Christians are instructed not to be lovers of money (2 Tim. 3:2, 1 Tim. 6:10). We are instructed not to store up treasure on earth (Matt. 6:19), and to be content with what we have (Heb. 13:5). We are not to love the “stuff” (things) the world has to offer (1 John 2:15).
This is no easy task. Our sinful tendencies towards covetousness, greed, selfishness, etc. are easily inflamed and influenced by the world around us. And for many of us, we’re exposed to and surrounded by a great deal of wealth. If we are not highly intentional about our lifestyle and spending choices, it will be difficult to resist the impulse to “keep up with the Joneses.”
So, I have a suggestion: pick your Joneses. Not that you should try to “keep up” with anyone, but be aware of the natural human tendency to define “normal” based on the company you keep. If you happen to be able to afford a $1M house, perhaps there are good reasons to purchase a $1M house, but you will have to fight the tendency to assume that owning $100k cars and boats and other “toys” is normal since that’s how your neighbors will live. Even if you are intentionally not “keeping up with the Joneses,” your benchmark for “normal” is likely set by those around you. While your neighbors may trade in their Mercedes for a new one every 2 years, you are “content” to keep your 5-year-old Mercedes. But would you be content driving a 10-year-old Kia?
Assume that the Christian who earns $1M/year, the Christian who earns $100k/year, and the Christian who earns $25k/year are all living within their means and all believe that they are avoiding “extravagant” or “lavish” living. But they all have different definitions of what “extravagant” and “lavish” mean. If you are only living conservatively in comparison to your peers, then are your spending habits and lifestyle really determined by the application of Biblical principles, or are they determined by the world?
Maybe you could afford a $1M house, but you choose to buy a $250k house in a neighborhood where the average house is $200k. Maybe you could afford a $100k car, but you choose to buy a $30k car (whereas the average car in your neighborhood is a $15k car). You now have the most expensive house and car in the neighborhood, but you have less “peer pressure” to upgrade than if you were living “conservatively” in the $1M neighborhood.
This is what I mean by “picking your Joneses.” If all your friends like to eat at steakhouses with white tablecloths, your natural tendency will probably be the same. If all your friends like to eat at McDonald’s, your natural inclination to eat at “fancy” restaurants will likely be different. It’s just human nature to make judgments on a comparative basis, and those comparisons are based on what you consider “normal.” So, when you’re making lifestyle choices, don’t just consider what you can afford. Perhaps give some thought to the unavoidable influence that your peers have on you.
(A similar idea is to make it your goal to live in such a way that you are pursuing “downward mobility.”)