“There is no end of craving. Hence contentment alone is the best way to happiness. Therefore, acquire contentment.” - Swami Sivananda
So I was listening to a bunch of debt-free screams on the Dave Ramsey Show today in my car while driving back from acupuncture. Dave often asks the callers what the hardest part of their journey was or what was their "key" to getting out of debt. There are lots of common answers... learning to say "no," sticking to a budget, working together with your spouse, for example. As I'm listening to these callers, I'm always imagining what the hub and I will say when we finally get to call in and scream. I think the hardest part and the easiest part -and certainly the most necessary part - of our debt-free mission is the monthly budget. But at the heart of it, I think the real key for us has been finding true contentment.
I've had satisfaction and contentment in my head a lot lately as the Beth Moore study I'm doing (with my girls' small group) is focusing this week on finding ultimate satisfaction in God. So I really have to credit God with my ability to be so content with where we are and what we have. You'll constantly see me joking about the decisions "old me" would've made versus the "new me." Because my world focus is so different than it was two years ago. You can see it spelled out in my blog... thumb back through my content from the first year or so and there's a lot of jibber jabber about shopping and the latest and greatest hot new item that I'm wanting. But over these last 24 months, you'll have to do a fair amount of digging to find much of anything devoted to shopping. Simply because I've barely been shopping in the last two years! I mean, seriously... you remember my shopping tally from 2009? As in total dollars spent shopping for myself? $45.57. Old me would've spent that much in a skinny minute on a random Tuesday afternoon without blinking.
I honestly can only point to God's intervention when it comes to my learning how to say NO. I've said it a million times, but when we made the decision as husband and wife to turn our finances around, get on a budget, and do this money thing the right way, we didn't look back. It was not an overnight success. It was very hard. But month after month, I began to trust God more and more and more. I could see him working and my faith got bigger. And somewhere along the way, saying NO was no longer hard to do. I'm not sure where exactly along the road it happened, but I'm just not at all tempted by new and shiny things anymore... whether they be shoes or furniture or cars or anything.
I think this change happened for several reasons. First, through this process, we've really learned the value of the dollar. We do all of our discretionary spending in cash. As in dollar bills. We do this because (a) we've found it's the only way to really stick to the budget and (b) when you use cash, it hurts more, so you therefore spend less. (This has been scientifically proven and is also, on the flip side, why fast food joints started taking cards.) Handing over cold hard cash is a lot harder than swiping a card. You can bet your britches I know my total before I get to the cash register, no matter where I am.
The second reason I think I've really found contentment is the fact that the hub and I are so focused on our goals. We constantly have our eye on the prize. Our debt snowball is taped to our bathroom mirror. It's there every day, staring us in the face. Dave said, "When something is important to you, you will move Heaven and earth to make it happen." Well, this is the most important thing to us right now - becoming debt-free. So spending money on things like shoes, which I already have a million of, seems ridiculous and I'm not even tempted. In fact many things I used to find so much value in somehow made their way over to ebay. I've learned that cash in my pocket is better.
The funny thing is, after two years of learning to rewire my thinking, I now have a hard time shopping when I actually do have money to spend. Whereas before, any little trinket that caught my eye would do... now it's a very well thought out process. Lots of weighing opportunity cost. OK, I've only got this $50... I've got to make it count! And don't you know I'll stretch that $50 as far as humanly possible. We set aside some money for the hub to get some new clothes for his new job this month. It felt SO weird to be shopping. Not a guilty feeling, just weird. Unfamiliar. And the way we approach a shopping trip is so vastly different than it was before.
But whether we can afford to shop in a given month or not, I must say that true contentment is nothing short of priceless. More now than ever, I realize chasing after the latest "must-have" item never truly satisfies. Solomon had it right... it's all so "meaningless." But don't get me wrong, girls... there's nothing wrong with shopping till you drop. If you've got the cash, go for it! There will be a day when I'll be back at it - rest assured! I never stopped loving "stuff." But don't go chasing contentment in a shopping bag. You won't find it there.
I've learned and am still learning that only God and God alone can truly satisfy. And this is the biggest and best reason that I've embraced real contentment. Instead of looking in my closet, or at my friends, or the Joneses, I'm looking up. This whole money makeover we've been doing the last couple of years has been more of a spiritual journey than a financial one. Of course it is greatly financial, but through this process our hearts have been changed. We're content. We're able to make sacrifices today more easily because we're on our way somewhere better. And that's where God is really doing his work.
And just for laughs on my way out, here's an old favorite SNL skit. Dave always plays this before his Live Event. It's hilarious because it's true...
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