Does it strike anyone else as ironic that in an economic atmosphere where more and more people are faced with the prospect of losing their jobs, homes and even their pensions that so many people are still almost obsessed with getting all the things that money can buy?
Advertisers prey on these people telling them that they must have bigger, better homes. Auto ads frequently blare “No cash? No credit? No problem. Everybody drives”. The desire “to have” is the lure that leads many of into more debt. This of course leads us to chase more money. Whether to wash away the bad feelings that come with debt or to keep up the appearance that we’re doing well financially what we’re really doing is harming ourselves and our future . “Buying flashy consumer goods on credit in order to look and feel like a winner is similar to hitting the crack pipe in order to improve your mood,” says the book The Narcissism Epidemic.“Both are initially cheap and work really well—but only for a very short period of time. In the long term both leave you penniless and depressed.”
The Bible calls this “the showy display of one’s means of life.” (1 John 2:16) The fact is, an obsession with possessions distracts us from the very things that matter most in life—the things that money cannot buy. Consider three examples.
In the book The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business, the author Josh Kaufman relates a story about a businessman who takes his family on vacation. The businessman sees a local fisherman and asks how long he takes to catch the fish. The fisherman explains that it takes very little time. The business asks what else he does with his time. The fisherman says that he enjoys time with his family and relaxes with his friends while playing the guitar. The businessman tries to help the fisherman by explaining how much more he could make financially if he put a little more time into fishing. He gives a long explanation of how the fisherman could grow into a mega corporation and make millions. The fisherman agrees that this sounds okay and asks how long the whole process would take. The businessman tells him 20-25 years tops. The fisherman asks, “then what would I do?” The businessman reluctantly tells the fisherman that he could then spend time with his family and relax with friends while playing the guitar. The businessman goes back home and quits his job two weeks later.
Josh would likely want to punch me in the face for this poor retelling of his story but the point is still pretty valid. The extra money could never replace the unity that one experiences with their friends and family. And oftentimes it can detract from it.
Mike went to an ivy league college. He received his degree in finance and graduated in the top 10% of his class. He landed a great job in the corporate office of a huge automotive company. Mike found early success making enough money to live well into the “upper-middle class” marker. After some time at the job he married a beautiful wife and together they bought a $700,000 home in one of the most expensive suburbs in the U.S. In 2005 the company where Mike worked began laying off workers to ensure they could weather the recession. Mike was one of the last to go. After a year of struggling to make ends meet Mike’s beautiful wife found comfort in the arms of another man. She left Mike with the debt of their huge home during the real estate crash. Mike eventually sold their home for $400,000. He even found a new job. That’s where my wife and I met him. He now works on cars at a local auto-body shop.
Mike’s a great guy. He admits that he got caught up into “climbing the ladder”. And that he spent more time working on his job than working on his marriage. He had achieved what most of us dream of; great job, a great husband or wife; beautiful home. In the end though, the money Mike made could’ve never provided him with genuine security against what happened. Mike’s doing well now. He plans to move to South America with his new wife to start a small business.
I began my career doing accounting for a non-profit firm. I excelled and got regular raises. My wife worked as a financial analyst at a big 4 accounting firm. During this time my wife and I bought our first new car. We moved from a basement apartment to a much nicer place. My son was born. I’ll say this, I’m not really a materialistic guy. I’ve been content living in a bachelor pad with five other guys. But now with a wife and a child I had to have more. I moved around from job to job searching for better pay so that my family could move into our own home and so that my son could have all the things he’d need growing up. In the end, I landed at a position where I had plenty of responsibilities and the pay was great. However, I was miserable. I remember that I literally got stomach aches in the morning when I had to go to work. I had so much experience because the office was horribly unorganized and I had to do the work of three people. I got extra pay because I had overtime all the time. I felt like I never had any time to spend with my wife or my son. I found myself in a position where I hated what I was doing but I also felt trapped by it.
Now make no mistake, these are not bad things to seek out. We live in a system where we all need money. We all want our kids to have great lives and we’d all do whatever we needed to ensure that was the case. We all love our wives and husbands (or least we should) an would do whatever we needed to make sure they lived happy and fulfilled lives. I thought that the money I made was making that all happen; and maybe it did for a short time. But what I found was that my wife and my son were much happier with time and attention than they were with stuff. My wife and I both left our jobs and work for ourselves now. We can drop our son off at school. We can talk to his teachers. I can go to breakfast with my wife. We take walks together. And although we don’t make as much as we did in our corporate positions we now work for money so that we maintain this lifestyle. A lifestyle where I can actually spend my time on the people and things that I love.