On God and Money
Courtney is a law librarian living in NYC. She likes poetry, bikes, and Ethiopian food. Her next career will be in finance.
As a Mormon, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about God. As a questioning Mormon, one who passed years deeply seeking answers, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the incontrovertible truths of the universe and what those might be. I had years of prayer, years of study, years of cyclical thought, all of which shaped me. But today, as an inactive Mormon, I don’t think about these things quite as much.
I confessed to a friend that I was worried that the headspace I once occupied with God, I now occupied with money. I speculated about what that meant and what that said about me. Had I become a worse person, a secular person, since stepping away from my family’s faith? Was I worshiping an idol in place of God?
The root of my concern was that I spend a lot of time thinking about money. I have spreadsheets to track my finances and to chart my progress getting out of debt. I have a 401(k), a high-yield savings account, and a cash-back credit card that I use for the rewards. I have emergency savings that I’m working to build to a 3-month, then a 6-month minimum. I think about how to max my 401(k) contributions (IRS allowable limit for 2016 is $18,000) and then how to possibly cut back and save even more. I get excited at the thought of one day opening a Roth IRA or at the mention of exchange-traded funds. This is my dirty talk. My favorite conversations: how to manage money, how to save money, how to get out of debt, how to wisely invest.
I am not rich, but I am not as poor as I was. I finished grad school more than 40K in the hole. The nation was still clawing its way back from the subprime mortgage crisis, and I couldn’t get a job. I worked temp for years, trying to make my education worth something, hoping to one day land on my feet.
I count thrift as one of my inherited Mormon virtues. I remember lessons about preparedness, about the importance of having our houses in order, financially as well as spiritually. I believe in charity and know the value of taking care of yourself so that you’re in a position to better help others.
So have I messed up my mental priorities with all this money-thinking and no worship of God? Truthfully, I don’t know. I can’t speak conclusively about who I am now versus who I was. They are both good people. But I can say that in my most lucid moments, I am not ashamed of the proportion of time I spend thinking about money. For me, it is not about materialism or the accumulation of wealth. It’s practical. It’s about my own ability to take care of myself and others. It’s about a problem I can solve that I tackle with gusto. It’s about independence. It’s about feminism. It’s about my increased desire for knowledge across all areas. It may be a little bit about revenge (it does, in a very petty way, make me slightly pleased that I make more than my ex-husband and a slew of ex-boyfriends, many of whom didn’t have jobs…another story).
I would never advocate that anyone turn away from God in favor of money, but I advocate strongly for financial literacy (especially among women). If you have to clear some headspace to do it, do it.