I went to the local drugstore this week to get some supplies – I know crazy, right? Doing something normal like going to the CVS now feels like participating in an X Games extreme sports event, at least if you are following the advice of the medical experts. I went in the very early morning, had my mask on the whole time, used the wipes available by the door, and tried to touch as little as possible. I used a list and zoomed through the aisles so fast, I expected a finisher’s trophy at the register. And I had my wallet with me! I have not carried my wallet with me for months.
Probably just like you, my normal spending habits have been completely derailed by the stay-at-home orders and business closings of the Covid-19 pandemic. I shop for food far less often and am more strategic, my husband is making more food from scratch rather than buying it (can you say granola?), and I’m skipping a lot of my normal spending all together, like movies, dog grooming, and haircuts. Yes, it shows in my Zoom meetings! I am doing far less laundry, because I am just not dirtying as many clothes. There is never any of, “oh, this looks like an interesting store. Let’s go in.” I am not a big online shopper, yet even my online shopping has reduced to almost nothing.
According to the NIH one of the hardest things about changing our behavior is that when we repeat actions, they become automatic, and settle into habits. Our brains actually reward us for using habits. So now that our spending habits are broken, we can be more conscious about them and have an opportunity to change any that don’t seem helpful or worthwhile for us. According to Reuters news service, consumer spending in the USA fell by a record 12.6% in April of 2020 – lots of spending habits were broken then. However, it bounced back up 8% in May. Before all of our spending habits bounce back too, let’s pause and take an opportunity for a “faith and money” check-in.
Needs or wants?
To me, one of the biggest opportunities here is to re-think what are our actual needs and what are really wants posing as needs. This is a central question to aligning my resources with my values, beliefs, and loves. The more I can stop buying anything in plastic packaging for instance, the more I am honoring God’s earth and my role in environmental stewardship. The more I can save on things that I actually don’t need, the more I have available to give to people who are disadvantaged or to support my community. And simplifying my life from distracting activities, like shopping, creates space and time to pray and meditate.
Here are a series of questions to help you consider your spending now, and how it might align better with your faith or ideas about justice going forward:
- Now that my shopping has been curtailed, what do I notice about items I am not buying or consuming? Were those purchases as essential as I thought they were?
- What things am I now making myself or sharing with neighbors (or my faith community) that are actually better (more delicious, more convenient, more rewarding to make, lovelier to share) than what I used to buy?
- What activities have filled in the time when I used to shop, eat in restaurants, go out for entertainment, travel, etc.? Which of those activities do I want to continue rather than reinstating my old ways?
- What I have spent money on, or how have I given it, in these last months that really felt like it aligned with my faith, which might become part of my regular use of money?
- Has this lack of access to financial consumption made it easier for me to maintain a regular prayer or Sabbath practice, where I do not work or spend?
Consider these questions and make notes for yourself. You can even write down the new behaviors you want to hold on to or habits you don’t want to start again once the economy opens up more. Here is a tip: Look at your bank and charge card statements for the last few months and compare them to ones from the Fall of 2019 or this time last year. Cross check what is still there, notice what is missing. That may make things a lot more concrete.
Finally, this is a time when some people are seriously struggling financially. They may be furloughed or have lost a job. They may be employed in a business where they cannot work, or their pay has been curtailed. They may be utilizing benefits programs or outside support when they have never had to do that before. If this is true for you, how do your faith and/or your faith community support you and give you more grounding when you are feeling fearful about money issues or are feeling shameful about accepting financial help?
I am sure a lot of people whose finances have not changed in any profound way are also just fearful of what might happen. They may have pulled back on their support for charitable causes out of anxiety or even stopped buying things they actually need. If this sounds like your experience, how can you connect with members of your community about these responses? How can your faith and practices help you be grateful for the resources you have and be more confident in God’s love, as demonstrated in the people around you?
The door has opened for us all to realign our spending and strengthen our faith. Let’s not run back into the consumer culture at full speed just because businesses are reopening, before we take the chance to strengthen our faith with a conscious realignment.
Mark Ewert | July 13, 2020
Mark Ewert is a member of the Faith and Money Network Board of Directors and a consultant, facilitator, and teacher engaged in building cultures of skillful generosity within faith communities, including congregations, religious denominations, camps, and retreat centers.