We have always been a cash kind of family. I think being in debt is absolutely horrid from a freedom standpoint, and until my car accident several years ago and the unending medical bills and collection agencies that followed, we had never carried a credit card balance that could not be paid off each month.
We have also always been a church going family. The Wednesday and Sunday night kind--and the ones that make regular money offerings. When my oldest child was very young, I heard a radio show one morning on my way to work that recommended making 'giving money at church' as tangible to children as possible. As soon as they are old enough, give them a quarter to put in the offering plate as it passes by. Make sure every family member does this. When the child is old enough to understand money amounts, then increase that to a dollar. Then five dollars, etc. At some point, encourage them to give their own money, and not just hand over the parent's money. The point of this is to help them understand early on that giving is individual and tangible.
This made sense to me, because I was so used to writing out a check, and many times that was in my own adult class, so my kids would really have no way of knowing that I was even giving anything, much less that they could be giving as well.
Several years later, we had moved to another state, far away from family, but still going to church, and still living paycheck to paycheck. Money was much tighter than it had ever been, but we were still credit card debt free. This was the first time that the boys became more aware of what 'payday' meant, as in 'no, we can't go get more cheese until payday', and 'I know those shorts are a little tight, but they will work fine until payday'. They were still putting money in the offering plate, but it was not really a tangible concept for them. They had no clue what the money was going for, or that the bulk of what we were giving was still in check form. And when my youngest asked one day why we could not just keep those few dollars and go to Sonic after church instead of waiting for payday, I decided that I needed to be more proactive in their training.
Enter God's Money Box.
It is not really a box. It is more of a tupperware container without a top. It was quickly made by taping a sheet of paper around the outside and writing in a crayon 'God's Money', and was meant to be temporary until I could get something cuter. And box-like.
That was eight years ago...and we still have the same container.
Anyway, it very quickly brought giving and sacrifice to life for my boys. Every payday, I would go to the bank and withdraw some money for the week, mainly for incidentals and cash type purchases. The boys knew that if the cash was gone, then there would be no 'extras' for a while. As soon as we got home from the bank, one of them would take $10 and put it in God's Money Box. We would put spare change in there throughout the week. Maybe an extra dollar every now and then.
Slowly but surely, the money began to add up. We left God's Money Box out on the kitchen counter, so that the boys could see it every day. They learned that this money was not theirs to use for fun stuff, or even food. We did not 'borrow' from it to go buy cheese or shorts and pay it back later. It was to bless other people. We did not really have a plan for what we wanted to do with the money when we started using it, but we began to look for ways to give that were out of the box, so to speak.
Our first use was to buy a children's museum membership for a great family that loved museums, but just could not swing the fee that year.
We emptied God's Money Box for a family stranded in our town because their medical appointment had run into the next day and they did not have money for a hotel or food.
When people have fund raisers for their personal causes/benefits, we empty it out again. Yes, it is a little strange at times to give amounts like $76.81, but the recipients do not seem to mind.
When there is a canned food drive at school or church, we cash that money in and head to the nearest dollar store for macaroni and canned chili with pop tops.
Massages, or flowers, or frivolous happies for church nursery workers.
There have been so many fun stories that are now part of our larger family story due to what we are learning from God's Money Box. Things like--
--a little money over time can become bigger money
--large or small amounts can mean a huge deal to people, in need of 'stuff' or encouragement
--we need to be proactive in wanting to serve. If we did not have this system in place, then we would not have access to the money when it could best be used. We still live paycheck to paycheck, but God does not want us to use that as an excuse to hold onto the little we have left over each month.
Ultimately, it is a reminder that this life is not about us, or for us only. Money can become a crutch and a snare, for people who have little and for people who have plenty. Giving and generosity come easy and naturally for some people. Not so much for my boys. Not yet, anyway.
But they are learning. And God's Money Box sure is helping.