Thursday, February 24, 2011

Money, Money, Money, Monn-neeeey!

Ever watched the show "Til Debt Do Us Part"? It used to be a favorite of mine for a while, when we had free cable. I would often "do my time" on the stairclimber while watching it.

The scenario is all too familiar. It usually stars a young family that has a moderate home, nice vehicles, all the best baby equipment and gadgets you might "need", and overstuffed closets. They, like many other families, enjoy eating out at the Keg and getting their kids Happy Meals when their busy family is on the go. They love to shop at the big-box stores like Costco, keeping their cupboards filled with their favorite easy-to-prepare meals and snacks. While shopping at Costco, they can also check out the latest in entertainment and throw some new yoga pants into the over-sized grocery cart (just because)!

The unfortunate revelation however, is when Gail Vaz-Oxlade (the host of the show), takes a morbid look at their finances and shows them just how in debt they have become, and, GASP! the fact that their debt-load has taken on a snow-balling effect of rapid increase that is nearly out of control. (Until she saves the day...)

It's a pretty sobering view that is all-too-familiar. It's certainly not something our success-driven society enjoys putting into the spotlight.

Instead, we like to ask: What if you could have it all???

Clearly Donald Trump has the margin on "having it all" but somehow missed out on the hair category. So I'll wager that he doesn't really have it all.

We are sold out on an idea of success, and like many of today's families, including those featured on "Til Debt Do Us Part", we fall hopelessly short of living the dream.

What is success anyway? Most would think of Fame and Fortune as the keystones of success. And since the majority of us will never become truly famous, we settle for popularity among our peers by having the nicest, biggest home, cushy leather couches and a fancy in-home-theatre with an enormous big screen HD-TV.

Okay, so I've laid down some of the misconceptions of success and money that are common and normalized by television (and magazines, and probably most of your peers). These thoughts all started when I was running the treadmill, staring out at the blizzard of snowflakes out the window, and I began to wonder: What would it be like if someone you knew and respected could take a close look at your finances? What if someone saw how you spent everything, the amounts on clothing, food, fun, eating out, etc., even the amount that you give to charity every year? How would that make you feel? Would you have areas that would make you embarrassed? Would you feel like you need to "explain" your spending in a few areas?

I guess the problem isn't money, itself, but the motivation behind your "riches". It's also important to consider the motivation behind your drive and efforts towards success. First of all, are you working towards the right kind of success in life (are your priorities in order?) If you are working mainly on a day-to-day, whatever-feels-good-do-it or buy-it mentality, then chances are you are living in a bubble on the verge of popping. I don't know many people who can spend whatever they want, however they want - in essence, spend based on "feelings", that can keep it up for very long. Or if you do happen to have a killer job (or your husband/wife does and you're spending their earnings) then the emptiness itself of your spending habits should be reconsidered.

There's something very strange about consumption and getting whatever you want. First of all, it gets boring and you end up craving the even more expensive and elusive foods, entertainment, travel, etc. (and this can border on craving things that aren't healthy for you or that are morally questionable). Additionally, I've noticed that when you buy whatever food you want, allowing yourself no limits to the amount of chips, candy, chocolate, (whatever it is that you like), it loses its appeal. Gain some self-control and avoid the chocolates for a week, and that Hershey bar suddenly become real tasty again!

We aren't all in a place of excess money however, and I've been through lots of tight times. So I don't want to exclude those with limited means from my post. I guess what I'm trying to convey is the power that money seems to hold. Whether you have lots, and your lack of prudence could be embarrassing, or whether you wish you had more to work with - money exudes power. We tell ourselves: "No, it isn't true, money won't buy happiness." and then we turn around and buy ourselves a "treat" to cheer ourselves up or we wish for possessions we don't have or we base our feelings of contentment and peace on whether there is "enough". Even the most willful budget-er can tell themselves they have "money" under control, yet become dashed to the depths of despair when an extra bill comes and throws the spreadsheet out of wack.

Ultimately, I believe in surrendering my life to God. I work daily to surrender my time, my kids, my relationships, and money is no different. To put it quite simply, Psalm 24:1 says:

The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it

I want to do my best not to hold back in this area. Towards the beginning of this post, I mentioned: how would you feel if someone you respected reviewed all of your financial transactions? Well, to me, that someone is God. He does notice where you put your money, and most of all, He knows your heart when you spend it. He knows what motivates you when you scrimp and save or hoard your excess, for fear of tomorrow. This isn't to say that God requires us to be poor. The scriptures are lined with nuggets about wealth and how you take care of your "riches"; not chastisement towards wise investments and money management. But the key in it all is who owns the money.

Does the money own you? Do you own the money? Or do you simply use the money, allowing God to be the one in charge of it all?

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