That Darn Camel: Money Makes My Head Spin (But I Talk About It Anyway)

by Tim Fall

This is the third of a series of five posts exploring money and faith. The series title comes from this scripture verse: “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:23 – 25)

Cabaret has that wonderfully avaricious song, Money, Money:

Money makes the world go around
The world go around
The world go around
Money makes the world go around
It makes the world go ’round.
A mark, a yen, a buck, or a pound
A buck or a pound
A buck or a pound
Is all that makes the world go around,
That clinking clanking sound
Can make the world go ’round.

The song gets worse, but it’s also quite accurate for those living out what Jesus warned against in Matthew 6:24: No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Paul’s assessment in 1 Timothy 6:9-10 fits too: “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”

I don’t really have an answer for money problems. I’m not a financial expert or budgeting wiz. I’ve read about those things, but I’ve never been able to do them. Instead, I try to keep it simple and live within my means. Since I’m married, it’s really two of us living within our means. I’m glad my wife is with me on this because she’s more careful about money than I am, and while we don’t have a strict budget she is able to keep an idea of how much we’ve got to spend at any given time. Sometimes I think she’s too careful, but she probably thinks I’m too frivolous.

That’s how she characterizes things sometimes when we talk about spending money. “I just don’t want us to be frivolous,” she’ll say. That doesn’t mean we never spend money on fun stuff. We take a vacation occasionally, eat out, see a show once in a while, but neither of us are big spenders by nature. And since we’re putting two kids through college right now (one graduating this month, woo-hoo!), it’s hard to justify big expensive purchases or payments anyway. In fact that’s a nice excuse not to spend a ton, and not thinking about spending a ton keeps my head from spinning around out of control.

So here’s how we do it. We talk about where the money goes. I don’t decide on my own, she doesn’t decide on her own. Sometimes, the two of us don’t reach a decision together either; of course, they say not deciding is a type of decision too. But when we do choose to shell out a biggish wad of cash, it’s because we’ve talked it through.

Sometimes our conversations are about vacations. Do we spend the money to go to family camp, rent a house on the coast with some friends, or just decide to stay home? Others have been about cars. Should we buy a car now or wait a while? If so, which car? (We haven’t bought new in years, by the way.) I know some families operate on the practice that the husband comes home with a car and that’s how the decision gets made. I’d rather walk than make a decision like that without my wife.

This type of conversation extends to who we give to as well. We get a lot of letters from people going on the mission field (short term and long), plus there’s church and other ministries and endless opportunities to give (remember what Jesus said about always having the poor among us?). It’s kind of enjoyable to talk about who to give to and how much for each. But again, neither of us has ever unilaterally chosen to give charitably. One of us might have a suggestion that prevails, but it is still talked about first.

In my work as a judge, one thing I’ve noticed in my courtroom is that families that don’t talk about money are more likely to end up in a legal dispute than those who do. It might be in a marriage dissolution, which can include child support issues or dividing up the family’s property. It might be in a will contest or trust proceeding, where one part of the family doesn’t trust what the other is doing with the money. It might be in a good old-fashioned theft case, where one person mistakenly thought they could trust another member of the family with an ATM card and password.

Speaking of work, a retired judge told me long ago, “I’ve found that more communication is almost always better than less.” I’ve taken that observation to heart, and I can tell you that it works in my marriage whether we’re talking about money or anything else. What also helps is to remember that it’s not money that makes the world go around, but God:

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16-17.)

Creating all things and holding them together, including us and all we are and all we have. Now that’s something worth talking about.

Tim is a California native who changed his major three times, colleges four times, and took six years to get a bachelor’s degree in a subject he’s never been called on to use professionally. Married for over 24 years with two kids now in college, his family is constant evidence of God’s abundant blessings in his life. He and his wife live in Northern California. Tim guest posts on other peoples’ blogs, but is too lazy to get a blog of his own.

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About Ellen Painter Dollar

Ellen Painter Dollar is a writer focusing on faith, parenting, family, disability, and ethics. She is the author of No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Faith, and Parenthood in an Age of Advanced Reproduction (Westminster John Knox, 2012). Visit her web site at http://ellenpainterdollar.com for more on her writing and speaking, and to sign up for a (very) occasional email newsletter.


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