Annie and Bob asked us to build a new house for them several years ago; this was back when we were custom home builders. They were a darling young couple with a solid income, perfect hair, and stylish clothes.
They also drove a Jaguar.
During the building process they happily chose all the best upgraded finishes. You name it, they added it, from granite countertops to custom cabinets to marble bathrooms. It ended up being a gorgeous home.
So what was the problem? Annie and Bob didn’t have the money for all these things. Truly, I’m not sure they even had the money for a new house at all. Just before closing, they decided to get a new Jaguar, but the dealer didn’t give them much on trade for their current one… not enough to pay off their loan, anyway. They still owed quite a bit, but they rolled the excess into their new mortgage, because they didn’t mind going 120% loan-to-value on their new house.
And then there was Tom. He also secured us to build him a big, beautiful new home. His story was slightly different, but not so much. Just before closing he opted to purchase a brand new BMW. The bank wasn’t so kind to him; they did one last credit check right at the end of the building process, refused to close on his mortgage, and we were stuck with the house until a new buyer came along.
We also knew Jane and Dan. They worked for a nonprofit and lived modestly, but felt overwhelming pressure each year around the time of their organization’s national conference. People showed up very well-dressed to this weeklong conference, and Jane and Dan (understandably) couldn’t keep up with the Joneses. Some years, they purchased several new outfits to wear at this conference, even though they really couldn’t afford it. Other years, they sheepishly hid the tags on the new clothes and carefully set aside the receipts, in the hopes of being able to return their purchases when the conference was over.
How much is enough? How do you transform your thinking and begin to find fulfillment in more meaningful ways? At some point, we have to step back, examine the situation, and wonder why we’re trying to keep up with the Joneses, because the Joneses are broke.
It takes a powerful perspective shift to realize that living well below your means, saving money for later years, and having the freedom to be generous will bring you more joy than living paycheck-to-paycheck for the rest of your life.
Related article: We’re Debt Free! Our Story Of How We Paid Off Our House
Then, after some time, you’ll reach a point where the question “how much is enough?” has a different purpose. The meaning behind the question refers more to “do I really need this much?” You’ve honed down your expenses, realized your worth does not come from your possessions, and are excited to be able to invest in a legacy, give to causes you believe in, and teach others how to do it, too.
Romans 12:2 tells us, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
By the grace of God, we can begin to change the way we think about money, wealth, and possessions.
How Much Is Enough?
The first step is to be aware of what money is coming in and what is going out. Become accountable to a budget. Know what you’re making and what you’re spending EVERY DAY. Don’t estimate — track it down to the very penny. You can’t stay accountable in your finances if you don’t know your finances.
My husband’s aunt was a “career nanny” during her working years, serving wealthy families in New York. There was no pension plan, no 401K options, no vacation time. Still, she was creative, lived well below her means, and managed a comfortable retirement, moving back to the Caribbean to be with her extended family. It was her dream to go back there and retire, and she did it. She hit the mark.
Whether you’re rich or poor, staying accountable to your money is a priority. Without accountability, you’ll never know how much you have now or how much you need for the future. A mentor once told me, “People don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan.” Your budget is your plan for your money; stay accountable to it.
You’ll never be content if you’re measuring yourself against the Joneses. Instead, measure yourself against wisdom in the Bible. For example, 1 Timothy 6:6 tells us, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.”
Proverbs 13:7 is another favorite scripture, and I especially appreciate how it’s worded in the NIV: “One person pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.” Are you done pretending to be rich, pretending to have money you don’t have? How much stuff do you really need?
Try not to look at the people around you and what they’re doing with their money. Everyone’s situation is different. For all you know, your neighbor with the brand new Lexus is also struggling to put gas in it. Or maybe they’ve saved up for the past few years and paid for it with cash. Focus on what you need to be doing, not what they’re doing. Resolve to be content with that you have right now and the goals you’re working to meet.
Tip: Try carrying these contentment scripture cards with you and pulling them out each day when you have a few minutes to yourself.
Also consider your purpose in life. It’s not all about you — it’s about why you’re here, and it’s about serving God by helping others. For some personality types, being selfless comes naturally, but for others it’s a challenge. We all have a measure of selfishness. But my purpose here, in this time and place, is greater than me. The same goes for you.
What is God’s plan for your life? How does He want to use that plan for His glory and to bring others to fulfillment, abundance, and salvation in Him? It sounds cliche, but it’s true. He does have a purpose for you!
Trade your spending problem for a giving purpose. Your purpose isn’t about “getting” all the time — it’s about giving. We experience joy and peace when we give. Giving isn’t all about money, though. We can give our families an education about personal finance. We can give them a picture of what it looks like to live our life well. We can refuse to cater to expensive appetites that will cripple our children as they grow into adulthood. Instead, we can purpose to leave them a legacy and teach them how steward what they’ve been given. We can teach them how to be disciplined and make smart choices with money. They are watching us!
Albert Einstein once took out a piece of paper and wrote these words: “A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness.” * He had just learned of winning the Nobel Prize, but didn’t have extra money to tip his bellboy. Einstein reasoned that, in lieu of money, this piece of advice would be a valuable tip for the bellboy that day, and so he handed him this slip of paper. I wish we knew the rest of that bellboy’s story!
Remember Annie and Bob and their new Jaguar? I do know the rest of their story, and it didn’t end so well. A couple years later, they lost their house and their Jag and, ultimately, their marriage. They fell prey to the typical American lifestyle. It was heartbreaking and devastating.
What’s more heartbreaking is that their story isn’t uncommon.
It’s not easy being different. It’s not easy changing the way we think about money and stuff and the way we live our life. Half of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck, yet 77% own a smartphone and 76% subscribe to a paid TV service, such as cable or satellite TV. Something has to change.
We’re inundated with advertisements and commercials everywhere on the internet, on TV, and in magazines, and their sole intention is to get you to want MORE. One more thing. One more product that will make your life amazing. One more gadget that will give you all you need.
There’s always “just one more thing” you’ve gotta have… and it keeps increasing your appetite for more until you’re financially sick and weak.
This appetite is nearly insatiable, and so we keep feeding the monster because it’s the easiest thing to do and the stuff he gives us when we give him money makes us feel good for awhile. The problem is, he doesn’t just take our money, he takes our peace and joy, too. And sometimes our families.
If we compare what we have to what others have, we’ll never feel like we have enough. Enough is elusive to people who aren’t asking questions. Following the status quo will never get us to that place of enough. It’s like an addiction we have to break. It won’t be easy. But… you’re moving in the right direction and you’re on the right path.
One step at a time.
Keep moving forward.
You can do this.
“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Philippians 4:13
Go in grace today,
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