Why I gave up money for Lent (and what I’m learning in the process)

Why I gave up money for Lent @ jaxinthebox.comI don’t generally do anything special for Lent. Growing up in Wisconsin, I always thought of Lent as something Catholics “did.” I enjoy the Friday fish fry tradition (that takes place all year round in Wisconsin, by the way), but always thought of giving something up as just another one of those Catholic rituals.

But every so often, I challenge myself with “giving something up.” And this year is one of those years. In the past  my reasons tended to be more selfish than Christ-focused. This year is different.

I’m giving up money this Lent season. Because bills need to be paid and my family needs to be fed, I’m not totally swearing off money. But I’ve committed to no unnecessary spending. I’ve had an up and down relationship with money over the years, and I thought it was time for me to take a deeper look at it again.

For me, it’s about discovering the ways I’ve let money control aspects of my life or fill holes that can be fulfilled in more meaningful ways. For me, its about learning how I’ve let my relationship with money take the place of my relationship with God (and my family and other extensions of that primary relationship). But, perhaps we could all use a closer look at our relationship with money, regardless of the faith we chose.

Why Money?

I think my relationship with money teaches my children how to manage (or be managed by) their money. My relationship with money denotes the value of money in my life, which in turn instructs my children on what value they should place on money in theirs.

So, evaluating where money and I stand from time to time is important. I want my children and money to have a healthy relationship. I want them to see money as provisions to manage wisely. I don’t want them to look at it as a tool with which to asses their or others’ value, as a means of power, as a band-aid to cover-up or avoid emotional pain, or as a replacement for God. But I have to make sure I’m not modeling any of these unhealthy relationships for them to mimic.

To this end, my husband and I have agreed to no unnecessary spending for the 40 days of Lent. We’ve shared this plan with our children, so they understand why we’ll say, “no” to extras. While they understand this to be a “sacrifice” we are making as a symbol of the sacrifice Christ made for us, of course they don’t yet grasp the deeper meaning of this exercise.

The Rules

The rules are simple — or should be. We can pay bills, gas, buy food and necessary household goods and toiletries (like dish soap and contact lens solution). But clothes, eating out, Starbucks and those “extras” are off the table. (Although I had two weekend trips that were already planned that are excused from the fast.)

Because I’m a stay-at-home-mom and buyer-of-all-things-for-the household, this is much more challenging for me than it is for my husband. While he has to resist going out for lunch versus coming home, I have to pass up that great sale at Target or running through the coffee hut drive through because “I deserve it” or — let’s face it — because I just want 10 more minutes in the car with all the kids strapped down.

What I’m Learning

Not allowing myself to spend money freely gives me the opportunity to really think about the reasons I’m spending. So many of the things I’ve passed up are extras for which I would have otherwise forked over the cash and mindlessly enjoyed my spoils. Now when I want to buy something, I ask myself if it’s necessary. If it’s not, I ask why I wanted it in the first place. So far, I’m learning that I spend money for the following reasons:

I spend money so people will think favorably of me.

Pretty superficial, huh? There are things I buy because I’m simply in the habit of keeping up with the Joneses. While I’ve gotten wiser to this tendency over the years, it’s really the only reason why I think I “must have” that slate cheese server when I already have two perfectly good serving plates (because I host so many dinner parties these days).

I spend money on my kids so they feel valued. 

I love to receive gifts. When someone gives me something I know I’m important to them. In turn, giving gifts is one of the ways in which I show love. However, these days I’m less apt to buy that trinket that has your name written all over it the next time I’m shopping now that I have three kids, a fat mortgage and every kind of insurance premium to pay for.

I’m realizing that I’m feeling anxious about having enough time for my older twins once baby #4 is born. My default remedy is to gift them things they value to let them know they matter to me (because at 9-years old, the homemade meals, clean laundry, etc. don’t score many points). They may not need a new pair of UW Badger sweats, but they would be ecstatic if I came home with a pair for each of them. Because I’m not allowing myself to ring up those pants at the checkout, I’m making more meaningful efforts to show my love to these little men.

I spend money to feel in control.

There’s something about acquiring things that makes us (okay — me) feel like I’m really in control. I’ve had a couple of bad days where bad things just kept happening to me. I felt sorry for myself and really wanted a little retail therapy. I mean it was nothing a quick trip to TJMaxx couldn’t have resolved.

Not exercising my inner Maxxinista forced me to take more meaningful action. Meditation, prayer and some real taking care of business provided longer lasting relief than any deal I would have scored while shopping.

I spend money because I’m bored.

One of the hardest aspects of being a stay at home mom for me is the shear monotony of it. While I’m always busy, I’m often bored. If you’ve seen Groundhogs Day, you’ve had a glimpse into most of my weeks.

Especially during the long winter months (and this winter has been the worst), I just need to get out of my house. Being an older mom, my network of mom friends with kids at home is small, and heading to a store or coffee shop is one of my only options for escaping my humdrum day.

I spend money to avoid the harder stuff.

So, I’ve stumbled twice during my money fast. In both cases, I just wanted to make things easier for myself. On the first occasion, I was at Target (are you seeing a pattern here?), and Jax was begging for a “box of milk” right as we walked in. I’ve successfully trained him to demand Starbucks when he sees the big red cement balls outside the sliding doors. I just didn’t want to deal with his fit. So, while I bypassed my normal Grande, decaf two-honey latte, I bought Jax a box of vanilla milk.

The second time was last Friday when I convinced myself that buying the fish fry at our local grocery store wasn’t really “going out” because, after all, it was from a grocery.  It wasn’t really necessary if I’m honest with myself. I was avoiding cooking and doing dishes. Period.

I spend money because that’s what I thought I’d be able to do at this point in my life.

There’s a lot of things I thought my life would look like at almost 40. So much of my life is better than I ever dreamed. Some of it hasn’t hit the mark. That’s just life. My family is a blessing I never imagined; my husband is a life partner that couldn’t be better matched for me. But I thought my career would be different and I didn’t anticipate that, regardless of how much our income grows, the demands for it exceed the input.

Sometimes I get caught up in the “I should be able to buy that” mentality. But why? Because I’m almost forty? Because I’m a good person? Why should I be able to buy that? There are plenty of people who work hard, do the right thing and can’t even put food on their table. What makes me so special?

Don’t get me wrong, there’s often times nothing wrong with buying things, even things you don’t necessarily need. Spend it if you got it. But I’m learning that I use money to solve problems that could addressed more effectively in different ways.

Forty days of self-reflection a life-long habit doesn’t make. But it goes a long way to ensuring I have to work a whole lot harder to rationalize purchases that are serving another need than simply refreshing my living room with new throw pillows.

Maybe your reasons for looking at your relationship with money have nothing to do with your relationship with God. Maybe it’s about your relationship with your husband, or saving for retirement or simply feeling more in control, real control, of your life. Whatever the reason, take a look. As a bonus, you’ll be stashing away some cash in the process.

And if you’re looking for a more tangible way to teach your kids money-management skills, check out this post: Teaching Life Skills.

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