, tips, or suggestions on ways to proactively simplify your life and create more opportunity for generosity and hospitality, leave them in the comments.
Timothy King is Chief Strategy Officer for Sojourners. Follow him on Twitter @tmking.
Image: Gajus / Shutterstock.com