Imagine you are out to eat with your family and you strike up a conversation with the server. You learn she is a single mom with three kids and works two jobs to make ends meet. After her children go to bed, she spends several hours taking online classes in hopes of getting a college degree and moving forward in life.
Your heart goes out to her. She seems happy and energetic, yet underneath the smiles you sense a deep longing for things to be different. She tells you how she's working hard to make a better life for herself and her kids. You can only imagine how difficult it must be to juggle the demands of employers, children, and professors.
You would love to help in some way, but you feel like you can't afford to. You leave the restaurant with an empty feeling in your heart and you hope she "makes it." After you get in the car, you turn to your spouse and remember the words of James 2:15-16:
Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?
Conviction sets in. You decide it's time for a change. You imagine how exciting it would be if you had an extra $25, $50, or even $100 a month set aside specifically for times like this. You picture yourself plopping down an extra large tip with a note that says, "We're praying for you!"
But how can you increase your ability to give without hurting your own financial situation? After all, you don't want to do anything financially foolish, like going deeper into debt or taking an early IRA withdrawal. The answer lies in building generosity into your budget.
Designing Your Giving Plan
Before adding more generosity to your budget, first be sure you decide on an appropriate amount to give to your local church. Budget a specific percentage that you will faithfully give via your local body of believers.
Next, go above and beyond — put additional generosity into your plan. This involves setting aside a monthly amount that allows you to be a direct financial blessing to others. It doesn't have to be a large amount, but this money should be a "non-negotiable" — just like you'd treat your savings or expenses. The challenge is finding a figure you're comfortable with and sticking to it. (To keep things simple, my wife and I use a dollar amount for our generosity money, rather than a percentage of income.)
Finally, agree on the details. I can't stress enough that if you're married (or are engaged and are starting to plan a budget together), you need to agree on the details of your generosity plan. If you don't, what typically happens is that one person is overly ambitious with giving, while the other gets upset that too much hard-earned money is given to others when it could be used to meet family goals such as debt reduction or savings.
Here are a few of the details my wife and I have agreed on:
- A set amount. We have decided on a specific dollar amount, and each of us gets the same amount.
- No hoarding. Generosity money must be used in that particular month (this keeps us active in looking for opportunities to be generous).
- Autonomy. We're not allowed to tell each other whom to give to or what to use the money for. We make our own decisions — and then we have the fun of sharing with each other how the Lord has led us to give.
Benefits of a Generosity Budget
One benefit we have experienced from building generosity into our budget is that we receive a tremendous amount of joy. It's a great feeling to be able to help someone by giving a gift unexpectedly.
Here are other blessings we've enjoyed — and you will too:
- A generosity budget allows you to help others immediately — when they need it — rather than waiting until the end of the month and hoping there is extra money to give.
- It keeps you actively looking for opportunities to assist those in need — thus continually fostering an attitude of personal generosity.
- Implementing your generosity plan is a fun way to store up treasure in heaven. Not all the benefits of giving are enjoyed now. Some will come later!
Ideas for Being Generous
There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to putting your generosity budget into action, so be creative and stay attentive to the needs of those around you. Here are a few examples to get you thinking:
- Leave a card with money inside on the desk of a financially struggling coworker;
- Buy grocery gift cards for a family whose breadwinner has lost a job;
- Give a gift card from a local restaurant to someone experiencing a rough patch in life;
- Buy gas cards for a single parent trying to make ends meet;
- Pay for a babysitter for a single parent, foster family, or a married couple that needs a break;
- Buy birthday cards and presents for women and children in local shelters;
- Purchase Bibles for inmates in your local jail;
- Leave an extra tip for a server you know is struggling with life;
- Mentor an underprivileged young person in your church or community and use your generosity money for occasional splurges;
- Buy food (or gift cards to restaurants) for the homeless in your community;
- Support local charities that are doing good things.
Now it's your turn. Go and be generous!