Pick Your Joneses

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.”)

Pity the Fool!

“if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.”  -1 Corinthians 15:19 (NLT)

Why? If Christians are wrong, and this life is all there is, then why should we be pitied? Is it just because we had our hopes set on something, and those hopes were not realized? (Proverbs 13:12 – “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.”) But if we’re hoping for something more after this life, and then we die, and that’s it…how are our hopes dashed? What hopes? We no longer exist.

Or are we to be pitied, because the expectation is that Christians lead a life that is distinctly different from others? Keep reading in 1 Corinthians 15… Paul says in verses 30-32, “why should we ourselves risk our lives hour by hour? For I swear, dear brothers and sisters, that I face death daily. And what value was there in fighting wild beasts—those people of Ephesus—if there will be no resurrection from the dead? And if there is no resurrection, ‘Let’s feast and drink, for tomorrow we die!”food and drink

If we are not living for eternity, then we might as well find all the enjoyment we can in the pleasures that this world has to offer. But the implication is that we have forsaken these pleasures in the pursuit of something higher and better (Hebrews 11:26 – “[Moses] regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.”)

Not that we cannot or should not take pleasure in the enjoyment of food and drink and the material aspects of God’s creation. (Ecclesiastes 8:15 – “I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad.) However, our enjoyment of life is to be found in contentment with what God gives us, not the pursuit of these temporal pleasures.

So the question remains, if we were to reach the end of this life, and it were found that there is no resurrection to eternity, would an observer think, “What a pity! They gave up so much in life, and for what?” Or would the observer simply note, “Well, they were wrong about eternity, but at least they got to enjoy all the same worldly benefits as their neighbors.”

Dear Dave – Part 4

Laurance W. LongIn 1982, my grandfather responded to a letter from “Dave,” asking him to dispense some of his knowledge on monetary matters (Part 1Part 2, Part 3).  After wrapping up his discussion on life insurance, he concluded with some advice on helping children with college expenses.

Don’t buy burial insurance, for your wife, your children or yourself. Invest the money instead. Don’t buy insurance on the life of your children. They’re going to live. Gamble on it. Invest the money instead. Why share the profit with the insurance company? Don’t buy an endowment policy to cover college expenses. Invest the money instead.

Here is as good a place as any to cover the matter of sending your children to college. Don’t. Let them go on their own. And be sure they pay their own way. Does that sound cruel? It isn’t. It’s for their own good. And yours. The college expense of children is not a proper expense for parents.

Most anyone will accept a dole, whether they need it or not. Young people need the discipline, the rigor and the experience of working for what they want . . . and to be willing to pay the price. The Biblical principle is, “no work, no eat . . . no work, no get.” If a young person is to go to college he needs to know the purpose for which he is going, the conviction that he needs what he’s after, and the gumption to work for it. To have a college education handed to one on a platter is a misuse of funds. If the young person is truly purposeful in his desire to go to college and is willing to work for it he is then entitled to a little help along the way, if necessary. Just make sure that ANY assistance he gets always comes as a surprise. He should never get help if he expects it.


Dear Dave – Part 3

Laurance W. LongIn 1982, my grandfather responded to a letter from “Dave,” asking him to dispense some of his knowledge on monetary matters (Part 1, Part 2).  Here is a portion of his response dealing with living frugally in order to save for the future.

As a matter of biblical principle, sacrifice precedes blessing, always. There can be no blessing without sacrifice, on the part of you or someone else or thing. And usually, it is you who must make the sacrifice. You cannot expect to have a home in the future unless you sacrifice for it now. If you spend all your income for rent, furniture, food, clothes, recreation, automobiles, necessities and vacations, you will never buy a home.

Must you live high on the hog? Must your abode be all you can afford? Must you start out married life with complete new and expensive furniture and furnishings? If you have children they’ll ruin them. Must you eat the expensive foods? There’s no better breakfast than oatmeal, toast and tomato juice. Though some can be more tasty and expensive. Try orange juice for a change occasionally as a luxury. Restaurants are expensive luxuries. Tipping is a racket. Vacations need not be expensive. Nor recreation. When you’re trying to save money, one of the best places to buy is at garage sales, or moving sales. Be willing to live in humble circumstances, for a cause. Your reward will come. Let the world go by. I wouldn’t want to go where most of them are headed anyway. And it’s fun to live conservatively, for a cause.

For an evening snack, Grandpa would have recommended milksop (a glass of milk and a piece of bread, with the bread torn up into pieces and tossed in with the milk).

At restaurants, some in our family have been known to surreptitiously leave some additional cash on the table after Grandpa or those influenced by him (aka “Dad”) left a paltry tip.

Dear Dave – Part 2

In 1982, my grandfather responded to a letter from “Dave,” asking him to dispense some of his knowledge on monetary matters (Dear Dave – Part 1).  The following discourse on life insurance is a portion of his response.

Life insurance should be put in the same category as appendectomies and borrowing money. Really. There can come a time in a man’s life when there is nothing more important than an appendectomy. And he’d better get it, pronto. But that being true doesn’t mean you should go digging about in the same spot over and over again. Borrowing money also can be the very thing to do in some certain circumstances. But it doesn’t follow therefore that one should borrow as much and as often as possible.

An appendectomy is not intended for the man who is without ailment. It is a sick man’s solution to a very real problem. And borrowing money is not intended for all men on any occasion. It is sometimes the right solution for the man who lacks funds for an important transaction.

So insurance. The American public has been sold down the river on insurance. We’ve been led to believe that all men should have as much life insurance as they can afford . . . the more, the better. Not so. Life insurance is the poor man’s way of solving a problem. And poor men have poor ways, as do some men who are not so poor. When you buy life insurance you’re gambling on death. You’re gambling you will die before the actuarial tables say you will. And the insurance company is gambling you will die on that date (on the average). The insurance company has the best gamble.

Just as we should restrict appendectomies to absolute necessities and the borrowing of money to justifiable needs, so we should keep life insurance to a minimum. If you need an appendectomy, get it. If borrowing money is really the best solution, by proper means, borrow. If life insurance is the right answer (and sometimes it is) don’t buy the wrong kind. And don’t go hog wild. There’s a better way to invest money, Just like buying coffins . . . that’s the last thing I want to do. But there does come a time when a man must do that which is less than the best.

And remember this . . . whatever you do in the matter of life insurance should always be done in light of what you are doing in the areas of savings and investments. Each has a bearing on the other. Note that I said “savings and investments.” They are not the same. They are two different animals. Both are important. And all men (almost without exception) should have both.