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How Healthy is Your Financial Environment?

October 1, 2019

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. ~ Romans 12:1-2

I’m sure it isn’t news to you that there’s a global epidemic of obesity. What’s to blame? In part, it’s our “food environment,” according to Andy Bellatti, cofounder of Dieticians for Professional Integrity. “Unhealthy foods are cheaper and they’re everywhere,” he said. “If you go to any store, you can buy a candy bar at the checkout but not a piece of fruit.”

In a similar way, our financial environment impacts our use of money, often in unhealthy ways. Here are some aspects of our financial environment we can do something about.

What to Decrease

Marketing lists. How many of the last 20 emails you received were promotions? Companies such as Groupon can be helpful in saving money, but they can also lead to financial death by discount if they tempt you to overspend.

What to do? If the number of promotional emails you receive is prompting you to spend more than you should, unsubscribe from most, if not all, of those marketers’ lists.

Time on social media. Regularly taking in the highlight reels of our friends’ lives can be hazardous to our financial health, according to Sarah Fallaw. She’s the daughter of the late Thomas Stanley, author of The Millionaire Next Door. She says “social indifference” is an important key to building wealth. “… those who ignore trends have higher net worth, regardless of their age, income and percentage of wealth that they inherited. Building wealth means ignoring what others are doing.”

What to do? Limit the time you spend on social media. Or set an example for using social media more constructively, such as asking questions to foster dialogue and community.

Time on other media. Boston College Sociologist Julie Schor has found that the more TV people watch, the less they save. And it isn’t just due to the impact of advertising messages. It’s exposure to the unrealistically expensive lifestyles of the people featured in the programs.

What to do? Take your cable package down a notch so you have less reason to watch, or make it less convenient to watch by moving your television to a less prominent part of your house.

What to Increase

Positive financial role models. Some of the early friends I made after I became a Christian and started turning my financial life around had—and continue to have—a big impact on me. They are people who live well within their means. The people we spend time with shape us in ways we don’t fully appreciate—either positively or negatively.

What to do? Start to notice people who are living differently—keeping cars longer than most people do; enjoying simpler, less expensive activities; and generally living more modestly. Get together with them and let them know that in a world of overspending they stand out for keeping things real. They probably won’t mind talking about it.

Time in God’s Word. This is the single most proactive thing we can do to travel each day through our consumer culture with our sanity and financial solvency intact.

What to do? Take to heart the apostle Paul’s warning not to worship and serve created things instead of the Creator (Romans 1:25). Remember Jesus’ exhortation that “life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). And keep in mind that it’s the better part of wisdom to maintain a reserve (Proverbs 21:20).

Memorizing Scripture creates something of an internal gyroscope, which helps us stay true to our values as we get bombarded by messages aimed at pulling us off course.

What other steps have you taken in order to shape your financial environment in constructive ways?

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