Stewardship — One of the Most Important Concepts We Rarely Talk About

I visited West Point with my family this Saturday- it is a great tour and I very much recommend it if you haven’t been. Not only is the setting beautiful, but the history is fascinating and the ideals that are embedded in the code of ethics that the cadets live up to is inspiring.

Pondering their dedication to duty, honor and country got me thinking a lot about the concept of stewardship — taking care, and managing resources as prudently as possible. Ultimately the discipline and integrity demonstrated at West Point in some sense boils down to each individual being the best steward- of their mind, body, spirit- and ultimately our country- as they can be. There are some words that sound old-fashioned on the ear- possibly because they are under used in today’s world- and steward is definitely one of them. Perhaps it is time we resurrect it!

On a daily basis, the most important area of stewardship in our everyday lives is how we care for the people in our lives- our children, parents and our communities, and of course ourselves. Second is most likely the stewardship we bring (or should!) to our jobs. Related to both of these, however, is how we care for our personal finances. Often it seems that the stress of dealing with our personal finances makes us not want to be proactive — but there are some really good reasons to grab the bull by the horns and get your financial situation in order!

1) Impact- so you want to change the world? You can’t do that if you are bouncing checks and draining your finances with late fees. Even if things aren’t quite so dire, developing a disciplined approach to managing finances allows you the ability to be mindful and plan how and where your resources should best be spent. As your savings and wealth grows, you can have a larger and larger impact on the world. I hope you saw the story about Oseola McCarty a few years back. She was able to make an incredibly generous donation which will change the lives of many students for years to come- and she spent her entire life as a washer woman. She had a remarkable impact on the world, largely because she was an exceptional steward of her money. Very humbling indeed!

2) Resilience- when life throws a curve ball, which it inevitably will, will you be prepared? A very dear friend of mine a few years back suffered a massive stroke. He and his family were thrust into an unimaginably difficult situation, emotionally, physically and financially. Had they not had long term disability insurance, the situation would have been even worse. Resilience comes from planning. Luck favors the prepared, as they say. You can read more about their situation, and how they prepared, here.

3) Peace of Mind — The grinding stress that so many people feel- because of student loan debt, or because of not enough money in the savings account to deal with a car breaking down, or no funds salted away for retirement- has been well documented. Many employers today are recognizing that an essential part of their wellness programs must include resources dedicated to financial wellness, because this is often the root of the majority of stress (which leads to burnout, absenteeism, lower levels of engagement etc). Solely for the ability to sleep at night NOT worrying about finances, it is worth it to get your money sorted.

4) Integrity- this is a big one for me. I have always told my children “how you do anything is how you do everything”- and I don’t think it is possible to act with integrity in a partial way. The promises you make to pay your bills on time, or meet your obligations are just that — promises. It does our hearts good as people to know that our word is as good as our bond. It is also how we like to see ourselves- as trustworthy and reliable. Being trusted with money is an integral part of how we interact with the world, and it is not a place to cut corners.

5) Leadership- what are we teaching our kids by our actions? How can we inspire the next generations in our schools and communities? Although we will all have times when things don’t go as planned, being able to give the gift of example by being determined and resolute with the management of our finances creates an education for those close to us- and can help them to build good habits in their own lives. Whatever means the most to you- it can best be accomplished if finances are not a distraction but rather can enable you to focus your efforts to lead the charge.

I will never be a cadet at West Point, but hopefully I can adopt more and more of the ethos that I admire so much. Making small steps towards being better stewards of all of the things we have been given in our lives is certainly a part of that. As we enter into what is for many a holiday season, it may be tempting to over eat, over spend and generally burn the candle at both ends. The hangover that comes from throwing caution to the wind could make for a really unpleasant set of New Year’s resolutions- so why not start early this year and focus on making some small changes that will leave you coming into 2018 basking in the glow of being the best steward you can be- of your finances and ultimately of your life!