At age 16, I learned how to budget money. I used a system that my parents had taught me - the envelope system. It’s really a pretty simple plan that I have now been using for almost 17 years. The concept goes like this: you budget your money by placing certain amounts into each envelope. An entertainment envelope. An auto insurance envelope. A home maintenance envelope. And so on. The money that doesn’t go into an envelope to be spent gets stashed away into savings. When it comes time to make a purchase, you don’t spend more than you have in that particular envelope.
The beauty about living on a budget is that it forces you to be disciplined with your money and teaches you to live within your means. The downside to living on a budget is that it sometimes tells you how to live your life....if you let it.
A couple of weeks ago, I had a friend who was in need. I really felt like I wanted to give some money to my friend who could certainly use it at the time. The only problem was that the envelope labeled, ‘money to give away’ only had $20 in it. I, however, felt that I wanted to give away closer to $100. Given the ‘rules’ of the envelope system, I was not to give away more than $20. (Please understand that I was not considering giving away money that I did not have. I was not planning on going into debt. The money was there, it was just stashed away in another envelope – a savings envelope – a ‘for the future’ envelope - a DO NOT TOUCH envelope).
I started to wrestle with what to do and spent a little bit of time praying about it. I believe that the budget that we are on is God honoring and I believe that God desires for us to be wise money managers. I also believe that when it comes to spending the money that he has entrusted to us, we should ask him where he would like it spent. As I wrestled for just a few minutes over what to do, it suddenly dawned on me that I was wrestling against myself. I was immediately ushered back to why I got on a budget in the first place. I created a budget over 16 years ago to serve me. At no point in time did I ever set the budget up in order that I might serve it. And the truth is....it has served me well.
As I’ve been thinking about this over the last number of days…I’ve started wondering….what other things in my life have I put in place to serve me, but over time, I have somehow started to serve those things?
It kind of reminds me of how often the Pharisees looked to the law for life and missed the point of relationship with God. At one point, Jesus went so far as to say to those guys, "…You search the scriptures because you think you’ll find life in them when the one they testify of is standing right in front of you and you can't even see it."
I love saving money. I save for my kid’s college fund. I save for retirement. I save for vacation. I save for things that I might not ever need. I save for all kinds of things. People sometimes ask me, “So, do you like to collect anything?” I usually reply, “I collect money.” But being $80 short in one of those envelopes in order to help a friend in need or invest in a friendship that is valuable to me or invest in a mission trip that I hadn’t planned for but feel that God is calling me to (might be more than $80)…...well....I’m okay with that...because my budget has been created to serve me.
In my 17 years of budgeting money, if there’s one thing that I’ve learned, it is that some things just don’t fit into an envelope.