Prior to COVID-19, my wife was training for her first marathon in the foothills of the Himalayas. Running in a cross-cultural context presents some unique challenges: hazardous air quality, extreme elevation gains, and cultural taboos. To accomplish her goal, my wife had to adjust her training plan to mitigate these physical and emotional deterrents. Greater than the hopes of completing a marathon, my wife runs because she loves it. Faithfully managing your personal finances can be a sort of “money marathon”. For this journey, the same values-driven motivation is required.
Budget-Based Values or a Values-Based Budget?
“Daddy-daughter jogs” 25 years ago developed a value for running that will keep my wife moving into her later years. Eight years into working cross-culturally, our family is developing a set of “money motivators,” or values, for financial stewardship. We believe these money motivators will keep our finances in alignment with what we believe God is accomplishing through us around the world.
All too often, our money directs our actions and we end up with budget-based values instead of a values-based budget. An individual’s values and purpose can become defined by spending habits. Spending, saving and giving become reactions to what we have or don’t have. And reactionary financial management is no way to run a money marathon.
With a values-based budget, our use of money has the potential to be a fruitful outworking of the values and beliefs that define who we are and who we believe God to be. That is financial freedom! Jesus knew this when he said, “Where your treasure is there your heart will also be.” For example, last year we had a goal to increase giving within our host country. Thanks to a values-based budget, our family was able to meet that goal instead of being misdirected by variable income, unexpected expenses, or other needs. Now ask yourself, “How is my treasure accomplishing God’s purposes for my life?”
An easy way to determine if your values are being reflected in your finances is to use a tool like Mint.com. This online budgeting site allows users to upload transactions and tag categories for spending. Begin to record your daily expenses. Identify how the categories compare to one another. Does your spending align with your values, beliefs, and even theology? Are you surprised that you spend more on a gym membership than insurance? Or more on furlough than giving? Identifying the values your budget currently reflects is the starting point to a successful money marathon.
Navigating the Challenges
Recently, when asked about a fitness program, I responded by saying, “These days I am seeing that whether in health, wealth, or faith in Jesus, it’s a lot about having a “long obedience in the same direction“. Do what keeps you on that path.” Keeping to the path of long obedience in this money marathon is a challenge, especially as a pandemic has turned many aspects of financial health upside down. What direction are you headed? Are you on track to arrive at the place God has called you? Or is your current financial situation leading you astray?
For cross-cultural workers, an anchor is needed to navigate many elements of money overseas. The path is riddled with unexpected or unfortunate circumstances, even apart from a worldwide pandemic. Following up with partners, living like locals, helping but not hurting, “giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” educating children, transitioning off the field…the “race” can present all kinds of nuances. Many questions and even concerns have swirled through my own mind as we financially prepare for a career transition. Despite fluctuating account balances and unexpected expenses, a values-based budget has helped us to not lose sight of the purposes God has for our finances.
If not for the joy of running, my wife would not be getting out of bed for sunrise training. Anchors are needed in uncertain times. What’s it going to take to motivate you to begin a long obedience in the same direction in your personal money marathon? How can the way forward in spending, investing, and generosity become clearer? Here are some questions to help you get started:
- Do I know my financial health? Am I unfit or ready for a marathon?
- What are my money motivators that will keep me going for the long-haul? Does my current plan reflect these things?
- Do I have budget-based values or a values-based budget? How does this impact stewardship?
Before navigating the joys and challenges of personal finances as cross-cultural workers, we’ve got to have something that “gets us out of bed”. What is it for you? A sufficient emergency fund in case you have to suddenly leave the field, supporting a local worker, or equipping your kids for debt-free college? Once identified, these values will stir a passion in us to steward our finances faithfully for the long haul regardless of what challenges may come.
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The thoughts and opinions shared in this article are for general information and thought provocation only and do not take into consideration your personal financial circumstances. I am not a financial, investment or tax professional, but someone who wishes to share what I’ve learned through managing finances as a cross-cultural worker. For professional financial advice, please consult a licensed professional.