Have you ever taken the time to ask yourself how much is enough? It’s a question we should really all explore from time to time. The world around us seems to be on a never-ending chase for happiness and satisfaction and rarely takes time to sit back and enjoy the things they already have. Today, we’re going to explore this idea of contentment in what we have and what impact that will have on the rest of our lives.
The following recording is from “Mornings with Kelli and Steve” on Moody Radio Indiana (97.9 FM). For more information on Moody Radio, go to moodyradio.org/indiana.
What does it mean to cap our lifestyle?
Capping our lifestyle is a conscious decision to be satisfied once our level of spending hits a certain point and then not increasing our voluntary spending from that point, regardless of our ability to do so. The natural tendency is to spend more as we make more until one day we look back and wonder what happened to all the extra money we’ve been making. Our goal is to find happiness and contentment in our current situation and then find a better use for any future increases in income. That requires us to measure our current level of spending and then make a commitment to maintain that level of spending.
The idea of capping our spending is very counter-cultural because we all have things we would like to be able to do or buy, but don’t have the money to do it now. What is the relationship between money and happiness?
As you can imagine, there have been a lot of studies on this very topic. The basic finding is that once your basic needs are met, there is no positive correlation between money and happiness. If anything, more money brings more problems with it.
Ecclesiastes 5:12 – “The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether they eat little or much, but as for the rich, their abundance permits them no sleep.”
One interesting study I heard about years ago asked individuals how much they needed to make in order to be happy, they typically found that people would give them a number that was just above the amount they were currently making. It didn’t matter if the person was lower-income, middle-income or upper-income. There was always a perception that just a little more would make them happier. What that also tells us is that their current level of happiness wasn’t dependent on their income.
Ecclesiastes 5:10 – “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.”
Is this idea all about living a minimalist’s life and avoiding nice things and telling people they shouldn’t have wealth?
Not at all. We all have grace to spend money on the things we enjoy and scripture doesn’t tell us that wealth is to be avoided. This is about finding contentment in our current situation and then realizing we have it without spending more money. For most people, there will come a time when they’ve spent enough on themselves and there will be a better use for their money.
Hebrews 13:5 – “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
One of the benefits of capping our lifestyle spending is flexibility. How does capping our lifestyle give us flexibility?
We’ve talked often about people living paycheck to paycheck and how we can try to free up a little bit of money in our budgets each month. If you cap your spending today, any future pay increases will also create room in your budget. Can you imagine if you got a pay raise and all that increase was uncommitted? That will eventually give you the freedom to build an emergency fund, pay off debt or simply reduce your financial stress.
Capping our lifestyle also gives us flexibility if we ever need to change jobs. If we’re not obligated to replace our full income, we may choose to accept a more enjoyable job that doesn’t pay quite as much rather than dismissing it.
How does capping our lifestyle affect goals like retirement?
Let’s start with the person making $60,000 a year and lives on only $30,000. That person only needs to save enough for retirement to replace $30,000 of income and they have a lot of free income they can put away for that goal. Now consider the person making $60,000 and living on every penny of it. Not only do they have to replace twice as much income as the first example when they retire, but they have no free income to save either. For the first, retirement shouldn’t be much of an issue. For the second, it may just be a dream.
How does capping our lifestyle also impact on our ability to be generous?
Anytime we have uncommitted income, we have an ability to pursue the desires of our heart. If we’ve developed a heart toward generosity, we will have an increasing capacity to fund the ministries we’re passionate about. In the example I just mentioned of the person only spending half of what they make, imagine how much they could give away each year and do so joyfully. That’s really what this is all about. As stewards of God’s money, we’re not looking for how we can spend His resources on ourselves, but instead, how can we provide for our families and then use the rest for His glory?
Brad Graber, CFP® has been working with clients on personal financial planning and investment issues since 1996. He invests his time mentoring and educating individuals on ways to be better stewards of the resources God has entrusted to them.