I graduated from college one year ago and started my first “real” (full-time, permanent) job two months ago. Suddenly I’m stewarding an income and offered a choice of pension plans. I’m forced to confront early on the question of what a Christian approach to savings and retirement might look like.
Retirement is important to anticipate because it has significant implications for how we arrange our finances. How Christians should arrange our finances is one of (pardon me) the million-dollar faith questions. The usual playing field for discussion covers the spending-versus-giving spectrum, but a third dominant use of money, saving, suffers from a dearth of radical, counter-cultural discussion among Christians.
Most mainstream Christian financial counseling seems to look for a middle ground between saving and giving. Saving too much is hoarding - we should trust in God, not our investment plans. On the other hand, stewardship is a virtue and we are called to be responsible and provide for our dependents. These are faithful attempts to live biblically, but those trying to live against the times may find it a rather too subtle variation on the standard approach to retirement planning, perhaps budgeting for a three-star instead of four-star retirement lifestyle.
Alternatives? Almost unimaginable government solutions aside, we might look to the variety of creative, committed, Christian communities that have been increasing in number as well as visibility and profile. Where these communities are intergenerational, the sharing of incomes or property, as well as committing to look after one another and long-term stability, can open up possibilities for the elderly to not need to think ahead to self-provision. They can instead give more freely, trusting in others around them, while with others corporately submitting to God’s provision.
In many ways this is how family units tended to function more in the past. Returning to such responsibilities might in so many ways be a good thing. However, I can’t (for so many reasons, perhaps most of all my youth!) simply expect that my children (if I have any and so many decades in the future) will simply slot me into their lives, even if I can hope they would be willing to.
I certainly have more questions than answers. I would love to find a community as described above or raise a family which thought more communally and less individually, but at a very early stage of my life I do have to make an initial decision over whether to begin saving, since if I would, sooner is always better.
Similar to questions about spending, the key issue around saving is not exactly how a certain portion of money might or might not be otherwise used, but what it reflects in our hearts. Wealth is not an evil, until it becomes an idol. Similarly, savings are not themselves sin, but trusting in our own efforts is not trusting in God. Savings for a house or a car or a holiday are one thing, but savings for provision seem to me different. I ask myself if it is prudence or fear that leads to “what if” or “just in case” savings. In all my confusion, I can’t avoid the idea that to give my life to God means to give it with abandon.
It’s true that some small investment in my own future might mean that I don’t have to be dependent on others down the road, but one of the things I’ve learned over the last few years is not to see dependency as a negative thing. Even more so, I wonder about the wisdom of setting aside income for a safety blanket decades down the road, when today, my neighbor simply needs a blanket. And so I’m left with a very real question: Do I secure my comfort tomorrow at the expense of the comfort of so many around me today?
(Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.)