I'm such an extremist when it comes to money.
During most of my life, I've totally prided myself in scrimping and saving to the extreme.
Throughout junior high, I actually lived on my one-dollar-a-week allowance. It was a challenge to keep to that dollar budget, but I prided myself on having a few pennies left at the end of the month. I know, it sounds over the top. But that's just how I am!
High school was a lot like junior high. I had a little more spending money, yet spent little of it. I prided myself in skipping fun stuff with friends so that I could stash the cash in my savings account.
I took those money habits to college.
I kept record of every penny I spent, and hardly ever used my emergency credit card. I allowed myself to spend money on one fun activity a month, like watching a movie, going out to eat or attending a concert.
I was good. Real good. Too good. On walks to get ice cream with my Bible study, I would plan how I'd wait in the back of the store until everyone bought their sweet treats. I didn't want to stand out or get too close to temptation.
Then it all changed. Sometime during my junior year I snapped.
It happened around the time I got a cute greeting card and a crisp 20-dollar bill in the mail from Mom.
I went out to eat with a friend, and actually surprised myself by plopping down the 20-dollar bill to pay for our meals. "No big deal," I heard myself casually say. "It's on me tonight."
My friend was shocked, knowing my past non-spending habits. I guess I'd grown tired of being the big-time tightwad. I did know I'd finally grown tired of missing out on all the fun.
So I became Ms. Big Spender. Without hesitating, I'd pull out my "emergency" credit card for non-emergencies. But a dwindling bank account—and a body that was exhausted from working extra hours to keep up with my spending—told me something wasn't right with this extreme either.
So I once again started recording every thing I spent. I discovered something odd. I was sure I'd been spending fairly selflessly. (After all, I did give money for missions trips and bought some nice gifts for friends.) But overall, most of my money was spent on me—or, to be specific, my stomach. It seemed like I was spending most of my money on eating out.
Then I stopped and thought about something: Money isn't the point of every activity. God is. So when I'm in my "stingy" mindset, I need to trust him more than I trust my ability to keep a tight budget. And when I find myself slipping the other way, I need to check myself: Am I spending my money to bring God glory?
This whole experience has been rather freeing. It's made me more focused on God and others, and less focused on me. It's made me more flexible, less rigid. It's made me happier, less uptight.
As for the next time I walk down to the ice-cream place with friends, I think I'll celebrate my newfound freedom … but with just one scoop, of course.