The most radical thing about our family's tax return this year isn’t that we used it to pay off a student loan.
Plenty of Americans use their refunds for that purpose. This tax season, those who get refunds will on average see an extra $2,800 in their bank accounts—a sum large enough to generate the annual newsstories about how massive numbers of people will spend the cash. Plus, we’ve been working on paying off our debt for more than five years. So while it’s a victory, it wasn’t unexpected.
No, the most countercultural, subversive component is that my husband and I invited a couple friends to share their opinion about what we should do with the money. We prayed about it. We listened.
Our culture can create a spectator sport out of the financial decisions of strangers. This is ironic, if only because we are not as a culture open to talking about money with people in our lives.
In an attempt to break the taboo in a small, safe space, consider that Tom and Sarah already know the rest of our financial picture. These covenantal friends know what we make each month and how much we spend on groceries. They’ve shared with us how much they put away for retirement and what they spend on date nights—information I don’t ask for or receive from my own family members or most friends I’d meet for tea.
The agreement between our two families compels us to this kind of honesty. We agreed that accountability and spiritual support were both necessary if we really were going to live simply for the sake of becoming more generous. And our covenantal friendship isn’t an extrabiblical suggestion: David and Jonathan were covenantal friends, for instance. Our story mimics parts of theirs. Jonathan tells David painful words—things David would rather not hear. So do ours. Jonathan saves David’s life, and David later cares for Jonathan’s son. These relationships are costly, long-lasting, and consequential.
This relationship encourages us and directs our attention back to God, as Jonathan spoke to David in a cave in Horesh. Talking about money with Tom and Sarah does the same thing for Dave and me. Making money part of our ongoing conversations is part of our conversion story: Do our spending habits reflect what we believe about Jesus?
If someone looked at our bank accounts, would they know we follow a man who said that our hearts are going to follow wherever we place our treasures—our cash, our savings, the things that money buys?
When Dave and I log on to our bank’s website and slide the laptop toward the Arthurs, we’re asking, “Do you see any places where we could challenge ourselves to live more simply?” We seek out this information. They do, too. To be honest, this is not my favorite thing. My husband and I are exposed in those moments; we’re vulnerable. Our culture shirks from intrusions of privacy, especially related to finances.
Of course, financial discussions shouldn’t replace professional advice. But how likely are financial planners to ask how our values align with Jesus’ words spoken on a Galilean hillside two thousand years ago? Likewise, covenantal friendships don’t replace managing your own finances. But how likely am I to convict myself of my own spending habits—and to follow up a month later to ask what changes I’ve made?
We need each other as brothers and sisters. We have to be continually shaped and reminded that our everyday purchases, savings, and debt reflects what we believe about God’s kingdom. We reflect what we believe, too, when we subvert the urge to keep those decisions private.
Do our spending habits reflect what we believe about Jesus?