NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, December 30th, 2020. So glad you’ve joined us today for The World and Everything in It!
Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. The pandemic and the lockdowns have changed lots of things: the way people work, socialize, and even parent.
Today, WORLD correspondent Jenny Rough tells us how COVID is causing some Christians to rethink financial decisions.
JENNY ROUGH, REPORTER: After the stay-at-home orders came down last spring, Tony Willett opened his credit card bill. Normally, several thousand dollars a month. This bill: A few hundred dollars. Willet wasn’t only working from home—he was doing everything from home. And it turned out to be a lot cheaper.
TONY WILLET: Pre-COVID, our shopping was all about garnishing our lifestyle. Now, that’s done.
The pandemic opened Willet’s eyes to how much he and his wife frittered away on discretionary preferences.
TONY WILLET: Our Saturday trips to Starbucks now take place at the kitchen table where indeed the buck has stopped here. Starbucks grande is about $4.50 and my wife makes it at home for 79 cents.
Even before COVID, Willet began making better financial choices. The process started a few years back, when his doctor delivered bad news:
TONY WILLET: I had cancer.
Stage 4 squamous cell carcinoma. The doctor told him to get his affairs in order.
TONY WILLET: At the time my list of things that were important … immediately went to three or four items. God, family, friends. Job wasn’t on that list. Things weren’t on that list.
Willet began to purge stuff from the house. Today, he is cancer and clutter free.
TONY WILLET: God calls us to be good stewards with the money that He gives us. And if we start from the standpoint that it’s all His, it helps us gain the perspective that he didn’t give all of it to us for us to bury in the field. This is not the five talents that are meant to be hidden for ourselves.
Lydia Boreman is the stewardship director at Grace Crossing Church in Beavercreek, Ohio. During the pandemic, she’s witnessed church members giving to those in financial need even though — for many — their own income has been cut.
LYDIA BOREMAN: If you see finances, and all of the resources that you have in your life as a gift from God, and you don’t feel that possession over it, then you don’t have the fear of losing it, because it helps build the perspective that God will provide.
Not hoarding is one side of the coin. God also calls us to be prudent, and ready for difficult times. Boreman says it doesn’t take much to go wrong before debt can snowball to a place that can take decades to recover from.
BOREMAN: I’ve seen time and time again where people are in situations, decisions that they’ve made that they now regret and are trying to be obedient in fixing where God’s just really creatively met them. But the stress level when you’re in that position, the stress it puts on a marriage and a family. It’s, it’s pretty harsh. And I don’t think God desires that for us.
An emergency fund is a good place to start. Building one from scratch can be intimidating. Start small.
BOREMAN: I think if people look at it, and you say, well, you should have three to six months in an emergency fund. That’s great. And that’s right. But that may seem impossible to someone who’s drowning in credit card debt and aren’t sure how they’re going to pay for everything next month.
Saving is half the battle.
BOREMAN: And you could save a lot. But if you don’t have a handle on the spending side of things is not ultimately going to help you.
In many marriages, one spouse tends to feel more comfortable spending while the other wants a padding. Boreman encourages spouses to talk openly—and extend one another a lot of grace. She says a financial conversation is an emotional conversation.
Van Smith helps people with those emotional conversations every day. Smith is an estate planning attorney in Richmond, Virginia. Since the pandemic, his business has doubled.
VAN SMITH: Confronted with the brutal reality of their own mortality each night on the news — It’s nothing like a sick and death tally every day to remind people that perhaps maybe an estate plan is a good idea.
The highly politicized and traumatic year adds another layer.
VAN SMITH: We not only see the pandemic and the brutal reality it’s delivering, but we also feel not only physical detachment from one another, but we feel a spiritual detachment from our fellow citizens.
Having a will is another way to be a good steward. Without one, an estate will default to the state-imposed plan: high taxes, maximum fees, and a long timetable. Smith says everyone needs certain legal documents in place, such as a will, a power of attorney, medical directive. Many estate lawyers offer free workshops to cover the basics—these days, over Zoom.
One trend Smith has seen is clients making ethical wills.
SMITH: They’re not only trying to transfer the value of their estate, but they’re also trying to communicate and transfer the values that went into building the value of their estate.
Bestow blessings. Share personal beliefs. Ultimate truths. Parents could even direct their adult children to donate a portion of the inheritance to a charity of the adult child’s choice.
SMITH: So that you’re sort of instilling in them a giving philosophy. That’s why we call estate planning happy law. Because it should be a happy occasion to think back and plan and then joyfully distribute. It’s happy law.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Jenny Rough.