We arrived at the small, suburban home nestled in the southwest hills. As we approach the walkway, I notice the slightly overgrown yard and the open garage door. Two white Toyota sedans. The same, but different years. Both older but well cared for.
Rick and his family warmly greet us. We needed to catch up on life and kids and work. It had been too long. As the afternoon drifted into early evening, I felt relaxed and I gazed at this unusual group. A group of people all chatting as though old friends. A farmer, a secretary, a few lawyers, a professor, a judge, a homemaker, a few business owners. Most of us would not know each other, except for these annual gatherings. Strange how Rick had managed to bring all his friends together and made us friends, too.
We catch up on each others’ lives and talk current events. The occasional, “I’m sorry, I don’t remember your husband’s name” or “now how many kids do you have” doesn’t stifle the genuine warmth of the conversation. We all know there are just too many of us to keep track of all the details.
But I notice more here. Not just the relationships that Rick has planted and grown from nothing. But, I notice–as I do every year–how simply Rick and his family live. Sparsely furnished rooms. Furniture that hasn’t been replaced in years–perhaps ever. But a home that is clean. Simple. Comfortable.
This man, who could have much more, chooses to live simply. I realize that as long as I have known him, he has never valued things. I can’t recall ever hearing him talk of cars or homes or things he’d like to have. Rather, his conversations focus around friends and relationships, family, education, great books, history, politics, baseball, and the economy.
I think of Matthew, chapter 6:
Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. . .
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food . . .
–Matthew 6:19-21; 6:25
I think to myself, This man is wise–wiser than I ever realized.
As the sun gets ready to set, we begin our goodbyes and “see you next years.” I leave with the reminder of what it means to live in a way that reflects God. A relational God.
The day reminds me that it is okay–in fact, good–to live counter-culturally. That is what God wants for us.
I am blessed and my spirit is renewed.
Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis
I remember dreading going to the store when my kids were young—I don’t mean infants or toddlers, they were easy then, they didn’t know how to beg me to buy them the cool foods or the nifty toys they spotted at the check-out stand. They didn’t know how to negotiate, and negotiate, and negotiate again. They also hadn’t been mesmerized by the toy companies that relentlessly targeted kids in their TV commercials.
So, the kids learned to want. To want this or that cool action figure. Or that awesome new truck. Or that lovely new video-game. Or, just about anything they set their eyes on.
It wasn’t that my kids wanted any more—or any less—than other American kids (or adults). But, the shopping excursions exhausted me. Come to think of it, the pre-shopping build up exhausted me, too. “When are we going to the store again? “ “When we go to the store next, can I get the new [fill in the blank awesome toy that all my friends have]?”
I hated sounding like a broken record. “No.” “Please don’t ask.” “Sorry, I don’t have the money for that right now.” “You’ll have to wait for a birthday and see if you still want it.” “We’ll see.”
Aside from these shopping related interactions with my kids, life was good. So, I decided we needed to find a way to fix the problem. The problem: the kids and I were in a struggle over what the boundaries were with money. And, it wasn’t appropriate or practical to sit down and have a heart to heart about the value of money, how much we had to spend, what it means to want v. need. Let’s face it, it would be nice, but that is just not the reality with kids.
So, my husband and I wrote down all those things that we provided to the kids that were important to the kids and us, but that were essentially “wants” not “needs.” The list included: clothes, other than school clothes and the basics like coats, shoes, undies, and socks; summer camp tuition; movies and other activities with friends; dining out; books; toys; gifts for friends and family; and, a few others (depending on the age and gender of the child).
Next we added up what we spent annually on these things and then sharpened our pencils – what should we be spending on these things?
Once we calculated the annual dollar amount, we figured out how that money was spread out over the year. What were monthly expenses or allowances and what were larger annual expenses—like camp tuition. We did this because we wanted to give them a “lump sum” in their bank accounts to cover expected expenses that they would not have time to save for this first year. As I recall, we started the program in January, but tuition for camp was due in February, and we had already planned for the kids to attend camp. So, we started them with the camp tuition in January. The next year, of course, they had to save for camp tuition and other large expenses.
So, we gave the kids an annual dollar amount, gave them a “lump sum” (about 3 months worth) up front, and then gave them a monthly “allowance.”
The next–and final– step was talking to the kids – explaining the plan, why we had it, and laying out the rules. Kids like rules – bright line rules provide a sense of security. And, for my kids, it made them happier. We sat down with the kids explained the plan. They were excited. And, they liked the rules:
They were responsible for certain types of purchases and activities. We gave them the list.
We told them that they could not ask us to buy for them any of the items on the list.
We gave them a list of what certain things cost – like movies, camp, shoes, ski lift tickets.
We told them that when they ran out of money they could not ask for more.
We helped them figure out how much they would have to save every month to buy certain items or to have enough set aside for camp or other large expenses.
We told them that we were not going out to dinner unless everyone in the family wanted to pay for their own. Or, if a child wanted to take the family out to dinner with his or her money, that was fine.
We told them that we would always shop at the grocery store from a list. They could not ask us to buy foods at the store that were not on the list. But, they could buy the items themselves—if that was what they wanted to spend their money on.
The result: no more conflict over money. Period. Shopping was relaxing. We had no pre-shopping build up.
The kids often asked us to help them figure out what they could afford to buy – and when they bought things, they learned to shop for bargains. This also opened the door for us to talk about saving for big purchases or giving to a charity or church, which both of the kids chose to do. I remember when my son wanted a new pair of swim trunks – which we didn’t think he needed. So, he went shopping. He found a few pairs he liked and ultimately bought the pair that was on sale for 40% off. He was so proud of himself and his purchase.
The money plan was rewarding for us all and gave us all much more peace and certainty around money issues!
I’ve shared this idea with several friends – one told me I saved her life. A bit of an overstatement, to say the least; but, I smiled when she told me, because I remember the sense of peace this plan gave our family. Suze Orman would be proud!
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.
-1 Timothy 6:6-7
Our culture makes it easy to want things now — credit cards, no down payments on homes. You name it, we can get it now. We know where that has gotten us as a society. But, we saw it in our kids, too. Wanting that item they saw on TV or the item their best friend just got; asking for things while shopping because the cool packaging caught their eye. Everywhere they turned the message they received was “you need this,” “buy me,” or something similar–a message that made them want what they didn’t have and perceive that they needed something more.
We struggled to figure out how to teach our kids to wait–to not buy on impulse. To be content.
Our recipe was simple: A piece of paper, a magnet, and a refrigerator. It helped all of us learn about waiting and making thoughtful decisions.
So here is how the refrigerator-note solution worked. If the kids wanted something, they had to write it down on a piece of paper and put the date on it. We then posted the item on the fridge. It stayed there for two weeks. If they still wanted the item at the end of two weeks, they could buy it– assuming they had enough money.
The result? Our kids rarely ended up buying the items posted. I don’t remember where we learned that trick, but I am grateful for it. It helped the kids and, over the years, it has helped us, too. Nothing like writing down that you want a $15,000 car and posting it on the fridge for two weeks — only to decide that you really didn’t need it or want it after all.
This works for other decisions in our lives, too. When prayerfully considering family choices, I found that posting the prayer where I could take a moment to consider it throughout the day helped. I find I jump in and make life’s decisions on my own. It feels better to do rather than to consider thoughtfully and prayerfully. I think if I’m doing and moving forward that is good. But, of course, my spur-of-the-moment, shoot-from-the-hip choices, haven’t always been what a prayerful and well-considered decision may have yielded.
Being content with what we have and learning to wait will always be a struggle. We desire. It is part of being human. But, learning what makes us desire and act impulsively–and then finding ways to change those impulses honors God’s desire for our lives.
Note: I re-posted this from my old blog. And, I just saw that Don Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz and founder of The Mentoring Project, started a series today on commercialism that fits nicely with the theme of impulse buying that I touch on here. You might check out his post.