Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Challenge of Money

It is very common to have an unhealthy relationship with one's money. Money can symbolize desirable things for many people - security, power, freedom, desirability, etc. However, if it symbolizes anything, chances are, your relationship with money is unhealthy and may be intertwined with psychological issues you may need to work out. Even if it does not symbolize anything, it often plays too central a role in our lives.

Money is a tool - a very essential tool. American society as we know it is made possible by this tool. Insufficient reserves can ruin lives, as can an over-abundance. Lives can also be made pleasant by reasonable use. Despite its central role and power to affect our lives, it is still just a tool. The thing that makes the most difference in our lives is not the quantity we have, but how we use what we have. Yet, many people find their lives are centered around the accrual of money, and it ends up as a source of stress.

The key to happiness where money is involved is not to become attached to it. "The love of money is the root of all evil." (1 Tim. 6:10) We need to be grateful for what we have. We need to recognize that money does not change the quality of our character to make us better than those with less. We also need to recognize that there is always someone less fortunate than ourselves whom we can help. When we become generous with whatever it is we have, we have conquered the challenge of money.

That is really the key to happiness where money is concerned. Learn to be as generous as you can responsibly be with your money. You can begin by buying lunch for a friend, on occasion - you can even set up an arrangement where you take turns doing so, as long as you don't keep track of how much you spend. Here are some more ideas.

  • Buy a gift that is a little more expensive than you think the occasion warrants. 
  • Start choosing your stores based on which businesses you want to support rather than the lowest prices. 
  • Tip generously. 
  • Send money to one of the many charities that sends you "junk mail."
  • Get your car washed by the kids doing a school fundraiser.
  • Invite friends over for dinner.
It is very important to be responsible. My church goes so far as to discourage any debt except to purchase a home, or get an education. It also encourages us to have a year's worth of liquid assets in case of hard times. You may not have a dollar to spare this month. Everyone's situation is different. There are often real limits to how generous we can afford to be. However, setting arbitrary limitations on your generosity is counterproductive to generosity by definition. If you say, "once I have paid off my student loans, I will donate to x," or "once our savings reaches x thousand, we can support y," or "I will give $x per month," when you have room in your budget to give more, these will only give you excuses NOT to be generous.

It is ok for your generosity to hurt you a little financially. Inevitably the positive benefits will outweigh the negative effects. If you are married, just be sure that you and your spouse are on the same page. Being generous will usually improve marital relationships, but not if one individual does not want to be generous. They may need to be encouraged through small things, first. Hurting your own finances is one thing, hurting your family or your relationship with your spouse is something else entirely. 

"But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God. And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted." (Jacob 2:18-19)

Cultivating the habit of generosity will remove much of the stress associated with money, and will improve your personal relationships and will make you generally happier.

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