I've always been a bit of a cheapskate. It's not that I don't like luxury. I enjoy sheets that are soft enough to polish your sunglasses with and food that looks too pretty to eat just as much as the next guy (ask my wife).
I don't hate luxury. It's just the luxury, by definition, is not practical. It rushes beyond utility and tops it with the whipped cream and cherry of outlandish comfort. When I experience lavishness, I appreciate it, but I rarely expend my resources to achieve it.*
There are just too many useful things to spend money on. In essence, I try to prod myself with the same argument your mom used when you were little. You know, the thing about the starving kids in Ethiopia who would've loved a bite of that spaghetti you didn't finish or those Brussels sprouts you couldn't stomach.
So I walk the line between staying frugal and becoming miserly. In America, frugality is an anomaly, looked upon as old-fashioned and quaint as the world whizzes by - on your computer monitor and TV screen, in your magazine - with the latest in fashion and gadgetry. I love gadgets, so it's easy to get caught up in consumerism's storm.
But as I've gotten older and seen how much responsibility costs, I've learned that the people with the toys aren't always the ones with the real wealth. In fact, they're usually compensating for some emotional shortfall. I see this in myself sometimes. We want approval, love, affection, value, and we buy the lies that lead us to buy the things we're told will fulfill these needs.
To many people, money is an adversary, something they fight with daily, work for constantly, desire incessantly and in some cases, idolize. Not that I've achieved freedom from worry about it, but I've resolved that I'll do everything I can to make money a tool, something I master so that it works for me, not the other way around.
I'm a long way from doing this, so please don't hear arrogance in what I'm saying. I'm only 24 years old, so maybe I'm a bit naive, still blinded to bitter reality by the lingering euphoria of a steady paycheck even two years out of college.
My goal, though, is that money will not be a hindrance to my desire to live out my faith and life in a way that goes beyond the status quo, the humdrum monotony we all find ourselves resigning to if we let daily life erode our resistence to it.
Three books I've read in the last few months create a sort of rough guide to doing this. Interestingly enough, though they're books that have to do almost entirely with what Christians would call "secular" concerns, they've impacted the way I look at faith in the context of American life and have stoked the embers of adventure in my heart:
1. Embrace the millionaire paradox - According to The Millionaire Next Door, you don't need to have a trust fund to break into the exclusive top class of wealthy Americans. You need to be innovative, dedicated, hard-working, and have an instinct that is paradoxical in our society: You must be willing to relinquish present luxury for future security. In the words of money guru Dave Ramsey, that means living like no one else so you can live like no one else. If you cut back now, you'll be riding high later, while everyone around you is digging out of the pit they created.
2. Boost your productivity and utilize the mobility and potential for wealth creation that the 21st-century world provides - One of my favorite things about The 4-Hour Workweek is that author Tim Ferriss doesn't set out to make you a member of what he calls the "new rich" solely so you can lounge beside the ocean somewhere and drink mai tais. His ideal is activity - enjoyable and useful activity. He seeks to remove the time constraints and monetary hindrances that keep us from living the lives we want. His solution? Using carefully laid out techniques, you can boost productivity, automate income, escape 9-5 labor, and spend time on what makes you happy and the world a better place.
3. Protect what you've achieved from impending calamity - Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life is hot off the presses. It's purveyed as author Neil Strauss' all-around guide to getting a second citizenship and creating a sort of offshore backup life to protect yourself from the calamity that befall you or your assets in the world of Y2k, ethnic conflict, terrorism, nuclear launch buttons, failing banks and shrinking civil liberties. I'm halfway through it (220 pages in one day), and I now realize that it's more of a personal narrative of how Strauss did this, which is better than a guide, in my opinion. In addition to being well written and very entertaining, the book brings up a lot of issues about America and how we're perceived around the world. Even those of us who aren't paranoid yet can learn a lot about preparation from reading it.
And there you have it, a three-book course on evading the status quo, mostly with regard to money, the tool that makes the world go 'round.
*By this I mean, beyond the luxuries and conveniences that are incumbent in American life. By no means am I taking these for granted.