I love stuff.
By nature I’m a spender. After we nearly went bankrupt I learned that planning was an important tool in managing my finances better. So now I just plan all of my spending for stuff. It’s so bad that I actually have an excel spreadsheet saved on my computer listing out thousands of dollars worth of stuff I want.
Now not all of it is just frivolous things. Sometimes it’s gifts for my wife or for my kids. Some of the things I have listed are trips and vacations I want to take, I even started a Pinterest board. Sometimes it’s updates and decorations for my house. Other times it’s a new TV or Apple product or other electronic device.
I can be pretty materialistic. And I know as a Christ follower that it’s not necessarily a good attribute to have a struggle with.
I don’t think it’s a bad thing for us to want nice things. I don’t think it’s sinful to drive a luxury car or to take a nice vacation. Even Jesus says this in Matthew 7:9-11:
“What man among you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him.”
If we recognize that God owns everything and that we get to manage money on His behalf, then it makes sense He’s okay with us having “good gifts.” But we also need to recognize that is just one piece of this financial puzzle. Buying stuff is okay. But we also need to plan for the future and to take care of others with the money He’s given to us.
The danger with my list of stuff is that I can get stuck in consumption mode. I can easily get caught up in the idea that the newest and best of everything is a reward to myself for my hard work. I can justify buying a new laptop because I need it for work. Buying a new car can be reasoned with the idea that I work hard and deserve to drive something nice. Bringing home a new big screen TV because the old one needs some repairs can easily make sense.
What I’ve learned is that if my income is the most powerful tool God has given me to build wealth, then contentment is the 2nd most powerful tool that I have to learn to use.
I drive a 210,000 mile 2002 Maxima. My wife drives a 150,000 mile 2001 Sequoia. As a guy who started and built his sales career by selling new cars, this is sometimes tough for me. But both of these cars get us to and from work great. They run just fine and have proven themselves to be reliable over the years. We don’t have a single car payment because we’ve chosen to be content with driving older cars right now.
I have a TV that takes 10 minutes to turn on. Something is wrong with the components. Will I buy a new TV? Someday. But right now I’m content to play with my kids or read a book for 10 minutes while I wait on the TV.
I have a closet full of clothes. I don’t wear half of them. I spend very little money on new clothes each year, because I still have plenty to wear.
I don’t want to seem like I’m bragging here. I certainly don’t have this thing figured out. Remember, I’m the guy with a list of stuff I want to buy that currently totals out at $84,000. I’ve even made some terrible choices recently about money and buying stuff when I probably shouldn’t have.
But I know that after years of consumption – buying things I couldn’t afford, constantly running up debt because I needed the newest and best of everything, and nearly going bankrupt – being content with the things I have right now is one of the best things I can do for not just my money, but my family.
When I’m content with what I have right now I’m free to focus on my kids and on my wife. When I’m content I stop focusing on what I can gain and turn my attention to Who has given me what I have.
The natural by-product of my contentment is available cash to give and to save and be generous.
Do you struggle with being content in the things you have right now too? Tell me about it in the comments.