by Nancy Guenther
I’ve spent too much my entire life. That’s the truth, plain and simple. I’m not talking about the money I’ve given to churches, good causes, and friends. I’m talking about stupid things that sparkle that I just had to have. I’m talking about trying to ease my anxiety by shopping on Ebay, Etsy and even Facebook. Those impulse purchases aren’t anything big, but they’re never anything I need either, and the cost of them adds up. Thankfully I now have accountability sisters to keep me in line, but even these relationships aren’t always foolproof.
As my husband now looks toward retirement and I realize just how many years our savings may need to stretch, I face a new, scaled down style of living. We are planning now on smaller quarters, a smaller budget, and a budgeted, smaller outflow of money. This new financial reality is on the very near horizon for us.
Let me be clear. Our careful planning means we will be more than comfortable, and if we are prudent, we will be able to give our children the funds that they will need for their special circumstances. But in order to make those plans work, my anxiety spending days are over.
I am learning that reaching out to others in connection and friendship, and not allowing myself to become isolated when I am anxious is key for me combatting the temptation to make an impulse purchase. Reaching out to my sisters in Christ turns me toward what matters and brings my overspending into focus. When I confess out loud to someone that I am scrolling through products on the internet, it seems to wake me up to what I am doing. I also appreciate that my sisters remind me to return things when I slip up.
My relationship with money has always been complicated. I grew up with plenty, felt guilty about it, enjoyed it, got used to it, and then worried that I would run out. Money affects my mood, gets me alternately excited and depressed, makes me feel safe or scared. Does this sound like idolatry? Bingo. Cutting the budget has been a sort of “severe mercy,” as C.S. Lewis would say. Having less disposable income will be a mercy that helps me turn to God in new, deeper ways in the coming years, and rely less on the temporary comforts my wallet promises to provide.
Often, I reflect on the fact that God loves me enough to take all of my money away if that’s what it takes to bring me closer to Him. I hope it doesn’t come to that that, but sometimes I wonder. If I ask myself, honestly, to what I am trusting my future, there is a hefty chunk that would answer, “The stock market”. This is not where I want my faith to be! There is no certainty, no love and no wisdom in money itself. Even those I trust to manage my investments are fallible and not in control of the world’s vicissitudes.
I believe we should save for retirement, yes, but ultimately the future is in God’s hands. I live in the tension between planning for the future and trusting the One who knows my future, and wonder if there a continuum, or if they actually go hand-in-hand? And how much concern about running out of money is healthy? If those concerns motivate me to be thriftier, that’s probably good. If my worries keep me up at night, probably not so good. I’ve come to understand that good stewardship means planning well. If things turn topsy-turvy after that, I can rest in knowing that I did my best and that God is in control.
I appreciate that aging has made me want to live a simpler, less-cluttered life. I want to expand on that and to become more focused on my spiritual life. I want to drink from that deep Well that truly quenches thirst instead of trying to satisfy my longings with trinkets. The realities of a “senior” budget may be just what I need to steer me in the right direction.
Nancy Guenther is a wife, an entrepreneur and a mom to three wonderful young adults. She and her husband are currently in the process of downsizing to a Chicago suburb as they head into empty-nesthood. Nancy owns an online business called RosesAndTeacups.com.