A very pretty lady, impeccably dressed and with hair in perfectly set waves (hair I wish I had), came up to me and asked if I could write about managing finances, specifically in the area of curtailing materialism. She confessed that she liked to buy designer bags and asked how I stopped myself from doing so.
Well, first off, I don’t think it’s wrong to buy designer things. The devil is not Prada. Some people see it as an investment. Others can afford luxury without putting themselves in debt.
(Photo from http://iwakl.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/handbag.jpg)
However, there are occasions when it could be very wrong. For example, if you overspend (buy above your means) or if you have a compulsion to keep buying beyond your needs.
Whatever the reason or motive, I think each of us ought to be discerning about how we spend money. This article is not meant to be a guilt trip. But I intend to share my own perspective on luxury spending, particularly in the area of buying bags, clothes, shoes, jewelry or watches. Please don’t take it like I am judging every woman who wants to go out and buy herself a designer bag or two or three or so on (you know who you are ;)). I just have a different vantage point which may help someone who wants to re-evaluate her spending habits, someone who earnestly feels like she may want to change and channel her resources elsewhere.
Read on at your own risk…
I used to be a barefoot girl climbing trees, catching tadpoles, and playing with monkeys. My life was far removed from the city and shopping malls. More importantly, my mom was a simple person. She never spent alot on herself or on dolling me up. She always looked put together and she dressed me up nicely, but her spending habits were very controlled.
Up til this day most of her clothes come from the tiangge or Ross (when she visits my sister in the U.S.) So I suppose her example of frugality rubbed off on me. I did not see her buying luxury goods when I was living at home, so I didn’t develop an appetite for these things either.
What kind of spending habits did your parents have? What did they model for you? It’s very possible that they passed on to you the kind of perspective you have on spending.
It may be hard to believe but I cannot imagine paying more than 5k for a bag. Almost everyone I know who is my age has at least one luxury bag that costs 10 times as much. And others are willing to spend a hundred times more.
Personally, I don’t want to be holding or wearing anything that would tempt someone to chop my arm off. Furthermore, I really don’t feel like a bag is worth that much. Some women will say I have no idea what I am talking about. And they are absolutely right. I don’t. I am not a bag connoisseur.
But no matter what crocodile is killed to become a handbag, I would never be able to stomach paying thousand of dollars for it, even if it was made to look pretty in its after life. While I can appreciate the quality of luxury, unless the actual materials used to make a bag are near the equivalent value of the price, I think it’s a bad deal.
Everyone knows this right? Deep inside, we aren’t stupid. The difference is we all have built-in thresholds for what we are willing to pay for an item or an experience. Plus, there is the factor of what we can afford.
Life is about choices. Edric and I may not spend a lot of money on luxury products but we may spend it on a trip out of the country. Building a memory together as a couple or family is something we value more. Right now our resources are also going into our house building so that’s our present priority. Others may be able to spend on whatever their heart desires, but it isn’t common to be able to afford to do everything. Most of us have to make choices.
When it comes to bags, if I can buy something functional that does the job it doesn’t have to be branded. I want it to look stylish and well made but I have an amount that I will not go over when I make a purchase. This limits my options so I have to find deals online or in stores.
Admittedly, there are occasions when I want to pay more. But I have to remember God owns all the money Edric and I have. We are just stewards of the financial blessings he has given us. Therefore I cannot, in good conscience, pay a ridiculous amount of money for a bag when I can buy one that serves the same purpose for much cheaper.
I understand that expensive and cheaper can be relative to what a person is used to spending. But if the amount could feed a sizable orphanage for atleast a week or two, then it might be worth considering whether that money should be going to an orphanage. Just a thought.
What about jewelry or watches? According to my husband Edric, who has interviewed a lot of financial experts on his TV show, jewelry and watches (depending on the brand) can be a good investment. But here is why I don’t spend for these things either. I am a practical gal. My jewelry is 90% fancy. Why? It would stress me out to have to worry about taking care of diamonds or any sort of precious stone or metal that I could lose. I don’t want the hassle of having to put jewelry in a safe. In fact, I feel very relaxed when our maids clean the bedroom. They are trustworthy but it helps that there’s nothing to take…nothing to tempt them…nothing to put into their pockets. The most precious things in our home are the people in it.
Furthermore, Edric prefers that we invest our money for the future. One of my personal dreams is to be able to buy a property for each of our five kids. I suppose this perspective comes from being the daughter of a land developer. My father’s business is in the housing sector. And like I said, I am practical. You can’t misplace a piece of property. Jewelry can get stolen or lost. With my track record for losing things, I really don’t deserve diamonds or gold.
While it would be sentimental to pass on to my children jewelry or time pieces, I would prefer to hand them the title to a plot of land. Tiny watch or a partial surface of the earth? Hmm…it’s a no brainer for me but everyone ascribes value differently. Apart from passing on a godly heritage, it would be great if we could help each of our kids get started when they are married. The Bible talks about this…
Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. (2 Corinthians 12:14)
If a person wants to invest in watches and jewelry as well as land or even stocks or a trust fund for their children, why not? It all goes back to motivation and purpose. God is not opposed to enjoying one’s wealth. Look at this Proverb: “It is the blessing of the Lord that makes rich, and He adds no sorrow to it.” (Proverbs 10:22) Some people are so blessed they can invest wherever they want to, and still give magnanimously to others. Praise God for them.
What about shopping for clothes and shoes? I enjoy shopping. But like my mom, I don’t need to buy branded clothing. If I find a wonderful deal then I may do so. However, I really can’t be too extravagant anyway. With the number of children I have, my kids would be naked and hungry if I was always buying things for myself. This is an exaggeration but having kids does diffuse my urge to shop for myself. They always need clothes and shoes because they are growing so fast! So a lot of times I have to shop for them.
The other reason why I control shopping for my own self is I have been pregnant and breastfeeding for so many years of my married life. I am many seasons behind the trends. My bust to waist to hip ratio is ever changing. There is no way to keep up and be fashionable all the time. So my criteria is right fit, color, and a statement of personal style. Not too trendy.
I may buy a trend or two if I really like it but the greater priority for me is to exercise so clothes will fit well. Until I get to the size I really want to be, I hold back on the clothes buying.
It’s also a blessing that I am not in any sort of fancy schmancy job that pressures me to look like a million dollars. Just the other day, I had a huge zit on my face. I mean it was so big I couldn’t believe it was on my face. It looked like a hill. My brother said, “What is that?!”
In contrast, my son turned to me and said, “It’s ok, you still look beautiful mom. Having that (the zit) just makes you look like you work really hard to take care of us.” That’s Elijah, my ever-politically correct son.
The people that I am surrounded with on a daily basis are incredibly BIASED. I don’t have to wear makeup or dress up and they think the world of me. They are my kids. Do they have a choice?! They compliment me all the time just for being me. Kids are awesome. Have lots of them! As for Edric, he just likes me to look clean and put together. Whew.
The kind of company you keep really matters. Do the people you hang out with turn on and feed your materialistic desires?
I will be honest, depending on the social circles I move in, there are times when I am tempted to think, maybe if I have designer things people will respect me more or hold me in higher regard. But when I process where that thought is coming from, the root of it is pride. It is pride telling me that I need material things of a certain standard to be accepted or to feel good about myself. So I go back to who I am in Christ. The God of this universe gave his life for a sinner like me. If he thought that I was worth that much then I certainly don’t need luxury to make me feel valuable.
If you feel like you have to wear designer clothes and accessories to feel better about yourself then it’s worth asking why this is so. Is it just because you are really after quality products or is there some sort of emotional or spiritual need that is being masked by all that spending?
Fifth, there are so many needs around me, so many ways to use money to be a blessing. I like the example of the early church believers. In Acts it says, “All the believers were together and shared everything. They would sell their land and the things they owned and then divide the money and give it to anyone who needed it. The believers met together in the Temple every day. They ate together in their homes, happy to share their food with joyful hearts.” (Acts 2:44-46)
The rest of the passage talks about how the Lord was adding to the numbers of those who were being saved daily. There was something so attractive about the believers’ lifestyle of sharing and giving to one another. People were coming to Jesus because of how they were caring for each other.
This passage provides a cure for materialism. Instead of thinking what else can I buy for myself, the mindset ought to be what else can I give?
One group of people I really enjoy giving to is our household help. Periodically, I go through my closets and take out a bunch of items and tell them they can have it all. Because they don’t have alot, they are always so appreciative.
Their presence in my life teaches me to be grateful for all the comforts I have. And even if they don’t know it, they keep me grounded in terms of shopping. Whenever I shop, I think about the kind of example I am setting for them and the impact I am making on them. I don’t want them to wrestle with jealousy or envy. They don’t have the liberty to buy themselves the same things that I can. So when I am tempted to make an expensive purchase, I think about them as my standard. How would they feel if they saw the price tag? It helps to use their purchasing capacity as a reference point instead of comparing myself to people who are really wealthy.
So do I struggle with materialism? Of course. I like things…things that are pretty, sparkly, well designed, tasteful, and expensive. But I choose to manage my desires by thinking about what I am spending on and why I am spending.
At the end of the day, whatever shopping habits I have must be filtered by contentment, motivation and stewardship. And just to clarify, a materialistic person is not someone who spends less. It’s someone who looks to possessions to fill a space that ought to belong to Jesus. Any of us can be susceptible to that. We need to come to the point where we know that only Jesus can bring us true satisfaction. And we need to recognize when the love for the world is replacing our love for God.
Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. (1 John 2:15, 16 NASB)
Here are some helpful heart questions to ask ourselves when we shop…
Am I being a good steward of the money God has given our family?
Is there a better way to spend or invest this money?
Am I faithfully managing the budgets assigned to me by my husband?
How can I use money to bless others and meet needs around me?
Will I cause people to stumble or be envious of me if I am extravagant? What are my motivations when I want to buy myself more things? Is it to impress people? Is it really a need?
Am I trying to project an image to others that is rooted in pride?
Is my desire for material things increasing at a greater rate than my desire to feed on God’s word and spend time with him?
How are my purchases indicative of where my heart is?
“for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21 NASB)
Here’s a thought I would like to leave you with. My brother in law, Joel, passed on to Edric and I very insightful wisdom from his father about spending. “If it’s a need, find a way to afford it. If it’s a want, no amount will be worth it.”
Luxury bags, clothing, and accessories fall under the category of “want” and not “need” for me. I will not judge those who feel otherwise. Afterall, bags, shoes, clothing, watches, jewelry…these things are not the true measure of person. God sees past material things to the heart that is within.
If you forget everything I have written here, reflect on this…I like what my dad said during one Sunday service, if you love God with all your heart, you are free to do whatever you please. I had to think about that statement but it made absolute sense. If you love God with everything that you are, you will make choices that honor him. What you want will be what God wants. Therefore the question, “how do you stop yourself from buying designer bags?” is not a more important question that this one…Do you love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength? If you do, you will know what to do the next time you go shopping! God will give you peace about whether you should make your next purchase or not.