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A Girl and Her Money
By Sharon Durling
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2003 Sharon Durling
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Funny Thing about Money
$ money and you
Take a moment to consider:
What emotions does money stir within you? Is the thought of money inclined to stir excitement or depression?
What language and expressions do you use concerning money and possessions? Do you often say, "I can't afford it"? When you make a purchase, do you tend to moralize, saying, "I was really bad" or "I was good this time"? Do you say, "I can't manage money; I just can't get ahead"?
Have you allowed money to damage or destroy a relationship?
Are you too busy to think about money? What does it take for your finances to get your attention?
If you had more money, what additional options would you have for freedom, time, choices, or career? What increased insecurity might it bring?
WHAT HAS THE FORCE OF A TSUNAMIC WAVE, THE seduction of a gorgeous guy, and the mystery of—well, life itself? What drives sane men mad and to death at their own hands? What has the power to stop herds of stampeding men and women dead in their tracks, is more thrilling than the World Series, and is a force for which many will forgo their marriage vows, children, even their own identity?
So what is it with money? It triggers a barrage of emotions. It influences many of the decisions we make, from what we eat to whom we marry, whether we divorce, where we live, and the careers we pursue. It stirs feelings of guilt, fear, dissatisfaction, anxiety, panic, greed, misery, ecstasy, confidence, and hope. It affects our sense of success, security, self-esteem, independence, acceptance, and even love. Personal finance tomes appear frequently on bestseller lists. Books about money outsell books on sex. Magazines and newsletters devoted to the acquisition and management of money proliferate. And how many different channels are there of money TV?
Money brings out the amazing in us. It can cause a pacifist to fight to the death, impel a mother to cut off her son, and influence a girl to fall in love with a cranky man her grandfather's age.
It is a store of information about a person—her background, family relationships, schooling, principles, and more. In our monetarily repressed culture, people often will not disclose their incomes to their families, friends, or fiancés. It is a culture in which people will be sexually intimate far more readily than they will be fiscally revealing.
Money is good; money is bad. Money is detestable; money is incorrigible. Money is freedom, money is the answer, and money is sexual. Whatever the truth about money, one thing I know: In one form or another, it's here to stay. So we'd better learn to live with it. The sooner we learn to get along with money—both ours and the Joneses'—the sooner we can make peace with this thing called cash.
The Problem with Money
Money is a big fat liar. So don't even start to believe her. True, money's a nonorganic object, but we've nearly elevated her to family matriarch. When she's flaunting herself, she gives us a high much like that swell we felt with our first grade-school infatuation. Likewise, she deflates our spirits when she makes scarce. Delilah-like, she seduces by claiming that if you love and acquire her, she'll bring you more happiness and satisfaction than you could possibly imagine. Although her titillating whispers never quite deliver as promised, we continue to lean deeply into her, hopeful for more assurances from her collagen-injected lips. Bystanders of postmodern culture have a few things to say about her.
Richard Ryan, Ph.D., professor at the University of Rochester: "There's a very short half-life to the pleasure that comes from spending." By the time the new earrings are out of the tissue and into the jewelry box, they've already lost a little of their thrill.
Ever notice that when you're going to a party, you feel better wearing a new silk shirt than an old one; even when the old one fit just a bit better and looked better with those pants? Wearing a new dress to a wedding just feels grander than a dress you've worn before. Three wearings, and it's demoted to the back of the closet.
Middle-aged woman to sales clerk at a boutique in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood: "Wow, I feel so much better. I was feeling so blah today I just had to get out and buy something for a pick-me-up."
To that I'd say, "Might as well shoot up some drugs while you're at it." A fix is a fix.
Ted Turner said, "I bet you're all wondering what it feels like to be a billionaire. It's disappointing really.... I've learned that great wealth isn't nearly as good as average sex."
Hmmm. If Ted's right, and if we can assume the average person could achieve average sex, we can therefore conclude the average person feels as awesome now as if he had a billion dollars. Wow—how ordinary is that? So money won't buy me love, coolness, freedom, independence, and wake me up with a big smile on my face?
Fiancée of an English Heir
"I thought about all that would someday be mine—heirloom silver, imported rugs, family jewels, a chauffeur. Is this it? I wondered. Are possessions what life is all about? I began to question my values."
This woman received a gift most people don't get until old age, if then. She recognized in her youth that money and the possessions it offers would not satisfy, and as a result, she was propelled into clarifying her values apart from the fineries in her life. She broke off the engagement.
Comic Strip Creator
Workplace philosopher and Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams said, "If all the people who were buying things that have no utility whatsoever realized they have no utility, the economy would collapse."
So why do we buy? Why do we so desperately want more things that have no real use? Surely it's for our own self-interest; none of us is so benevolent as to spend solely in the interest of furthering our nation's economy. It occurred briefly post–September 11, but patriotism is not ordinarily our motivation to shop. The purveyors of such "useless" objects promote the idea that acquiring them will give us a big "happy" quotient.
The problem with money is that it promises things it cannot deliver.
Money as Obstacle, Narcotic, Distraction
The other thing about money is that it gets in the way of our ability to see reality. Like a barrier, it blocks our ability to discover and confront our problems. We don't want to see the unpleasantness of our reality. Getting or having a great deal of money often simply delays our discovering the source of unhappiness, and therefore actually impedes the journey toward a solution to our problems.
We use it as a panacea for depression and marital and family conflict. We use money and all the stuff it affords us as a tranquilizer or anesthetic to block the real pain underneath. We try to numb our sadness and disappointment with the possessions money offers, much like narcotics mask physical pain. A life anesthetized is one that settles for mediocrity, at best.
We also allow money to distract us, making us unaware of our spiritual needs and numbing our spiritual appetites. When we transfer all of our desire, hope, and security from the spiritual to the material realm, our spiritual self starves into anorexia. We lose touch with that side of ourselves.
We do funny things with money. We feast, then fast; we gorge and discard; we splurge, then we cut back. Both the wealthy and poor, in varying degrees of desperation, are in search of the salve to end the cycle. Investment guides propel some readers into deeper despair when they realize they'll never retire before seventy-five—much like an alcoholic who gets so spooked at an AA meeting that she strides right out for a stiff drink. Unchecked compulsions to earn, spend, or hoard money have resulted in emotional, relational, and spiritual paupers.
Getting more money, contrary to popular thought, will not solve our problems. In fact, if all your problems can be solved with money, you need to reassess your definition of problem. Some lottery winners, within a few years of hitting the jackpot, become broke, overweight, depressed, divorced, and worse. The winnings serve as an amplifier of a person's true self.
"How far," wondered author Jacob Needleman, "has money become an instrument of emotional expression in our lonely society—a language of the emotions, the only such language left for many of us?" This is not a phenomenon exclusive to our current capitalistic economy. The prophet Isaiah asked rhetorically, "Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?"
Why indeed? If money buys security, why did lottery winner Charles Tabet say, "Now that I have this much money, I think I need more money to be secure"? And why did the magazine cover title on celebrities filing for bankruptcy proclaim, "Going Broke on $33 Million a Year"?
If money buys freedom, why do some of the über rich live out their years as recluses and barricade themselves behind gates, alarm systems, and bodyguards?
If money buys friends, why, when Doris Duke died, did she have "no relatives or friends she particularly cared to enrich" with her $1.2 billion estate?
If it is prestige, why did Charles F. Feeney give away $3.5 billion anonymously, keeping less than $5 million of his vast fortune for himself?
Your choice is—and, girlfriend, the good news is, you do get to choose—to be content or not.
Money's OK—Really, It Is!
So is there anything good about money? Can we relax and just spend a little already? Absolutely. It's not about the money anyway. It's what's in your head—what you think about and believe—that matters.
Money's not bad. So get yourself some! Having, saving, borrowing, and spending money has occured all through history. In biblical times, God gave people great monetary wealth and, even better, the ability to totally enjoy it! Lose the false guilt about having and enjoying.
There are times, however, when money and possessions are taken away—even from those who are generous and kind (see the story of Elijah in 1 Kings, chapter 17, and Job, chapter 1). Therefore, contrary to what some television preachers may tell you, you can safely conclude your net worth is not a direct correlation of God's approval or disapproval. God often blesses in ways far greater than monetary riches and punishes in ways far broader than removing wealth. Sadly, sometimes the more arrogant and wicked people are, the wealthier they get.
The writer of a best-selling book posed the question, "Does God want Christians to have money?" Do you think God wants people to engage in sex and enjoy food and drink? Let's hope so! I believe God created all of these, as well as the network that has evolved into our complex monetary system today. Improper management of money, improper management of food, and improper engagement in sex are destructive and wrong. Gorging, purging, and self-starvation are disrespectful and harmful to our bodies. No question—even disrespectful sex within marriage is wrong. Need I mention credit card bloat?
It's about balance. It's about moderation. Gratuitous and abusive sex is wrong. Money and food are often grossly misused. Food, money, and sex exist for people to thoroughly enjoy. We can honor ourselves and others in the way we appropriately use and participate in all three.
God not only created my desires, but he continues to have an active interest in me, and my money: my rent, bulging credit card bills, and IRA rollover account. That's a relief, given the volatility I've seen in my stock portfolio. (So you don't have a portfolio? Those bills stuffed in the quart jar on the top shelf are equally important.)
I believe God is fully interested in my monetary life, yet he leaves the choice to me: to master money or be its slave.
There's Freedom in Surrender
Let's go back to those questions at the beginning of the chapter. Where are you in the financial quagmire? Are money issues a source of stress or merely another item on your to-do list? Perhaps you're reading this book because you want some insight on better handling this weighty beast. The first truth toward that end is this: Freedom over money is acquired by relinquishing our attachment to it—thus the term financial freedom.
That indicates freedom from money, not freedom because of money. Oh, but a preposition has never made such a big divide in meaning. If a lot of money were required to be free, then most of us could never aspire to financial freedom. When we give less power to the money we have (and the money we don't have, but wish we did), we gain freedom to think differently. As mere mortals, we give a lot of power to things that are not in our control—to events over which we can do nothing. What a waste of our precious and limited energy. To win in life, to have all the happiness we want, we must learn the art of letting go.
We know this: When a man breaks our heart, our feelings don't simply disappear. What we must do, however, is to let go of the relationship in our thought process. In my mind, I forgive the guy, bless him, and move my thoughts to something more pleasant. Over time, the pain fades. When that driver cuts us off with a wave of her finger, it's a waste to give her one bit of our valuable emotional energy. When the Fed raises interest rates two days before our mortgage interest rate was to be set, we do best not to think about last week's lower rates.
Thinking differently causes changes in our feelings. Changes in our feelings cause us to change our actions. Changes in our actions bring us to different results. Do you want different results from your financial management—your shopping, saving, spending, investing, and check floating? Writer Anne Lamott said, "Truth is usually a paradox—that freedom is found in surrender, for instance, or that he who loses life shall gain it."
Only when you are willing to completely let go of something you think you possess can you take security in it. Only when you are willing to give up control of your child, husband, or boyfriend can you rest in the certainty that his devotion is true. So you win by giving up.
Successful Wall Street traders get this. They are far more profitable when they have the ability to accept trading losses and not become emotionally trapped in a declining investment. They warn, "Don't get married to your position"—that is, the stock or bond you bought that's performing badly, but you're just sure will see the light of day soon, simply because you like it so much. Some traders will tell you they are successful not because they have the ability to consistently pick the best stocks, but because they have the ability to let go of a bad position. That is critical to a trader's success. When she learns to confidently and quickly cut her losses, she'll consistently outperform other traders who may be smarter but are emotionally less able to sell a poor performer.
The ability to let go is the hallmark of a great trader, but it's also a hallmark of great strength and character. Jesus intimated that until you diminish your attachment to your portfolio value, you cannot experience freedom (see Luke 16:13). Those loyalties must be shorn to understand true financial liberty.
In 1994, I visited a refugee camp in Thailand near the Mekong River. Thousands of people lived in long buildings with little privacy and no security. Some refugees arrived destitute. Others attempted to bring their wealth (usually in gold) as they escaped Laos by swimming across the river. Which group do you think was more likely to drown? Who do you think slept most easily at night? Of course, those who brought gold lived in constant fear it would be stolen.
This, then, the paradox of letting go, is the first step to financial freedom, wherever you find yourself on the freaked-out-by-money chart. Leo Tolstoy was right when he wrote, "True life is lived when tiny changes occur." That's all you have to do—just one small thing differently than you've done in the past. Satisfaction, hope, and peace of mind are within your reach. It is more possible than you may think.
Excerpted from A Girl and Her Money by Sharon Durling Copyright © 2003 by Sharon Durling. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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