Christian Debt and Finance Resources, Advice

Swimming Upstream in Our Consumer Culture

  • Matt Bell
  • 2013 5 Jun
Swimming Upstream in Our Consumer Culture

If our culture had a vision statement, it would be one word: More! However, as Mitch Anthony illustrates in a great MarketWatch piece, The perils of ‘getting ahead,’ the pursuit of more often leaves us with so much less.

He describes a friend who seemed to have it all—big house, vacation house, luxury cars. But Anthony knows him well enough to know that it was all a façade. Oh he earned a big salary, but he lived an even bigger life and was struggling to stay a step ahead of the bills.

I meet so many people who say they feel like they are on the never-ending treadmill of trying to get ahead. “Ahead of what?” is the first question I always ask. You need to clear your head about getting ahead.

Anthony’s friend ended up making some radical changes. He downsized in many areas and ended up with a truly bigger life—one that’s more manageable, and meaningful.

For those wanting the same, Anthony offers three suggestions.

1.  Understand that “debt just gets in the way of what you want.”

Life is about trade-offs. It’s also about personal accountability. You don’t buy the luxury car, so you can take the family on a great vacation. You don’t buy the bigger house with a ballooning mortgage, so you don’t have to be stressed out at work.

2.  “You must be able to enjoy where you are in life and where you are going–not where you think you should be.”

It has been said that happiness is wanting what you have. So stop wishing you had what someone else has. Find contentment in what you have and enjoy it right now. If you are enjoying your life and doing meaningful work, you may find that the riches arrive on their own.

3.  “You need to be the author of your life’s script, not a helpless actor dancing to someone else’s expectation.”

Just this morning our nine-year-old complained that “every single one” of his classmates has a cell phone, an iPad, and a DS (portable gaming device). He said his friends don’t want to come to his house to play because he doesn’t have any of those items.

As we talked about it, I said I could give him some opportunities to earn more money if he’d like to save up for his own iPad or DS (we’re not going down the cell phone path with the kids yet). He liked the idea of earning some extra money, but also came to the realization on his own that, “I don’t care if they make fun of me because I don’t have those things.”

I was glad to hear him say that, but I also know it isn’t easy — not for him, not for any of us. The pull of the culture is fierce. There’s just something in the air telling us that we need more—always more—and debt is normal and unavoidable. The fact that someone around us has things we don’t have only makes the force stronger.

Of course, we are not the sole authors of our lives. God is the main author, and we have His Word and the Holy Spirit to help us strike that tricky balance of living in the world while not being of the world. But it helps a lot to have others around us who are content to live in that tension between “in” and “of”—role models, accountability and encouragement partners, a like-minded spouse.

How do you deal with the desire to “get ahead” in our consumer culture?

Matt Bell is Associate Editor at Sound Mind Investing. Since its founding by Austin Pryor over 22 years ago, SMI has been providing clear, trustworthy, effective investment guidance to the Christian community. Some 10,000 subscribers look to its flagship publication, the Sound Mind Investing monthly newsletter, for biblical guidance on a range of financial issues and specific investment advice.

Publication date: June 6, 2013