Hey Big Spender!
This past weekend, my church continued the series “Rich People Syndrome,” by getting us to think about why it’s so hard to break free from our emotional bond to money. If you’re interested in seeing/listening to the original message, click HERE (click on How Do We Ease the Squeeze?). I will warn you that I didn’t originally plan for this to be a long post, but when I started writing…it really accumulated to quite a lot of words. I hope you’ll hang with me as I dive deeper into the message.

The most obvious reason we can’t “break free,” is because most of us have a really hard time with being content. Think you’re content? Then ask yourself the following: 
  • Do you check Craig’s List for a good deal everyday? 
  • Do you participate in retail therapy or go shopping for no reason?
  • Do you continue to look for a better job even after you’ve accepted a new job offer?
  • Do you constantly compare your house to others’ homes even if you live in a really nice house?
  • Do you have a closet full of clothes, but nothing to wear? 
Nothing In, Nothing Out RSIf you answered “YES” to any of the above questions, then you might have issues with contentment. The problem is that even when we try really hard to be content with our lives, we’re consistently reminded of what we don’t have every time we turn on the television. Will Smith once said,
“We spend money that we do not have, on things we do not need,
to impress people who do not care.”
Another version of this quote says, “Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.” Either way, why do we do that? I could also ask why we put ourselves in positions to need or want things that we can’t afford to begin with…I could give examples, but I feel I might land in the middle of politics (and that is not what these messages are about).  

It’s like our appetite – when you feed your “growling stomach,” it’s not satisfied for very long before you’re hungry again (especially in the case of a pregnant woman who has a bottomless stomach). Sure it’s okay to feed into our cravings, spend a little money, treat ourselves to something nice, etc, but if we make a habit out of it, we’ll find ourselves wondering how we gained the extra 30 lbs…or spent all of our savings on stuff that doesn’t amount to much at all. The same goes for contentment. If we feed into the desire for more stuff, we just want more. And we start to believe we deserve more and the bar keeps getting higher and the debt keeps growing. 

Go Speed RacerRemember when we were kids? I don’t know about you, but the toys I so vividly remember were a large refrigerator box and my big wheels. I was an imaginative kid so the box became a house and those big wheels became a mini van that transported my “babies” from home to school to McDonald’s. I just don’t seem to remember all the stuff that we seem to be inundated with today. I’ve even told myself that when we have kids, I won’t bother buying any toys – I’ll just throw some rocks in a plastic bottle and let my kid entertain themselves. I mean, how often do kids (especially babies) actually care about stuff that you bought specifically for play? So if you were like me, you didn’t have much (or don’t remember much) and yet we were happy with what we did have.

My mom even tells me now that I never asked for anything either. If she asked what I wanted for my birthday or Christmas, I had a tendency not to request much so she went out of her way to buy whatever I did show interest in. I guess I was just one of those kids that was content with whatever my parents gave me…and I’m not sure kids have that attitude anymore.

I’m not even sure I have that attitude anymore. For example. my dear husband is in the process of building a new website for me. I won’t go into details, but I have been a pretty difficult customer. With each new revision, I hardly say thank you…instead pointing out what is wrong with what I see or asking if he can add something else. I’m sure this has a lot to do with my perfectionist tendencies (those tendencies being a bit hit or miss, but they’re there). However, I have to wonder why I can’t be more content with the work he’s doing…and why I can’t be more appreciative.
The more we have, the more we want. So, how do we suppress our appetite?
1 Timothy 6:6-10 says, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
I immediately thought about the experience I had with buying my first home. Before I even went to look at houses, I had to be pre-approved to purchase a home…my realtor wanted to be sure I would qualify for a loan, and know how much of a home he could show me. When I first received that number, I was in shock. I knew how much I was making…and how much I was comfortable spending each month on my mortgage. The number the bank presented me with and my personal number were off by a $20,000. Granted, I could have looked at houses that maximized my loan capacity, but I chose to stay in my comfort zone.

Another example – do you remember how much your wedding cost? I do, because I paid the bill. When my husband and I got engaged, I was one of those brides who tracked our wedding expenses like I was managing a project. Every line item was given a budget and I was very strict about staying within that budget….so, by the time we got married, we had zero debt (from the wedding). Taking all of that into account – my mom, my sister and I went wedding dress shopping about a year before the wedding. I had a budget, I had a plan. However, I specifically remember the bridal consultant asking me if I was interested in seeing any dresses that exceeded my budget. I’ve watched way too many wedding shows to fall for this trick (it’s never a good idea to see or try on dresses you can’t afford), so I quickly said no. Could I have spent more money on my wedding dress? I suppose I could, but I was content…I was THRILLED with the dress I did select and it was within my budget.

Just because we have money does not mean that we deserve anything. It reminds me of the “Feeling Richer Effect” commercials. As comical as it is, it’s true…we sometimes feel like we should have certain things to live up to a certain lifestyle. Unfortunately, that desire to get rich makes us make a lot of foolish decisions that cause a lot of destruction (just look at the Prodigal Son).

1 Timothy 6:11 says, “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.”
If you have extra, there is the temptation to want even more. We have to make a conscious decision to flee from that temptation and pursue something else entirely. For example, I used to shop out of boredom. The mall is literally a block or so away from my office, so it’s pretty easy to pop over during lunch. And those Victoria’s Secret Semi-Annual sales…I’m such a sucker for new underwear. Avoiding this temptation is rather difficult…and even more difficult knowing that I can do the same type of shopping online. So, I’ve set up a couple of rules as it relates to shopping (and you may be able to adjust these for any other temptation you may be faced with):
  1. Only shop when you NEED something and have money in your bank account to spend. Although I don’t carry much cash with me, I don’t charge something if I know I don’t have the money for it (those interest rates will really hurt you). Furthermore, I don’t go near shopping centers if I don’t have a current need. I have gone to the mall with my sister and looked, but I now have a mental block to shop unless I have something specific I need to purchase. Nine times out of ten, I don’t ever need anything.
  2. If you are using a credit card, keep a close watch on where you’re spending your money. More importantly, pay off your balance every month. Earning points is cool, carrying a balance is not.
  3. Just as I did when planning our wedding, create a budget for all of your expenses. I’m actually doing this right now as it relates to baby gear. I initially started creating a budget…then realized I had no idea how much stuff cost. So, I started to build a registry. First, I added all the necessary needs…then I threw in the “nice to have” wants. When I was done, I wrote down all of the “must have big ticket” items with their retail price. Then, I searched the internet to see if I could get any of those items for less (Craig’s List, Amazon, Ebay, etc) – wrote down that number too. Finally, I added up the amount and compared that to what I had in my bonus check and tax return. Although I really hope that I’ll get most of those items as gifts, I have money designated for those purchases.
1 Timothy 6:17-19 says, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”
I remember thinking about our (my husband and I) desire to have a home with more land. There is nothing wrong with our current space – we have plenty of room to raise a family, but we’re not in an ideal school district. Now that we have a baby on the way, we think about these sorts of things a lot more than we used to. So, the other weekend we decided to explore the area and look at some available lots…just to see what’s out there. About half-way into our drive, a “check oil pressure” light came on in my husband’s car. Considering this sort of thing typically means that your engine is in trouble, we pulled over. The more we thought about it, the more we realized that God has provided us a wonderful home – he has provided us with everything we need and we should enjoy it. Our focus should not be on what we don’t have, but what we do have…and what we can give to others. I can’t tell you that our forever home search is over, but I know that when the time is right…God will provide.

I think the overarching message here is that generosity is the only thing that can curve our appetite and bridle our discontentment. With all that said, how are you curving your appetite and avoiding the temptation to spend, spend, spend? Furthermore, what are you doing for your kids so they don’t grow up in discontentment?