by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Who murdered the family budget? It’s not who you think.
Usually, it’s not the big things that bleed families’ financial health, said Matthew Seba. It’s a lot of little things: the death of a thousand cuts.
“It’s not the hundreds of thousands of dollars of mistakes people make that get them into trouble,” said Seba, a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Tonganoxie.
“It’s the $40 thing here and the $60 thing there,” he continued. “[They] go into Wal-Mart with the intention to buy X, Y and Z, and leave with the whole alphabet. Instead of spending $50, [they] spend $300.”
If that goes on long enough, there will be a day of reckoning, and that individual will reap what he or she sows.
Seba knows, because that was his life before he and his wife April learned how to bring their earning, saving and spending in line with their Catholic faith.
Now, the Sebas help teach other families how to get back onto a solid financial footing by offering a 13-week class called Financial Peace University, which was developed by financial guru Dave Ramsey. They began another session at Sacred Heart on Feb. 6.
Even at a time of economic distress, Americans are better off — relatively speaking — than most generations before them. Why, then, do so many of us have financial anxieties? Why the load of personal debt?
An answer can be found in the way we think about “affording.”
“Our grandparents borrowed very, very little,” said Seba. “Our parents borrowed a little more, and our generation seems to borrow for everything. Homes, cars — you can finance a rototiller now. Before all this [credit] was available, you had to save and pay for things. Today, being able to afford something means something different than it used to.”
If our attitudes about credit, saving, spending and priorities seem a l l out of whack, it may be because we haven’t done these things according to God’s will, he continued. It’s about good stewardship.
“We are called to give,” said Seba. “If we are good stewards with what God has blessed us with, as the giving opportunities present themselves in our lives, we will be better equipped to do God’s work with that financial blessing. Being good stewards of what [God] presents us with — and it’s all His stuff — allows us to live our Christian faith.”
There is a strong connection between our Christian faith and the way we use our material goods, said Bill Scholl, archdiocesan consultant for social justice.
“When you become a disciple of Christ, it transforms you, so the Gospel will permeate into every aspect of your life,” said Scholl. “Considering that most of us spend the majority of our day pursuing economic endeavors, the Gospel will permeate into that part of our lives. Being a Catholic of integrity, you will have to ask: ‘How does the Gospel inform this aspect of my life?’”
Seba offered a number of suggestions drawn from his personal experience and from teaching Financial Peace University.
• Stop using credit cards
• Begin to budget
• Pay off your debts and stay out of debt
• Save to make major purchases
• Prioritize your expenditures, and pay necessities first.
“One of the things you can do is called ‘the four walls,’” said Seba. “You pay the necessities first — food, shelter, transportation, clothing and utilities — before anything else is purchased. By doing that, you’ll save yourself a lot of hassles in overspending.”
It’s also important that husbands and wives be fully informed about and share equally in the management of the family finances.
“As Christians, that’s not what we got married to do — for one person to carry all the burden of the finances and the other to not be a part of that,” he said. “We are called as Christians to share the burdens together, whether it’s sickness or finances.”
Usually the problem is not a lack of money, but a lack of planning. And, Seba said, a lack of understanding that — in addition to the spending — we must also save and give.
“Most people [who come to the class] make enough money to change and fix their lives, and to turn to the positive,” said Seba. “I really haven’t encountered anyone who is in such dire straits that they are in such a sad situation [that they can’t be helped].”
People can turn to a variety of resources for practical ways to get their finances under control and to bring their spending in line with God’s will. Some are explicitly Catholic; others are not.
One Catholic resource is Veritas Financial Ministries (www.veritasfinancialministries. com). It is the creation of Phil Lenahan, who wrote the book “7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free: A Catholic Guide to Managing Your Money.”
Another is the book “Faith Finances,” by Thomas Zordani. He also has a Web site at: www. faithfinances.net.
Still another resource is Financial Peace University, a course offered by Dave Ramsey, an evangelical Protestant. His Web site is: www.daveramsey. com. He offers financial advice on his nationally syndicated radio program, “The Dave Ramsey Show.”
Stuff is OK . . . to a point
So, what about all our stuff? Is it OK to own stuff?
Sure it is, but only if we put things in the proper perspective, said Bill Scholl, archdiocesan consultant for social justice.
“We can’t understand our stuff unless we look at it in light of heaven,” he said. “Our faith calls us to look at our property and see it as a gift from God.”
The Scriptures have a lot to say about money, possessions, giving, and work. For example, one of the principles is that everything actually belongs to God: “Think! The heavens, even the highest heavens, belong to the Lord your God as well as the earth and everything on it” (Dt 10:14).
It’s the church’s teaching that wealth — indeed, all our material possessions — has to be seen in the context of our eternal destiny, said Scholl.
For example, in paragraph 22 of the 1891 encyclical “Rerum Novarum” (on capital and labor) Pope Leo XIII wrote: “The things of the earth cannot be understood or valued aright without taking into consideration the life to come, the life that will know no death,” and “God has not created us for the perishable and transitory things of earth, but for things heavenly and everlasting.”
Likewise, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that each Christian is supposed to become a “steward of Providence” (no. 2404).
“As Catholics, we are all called to become ‘stewards of Providence,’” said Scholl. “Providence is just the sum total of God’s destiny for us, particularly considering all the gifts and talents — and even the challenges — he gives us.”
“We’re called to look at these things as not owning them absolutely, but owning them for a time,” he continued, “with the expectation that we’ll do all we can to use these gifts to improve our lives, the lives of our loved ones, our church, and our fellow man.”
Our consumer culture teaches us that happiness comes from having, but our Catholic faith teaches us that happiness is being.
“Becoming intentional about how we manage our finances is an important step in empowering you to ‘be’ — to be a better disciple and servant of God,” said Scholl.