Within a month, I’ll be giving up my cable television service… and I’m preparing myself for the fact that it might hurt. But I’d rather be a free man learning to deal with the pangs of boredom than to be an entertained man who is a slave to luxury.
Money and its trappings can make slaves of us in so many ways. Oftentimes, this happens without us being aware of it. We can become slaves to greed, slaves to poverty, slaves to debt and even slaves to other people’s expectations regarding our lifestyles.
Sometimes, the things that are enslaving us seem perfectly normal in our culture. But it’s time to stop hiding behind our middle-class idealism and face the truth about what we’re doing with our money: A lifestyle of small indulgences can make you a slave to luxury.
We’re blessed to live in a time and place where the basic necessities of life are found in abundance. It’s rare that we have to worry about where our next meals are coming from, where we will sleep tonight or what we’ll wear to keep us warm tomorrow. It’s so easy and cheap to clothe and feed ourselves, in fact, that it often leaves a lot of money leftover to buy things that we want, instead of only buying things that we need.
There’s nothing wrong with buying nice things and having fun with your spare cash. After all, God wants us to enjoy our money — it’s part of His Master Plan for our financial lives. But these things that we buy for pleasure must be kept in a certain context. If we’re spending on frivolous items but not tithing, giving, saving and investing for the future, our spending is out of balance, and it’s going to spell ruin for us in the end.
The Bible teaches us this principle in Prov. 21:17, one of the hundreds of verses in scripture that gives us guidance about how to handle our money. Let’s check it out:
Whoever loves pleasure will become poor;
whoever loves wine and olive oil will never be rich.
The writer of this proverb has a keen insight: If you spend your life chasing luxuries — even relatively small ones like olive oil and wine — you’ll never have the luxury of true wealth and financial independence. You can’t get ahead in life by spending your money as if you’re rich. In fact, most rich people get there because they were thrifty with their money.
Whenever something controls your destiny and holds you back from the things that you want to achieve, it makes slaves of you. So if we take the Bible seriously, we have to conclude that it’s possible to be slaves to luxury.
It doesn’t have to be this way, of course. We make make the disciplined decision to forego luxury now in order to build wealth for the future.
That’s why Laura and I are getting ready to ditch cable. We’re expecting our first child within about a month, and Laura will be leaving work to stay home with her full-time. That means that we’re going to have to live on my income… and in order to do that successfully, we’re going to have to give up some of the small luxuries that we’ve enjoyed up to this point.
Could we find a way to keep cable in our budget? Yes, we could. But that luxury would come at the cost of things that we value more. We would have to cut back on our giving. We would have to dramatically reduce our retirement savings and investing, and we wouldn’t have any hope of saving for our kids to go to college.
We could take out a 30-year home mortgage with lower monthly payments, but it would take us twice as long to pay off as the 15-year mortgage that we have now, at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars in extra interest fees.
If we really valued cable TV, we would prioritize it ahead of generosity, planning, saving and investing. And too many people do just that — not because they believe that cable or other luxuries are really more important than the significant financial goals in their lives, but because they’ve never taken the time to stop and think about it.
If you’re frustrated by the lack of progress that you’ve made in your financial life, take a close look at the little luxuries that you’ve carelessly indulged. It would be a shame to let those things make you a slave.
Photo by schmilblick. Used under Creative Commons license.