Have you ever asked yourself “How much is enough?” Will more stuff really bring you the satisfaction you’re looking for? The answer is “perhaps for a little while,” but it fades quickly. During my years of practice, I have observed interesting dynamics that lead to contentment. There are people who have achieved financial independence yet are not what I would describe as satisfied. On the other hand, there are people who have not achieved financial independence yet evidence an engaging spirit of contentment. The world is constantly bombarding us with messages designed to stir up a sense of dissatisfaction. I have found that contentment is less about what money can buy and more about a right attitude toward those things.
This kind of contentment doesn’t just happen. It is deeply rooted in our perspective about money and possessions. It takes being grounded in solid principles that guide our financial decisions and it takes intentional steps or right processes to get there. Paying attention to these three things can ultimately produce both internal satisfaction and external outcomes we value. Allow me to briefly draw some parallels between these three elements and how they lead to contentment.
Perspective: Your worldview has everything to do with why and how you make decisions. For example, if your approach to life is “he who dies with the most toys wins,” your decision-making process will be guided by the endless and empty pursuit of accumulation. On the other hand, if you begin with a biblical worldview your behavior will be influenced not by cultural forces but by an understanding of your stewardship over what God has given you to manage.
The parable of the talents in Matthew 25, one of my favorite biblical passages, illustrates this perspective. You will make different choices once you have settled Who owns it all and your subsequent responsibility to the Owner. It gets you off the accumulation treadmill and on a path toward contentment.
Principles: There are five fundamental principles I start with in any financial discussion. They apply regardless of how many zeroes are in your paycheck or on your balance sheet. I plan to expand on these in future columns, but for now will simply summarize them here:
- Spend less than you earn
- Avoid the use of debt
- Build an emergency reserve
- Stay focused on long-term goals
- Develop a heart of generosity
With these principles creating your financial decision-making framework, you will make more competent decisions that ultimately produce a sense of contentment.
Processes: Money is generally used in one of the following ways: for lifestyle needs, debt, taxes, charity or investing in the future. There is an interesting cause-and-effect relationship between these categories. For example, the more I pursue lifestyle desires, the more I will typically pay in taxes and the less I will have available to go toward giving or long-term goals (college savings, retirement planning, business ventures, etc.). Processes can be developed for each one of these categories to help minimize the negative impact and positively direct the outcomes you want to achieve.
On many occasions I’ve talked with people who never stopped to evaluate their financial finish line or answer the question I originally posed to you at the beginning of this article, “How much is enough?” If you haven’t learned to be content with what you have, you’ll never be content with what you want because more is never enough! I urge you to seek financial counsel if you don’t have a plan designed to address each of these uses of money.
Are you confident the decisions you are making today are moving you toward contentment? If financial contentment has more to do with your attitudes, beliefs and systems, where do you need to start? Remember, the right perspective leads to committed values, the right principles lead to competent decisions, and the right processes lead to confident outcomes. If you get these right, you will be able to distance yourself from fear- or greed-based decisions and be well on your way toward experiencing lasting contentment.
— by Janice Thompson
Thompson is a certified financial planner and founder of Strategic Financial Solutions Inc. A frequent speaker on financial topics and a mentor for financial professionals, she also serves on the board of directors for Kingdom Advisors. Learn more at www.sfsinconline.com.