Our First Saturday speaker for March discussed personal finance. Mary's talk, titled "Financial Advice for Mary and Martha: Where, Lord, is the balance?", addressed common financial concerns for Catholic families and provided some encouragement and inspiration she has learned along the way.
Mary is a wife and mother of two grown children, with a background in public accounting and financial advising. She had several "revelations" during her years as a young wife and mother that she shared with us. These pieces of advice given to her by friends, mentors, and priests changed how she viewed her role as a wife and mother and her family's financial situation.
The first and most important realization is that "Everything in the world belongs to God." Our money, our possessions, and the money and possessions we don't have, all belong to God. He provides all, and He provides for our needs - our needs, if not always our wants!
The next thing Mary learned was "Pray to God, but row towards shore." It is important that we cooperate with God's will in our lives! For most of us, He will not provide money to pay our bills while we sit and watch. We must physically and mentally work to earn, save, and responsibly spend money. Of course, we must also pray and listen for God's will in our lives, and what that means for our family.
While Mary stressed that there is no one right answer for all families, her third revelation came when a priest told her, "You already have the most important job in the world." As a wife and mother, her job was to care for them and make wise decisions regarding their finances. An opportunity to take a new job and earn more money did not outweigh spending time with her children and working part time or not at all. This is not what all women are called to do, but it is important to remember that when God has blessed you with children, He has entrusted their care and upbringing to you as well. She also pointed out that whether your children attend Catholic school, public school, or are homeschooled, you are your children's primary teacher.
Her final point concerned trusting in God's providence when His will is being done. She summed it up by saying, "When it comes to finances and God, one and one doesn't always equal two." (Did you get that? Summed it up?) With discipline, patience, communication with your spouse, and most importantly communication with God through prayer, He will provide for what He intends.
Some of the practical tips Mary provided were use of the envelope system of setting aside cash for each budget category, tracking every penny you spend for several months, and avoiding debt by discerning wants from needs and not borrowing money just because someone is willing to lend it to you. (There will always be someone willing to lend you money - the credit card company, the furniture store, the payday loan, even family - but that doesn't mean you should take it!)
Following Mary's talk, the women discussed three questions in small groups:
1) How does Lent, a time of increased prayer, fasting, and almgiving, make us more aware of our financial decisions?
2) What is my biggest budget buster? What are some strategies to improve?
3) How can we teach our children (preschool, school-age, teenagers, young adults) about responsible finances and good stewardship?
The discussion revealed common themes for many women, such as being more conscious of spending during Lent, struggling with grocery budgets and fast food, and how to teach our children about wants vs. needs and earning vs. entitlement. As always, the small groups enjoyed hearing one another's insights and advice, and found comfort in knowing they were not alone. Thank you to Mary for her fabulous talk and sharing her wisdom with us!
Several financial websites were suggested, including Phil Lenahan's Veritas Financial Ministries, Dave Ramsey, and Mint.com. We also had some discussion of Lenten activities for children from Catholic Icing.
We concluded our evening with special intentions and the Lenten Prayer for Spiritual Renewal. We will not meet next month, as the first Saturday in April also happens to be Holy Saturday. We will wrap up our First Saturday year in May - hope to see you then!