Just like Matt, I’m a personal finance blogger (albeit my blog is solely about credit cards, don’t worry though, it’s about using them responsibly). But whether it’s credit cards, budgeting, or investing, all financial bloggers have one thing in common… sharing information about making (or saving) more money. And there’s nothing wrong with that, the more financially savvy we are, the better!
I also think it’s important to take a breather every once in a while. Meaning, instead of being concerned with what we don’t have we need remind ourselves what we do have; because learning how to be content with what we have is a critical component of being successful with our finances. Given the housing market and other economic woes we’ve had over the last few months, now is a great time to dive into the contentment issue.
The $1.6 million bathtub
Part of human nature is the more we get, the more we want (a never-ending cycle of more, more, more). Yesterday on the radio they were talking about some new billionaire heiresses in LA (by way of the UK) who are apparently trying to outspend each other. I didn’t catch the details (nor do I care to hear them) but it goes something like this…
The 22 year-old daughter, Petra, bought the Spelling’s mansion for $85 million this summer. Her 27 year-old sister Tamara is now trying to outdo her. “The house we are looking at will make Petra’s house look like a guest house.” She also claims to have “dispatched” five minions on an expedition “up the Amazon” to find her the perfect crystal for a more expensive bathtub ($1.6 million for a friggin’ bathtub). There’s more of this outrageousness but you get the point.
Are you and I really any different?
So all of us can laugh our heads off at totally crazy rich people right? After all, we’re level headed and far more mature right? But think about it for a moment… are we really any different?
Yes, we’re different in that we’re probably not rich. We’re not spending billions, or even millions, but I guarantee that all of us have spent money to impress people. Put another way: at one time or another we have all spent money to paint ourselves in a certain light.
Here’s an example the men can relate to. In my childhood school it was all about having the latest and greatest pairs of shoes. I couldn’t compete with the rich kids who had new shoes every month or two, but at least once per year I managed to get my hands on a ridiculously overpriced pair of Nikes. In 8th grade I saved up enough to buy a pair that cost $130! Obviously there was no practical reason for this, it was just for image, just to impress.
Now let’s look at that from a different perspective. Almost half the worlds population lives on less than $2 per day. Around half of those people (about 1/5 of the global population) live on less than $1 per day. That means my $130 shoes were at least 130x their daily wage. How do you think they would feel hearing about my shoes, let alone the designer handbags, fancy cars, and over-sized houses that are the norm in our society? I’m guessing they would have many of the same feelings we do when we hear about those two sisters spending frivolously… don’t you agree?
It’s all about perspective!
Why we’re not content
The devil works in clever ways, distracting us with pretty and shiny things. Why? Because the more we pay attention to them, the less attention we pay to what’s really important in life… Jesus, His message, and our mission.
Of course, not everyone falls for the devil’s tricks to the same degree. There are those who have it bad, the total shopaholics. You know the type. The girl who maxes out a Macy’s credit card account buying the latest fashions. The guy who’s always at Best Buy, upgrading his TV (yet again) and buying other gizmos and gadgets he doesn’t need. Perhaps you can relate.
Not everyone has the same weakness, but you can bet we all have at least some worldly thing – or things – we covet, even if we have enough self control to not actually buy.
If you’re trying to find contentment in worldly things, let me assure you, it will never happen. As soon as you get what you want, you want something else. It’s the oldest trick in the book, but it’s the trick that keeps on getting us.
Contentment is a choice
So what’s the secret to being content with what you have? For the answer, turn to the Bible, not your bank account. A decade ago I would have thought advice like that was stupid and probably would’ve wanted to slap someone for saying it. But after reading the Bible cover to cover, I can honestly say that it is the answer. Pick one up, give it a try, you have nothing to lose.
If you would rather not, that’s your choice. But remember that keeping up with the Joneses is a fight you cannot win. If you think you can reach contentment on your own with $10M, $100M, or $1B perhaps you should consider stories like that of Michael Jackson. He used his wealth to heap possessions as numerous as the sands of the sea, yet was never content with the way he looked or the things he had.
Rather than reaching for more and more only to learn it won’t make you content, consider the billionaire sisters and rethink your position.
Matt’s note: Smart people learn from their mistakes. Really smart people learn from others mistakes.
“Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Philippians 4:11-13
At 18 a catastrophic auto accident left Mike with a mountain of medical bills that ended up on credit cards. He started Credit Card Forum in 2008 to help himself and others use credit cards more wisely. Thankfully, he is now debt free and only uses cards for benefits and rewards. Mike strongly advises against using cards if they will lead to overspending.