Someone posed a Facebook question recently that got me thinking about how much our attitudes are part of our financial portfolio. The question was, “How much more money would you need to feel secure?” Answers varied from specific dollar amounts to expressions of gratitude for having enough now, but recalling times when a few dollars would have made a big difference. I’ve been thinking lately about how much is enough.
How Much is Enough?
My friend Pastor Tim Anderson published Just a Little Bit More several years ago to examine the role of finances in our community life. The subtitle of his book is “The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good.” When an interviewer asked John D. Rockefeller, at the time one of the richest men in the world, how much more money he needed, Rockefeller answered, “Just a little bit more.” Thus the title of Anderson’s book. That attitude of always needing or wanting just a little bit more can cause havoc in a society.
When we conclude we have all we need, we begin to feel satisfied and at peace. How much is enough is an individual decision, but when we’re focused on what we’re lacking, we tend to disregard what we already have.
With Halloween now history, it’s full steam ahead into the holiday push to spend, spend, spend, often with little thought about what that does to our bank accounts and credit card statements. It’s all well and good to do special things for the special people in our lives. It can be a pure pleasure to find just the perfect gift. But mindless spending without a plan is begging for financial woes ahead.
Years ago I attended a workshop entitled, “Enough.” The presenters suggested one reason we keep accumulating and overstuffing our stomachs, homes, and schedules is that we seldom stop to consider what we actually do need versus what we’ve been told we need and deserve by marketing professionals. The workshop leaders suggested we quantify what it would take to conclude we have enough. Exactly how many shoes, sweaters, coats, jeans, books, games, etc. do we require to believe we’ve got enough of such items?
Financial planners suggest setting specific financial goals for how much we need in savings, investments, and bank accounts to feel prepared for what life may dole out. Without a plan we let our financial resources slip away from us like water down the drain.
Dodge the Holiday Dash to Debt
Popular financial advice-giver Suze Orman recently published strategies for keeping the holiday-spending sprees under control. I’ve summarized her four suggestions and added a few other ideas of my own. We don’t have to follow the directions of all the people in hundreds of ads telling us what to get for the people we love or how to pull off the perfect holiday event. We can take charge of our credit cards, checking accounts, and cash.
- If you can’t pay it off in full when the bill is due, don’t buy it. Gift-giving is only one of many ways to show your love and appreciation to others.
- Don’t let fear of being found wanting in the gift-giving department dictate your spending. Rather, think of less expensive options for expressing your affection. Consider a handwritten letter letting others know you appreciate them. For ways to express yourself in writing check out the ideas contained in Elizabeth Cantrell’s Heartspoken. It’s a marvelous guide for writing notes that cover many situations.
- Consider homemade gifts. Because they’re so rare, something homemade makes a lasting impression. Or do some shopping in the many holiday craft shows where you can find unique gift items while supporting a neighbor or local organization.
- Consider giving someone the gift of generosity. For the person who has everything, select a cause you know is important to the person and make a donation in his or her name to an organization related to that cause. Or give a “share check.” You determine the amount and sign the check, but the loved one gets to decide where to donate the check.
Planning for Peace of Mind
I’ve known what it’s like to have more month than money. I’ve felt panic when there are more expenses than funds available. Planning helps keep the panic at bay. A few years ago I was in financial trouble with more expenses than income. I resorted to paying for everyday expenses with credit cards, resulting in bank statements that soon felt like a financial cancer rapidly growing out of control.
I reviewed my monthly expenses and decided the one that would provide the most relief was the car payment. If I had the funds currently going to that payment available for other expenses, it would be like getting a significant raise. First I focused on clearing out all the charges on the credit cards by overpaying them until they went to zero. Then I committed to overpaying the car payment by whatever I could manage that month. Some months it was only an additional $25. Other months it was more.
I did a lot of doing without, but seeing the outstanding balance on the car payment go down each month compensated for things I hadn’t bought that month. I kept this up for about six months, and then.
And then I got a letter from an attorney’s office. A relative I’d not seen in a very long time named me in the estate plan. I certainly hadn’t anticipated the enclosed check, which was almost to the dollar the outstanding balance on that car loan.
I cannot guarantee that focusing on paying off debt will yield similar results in anyone else’s life. But I am pretty certain that if we can push through the panic long enough to make a plan; and then stick to that plan, what seemed like an insurmountable problem begins to dwindle down to a manageable circumstance.
The holiday season is upon us. I’d love to know your ideas for how to enjoy them without incurring a post-holiday financial hangover.
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Mary Brewster’s Love Life and Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures: available wherever books are sold. Bookshop.org/Mayflower; Mary BrewsterAmazon.com/Mary Brewster’s Love Life
Autographed copies are available on my website.