Be Wise—Live Within Your Means
THEY are a young happily married couple, as yet without children and living in one of the nicer sections of New York city. They bought a house, as they thought that paying off a mortgage made more sense than paying rent. Obviously they needed furniture, and they also obtained an auto, both of which were purchased on the installment plan. And then they let themselves be coaxed into buying a large stereophonic set with record player, radio and color TV. Although both of them were working and the husband was holding down two jobs, they were unable to keep up their payments.
They turned to a good friend for counsel and were shown how they could retrench so as to live within their means. This they readily resolved to do. And not just because of their financial problems but also because as Christians they found themselves too busy and too tired to take care of their Christian obligations.
More and more families are overburdening themselves as this couple did. Thus in the United States in the past ten years personal bankruptcies have just about doubled, from 97,750 to nearly 183,000 a year. While a few of these cases doubtless were due to “time and unforeseen occurrence” (such as illness, accident or unemployment), by far the greater number, we are told, were due to “binges of buying on credit.” (Eccl. 9:11) As one bankruptcy referee put it: “The growth in the use of consumer credit is behind it all. Merchants and lenders have been pushing credit on people, competing strongly for the credit business.” U.S. News & World Report, July 19, 1971.
Causing people to buy beyond their means are such slogans as “Fly now—pay later.” But a better slogan is, “Save now—fly later.” Yes, this is good advice. Buying for cash is the most economical way to purchase things, as then you do not have to pay high interest rates, which often are as high as 18 percent a year.
What causes families to fall victim to high-pressure salesmen? One factor often is the desire to “keep up with the Joneses.” If a man’s neighbors buy a new auto or an outdoor swimming pool, then must he also acquire these things? He may think so. But such a course can be folly, if perhaps his neighbors can afford these things but he cannot. Then again, just because his neighbors make the mistake of living beyond their means is no reason for him to do so, is it?
The problem may be status symbols. Many a family has burdened itself with heavy installment payments because of having bought a fine auto simply because it gave them status in the community. But if one cannot afford it, is not the status symbol a false front? Or it might be a color TV set. Thus it is reported that a teacher at a private school once heard a youngster say to another, “I can’t play with you because your folks don’t have a color TV!” Imagine it! But where did this child get such a notion? Doubtless from his parents.
Of course, there is also the hedonistic or pleasure principle to consider. No question about there being pleasure in owning fine things, the pride of possession apart from what others may think. There is also a great deal of enjoyment in eating fine food, which pleasure causes not a few to live beyond their means.
All these causes and others that might be cited call to mind the words of wise King Solomon: “Everything [is] vanity and a striving after wind.” (Eccl. 1:14) Vanity? Yes, because the added pleasures do not compensate for the added concerns, cares, worries, anxieties. Jesus said, “Never be anxious about the next day,” but he who keeps living beyond his means has good reason to be anxious about the next day!—Matt. 6:34.
So learn to be objective, to be governed by reason, not by mere inclination, feeling or sentiment. Learn to distinguish between the things you really need and the luxuries you may want but can do without. Do not get started to feel and coddle the desire for luxury, for in just a short time luxuries have a way of mentally becoming “necessities.” It all goes back to inherited human weakness, our inclinations from youth up being toward selfishness and needing to be redirected.—Gen. 8:21.
In this matter as in every other problem of living the Bible offers good counsel. It warns that a materialistic pursuit is the root of all sorts of injurious things. It also counsels contentment, saying, “We have brought nothing into the world, and neither can we carry anything out. So, having sustenance and covering, we shall be content with these things.” (1 Tim. 6:7, 8) The apostle Paul not only preached contentment to his friend Timothy, but also practiced it. He set a fine example, being able to write: “I have learned, in whatever circumstances I am, to be self-sufficient. I know indeed how to be low on provisions, I know indeed how to have an abundance.”—Phil. 4:11, 12.
Why was the apostle Paul able to be self-sufficient, content whether he had little or much? Because he had something in his life that was more important than material things, more important than fine food, fine clothing or other fine material possessions. What was that? He had godly devotion or godliness, concerning which he also wrote his friend Timothy: “There is great gain in godliness with contentment.” (1 Tim. 6:6, Revised Standard Version) Yes, spiritual treasures are a great aid to being self-sufficient and contented with modest things, needed things.
Man was not meant to live on bread alone or for material things alone. (Matt. 4:4) He needs spiritual food, spiritual possessions. So take time to cultivate and to acquire these. Heed Jesus’ words, “Keep on, then, seeking first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness.” That means take time for reading and studying God’s Word; take time for talking with God in prayer; take time to associate with others who likewise are interested in spiritual things. Get a balanced view of things and you will not be tempted to live beyond your means.—Matt. 6:33.