Faith and finances: putting family first

Contributed
Father Bill Roush, right, poses for a picture with his daughters Elsabeth and Jeanette in New Zealand last year.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series about family life. 

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

Three years after the death of his wife, Cindy, Bill Roush learned that his position at Monsanto would be cut. He had a choice: take a three-year severance package and spend more time with his two pre-teen daughters or take another position that would pay “above and beyond what we needed.”

It wasn’t an easy decision; like many people, he had grown up believing that self worth was, in part, determined by wealth. Ultimately, he took the opportunity to spend more time with his daughters, supplementing income later on with entrepreneurial work where he could choose his own hours in accordance with his daughters’ needs.

Nearly 20 years have passed since then. Now-Father Roush is a priest of the Diocese of Davenport. Looking back, he believes he made the right decision. “I know it was their mom’s voice in my head asking, ‘what are (the girls) going to remember: the money you left behind or the time you spent with them?’”

For Catholics, money should be seen as a means to an end, not a priority, said Keith Soko, professor of Religious Ethics and Moral Theology at St. Ambrose University in Davenport. Family, faith and the needs of others should be the driving factors in the discernment of family finances.

Wants vs. needs

Soko said that the Catholic Church does not offer as much guidance on money management as it does on other topics, but the church does not believe that wealth is a sign of God’s favor. This doesn’t mean that Catholics must live an ascetic lifestyle, but parents should try to instill in their children the idea that their worth isn’t based on money. Their worth comes from being made in God’s image, not on having the most expensive clothing or the newest cars and gadgets, he said.

This can be difficult for families living in a society that puts a high value on material possessions, “but it’s not the material things that give you happiness,” Fr. Roush said. The joy that comes from buying “wants” is short lived. “It’s the love you have for each other and what you are willing to share with each other” that brings joy.

The value of money

Nikki Gartner, a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish-Bettendorf, sees money as a way to bless others, something to be given away within reason. For most of her life, it wasn’t. Having grown up in a household where money was a constant source of tension, she was desperate to avoid this challenge in her own family life. Money represented security; she became, in her words, a workaholic. “I let money be my god in life. I thought that, with enough money, my life would be in control, but the more money I made, the more out of control it got.”

A wife and mother of two children, she found her family life strained as she struggled to make time for it. When her daughter, Brianna, was 5 years old, she asked her mother, “Can you put your laptop away so we can just be together?” Gartner said, “It broke my heart.”

She began to realize that money wasn’t the answer to finding security and happiness in her life. She turned to her faith for strength, talking to her pastor at the time about how to stop being a “slave to the money.” It wasn’t easy to let go of her fears, but with time, she was able to change her perspective, putting faith and family before finances. Over the past several years, Gartner has taken steps to work less and to be more present to her family. This brings her more joy than money ever did.

Budgeting family time

Deacon Chris Kabat, a member of St. Wenceslaus Parish-Iowa City, has worked as a financial advisor for more than 20 years. He has observed the worries people have about money. Most worry about running out of money or not having enough in case of an emergency. Ideally, families should have six months of salary in savings and make regular contributions to a retirement fund. While the church is not firm on the amount faithful families should give, Deacon Kabat said 10 percent is doable for many families. “We give money because we are called to give and called to give of ourselves, but it’s a discernment process and it’s hard.”

Sometimes, when families begin to discern needs versus wants and plan out their finances, they discover that it is possible to cut back on work hours or live on a single income. Even when this is not possible, families can be intentional in putting family first. “When you are home, what are you spending your time doing?” Deacon Kabat said. Putting aside cell phones and other devices and focusing on family while at home can maximize family time. It can also lead to stronger marriages.

Focus on God

In a homily recently, Fr. Roush shared his thoughts on money with his parishioners in Richmond, Riverside and Wellman. He said money is essential to survival, and he has been fortunate not to have to worry about having a roof over his head or having enough to eat. At the same time, “material possessions don’t prevent you from being lonely and tired or supply you with the personal relationships that give you peace and tranquility.” Salvation cannot be bought. “God is love and all God has to offer is free. All we need to do is accept it.”

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