It often seems as if our hard earned money is going out into the hands of big named brands more so than staying in our bank accounts. Why? Well for starters, we live in a world that encourages us to spend, spend, spend. In addition to that, there is social media, which is now the ultimate breeding ground for major advertisers to post ads that will entice users to buy the latest fads or trends.
It can be hard not to hit that ‘buy now’ button when you stumble upon a cool ad on your Instagram feed, or when one of your favorite influencers has posted something that catches your eye. Thus, overspending becomes the norm in our society where many people are addicted to getting more things instead of working with what they already have. This idea of materialism can wreck havoc upon the average individual who may be struggling with poverty, covetousness and low self-esteem. Once entangled in the vicious cycle of needing to spend money in order to be happy, it can be quite difficult for one to come out of this mindset.
The symptoms of materialism
Materialism is often revealed through several prominent behaviors and/or motives that can cause many to fall in a never-ending cycle of overspending. Let’s start with impulse shopping. Impulse shopping occurs when one is constantly feeling the urge to buy something and acting on it, even if it’s something that one clearly doesn’t need. This behavior can be addictive and very damaging to one’s financial and mental health.
I have personally struggled with impulse shopping, especially during my young adolescent phase, because I believed that buying things like the latest fashions would make me happy and would allow me to fit in with others. However, the only thing that impulse shopping had done for me was leave me with a maxed out credit card and a warped perception of self-worth. And on top of that, I still didn’t fit in, LOL! So, if you are finding yourself constantly buying things to compensate for your lack of happiness or self-worth, it is safe to say that you have fallen in the trap of materialism.
Next, there is the motive of spending money to appear more well-off than one actually is, which many refer to as keeping up with the Joneses. This goes along with wanting to fit in with a certain group or class of people, but it can also go a little bit deeper than that. Wanting to appear wealthier by seeking to accumulate material things usually comes from a place of lack or feeling ashamed of being in poverty. Society doesn’t hold back on letting people know that being poor is not something to be proud of. It makes you feel as if having money or things will get you the respect that you desire or deserve. But sadly, that is often not the case. Even when one does get to a point of having an abundance of money or material possessions, it still doesn’t guarantee that one will receive genuine love and respect from others. In fact, things can become quite superficial, especially when people are only apt to connect with others based on material possessions and social status.
Lastly, using material things to gain a sense of control or authority over others is another major motive related to materialism. This too relates to the idea of wanting to be respected by others, but it can get to an extreme level when one looks to be worshipped because of one’s material possessions or social class. Materialism overall can be considered idol worship as it almost always indicates placing an attachment to accumulating things over praising and worshipping God. But some who fall prey to a materialistic mindset can develop a ‘God complex’ where they see themselves as above everyone else—-even over God Himself! They have this idea that buying high-end houses, cars, designer clothing and other luxurious items affords them the title ‘king’ or ‘queen,’ and those who fail to have access to such things are merely peasants amongst their imaginary kingdom. When someone develops this extremely prideful way of thinking, he or she has definitely caught the materialism bug, which will ultimately leads to his or her destruction.
Spiritual outlook on materialism
The process of developing a relationship with God often involves denying or separating ourselves from the things of this world, including our attachment to people and material things. During my wilderness journey, where I learned to have faith and trust God for all of my needs, I lost almost everything I had, including close relationships, my job, money, and I was even led to give away much of my possessions.
Surely, God does not require that we become impoverished in order to build a relationship with Him. But for me, the LORD was purging me of idol worship and from the belief that I needed certain things or people to maintain a fulfilling life. I became too comfortable with measuring my self-worth to what I owned and the relationships I had with others. So God had decrease my resources to get me to understand that my identity was not based on my ownership of things but was found through Jesus Christ. My walk with Jesus Christ helped me to identify and be set free from the root cause of my problem with materialism, in which I no longer placed my focus on wanting to buy the latest fads to feel good about myself, but put all of my energy into seeking the kingdom of God.
9 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.Matthew 6:19-21
The obsession with buying and storing up things for one’s own personal pleasure is also a sign of greed. With greediness, one is wrestling with the fear of lack. This is where a person will continuously strive to obtain as much as he or she can in order to avoid being without something, or to keep from feeling left out. It’s a like a hamster wheel where the hamster keeps running around the wheel and never gets to a specific point or destination. Similarly, one may continue to run around the wheel of striving to obtain more money or objects to fill an empty void, but even when obtaining these things, he or she is never satisfied.
The Parable of the Rich Fool
The Parable of the Rich Fool in Luke chapter 12 gives a great depiction of how one can fall into materialism because of greed and idolization of one’s possessions. It says:
15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”Luke 12:13-31 NIV
This parable is relevant today because many of us are focused on how we can preserve and gather more resources, whether its through maintaining savings and retirement accounts, seeking investments, or buying more houses, cars, or other things, even though we cannot take any of things with us when we die. Nevertheless, like stated previously, God does not demand that we forgo these things in order to follow Him. He knows that many of these things are actually necessary for our comfort or survival. But it is the obsession and love of these things that will keep us from totally surrendering ourselves to Him. Overall, it is important for us to remember that we cannot make money or objects our god and believe we can serve the one true God, Yahweh, too. Materialism will have one lose sight of this, where one’s priorities are pointed towards possessions than serving God.
Helpful ways to overcome materialism and overspending
Materialism can create bad spending habits that will leave you broke and struggling to stay afloat financially. Here are a few practical ways to combat materialism and overspending so that you can sustain better financial health:
- Identify your ‘needs’ versus your ‘wants’– When dealing with materialism, it can be difficult to suppress the urge to buy things that you don’t need. Write a list of your wants and needs and make effort to prioritize your necessities, such as food, water, utilities, gas, health and personal care items over things that you want (like buying that new dress on sale). You may even reason with yourself that buying something that you want is indeed necessary because you have convinced yourself that you can’t be without it. If you find that you are struggling with this mindset, it may be wise to seek professional help to get down to the underlining cause of you compulsion to spend. This could be a sign of depression/anxiety that is ramping up, causing you to nurse your feelings or wounds with material things.
- Consider the quality of the things you buy -Another way to combat materialism is to consider the quality of things that you buy. Do you have the habit of buying things because it’s at a discounted price, on sale, or you have a coupon for it? Sure it’s an awesome feeling to buy something you like for a fraction of the price. But was the item even worth buying in the first place? Check out the quality of the items you are buying, even if it’s at cheaper price, because you may be investing in something that will only last for a very short while. Quantity does not guarantee quality.
- Learning to budget your resources – Budgeting is not something that you may want to hear when your heart is set on buying that shinny new item. But budgeting is an act of discipline and is absolutely necessary if you you want to keep more of your hard-earned money in your pocket. Use your ‘wants versus needs’ list to create an expense or budget plan that will help you to organize where most of your money should be going. Also, finding a trustworthy accountability partner or financial adviser who is great with managing money can help you to better save or invest your financial resources. You may not want to hear it, but having a counter perspective is helpful in keeping you from spiraling down a hole of unnecessary financial problems.
- Be grateful and resourceful with things you already have – Now this is a good one! Being grateful with what you already have goes a long way in keeping yourself grounding and firm in how you manage your resources. There may be plenty of items around you home or in your closet that can be repurposed for something new or become multifaceted. This can help stretch that money in your piggy bank, especially when you are strapped for cash. Most importantly, gratitude is a way to give God thanks for supplying all of your needs. Reflect upon a time when you were struggling or praying for something and God came through with a solution to your problem. Thinking about those moments will help you to see how blessed you already are and that your fear of lack or the feeling of not wanting to be left out is unwarranted.
While breaking free from a bad habit or mindset such as materialism is not an easy thing to do, it is something that can be accomplished with determination and guidance from the Holy Spirit of God. It is not an overnight process that one will overcome such a debilitating way of thinking. And it doesn’t help that our society encourages this on a day-to-day basis. But seeking God and taking practical measures to maintain self-control in how you manage your resources can be very effective in unraveling the attachment to material possessions, which is either driven by the fear of lack, low self-worth or greed.