A few months ago I was at a restaurant where I happened to overhear a conversation between four obviously wealthy women. At first, I was amused by their talk, feeling slightly superior because my life doesn’t revolve around the latest fashions or celebrity gossip. The turning point in the conversation, and hence my reaction to it, came when three of the women sympathized with the fourth because her husband had failed to get a promotion that would have put his earning power at well over half a million dollars a year. Apparently, his current salary of three hundred thousand wasn’t quite enough to get them the lifestyle they wanted.
“Poor little rich girl,” I thought sarcastically, shaking my head in disgust. Since when was three hundred thousand dollars not enough? I was so full of self righteous indignation that I wanted to scream with the force of my anger. Instead, I marched out of the restaurant in a huff, disgusted with them. On the way home, though, I remembered something that made me stop short. Shamefaced, I recalled recently complaining to my husband that we were always going to be poor (even though statistically speaking we make more money than 80% of US Households.) Apparently, I was just as guilty of wanting more money as the woman in the restaurant.
That night I went home and stayed up into the wee hours of the morning trying to figure out when I had stopped being happy with our financial circumstances and realized that there had never been a time when I’d felt like we were making enough money. Our salaries have been steadily increasing over the last few years, but with additional wealth have come additional expenses that always seem to outweigh our earning power.
I could easily blame the media and retailers for fueling our desire to spend and making us believe that more is better, after all, they push goods that most of us can’t easily afford. However, the truth is that the 52″ Sony flat screen, Prada bag, Jaguar, and condo in Miami, didn’t make it into my wish list because of advertising alone. My spending continues to increase because I have bought into the premise that material wealth equals happiness. Admittedly I’m obsessed with money, and with what money can buy, but I realized that night a few months ago that this obsession with money camouflages a whole range of ills that are contributing to a general feeling of dissatisfaction with my life.
I acknowledge that living within our means is difficult and that it is getting harder and harder to meet the basic costs of food, shelter, and healthcare, but I believe that my family can create a life that revolves around meaning and spiritual wealth instead of the almighty green, so I’m trying to change the way I think. Every time I buy something lately, I ask myself, “Do I really need this, or this my way of compensating for something else?” I keep reminding myself that it is possible “To live content with small means.”