Earning, Saving and Giving

Last time I introduced the theme of making profit in a values-centred business. I touched upon drawings during my recent sequence about self-employment.  I didn’t say much about them and certainly nothing about the values that apply to this part of our economic activity. Values apply to three aspects of domestic finance: earning, saving and giving.

John Wesley, in his sermon 50 “The Use of Money”, wrote “earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can”.  Now I appreciate most readers do not feel bound by the teachings of an eighteenth century evangelical preacher.  But Wesley’s three points are still a useful ethic for the values-centred business person.

This is the second post in a sequence about use of money and so I shall not cover everything about use of money here.  Comment on anything you think I’ve missed but I may have held it in reserve for a later post.

Your Earnings and Your Value

“Earn all you can” implies no pressure to go beyond your capacity.  It is possible to live a dignified life on a low income.  It is not only possible to be happy on a low income, it is a great blessing if you can.

If you enjoy life, possibly you are earning enough.  Satisfaction means you have a degree of independence from the formal economy.  There are lots of reasons to be dissatisfied; the system can make life difficult for people on low incomes.  The same was true in Wesley’s day and one reason he advised his followers to “earn all you can” was the consequences of poverty he had seen in his travels around the country.

Those who earn more are able to share with those who don’t.  This was the expectation in Wesley’s religious societies.  Each member had to pay their dues but Wesley expected wealthier members to help poorer members.

Legitimate Earning

There is an implied expectation that earnings are legitimate.  This rules out income from crime and possibly other activities.  This is where values come in because it is difficult to legislate for what is legitimate income.  For example, for many years Methodists opposed alcohol and so presumably members working in the alcohol industry would be pressured to get out of it.  This would not be true today, where Methodists see alcohol in a more temperate light.

Should we, for example, be concerned about working in the banking industry, after the crash of 2008, precipitated by the dubious financial activities of some bankers?  These issues recur again and again.  Go back a couple of decades and there were similar pressures on bank employees where the banks invested in apartheid.

Wesley would be the first to claim your worth as a person has nothing to do with what you earn.  Your personal values might impact on what you choose as a career.  This is a matter for conscience and it is perhaps best to leave it there.

The Protestant Work Ethic influenced Wesley and he did not seem critical of the Industrial Revolution per se.  When we contemplate the inequalities that divide the world into wealthy and poor nations, the environmental consequences of the industrial world, we must approach earning from a different perspective.

What Does it Mean to Save All You Can?

There are three ways to approach this.

Control Your Spending

First, Wesley does not mean by “save all you can”, put your money in the bank.  He was not thinking of the banking system or even keeping reserves of money in a box under the mattress.

What he meant was to be constrained in what you spend.  Buy what you need and ideally no more.  Be content with the basics you need to live a full and dignified life.  The money you save is to be given away.

There is much to commend this approach today.  We tend to over-consume and this has a devastating impact on the world we depend upon.  Our children and grandchildren will find their lives impoverished because of the resources my generation has consumed. I’ve already touched on these issues under “earn all you can”.

Be Discerning About What You Buy

The second approach to wasteful and negligent business is to boycott it as a consumer.  Few can refuse to work for businesses that are immoral but most can choose to refuse to buy from them.

This is only part of what Wesley meant.  Do you really need that bottle of wine?  You could save the money and give it away.  Do you need that DVD?  And so on.  Ultimately, these are decisions we make as individuals.

But if you refer back to my last post about profit as the purpose of business, you will see much of the rhetoric around business is the promise of the good life, should you make the breakthrough.  And that argument is solely about personal comfort.  Many of the Internet gurus boast of their beautiful houses and their yacht.

This is the profit-centred ideology where profit grows personal power.  It is interesting some wealthy people still work out how to give all they can.

Support the Local Economy

There is a third way to save all you can, a way to save and give in the same act.  It is to favour local business over corporations.  If we want money to circulate in the economy it depends on our spending practices.


I shall return to giving later in this sequence and consider charity among other forms.  But I want to focus on one dimension of giving, hospitality.

I have major issues with generosity.  After decades of struggling with my own tight-fistedness, I know what a blessing generosity can be.  I live on my own and mostly care for myself.  I don’t have any problem with that.  Many people don’t care for themselves and self-care is something we all need to do.

I am grateful for friends generosity.  Being in business, I am much more aware generosity is essential for the conduct of my business as a coach.  I try to over-deliver on my promises and I’ve begun to understand when you can rely on income, hospitality becomes easier.

Business naturally leads to generosity or to accumulation of finance, where there is lust for power.

So, the first step before giving to charity and everything else the benefactor might do, is the basics of generosity and hospitality to those people around us.

What is your experience of earning, saving and giving?

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About the Author

I've been a community development worker since the early 1980s in Tyneside, Teesside and South Yorkshire. I've also worked nationally for the Methodist Church for eight years supporting community projects through the church's grants programme. These days I am developing an online community development practice combining non-directive consultancy, strategic management, participatory methods and development work online and offline. If you're interested contact me for a free consultation.

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