COMPASS’ 2015 in review

The past year has been a great year of continued faith and finances conversation with you. As we look ahead to 2016 here at COMPASS, we thought it would be fun to share what WordPress has shared with us about how the COMPASS blog did over the past year.

Thank you for being part of the conversation this year, and we look forward to continuing it in the year ahead.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,600 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 27 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Giving on a Budget

During December, the COMPASS blog is sharing reflections related to giving, since this is an especially gift giving time of year. Today, I share some more thoughts about how my wife Allison and I give on a budget, and offer some tips from our experience that might be helpful for you too.

Making our Christmas Budget

Making our Christmas Budget

My wife Allison and I are not master budgeters by any means. We are also not the most frugal people in the world. That being said, we do have a general budget that we check regularly to see how we are doing, and each year we also sit down and review our gift budget from the previous year and see if we can adjust it for the current and next year.

Allison and I recently had our pre-Christmas shopping budget conversation. It went well, as we went through reviewing last year’s spreadsheet, and creating this year’s. We listed out about how much we planned to spend on every present- for our families, ourselves, and loved ones, including shipping expense, and included costs related to preparing and mailing our annual Christmas letter. We also discussed our year-end giving as another part of our Christmas gifts. It’s always an adventure to go through this process. We want to share our love, but to do so without breaking the bank.

As has become our practice, after creating our spreadsheet, we then pored over our family’s Christmas gift wish lists. I don’t know about your house hold or family, but each year we invite people to put together a list of things that they either would like, want, or need for Christmas, or groups that they would like to support. Ideally the list has a variety of options on it, as well as a variety of costs for different people, families, and budget situations. Having lists like this is helpful. Though there isn’t an obligation to get anyone a present, let alone something on their wish list, it’s helpful for planning and for looking for bargains and deals and ways to save and stay under budget.

I have written quite a bit before on this blog about why we like to give. We do so as a response to the good news, and this time of the year particularly, the joy and good news of Christmas. As the prophet Isaiah proclaims,

“For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” – Isaiah 9:6, NRSV.

It’s rare when our spending comes out exactly as we budgeted on presents and giving. But we’re generally close, often because we took the time to budget and search for cost-effective solutions. When we have a little extra, we can either give to another cause or group we are passionate about, or add it to our savings account.

By budgeting, we’re also able to plan and save up for giving each year. It’s taken a few years to build this practice, but now it’s actually a fun part of our Christmas preparations during Advent.

Do you budget for gift giving? If so, how do you go about it? If not, what might it take to start budgeting this year and next year? What questions do you have about budgeting?

From our experience, here are a few extra helpful tips:

  1. Never talk about budgets with your loved ones on an empty stomach. That’s why we have these conversations often while we eat a meal like breakfast.
  1. Don’t forget that many people, who you might feel a desire to give to, may be just as equally honored and grateful (or more so) if you give a gift in their name to their favorite charity, cause, faith community, or nonprofit organization. It’s always fun to see friends and family’s lists include groups to donate to. If you are looking for a way to be more frugal around Christmas and not just give and acquire stuff, this is a great idea.
  1. You can save money by buying ahead, especially on Christmas wrapping materials when they go on clearance after Christmas Day. It requires a little preparation, but if you are willing to store things for the year ahead, you can often get great bargains.

    Our beautiful (and on a budget) Christmas Tree. Merry Christmas from Allison and me!

    Our beautiful (and on a budget) Christmas Tree. Merry Christmas from Allison and me!

  1. If you love to decorate your house for Christmas, the same principle applies as above. Allison and I found our Christmas Tree that has been ours since our first Christmas together, at a bargain rate of about $30. It’s not the biggest tree in the world, but it’s durable, and has helped warm our home each Christmas together.

What tips would you add from your experience? How do you give and stay on budget around Christmas?

From all of us at COMPASS and the Ecumenical Stewardship Center, thank you for being part of the conversation, and Merry Christmas! May this time of gathering and celebration also be a time of remembering God’s gifts for each one of us, a time of giving thanks for those gifts, and sharing the joy of them with all whom we meet.

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This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Giving: A Practice in Joyfulness

During December, the COMPASS blog is sharing reflections related to giving, since this is an especially gift giving time of year. Today, regular contributor Nicole Brennan shares her story about a year of service in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and lessons she has learned from that experience about giving, in writing “Giving: A Practice in Joyfulness.”

A trend that is gaining steam in America is the practice of a “gap year.” A “gap year” is some length of time (usually a year) during which students take a break from their studies to live in the real world and do something fruitful. Many students do this after high school in between college, or like me, some do it following college.

Here I am in the homeless day shelter with one of the most memorable guests, John. I had the pleasure of witnessing his transformation throughout my year.

Here I am in the homeless day shelter with one of the most memorable guests, John. I had the pleasure of witnessing his transformation throughout my year.

To some, it isn’t a new concept. The Peace Corps was established in the United States in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy; AmeriCorps (the domestic counterpart) was established in 1993 by President Bill Clinton; and the volunteer program I entered, the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, started informally in 1956. However, to me, it was a radical notion. I moved across the country without knowing a soul, promised a year of service, and was going to work with 700+ homeless people, mostly men, every day at a complex called Loaves & Fishes. I couldn’t have been more scared and excited!

My service year forever molded my life. I had many great experiences, including learning how to drive, living off $100 a month, and discovering the values of simplicity, community, and intentionality. I gave the gift of my time to the people who needed it. And believe me, I received far more benefits than anyone I helped.

A distinct lesson I learned during my service year was about giving and the true essence of a gift. Winter time in California is not as bitterly cold as it is in Chicago where I live now, but it is still cold when you are living on the streets. It seemed on every blustery day we were passing out gloves, hats, scarves, blankets, and if we were really lucky, hand warmers. But when you don’t have a permanent place to keep your stuff, you only carry what you can and it is easy to lose a glove.

We began passing out cold weather gear as late in the season as we could – only when the thermometer dipped below 40°F/4.44°C. Though people are very generous, the need is too great. We would run out of items very quickly, even though we had a strict policy of how many items people could have. It is heartbreaking to turn away a guy who just needs a pair of gloves. “I’m sorry Jason, but there just isn’t enough.” And it is even more heartbreaking to repeat that phrase to the twenty guys in line behind him. And more heartbreaking still, to repeat that phrase several times a day for weeks on end. (My heart hurt a lot that year, but it was also the most wonderful year of my life. I kept a blog of my experiences if you want to read more.)

Sometimes “you gotta do, what you gotta do.” Dirty dishes for 700+ was a one of those things.

Sometimes “you gotta do, what you gotta do.” Dirty dishes for 700+ was a one of those things.

I was lamenting about this heartbreak to my spiritual director, Sr. Claire. She wisely told me a story about Andora. Sr. Claire would run into this homeless woman often at the clinic she ran, and after a few years, an almost-friendship grew between them. Sr. Claire would always bring her hot meals, practical items, and a few dollars when she could. One day, Andora remarked about these gifts. She needed them, but moreover, Sr. Claire needed to give them. “Gifts are not so much about the person receiving them, but about the person who gives them.” Even though Andora needed these items, and the homeless gentlemen needed gloves, the true gift was the increased generosity in our own hearts.

I have to believe in the best in people – they gave what they could. And even though it was heartbreaking to not give out more, it was a joyful moment when the shelter had items to give away. Giving is a joyful event, and when you give, joyfulness and generosity pervade your life. Giving begets giving. When you know the joy that comes from giving, you want to duplicate that as much as possible!

profileAbout the Author, Nicole Brennan: Hello there! I’m passionate about living a stewardly lifestyle, while being adventurous and frugal. I currently live in community with six other 20-somethings in downtown Chicago and work as a Marketing Assistant at Barnabas Foundation, a partner of ESC and COMPASS. In my off hours, you can find me volunteering at a nearby homeless shelter, enjoying live music with friends, or watching reruns of Parks and Rec. Email me at nicoletbrennan@gmail.com or tweet me at @BarnabasFdn.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Budgets, Charity, Giving, and #GivingTuesday

We begin a new month today, December. Over the weekend, those of us in liturgical Christian traditions began a new season and church year as well, with the beginning of Advent. Today also happens to be #GivingTuesday, a day that follows Thanksgiving and the likes of “Black Friday,” “Small Business Saturday,” and “Cyber Monday,” days that are focused on spending and supposed deals with potential for savings.

Hands holding a gift box isolated on black background

Giving- what does it mean to give? 

In this spirit, the COMPASS blog is sharing reflections and insights about budgets, charity, and giving during December. We’ll ponder about how to give on a budget. Among the reflections and perspectives you will hear from in the weeks ahead, are from people working in philanthropy for congregations, churches, and nonprofits.

For today though, this #GivingTuesday, I want us to reflect on what it means to give?

Paul writes to the Corinthians, “And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8, NRSV). As I have written before, I believe that God has entrusted us with all that we have, and what we do with this is our joyful response. For me, this means intentionally budgeting to give, being generous, and helping be a part of God’s work in the world.

My wife Allison and I started having budget breakfasts a few years ago, where at least once a month, and lately usually twice a month, we check in and see how things are going. At these meetings, we strive to always take at least 10% of what we have earned or been given over the previous month, and direct that to giving, usually in our congregational offering. Believing that all that we have has been entrusted to us by God, what we have is not ours then, rather it’s God’s. Thus, we return to God a portion of what God has entrusted to us (kind of like the “Parable of the Talents” in Matthew 25).

Allison and I give both because we see needs in the world and know that we have an ability to partner and respond, but also because we are so grateful for everyone near and far who have (and continue to) supported us thus far.

Allison and I give both because we see needs in the world and know that we have an ability to partner and respond, but also because we are so grateful for everyone near and far who have (and continue to) supported us thus far.

We also try and give a little each year to at least one of our alma maters as a way of paying it forward. We have been blessed with great scholarship support over our years of study from people who believe that education matters. We agree, and likewise want to help others in their pursuit of it.

Additionally, in our budget we leave some for potential usage or giving to respond to particular needs that may come up, or organizations doing good work that connect with our passions.

As today is #GivingTuesday, I want to invite you to consider giving some to an organization or group that you have heard about or seen in action that does good work responding to some of the needs of the world or local community. If you need some added motivation, there might even be incentives to give today like prizes or matching gifts. Of course, there is also the fact that your gifts are likely tax deductible and with it being December, the tax year will end at the end of the month.

What does it mean to you to give? Why do you give?

Are you participating in #GivingTuesday? If so, what types of causes or organizations are you supporting today and why?

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Image Credit: Giving.