My friend Kristin asked, "How do you balance or come to terms with what is OK to have or spend money on and what is frivolous?" She also mentioned that it must be hard to live in a poor area without always feeling guilty about what we have. And she said, "It's easy to look at what others do and compare and say, 'well at least I'm not spending money on a face lift like that person' but if I spend $50 on a special night cream how is that any different? Same concept just smaller dollar figures."
So, um, yeah, here goes...
How we spend "our" money is something that Blake and I struggle with on an almost daily basis. I don't think that we will ever have concrete guidelines. The first thing that I would say is that the tension is good. This is a really healthy issue to struggle with and always be conscious of. I hope that I am never comfortable spending money without wrestling with myself about how I am spending it.
There are a lot of things that stand out to me now that I am living in a developing country. One is the effect of advertising. The only advertising I have been exposed to in the past seven months have been billboards. The other day Blake was watching golf online and American commercials kept coming on. Now at the risk of sounding like the crazy missionary lady, I just could not believe how stupid they all sounded. The iPhone ad started with, "If you don't have an iPhone you don't have..." and listed some really unnecessary features on their phone that apparently we do need. And that's what advertising in the States does best- makes us feel inadequate because of what we don't have and makes us long to have more. We don't think anymore about what we spend money on. We get new things because we are never happy with what we have and we have been convinced that more is better.
The effect of advertising is so powerful that it takes being completely removed from it for a long period of time to see its grasp on the American people.
Another thing I am struck with everyday is that the middle class standard of living in the States is not really middle class. It is upper class in the rest of the world because it includes a decorated home with at least two bedrooms, two cars, eating out regularly, entertainment galore, rooms dedicated just to toys, extravagant parties, and all of the newest technology. In the States, this is normal and, most disturbingly, what we feel entitled to. And that, to me, is where a large part of the problem in people's decision on how to spend money lie. Because if you feel entitled to all of the above, then you're going to spend money on it without putting the proper thought and prayer into the necessity of that item. As these are items you are entitled to, it will never cross your mind that you could live differently in order to help others.
Please hear this: I am the queen of entitlement. In fact, living in Peru has made it worse in some ways. Because I have given up so much to be here, the least I deserve is to eat out once a week or get the expensive Coke from the States or have a home I love. Let me just say that it is really fun living with me in a foreign country. Just ask Blake.
One last thing that becomes glaringly obvious when living in a developing country is how insulated from poverty we have built the US to be. Except for a few rare places, we have created a country where the haves and the have nots do not interact. We live in different communities, go to different schools, hang out at different places, and most disheartening to me, go to different churches. We, as the haves, have made sure that we do not cross paths with the have nots and have to face what living in poverty is like. And here's what I know to be truth because I have seen it happen again and again: when you enter the lives of people living in poverty, you are changed and therefore, how you spend your money is changed.
(When we decided it was time to get off our butts and form relationships with people living in poverty, we started by volunteering for our local motel ministry.)
Watch this video about the famine in East Africa. If you are purposely avoiding news of the famine, I dare you to enter this world for just a few minutes and watch this video.
Will it make you think twice about how much you need to spend on your own food tonight? I believe it will and I believe that is why we avoid the poor. It is easier to be ignorant, but if you were that parent walking miles and miles just for clean water and food for your child, would you hope for more from your fellow human beings? Can we keep turning our backs on those in desperate need because we feel entitled to certain things and it just feels too hard to give them up? When it is someone you care about starving, you will move heaven and earth to help them. So, we have made sure that we don't know those who are starving. We don't want it to be our problem and we don't want to be inconvenienced. I know that sounds harsh, but it is true.
Surprisingly (not really), I have gone on too long again and yet I have more to say on the topic. I realize that I haven't really answered the question. But what I have shared are some of the first steps to addressing this topic. If we want to make more compassionate choices about how we spend our money we have to have a more knowledgeable world view and we have to be in relationship with those living in poverty. We also have to give up our sense of entitlement. It's not only good for our wallets, it's good for our hearts.
Want to do something right now to help the famine in East Africa? My friend Lindsay's daughter, Faith, is raising money here. At 7 years old she is giving up getting a new lunchbox for school so that she can give that money to emergency relief in East Africa. Is there anything that you can give up?
Part two of my answer can be found here.
*I changed the commenting system so that this can hopefully be more of a discussion instead of me just talking. So please share your thoughts!