The key to financial success is learning how to enjoy life, and budgeting for fun even during financial struggles
This is for you, if you are living on a very strict budget, either because things are just very tight, or you are digging yourself out of a bad financial situation. This is also for those that have difficulty spending any money on themselves or their family, for anything other than the normal necessities.
Personal finances can be a heavy and difficult subject. Money management, at least from a Christian perspective can be laden with a lot of worry or fear. This is especially true if we have financial problems, since it carries a lot of emotion. You might be taking financial class, receiving financial counseling and doing everything you can to improve. It’s hard work, and during these lean times, all of your money is going for things like food, housing and debt, and you are not spending anything on fun. You are enjoying little entertainment and it’s been forever since you’ve been on vacation. You wonder if it is going to be forever before you can enjoy life again, or if you can have fun in the meantime.
One thing I’ve come to realize is that if you are not having some fun and enjoying life along the way, then more than likely you will fail in this. Life is just too stressful and besides we have been created by God to enjoy life. So if you don’t know how to enjoy life, financial management is always going to be associated with drudgery and withholding things that make life fun.
For me writing this fun, I do this sometimes late into the evening and on days off. This was especially fun to write, because it reminded me about all of the reasons I have to be joyful and experience fun things that I can soon do.
A warning though should be given to those of us, who don’t have any difficulty saying no to themselves, when it comes to over indulging in as many pleasurable things as possible. Hedonism is a word that we don’t use very often and it means that pleasure is the proper aim of human life. Hedonism is the triplet brother to materialism and greed. The Declaration of Independence drafted in 1776 says that one of the foundational “self-evident truths” of our country are three unalienable rights, “The pursuit of happiness,” for all Americans is right up there with life and liberty. God did give man the ability to enjoy pleasure, but contrary to the Declaration, it’s not the reason we live. Therefore, limiting our diet to it, as Jesus disciples us in stewardship is a good thing. However, pleasure and fun is not a bad thing, and since we are made to have it, a good financial plan should include it.
Lie 1: Christians aren’t supposed to have fun
Some Christians can’t have fun or enjoyment, because they just don’t think Christians are supposed to. If they do, some feel guilty, for enjoying earthly pleasures. Somehow they think good things can only be experienced within the confines of the church building, or doing religious activities. Many Christians attach negative attitudes towards marital sex, entertainment, and just having simple fun.
Truth 1: God designed up to enjoy pleasure. God thoughtfully desired to bless us with 5 senses to enjoy his creation: taste, smell, touch, sight, and hearing. He created sex, thought, imagination, love and a full range of emotions and feelings. All of these mysteries that we can experience in our body, most fully in moral boundaries that he erected to give us pleasure, and a lot of times without spending much money. God is truly amazing.
Put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment (1 Tim 6:17b)
Truth 2: God created everything for our enjoyment. God provided creation for us to enjoy, that is why there is nothing better than to be outside in a woods, walking through a park or strolling down the fairway at the golf course, staring up at the sky during a warm summer evening, and sledding down a hill on a frosty day. Being in nature is one of the most nurturing things we can do for our souls, especially if we’ve left things behind like Smartphones.
Truth 3: Jesus is the abundant life and not things. Jesus indicates the “abundant life” is (John 10:10) through life with him and not stuff. He talked about the fruit of life, with him: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5).” Examples of the fruit we get to enjoy are “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” These rich blessings are available to anyone regardless of the amount of money they have, also come with eternal life (John 3:16), the Holy Spirit (John 14:26), and all that he brings. Jesus even promised that he will provide for our needs (Matthew 6:33). Focusing on these things, helps us to let go of anxiety and worries, giving us a joyful light heart.
Lie 2: You can’t have fun unless you have a lot of money
While writing this section, I checked my Facebook status, and front and center was a picture of a friend from high school and brother in the faith. He and his bikini clad wife are staring back at me from a boat in Cancun. Next to him, I believe are his daughters, all tanned, with 14 Amberjack fish they just caught in the foreground. They are smiling, and holding beverages. Meanwhile I sit in Columbus Ohio, during a late day in March with temperatures in the 40’s and rain. It’s pictures like this that people envision when they think of having real fun. This is a lie, life can be good everyday.
One day when I was about 16 years old I had a conversation with a fairly wealthy man, the father of a high school acquaintance. This was a good family, and we had a lot of fun together snow skiing in Aspen and water skiing on lakes. As I recall the conversation, he me that having an enjoyable life involved making good money, and being able to have a lot of fun. 35 years ago I still recall this conversation, because over time I have struggled with what he said, what I thought, and how I think now. I wasn’t a believer in Christ then, but I knew at the time something didn’t ring true about this. Many people believe this way that they have to endure less than enjoyable work, in order to have fun on the weekend. Christians often fall into this same trap of equating enjoyment to money, and more enjoyment to more money.
Truth 4: Simple pleasures have the best memories. Another truth is that when you look back at your life and the wonderful experiences you’ve had, great vacations, trips to Disneyland, and flying down the reservoir in a boat, the best memories are nothing like that at all. My best memories of growing up were simple times, requiring very little money, having home-made Chef Boyardee pizza at a birthday party, laughing so hard milk came out of my nose. Simple get togethers around my daughter and son-in-law’s backyard fire, acting silly, with my wife as she rolls her eyes as I howl at the moon. Fun is a state of mind, and you can have fun driving down the road, just laughing at the silliness of crazy drivers. I think Jesus in part wants us to be more childlike enjoying simple pleasures when he told us “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3)
Truth 5: There are a lot of things, to do that cost little to no money. In almost every community there are plenty of free concerts, libraries full of books, music and movies to borrow. TV has proven to decrease people’s happiness. We fool ourselves thinking that it is relaxing, but it really drains people more than it gives life. My wife and I reduced our viewing to a few hours per week, and replaced it with listening to free internet radio through our low-cost home internet radio audio system. Our attitudes have remarkably improved. We can listen to endless legal free music, something we really enjoy doing as we read. Music, the arts, museums, zoos and discount movie theaters provide us with a lot of low-cost entertainment options.
Truth 6: Include in your budget items for fun and enjoyment. Even if your finances are really tight, make sure that you plan some money for simple things, within reason. This might include eating out, movies, inexpensive concerts, and nice food that you buy for a really nice home cooked meal. However, when you add up your entertainment expenses for the month include cable TV, as well as monthly costs for Smartphones. When we go to a restaurant to eat, or spend money on a vacation that we have budgeted for, it’s so much more enjoyable. In the past we might charge it, and have no idea what’s going on in our budget, so something intended for fun didn’t feel as enjoyable. Now when we spend on these budgeted fun things, it seems more enjoyable.
Truth 7: Community is one of the greatest sources of joy. Some of the happiest people on the planet are those that live in poor crowded communities, research has proven this. God has created us as relational beings, who are most happy when in we live in community with friends. Americans isolate themselves in their homes filled with toys, and man caves. Our personal castles, that become shrines unto ourselves. We hide behind curtains; confine outdoor activities to backyard decks with perfect ‘don’t step on the grass’ moats out front.
So I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them under the sun (Ecclesiastes 8:15 NLT).
The “Preacher” of Ecclesiastes tells us that one of the most enjoyable things humans can do, is to have a great meal and beverages, with your friends. This is one of simple but potentially most fun thing humans can do. Make it a goal to have a least one really great meal at home each week, and invite people over to enjoy it with you. Stay up late playing games, snack on things you don’t normally eat, and celebrate life.
Lie 3: God will not bless me with good things in the future
This post is titled the lies we believe, why we can’t have fun today, but this lie works in the inverse, thinking we’ll never have fun, so we have to splurge today. I’ve had people tell me they don’t believe God will ever bless them with what they want. Sometimes they joke saying they might die before good things happen, so they have to live for today.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).
Picture yourself online getting ready to book a cruise in the Caribbean, and your finger is hovering over the complete purchase button. Maybe you are in the auto dealership getting ready to buy a car that you can barely afford. You’re starting to come to your senses, and you hesitate. Then you hear this voice, “I’m going to do this, if I wait on God he’ll never bless me with this. Who knows what tomorrow holds, I’m going to do this today!” The truth is God has a lot of good in store for you in the future, but don’t make a bad decision today and mess up some future blessings he might have in store for you tomorrow.
Truth 8, you can have fun today, but not at the expense of tomorrow’s. I love the saying of Dave Ramsey: “Live like no one else, so that you can live like no one else.” Essentially this says that we can avoid some stupid financial mistakes today, so that in the future you will have more money and can afford to some things that those who kept living stupidly, won’t then be able to do. This is the truth, and there are a lot of things you can do, for little to no money that have been just covered.
Lie 4: There’s no fun or joy until all problems are resolved
Do you hope someday that you won’t have any problems so that you can finally enjoy life? I have bad news for you; this side of heaven that day will never come. Good spiritual and mental health requires the ability to enjoy life in the middle of stress and chaotic seasons of life many of us are in. Don’t get caught in the in the ‘if only trap.’ If only I had more money, I could afford to make my problems go away. If only this or that problem went away, then I could enjoy life. America seems to be increasingly full of OCD fanatics. People that are mild or severe Obsessive Compulsive Disordered people who demand perfection, and total order and they can’t relax unless everything is just so.
Life is hard and for many people things just haven’t worked out the way we always dreamed they would. When we were children we imagined the perfect marriage, beautiful house, beautiful spouse and kids, perfect body, sexual satisfaction, great successful spouse, and successful career with a lot of money. Some people never figured they might have challenging marriages, singlehood, bad economy; mismatched career or health challenges would come their way. People never imagined the mistakes they made, and the regrets they now have. Some people think you can’t be happy now that life has worked out the way it has.
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me (1 Cor 13:11).
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).
Adulthood is waking up to the fact that not all of life’s dreams will work out. We will have troubles. Christian maturity is accepting this, and not blaming your spouse, others or God. It is not living in a constant state of being mad and bitter, it is accepting things for what they are today.
Truth 9: Life will never be perfect. If you peel back the veneer on life, scratch beneath the surface of your perfectly clean house and facade, you are a mess. We all are, so welcome to the club. I’m a mess, you’re a mess, and everyone around you is mess. You can quit pretending everything is okay, on your way to a perfect life. Perfectionists can relax too, there’s always going to be one more mess to clean up, thing to paint, and car that needs its oil changed. I’m not saying to let it all go, and live in squalor, but let it all go your attitude of perfection or absence of problems goal. It’s never going to happen, no matter how hard you try, life sometimes just sucks.
Dr. Leo Buscaglia told an interesting story during a lecture I once attended that really caught my attention, and has spoken to me for years, even though he died in 1998 it continues to inspire me. I recall this author and motivational speaker telling a story from his childhood, where many of his stories come from. In this particular real life event, his father came home from work, after finding out they were financially destitute, because the business partner took all of the money and bankrupted the business. Leo’s mother’s response was to celebrate life. She cooked up a big meal, and they enjoyed the blessing of the day. There is a clue to happy life imbedded in that story.
I was let go from my dream job 2 days after Christmas 2006. My wife and I stood in the kitchen hugging, crying, repenting and forgiving. Yes, they recruited me from a high paying secure corporate position with great benefits, and after a few days, told me the last ten people they hired for that position didn’t work out either. So we dreamt of the future of what God had in store for us, and we had a great meal together, just like Leo’s family did decades ago. It’s been hard, but we got through it, and I am happier now than ever. Yes life sucks sometimes, but forgive and move on. We don’t appreciate the good times, unless we’ve gone through bad seasons.
Lie 5: The advertising and media messages are right
Culture’s voice can never be silenced, and is always calling out, and interfering with your thoughts about the things money touches. The advertising world is constantly screaming out to us why we aren’t satisfied, or worse how insufficient, ugly and unhappy everyone is. Of course they do that making us want to buy their thirst quenching products. Advertising is everywhere, we are constantly being drowned in it, either on our Smartphone, internet, TV, radio, and on about any kind of property that advertising space can be purchased on. Even the end of the gas pump handle, park bench, car bumper and shopping carts are adorned with some kind of advertisement. Remember truth number 9, you are a mess on the inside. You can buy something that will medicate the truth, or cover it up so that people might not see it, but in the end, you’ll probably be less happy and have less money, so don’t buy into the lies.
Lie 6: You have to earn and deserve enjoyment
Many Christians have difficulty enjoying life. Often they are consumed by worrying about earning God’s blessings, or if they are anxious and worry about being Christian enough to justify receiving good things from God. Many Christians live with a perennial cloud over their head, believing that they just can’t be happy until God blesses them. Some Christians even believe they are under some kind of condemnation, and God doesn’t want them to be happy, because of something that they’ve done, or has been done to them.
Truth 10: You are God’s beloved. You are deeply loved, richly gifted, forgiven, highly favored, and abundantly blessed. You are the righteousness of God: when God looks at us, he sees us through Jesus, and we are completely accepted and clothed in Jesus’ righteousness. These are great things, and can’t be purchased or earned. God may bless us more if we obey him, but at the core, we are loved because of who God is. At the end of the day, the things you buy will never satisfy or fulfill you like Jesus will.
Lie 7: All I do is work, I can only enjoy weekends and look forward to retirement
Going to work everyday for many people is hard, how can you endure it, and not have it eat you alive? You might be wondering how to endure and not be that person that walks around with a cloud around your head every day. This is a real problem for the Christian in the workplace.
People yearn for relief, and an end to it all. They can’t wait until the weekend, vacation, and ultimately retirement, when they don’t have to work. The time away from work is when we can enjoy life, the rest of it is drudgery. The truth be known though, is that we were created for work in the garden, and we will be working in the eternal kingdom. We have programmed our minds to think that work is that thing we do in between having fun. While writing about this lie, I got up to over one thousand words. There’s just not enough space in this context here to provide a satisfying explanation, so I’ll reserve this for the next blog post, but here are a few things to chew on in the meantime:
Truth 11: We can have joy while enduring. This is perhaps one of the hardest things for us to grasp and learn how to do. Work might not be satisfying, fulfilling and embracing our passions, but we can be joyful in our work. The keys to doing this are: learning to be content during good times and bad. Being thankful for whatever you have, knowing that your blessings are rich in Jesus. It helps me to remember that even minimum standards of living in America are 95% better than the rest of the world. The following Bible verse is a great one to chew on, maybe read before heading off to work everyday.
Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men; knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve (Col 3:23-24).