As I mentioned in my previous article, The Heart of a Giver, my daughter seems to have really gotten it when it comes to this giving thing. The rest of the family is on the path, some of us just drift off into the weeds occasionally. After all, even the most disciplined giver can get distracted when tempted by a pair of animal print Guess heels or the latest Wii game that happens to be laying in our line of sight, albeit slightly off the path, tucked neatly in between a bull nettle and a patch of crab grass.
(It has recently come to my attention, over a bottle of red wine with friends, that the term “bull nettle” might not be as universal as I once thought. For those of you that were not raised in rural East Texas and grew up without it being in your best interest to know how to spot and avoid bull nettles, a bull nettle is a tall weed that can grow to three or four feet. It looks like any other enormous weed in a cow pasture with the exception of the fine, soft needles that cover its leaves. The slightest brush of your skin against these needles will make you wish you fell head first into a fire ant mound instead.)
I realize digressing into the definition of poisonous native Texas plants might seem odd, but stay with me, I’m going somewhere with this. You see, I have found material possessions that are off the path I’m supposed to follow, are always tucked next to the spiritual equivalent of a bull nettle. True, I can sometimes acquire the item while avoiding the bull nettle all together. Eventually, however, the bull nettle gets me. Maybe just a pinkie finger here, or the back of my hand there. There has been the acquisition of things in my life, however, that have caused a full body dive into the middle of a bull nettle patch. And boy am I sorry then, and for a long time to come.
So, one of my missions is to teach my children this lesson so that when they are my age, they are not being stung by spiritual bull nettles caused by the pursuit of stuff. I don’t always feel well equipped (OK, never) to teach my children in this area. (I really like stuff.) So, I’m always looking for opportunities to help myself, so I can pass it along.
In 2008, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to serve as the Co-Chair of my Church’s Stewardship Committee. Through some research I’m doing for this committee, I’ve been introduced, via a fourteen CD set, to Dave Ramsey. Mr. Ramsey is the creator of “Financial Peace University” and a nationally syndicated radio personality. While listening to these CD’s I was intrigued by his suggestion on how to teach your children to give and to save, not just spend. What Mr. Ramsey recommends is giving each child three envelopes, one for spending, one for saving, and one for giving. He then suggests designating the percentage of the child’s allowance that should go into each envelope. Currently at my house, we don’t have envelopes. My daughter has her purse, which is for saving ... no spending ... and then in one fail swoop, it is for giving. My son has a wallet. The purpose of his wallet is to remind him that he spent every penny of his allowance before it ever made it into the wallet. As you can see, we may need some balance here, so I decided that next month we’re going to institute the envelope system. Ten percent will be for giving, 10 percent will be for saving, and 80 percent will be for spending. My rules will be that the 10 percent for giving and saving is a required minimum. The saving envelope will have a goal written on the outside. Perhaps something like a video game. Something that will take at least two months worth of allowance to acquire. The spending envelope will be for just that, spending on whatever they want (within the household rules of course, my children are not allowed alcohol or firearms).
In preparing for my conversation with my children regarding the envelope system, I had no concerns on selling this to my daughter. Mr. “May I Borrow Next Month’s Allowance” was, however, stressing me out. I knew how I presented this to my son would be very important. After all, I could mandate this and force him to do it. But what I was really after was his heart, and that required a delicacy I usually don’t possess.
So, the time came when I felt he would be receptive to the conversation and this is how it went:
Me (taking a deep breath): “Hey, I think we’re going to start doing something different with allowance next month. I think it will be fun and you’ll really enjoy it.”
Him (suddenly stock still and avoiding eye contact, as if aware he had been spotted by a predator that was ready to pounce at his slightest move): “Uhhh, huhhh ...”
Me (putting out my hook): “Well, I was thinking that instead of paying your allowance at the end of each month, I would pay your allowance weekly.”
Him (visibly thinking through that he would have a money each week): “Yeah?”
Me: “And, I thought I would give you guys each three envelopes. One would be labeled spending. This would be the envelope you could buy your toys and stuff with. Then we could have one for saving and you could put a picture of that new Wii game on it and put some money in there to save and when you had enough you could buy it. And then we’d have one for giving.”
(He is now silently contemplating what I’ve just said, so I press on.)
Me: “You know the Bible teaches us to give a tithe. Tithe means 10 or 10 percent of our income. And I think it’s also a very good idea to save at least that much. Your Dad and I have not always done this and still struggle to do it. We would have been so much better off if we had started this sooner.”
Him (Now suspicious): “How much of my allowance is 10 percent?”
Me: “Two dollars per month”
(I am now holding my breath. Forget breathing deeply, I’ve just stopped all together.)
Him: “Do I have to give it to the Church?”
(OK, I wasn’t expecting this ... think, think, think.)
Me: “No, I don’t think so. But it does need to be a charity that Mom and Dad approve of.”
Him: “Can I give it to the SPCA?”
Me (fighting tears thinking of the day a year ago we picked up our beloved yellow dog at the SPCA): “Yes, I think that would be a find idea.”
Him: “Do I have to buy a game with my savings money?”
Me: “No, what else do you have in mind?”
Him: “I thought that at the end of the year after I’ve saved up a bunch of money that I could give that envelope to the Church.”
Me: “I think that would be a fine idea, too.”
Me (silently): “Thank you Father for entrusting me with children who teach me lessons I need to learn.”