Latest update: March 5th, 2012
One of the most important ways a couple can manage money together is to learn the art of contentment. We have already discussed how making a budget can be a very simple way to start saving money. The insights that can be gained from making a budget are helpful, but in truth the best way to save money is one that is not so simple. That’s because the best way is change the way we think, so that we are consistently focused on saving instead of spending, and are content with what we already possess.
To develop the right mindset, be aware of your thoughts in regards to money and possessions. When you catch yourself thinking like a spender (“I must get a new car”), replace it with a saver’s thought (“Why not wait until I can afford it?”), even if it seems hard to do. Eventually, thinking like a saver will become natural, and it will be difficult to remember what it was like to be a spender.
Developing a saver’s mindset takes time and discipline, but one attitude that I have found most helpful is contentment. Learning to appreciate what you have — however little or much it is — helps you to want less. When you want less, it’s easier to spend less. When you are content with what you already have, you can go into a store to buy something you need, and not even be tempted to make an impulse purchase.
Contentment isn’t something you can learn by following a certain method, however, when you are feeling discontent, there are a few things you can do to help change your attitude. For example, make a list of what you have — not just material things, but also non-material things such as friendships and positive personal qualities. You may be surprised by how wealthy you are. Spend some time looking through items you have put in storage (or buried in your closets), and you may find a number of things to fill your current desires.
You can also cultivate contentment when you are shopping by looking at those items you are tempted to buy and comparing them to similar items you already own. Would this new dress, couch, vase, etc., be a significant and materially different addition to your possessions or would it be redundant? Think about the last time you made an impulse buy. Was the satisfaction you received worth the price you paid? If not, why would this item be different? If you still want to make the purchase, consider whether you would you use the item until it wears out or whether you would tire of it quickly. When you start to recognize that certain items provide only temporary satisfaction, you will be less likely to give up money in exchange for them.
Learning to be content with what you have is not an easy process, but it is well worth the effort. Once you have learned contentment, saving will become much easier because you will have little trouble saying no to unnecessary expenses. Soon, your savings rate will only rival your level of appreciation for life!
Contentment is not something that’s found; it is an attitude. There are many people who seemingly have very little, yet feel content. Then there are others who are affluent, their houses, cars and clothing are the envy of the community, and yet they sometimes still feel unfulfilled.
Most people realize that money can’t buy contentment. Contentment, contrary to popular opinion, does not mean being satisfied where you are. Rather, contentment is knowing that Hashem has a plan for your life.
Very often we get so involved in the day-to-day activities of earning a living and raising a family that we forget our real purpose in life: to serve Hashem. Then we discover that our lives are out of balance and we don’t know how to restore harmony. This results in a kind of seesaw approach of buying and disposing of material possessions to find the right balance. However, this approach will not work.
In today’s society it’s not normal to step down. Once a person has attained a certain level of income, spending, and lifestyle, most will go into debt in order to maintain that level. Stepping down to an affordable level is considered failure. Yet, contentment can’t be achieved without personal discipline and staying within the lifestyle the Torah has established for you.
The Torah instructs us that money is a tool to use in accomplishing His plan through us. If we are to find true contentment we must establish some basic guidelines:
Establish a reasonable standard of living. It is important to develop a lifestyle based on conviction, not circumstances. On whatever level Hashem has placed you, live within the economic parameters established and supplied by Him.
Prioritize. Many people feel discontented – not because they aren’t doing well but because others are doing better. Too often we look at what we don’t have and become dissatisfied and discontented, rather than thanking Hashem for what we do have and being content with what He has supplied.
Develop an attitude of hakaras ha’tov. It is remarkable that living in America we could ever think that Hashem has failed us materially. That attitude is possible only when we give in to the tendency to compare ourselves to others. The primary defense against this attitude is to thank Hashem for what we have. Thankfulness is a state of mind, not an accumulation of assets.
In Tehillim (Psalms) 100 it says, “Serve G-d with joy and contentment.” This statement expresses the principle of living with joy and contentment. Dovid HaMelech (King David) was defining the standard of our relationship with G-d. He was referring to the feelings one should have when offering the Todah or Thanksgiving offering. The Thanksgiving offering symbolizes a person’s desire to be near to G-d, and his realization that he lacks for anything. This is one reason Psalm 100 was incorporated into our daily morning prayers. Our rabbis expected that each of us would prepare for our encounter with G-d (Amidah – Shemoneh Esrei) by praising Him for the opportunities of life, regardless of life’s seeming difficulties and inconsistencies. By expressing the contentment and joy contained in the Psalm, which begins with the words, “A song of thanksgiving,” our mindset and focus would be proper for addressing G-d.
Being content with one’s portion is an age-old Jewish concern. In the book of Proverbs, we read, “A joyful heart makes a cheerful face; A sad heart makes a despondent mood. All the days of a poor person are wretched, but contentment is a feast without end.” (Proverbs 15:13 and 15)
To be truly joyful with one’s lot in life is wise advice. It is a wonderful way to live, but how easy is it to adopt this attitude? How many of us are truly satisfied with our portion? How do we recognize our own good fortune? All around us, the world advertises the goods and services we all seem to “need.” Our world is characterized by material acquisition, and to paraphrase a popular game show, “Who ‘wouldn’t’ want to be a millionaire?”
This is the challenge: balancing what we need and what we want in order to become samayach b’chelko – satisfied with our portion. Happiness does not come through the acquisition of material possessions, nor from the acquisition of skills and knowledge. It comes through being content with what we have.
As we look at the entire picture of managing money together, couples who balance their power structure, budget their finances periodically, and learn the art of contentment, have the greatest chance of sharing a satisfying relationship and living beyond the moment. Next week, Part 26, Relating to your In-laws
Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, is the Executive Director of Shalom Task Force and author of a “First Aid for Jewish Marriages.” To order a copy, visit www.JewishMarriageSupport.com. For more information about Shalom Task Force, please visit www.shalomtaskforce.org. You can e-mail questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author: Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, Marriage and Family Therapy, is an expert in marriage counseling, pre-marital education, and helping teens in crisis with offices in Flatbush, Cedarhurst, and Crown Heights. He is a certified PAIRS instructor, and trained as a Level 1, Emotionally Focused Therapist at the Ackerman Institute for the Family, and is a member of AASECT. He is the author of At Risk – Never Beyond Reach and First Aid For Jewish Marriages. To watch his free videos on marriage and parenting and for appointments visit: www.JewishMarriageSupport.com or call 646-428-4723
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