Finding Contentment Without Money
Finding contentment without money is a tricky thing. There’s a money shortage. Have you noticed?
Everyone I talk to about money echoes the same vibe.
There’s always less of it than there should be, considering what things cost now.
Wages don’t go as far as they used to.
I’m looking at the cost of some items lately, and it feels that way.
When I attended a private university in 2002, my full tuition, room, and board added up to about $31,500 per year. I graduated in 2006, and by then it was about $36k.
That felt…hefty, I’d like to mention. I was convinced it was a worthwhile investment,
so I made it. Or should I say, we made it, with a lot of help from family.
Today it’s $65k. Sixty. Five. Thousand. Dollars. Per year.
I don’t know if I would be attending college if I had been a graduate this year.
I honestly don’t.
On the car front, my first vehicle was 24 years old when I bought it. I shouldn’t say bought it, because the truth is I bartered it off of my grandmother’s lawn for a song and a dance. The floor was considered too rusty to pass a state inspection. I visited my local junkyard, paid $100 for a used bumper, and another $50 for a used drivers’ seat. $200 dollars for 4 nearly new tires. About $200 in spray paint cans and a lot of time patching holes, and away we went. Total cost out the door: $550.
It was the pride of South Jeff Central School’s parking lot that year. Or something like that.
It was distinctive. A 1977 Plymouth TrailDuster in Bondo deep blue.
I told people it was a hybrid because it burned both gas and oil.
Wanting to appeal more to the ladies, I upgraded a couple years later to a luxury land yacht, my ’79 Lincoln Continental. It was rust-free, had 100,000 miles, and an immaculate interior. It actually was pretty cool. At least college kids thought so. $1700.
15 years later, $550 will get you new brake pads and rotors. In the front. $1700 will get you all that and some new tires.
I know, I know, inflation. Trust me, I get it. I spent all that money at the super-expensive place for four years, studying economics. I’m familiar with inflation.
But here’s what I notice. Aside from inflation, it’s mostly perception.
In a few areas, sure, the cost of things really has inflated more than for others.
In other areas, though, prices have actually deflated.
That graphing calculator I needed for a cool $120 now sells at the pharmacy for $25. Gas is cheaper, too. So are a lot of other things.
As far as I can see, things are more-or-less the same. You might disagree, and that’s OK, but consider this…
In 2002, people complained about their taxes, how much gasoline was, the price of a cell phone plan, the graphing calculator we had to buy, and how hard it was to make ends meet on “today’s wages”. Honest, they did. I was there. The way people talked sometimes, it sounded like there was a brief period of time in America where everyone was making exactly the amount of money they wanted, and life just felt easy. I’m thinking that has to be a hoax.
Did people really check the withholding on their W-2 stubs and think,
“this is really just the right amount of tax for me. perfect.”
Have people really ever thought, “Rent? No biggie.”
That feeling that what we have a little less than we’re supposed to have…it’s always there. To be fair, I’m not talking about when we’re out of work, or when a medical bill hits us out of nowhere. I’m just talking about the regular everyday of life.
I know, for me, at least, that I’ve always felt like income is a little less than it really should be, and things are a lot more expensive than they should be. The difference between income and expenses is just never as big and never moving in the right direction as fast as I think it should be.
But what if that feeling is…well wrong. What I mean is, what if what we have coming in, is just exactly how much we’re supposed to have? And if we believed that, what would change about how we think and talk and spend?
You might think I’m nuts, but hear me out on this.
If we believed that we had the right amount coming in, then we would put most of our focus on how much we have going out. And we would somehow make it work. We would become content with what we have coming in, and that conviction would drive us to make our expenses match.
If you’re familiar with Jesus, you might remember that Jesus was confronted with many people who were discontent, and their lives were in varying stages of disarray, largely stemming from that discontent. It was their perception that they had less than they should have that often drove them to do things that were harmful to others, and harmful to their relationship with God, in order to close that gap between what they had and what they thought they should have.
It wasn’t always a money issue, but oftentimes it was. And people were tempted to step on others in order to make up the difference. Some gave nothing to charity to make up the difference. Others found ways to give themselves a boost at others’ expense.
In one noteworthy moment, John (the Baptist) confronts discontent in a crowd of onlookers, who were asking what they could do to demonstrate their desire to get right with God.
His reply was straightforward. “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.” His reply to tax-gatherers (the professional extortionists of their time) was “Don’t collect any more than you are required to”. To soldiers, he said “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely — be content with your pay.”
In other words, John said, stop trying to fix your discontent by filling your bucket fuller. Fix your discontent by becoming content with what you have coming in. Actually, John takes us even a step further; he directs us to become content with less than what we have, since we’d be giving some of what we have to someone else. (Luke 3:10-14)
That’s different. What if we left behind the “shortage” mentality, and started thinking in terms of a surplus. I actually have all I need, and probably, (to be fair) more. What would happen?