Returning to “Why,” in Hopes of Getting Off the Consumer Escalator

By Timothy Siburgwhy-1432955_1280-red

Over the past three weeks we have pondered about the ups, downs, and challenges of riding and being on the consumer escalator. We have recounted many reasons why we might want to rethink our spending and the way we steward our time and resources around Christmas and Thanksgiving. In the previous November posts, Marcia, Matt, and John have done a beautiful job of offering alternatives and insight into positive ways to reconsider consumerism.

This week, I want us to dig into the question of “why?” What really matters this time of the year, and how might focusing on that question make for a more faithful response and richer holiday experience?

For a Christian, the why can be found in the heart of the Christmas gospel in Luke 2:1-20, often read every Christmas Eve. Within that rich text, we hear the proclamation from the angel of the Lord,

 nativity-scene-1807602_1280-crop“Do not be afraid, for see- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
– Luke 2:10-11, NRSV

 It might sound trite to say that this is the “reason for the season.” And I am not exactly trying to say that. But if we remember that this is at the heart of the celebrations, festivities, food, fellowship, and all of the gift giving this time of year; if we remember that it is the fulfillment of the promises of the prophets which guide our journey through the season of Advent to the manger; we might just have a chance to get off the consumer escalator.

I am one who loves to give gifts. My wife Allison and I see that as one of our love languages. We also love to say thank you, which is why Thanksgiving is one of our favorite holidays. But at the heart of our gift giving, joy, and gratitude, is a knowledge that we give gifts because it is one of our joyful responses to the pure gifts and good news of God who we know through Christ Jesus.

We don’t give gifts because we want to earn something in return. We give without the expectation of return. We give, because we can’t help but feel so overjoyed with the good news of a God who comes near, becomes incarnate, walks with us, is given for us, and loves us. In our joy, we can’t help but want to share our joy through the sharing of our stories, time, the giving of gifts, living fully in God’s abundance and love.

envelop-576252_1280 Of course, Allison and I don’t give without a plan. We always sit down and make our Christmas budget each year prior to Thanksgiving. We include plans for our annual Christmas letter and the costs associated with printing and mailing it, as well as our hopes for what we are willing to give to family and friends, our congregation, and other needs, nonprofits, and ministries we feel connected to and passionate about.

So, why do you give? Why do you do what you do this time of year- spending, wrapping, cooking, eating, decorating, gathering with friends, families, and colleagues? What part of the promises of God and the Christmas story motivate you and lead you into the way that you spend your days and evenings this time of year?

However you may answer these questions, I hope and pray that you have a meaningful journey to the manger, and are so caught up in the promises of the good news, that you can’t help but want to share it. And for those of you who feel like you are stuck on the consumer escalator, I hope that by thinking deeply about the “why,” you might feel comfortable and confident in your ability to get off it.

About the Author

timothy headshotTimothy Siburg is the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), a Deacon in the ELCA, and is a member of the COMPASS Steering Committee. His wife Allison serves as an ELCA pastor, and together with their cat Buddy, they reside in the greater Omaha area. Timothy can also be found on Twitter, Facebook, and on his blog.

Image credits: pixabay.com

Frugal Fall: A Financial Self-Examination

During October, the COMPASS blog is sharing thoughts, tips, and reflections about having a Frugal Fall. Today, we are happy to welcome back regular contributor Nicole Brennan, a Marketing Assistant at Barnabas Foundation. Nicole shares some important ideas and reflections about a “Financial Self-Examination.”

Nicole and her friends having some fun this fall, on their visit to see Pope Francis while he was visiting the United States.

Nicole and her friends having some fun this fall, on their trip to see Pope Francis in Philadelphia while he was visiting the United States.

There is an underlying pressure to make the most of the hot weather during the summer months. My days and evenings were booked trying to squeeze in bike rides, family outings, church fundraisers, date nights, and road trips. Now that autumn is upon us, it almost seems the slight chill in the air makes everyone slow down a bit. Take advantage of fall inactivity and whatever breathing room you have to assess your financial health!

I am very money-minded while travelling on a budget, but my “big-picture” finances tend to get a bit away from me. I have automatic withdrawal for all my bills and automatic deposit with my paycheck. Since everything is pre-programmed, it is very convenient, but the details (and my overall financial health) are sometimes lost. I recently asked myself these four questions to audit myself and see how I am doing.

Am I Following My Budget?

I use my credit card for everything- gas, groceries, clothes, and all the miscellaneous stuff in between. When the email comes saying “Time to Pay!” I look over the expenses to make sure they are accurate, maybe add them up if I have time, and spend my accrued points. If you haven’t made up a budget, a monthly spreadsheet in Excel only takes a few minutes to set up, and you can see your immediate monetary stats all in one place. If you already have one, now is a great time to update it, and make adjustments as needed.

What Do My Retirement Savings Look Like?

My financial advisor (aka- my dad) has always taught me to save, and it’s a value I hold near and dear. If you have a company retirement plan, take advantage of it! If not, then personally set one up ASAP! Your HR representative will be able to help if you are with a company. However, if you are an entrepreneur and/or don’t have company help, consult a financial advisor. (You can try to “go it alone,” but if you are unfamiliar with the financial world, it will be difficult. To get started, do some research about 401(k), 403(b), Roth and IRA options at IRS.gov.)This is a great calculator to help you understand what your projected retirement saving goals look like and where they need to be. It factors in rate of return, current and future salary, current age, age of retirement, and a few other factors. It’s fairly simple to understand, and there’s a handy glossary of common terms below.

Did I Use All My Benefits?

Most companies are re-upping for their health/dental/vision insurance and their HSA/FSA  (Health/Flex Spending Accounts) about this time of year. If you have these, have you taken full advantage of them? Have you gotten your annual physical and dental check-up, yet? If you have money left in your HSA/FSA, spend it! And speaking of your HSA/FSA, evaluate whether you need to add more or subtract some for next year.

Have I Donated to Charity and My Church?

During your self-audit, it’s very easy to adopt a “broke” mentality. “I’m so broke, I only have this amount in my savings!” “I’m so broke, I can barely stay within my budget!” “I’m so broke, I can only squirrel away a tiny portion towards my retirement!”  It also might be easy to deny tithing or giving to your church and charity, because of this mentality. The truth is we are abundantly blessed by God. We have enough, and the OPPORTUNITY for enough, to pay our bills, visit a doctor, and save what we can. It is an honor to bless those places and people when and where we can. There is a joy that comes from giving. Make room in your budget to experience that joy!

COMPASS resources explore the connection between faith and finances, so looking honestly at your financial health is an important spiritual practice. Deuteronomy 8:18 says, “But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth.” (NRSV). It is essential to be wise with what God has blessed us with here on earth, and that means knowing and improving your financial situation as God gives you the ability to do so.

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.