[How To] Be Content With What You Have

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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.

Betterment is one of my two favorite ways to earn interest on my savings! They have an awesome program for the Average Joe to save and invest simply and effectively. There are no minimum balance requirements and no transaction fees. Read my Betterment Review or open an account to get started earning now.

1 Tiffany

So true! I can truly say that I was once one of those people who thought i was buying because I wanted (needed) to but I know it was just to impress friends and other school kids. The thing is we are so judgmental of what others do, such as, millionaires that we fail to look at ourselves.

2 Mom

Mike, you hit the nail on the head when you said the word perspective! When I was 27 years old, I decided to leave the comfort of hearth and home and hitchhike across the country for two years. I worked along the way to earn money for the really necessary things, (like food 🙂 ) but there were days when I went without food or shelter for several days. I spent many cold, rainy nights on the side of the road, camped in the snow covered Sierra Nevada mountains in army surplus Korean War vintage gear and considered myself fortunate when I found a dollar on the sidewalk in a truck stop and was able to buy a can of beans and a cheap package of sandwich cookies. That meal tasted like nectar from God! I remember walking down a street at night looking in at the warmly lighted windows of comfortable homes and feeling very cold and lonely. I even developed the habit of drinking coffee in order to be able to go into a restaurant, order coffee and sit in a warm dry place for as long as my server was willing to refill my cup! Now in my late 50’s, I thank the Lord every day for my warm, modest, comfortable and very adequate home, for enough food to eat, for electricity and running water and a nice comfortable bed to sleep in at night. I am not wealthy by any means by the conventional standards, but I am very blessed and very thankful that the Lord provides for me exactly what I need when I need it! I wish all Americans could learn those lessons the way I learned them. No more finicky eaters, no more waste, no more out of control spending, just a quiet and powerful sense of appreciation and thankfulness for the things the Lord has provided.

3 Matt Jabs

Well said Mom!

Betsy and I are in an interesting life transition that I’m sure will increase our appreciation of how God provides. I’ll write more about this in the years to come but for now just know that we’re making a lot of changes. 🙂

4 barter411

You look at people living in third world countries, in spite of all their hardship they seem so happy and content just being able to find the basic food, shelter, and clothing. The less they have the happier they seem to be. On the other hand, rich people often have a lot of cares. Just appreciating what we have today is a great idea. What if this is as good as it gets?

5 Matt Jabs

The main theme of the personal changes we’re making is simplicity. We find that the more we rid ourselves of, the happier and freer we feel. It’s a purging of sorts, and there is definitely a time and place for it.

6 Gr8ful

Just trying to be content with not having a big flat screen Tv so I googled being content and your blog came up. Its Black Friday sales weekend and we went looking for a deal even though we don’t have 2 pennies to rub together right now. Thanks for blogging your perspective about being content. It really helped this Christian realize its just the enemy trying to distract me from what is really important.

7 Matt Jabs

Glad to help! Blessings.

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