Everything I learned about money, I learned from MasterCard. No, seriously. It was August of 1991 and I was an entering freshman at the University of Texas at Austin. It was a hot summer afternoon—they are all hot in August in Austin—and I had just finished my last trip to purchase my books for the upcoming semester. As I headed out the door, books and class schedule in hand, I was greeted by a friendly stranger who offered me the coolest blue phone if I would simply sign up for a MasterCard. At first I resisted, but the allure of that cool blue phone was too much to resist. I gave a complete stranger my Social Security number, my address, and my John Hancock. Within a week I had my very own and very first credit card. I had grown up, or so I thought.
At first, my credit card sat idly in my desk drawer. I had no need of it. I didn’t even know how to use it, not really. Slowly the card migrated to my wallet and from my wallet into the hands of pizza shop owners, clothing store associates, even the occasional S.C.U.B.A. dive shop owner. Before I knew it, MasterCard told me that we had a relationship that required me to pay them more than I currently had in my bank account, and that on a monthly basis. My free-wheeling, fun-loving life as a college freshman came to a screeching halt. I needed a job. Fast!
I found that job and with that job and my subsequent payments, MasterCard rewarded me with a larger limit which I promptly reached. Suddenly, I needed another job, so I picked up side work during the Christmas and summer breaks. MasterCard rewarded my faithfulness and determination with larger limits which I felt I must demonstrate I could reach. By the time I entered grad school I was working at least two to three jobs at a time. All I could think about was money. How to make it. How to spend it. How to make more of it. How to spend more of it. I used to dream of winning the lottery, though I never could bring myself to play. So, I would dream of having a rich relative die and leave me an inheritance. The problem was that I didn’t have a rich relative. So, I would dream about what it would be like to have a rich relative.
My life became centered around money. I had to have more, and more, and more. The more I made, the more I spent. The more I spent, the more I wanted. Then I began to notice a few things. I was spending more and more time fantasizing about money, how to make it and how to spend it. I would go for runs on sultry New Orleans nights and realize that I had spent the entire time thinking about money. I discovered that when people needed money around me, I would look for ways to excuse myself. I actually got angry and defensive when people would ask me to share or to give. It was mine. Mine. MINE! Ok. That was never external. That would be weird, but it was what was going on inside. I found I would count my money, pour over my earnings and prospective earnings not once but over and over again, and not just for the present but for months and years into the future. Finally I came to a realization. I loved money, a lot. I didn’t just love money. I was worshiping money and it was bending me, breaking me, deforming me into a person I did not want to be but was quickly becoming. Perhaps I was already that person.
Whether I was or was becoming, the point was that I despised the end result of the trajectory I was on. Money was a hard master and I didn’t want to serve it any more. So, I got out my scissors and I cut up my MasterCard and began the long road back. I began to give as a matter of discipline, even when it felt as if I had nothing to give. I began to delay the satisfaction of my wants even when my wants seemed justified and necessary. I reduced my spending and sought to turn my thoughts back to God even as they drifted to money over and over again. It took some time, but slowly a new person began to emerge, a person I liked a whole lot better, a person who was much calmer, more relaxed, less worried. The only downside of it all was that this new person who emerged has a deep distrust of strangers offering free phones.
A fellow traveler,
What’s my next step?
We encourage you to consider engaging in the following as a way of handing off faith in your family.
Teach your children about money: We often move from using money to money using us (the idolatry of money) for no other reason than no one ever taught us about money’s proper use. This week consider having a conversation with your children about money. If they get an allowance or have a job, consider having them track their spending this week so that they might see trends in the way they handle money. If they do not have an allowance, consider giving them a small allowance for the purpose of beginning to teach them how to handle money. Talk with them about the value of what you have given them and discuss how what you have given might be used.
We encourage you to consider engaging in the following as a way of deepening your own faith.
Track your spending: Life can easily become centered around money rather than God. In fact, Jesus noted that one of the chief competitors for our devotion is money (Matthew 6.24). The tragedy about a devotion to money is that this devotion rarely becomes apparent until it is too late and the consequences are devastating. This week, consider opening your spending habits to examination with God, allowing him to speak to the presence or absence of a devotion to money in your life. Write down everything you spend this week and the reason for which you spent your monies. At the end of the week, spend time with God and your spending record. Ask him to reveal to you trends or trajectories that might reveal areas in which money is using you rather than you using money. Ask him to speak into these areas, directing you in the path you should go.