Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Musings about money

Why is money - having it, earning it, spending it - such a big deal?

I guess that not having money, but being used to having a certain standard of living, has created a certain amount of stress in my life. So I've found myself pondering this question a lot recently, no doubt helped along by the fact that some of our friends seem to be able to buy things we will never be able to afford, and that I can't quite figure out how they afford them either.

If we truly believed that God would provide for all our needs, we would not need to worry about salaries or income or sensible expenditure. Yet we worry, and we buy private health care and car insurance and life insurance.

If we truly believed that WHO and WHAT we are is more important than how we look, or what we wear, or what status symbols we have, we wouldn't worry about those things. Yet, we worry, and so we dress a certain way, try to keep up with the Jones' or buy the latest gadget (I personally want a Wii, iPod, flat screen monitor, wide screen TV, DVD recorder, decent hi-fi/ home entertainment centre, etc, etc, etc), or feel a compulsive urge to hoard our STUFF.

Obviously, we don't believe these things. We tell ourselves we do. We talk the talk, but we don't walk the walk. I don't want to buy into the commercialism of Christmas, but should anyone suggest that we stop giving Christmas presents in order to focus on the real reason for Christmas, I might just be forced to dunk that individual's head in a toilet, or wash their mouth out with soap. I WANT PRESENTS. I don't care that we can't afford Christmas this year. I'll happily max out my credit card. I WANT PRESENTS. Plus, I like buying presents for the people I love - trying to find something that will really make them smile, make them feel special, make them feel treasured (which is usually how I feel when I get a present, the exception being when I can see it's just a present for the sake of a present and that very little thought has gone into the gift - unless the gift is money, then that rule no longer applies!!)

I want the nice house with the nice car and a maid (even if it's only once a week)and a gardener and all the trappings of middle class living. I can't afford any of this, but it doesn't stop me wanting it, or envying those who have it.

Indeed, the love of money is the root of all evil. If I spent half the amount of time I've spent thinking about money (how to earn more in particular) praying instead, I think my life would be a hell of a lot better.

Just this morning, as I drove to work, I was thinking about how much I bemoan the lack of money in my life. Granted, most of that is done to myself in my head, but it still happens. On my route to work though, there is a particular robot (traffic light, for the non-Saffas) at which there is a man who collects the rubbish from your car and disposes of it for you. While this is a free service, he obviously hopes that you will give him a donation, plus he also scrounges anything recyclable and gets money for that. He dresses relatively well - nothing shabby or torn - and he always greets you with a smile. He doesn't have that hang-dog expression that so many beggars have. He has an aura of purpose, and pride in himself.

I doubt he earns much from doing this. Yet, rain or shine, he is there every morning. He appears grateful to have something purposeful to do, something that actually provides a service for people (as opposed to just begging). While I can only imagine how boring and soul-destroying it must be for him to walk the streets like this every morning, he always has a smile on his face. If you have nothing for him, he is gracious, wishes you well and walks on - no hard feelings or resentment play across his face.

By contrast, I am seldom gracious and giving in difficult circumstances. I am sure I earn a lot more than he does. I doubt he has private medical care. I doubt that he eats as well as we do. I wonder how many he supports on the little he makes every day. I have a roof over my head (courtesy of my mother), clothes on my back, food on the table, clean water, electricity that runs (although occasionally doesn't because of load shedding), private health care, a car, my daughter's nursery care is paid, my TV licence is paid, and I honestly want for nothing that is essential. That's a hell of a lot more than most South Africans. Plus, I have my health, an incredible husband, a beautiful daughter who is a delight to us and all who meet her, a family that loves me, and friends across the world.

So why is it that I am not satisfied with what I have?

What is it inside me that constantly hungers for MORE - more money, more stuff, more food, more acclaim?

There is an old hymn... "Riches I need not, nor man's empty praise".... it's a line from 'Great is Thy faithfulness'. Every time I sing that I know I'm lying. Something within me cries out for riches and man's praise. God's praise, God's love is not enough for me.

Which tells you something about the state of my heart. And I can't blame this on Zoe's death. I have always struggled with this issue, it's just that at the moment that struggle is highlighted for me because of the tremendous disparity between the haves (of which I am actually a member) and the have-nots in SA.

Did you know that the basic wage in SA for urban areas has just been RAISED to R5.98 per hour? That's £0.43 per hour. In rural areas it's even less. How anyone manages to survive on that pittance is completely beyond me.

From another perspective, reasonably paid domestic workers get around R30 (£2.10) per hour, employers' UIF contributions (which is like NI in the UK, but a lot more basic), one to two meals a day, transport costs, 3 weeks of leave a year, and if they have a considerate employer they will also get some paid sick leave time.

Theirs is unskilled labour, mine is skilled. I clear about R45 (£3.20) per hour (after tax), with my perks being a small amount of paid sick leave, and 12 weeks of holiday. I don't get meals, I don't get a pension and I don't get a travel allowance. I also have deductions made for compulsory professional registration, as well as compulsory union fees*. Teachers are badly paid in this country, there is no doubt about that!

(*Fees are deducted irrespective of being a union member because all teachers benefit from the work of unions, even non-members. Union members' fees go to their unions, while non-members' fees go to a central fund that is then split between the various unions in proportion to their representation in the province - which I think is a really good system).

So I've rambled a lot. But this brings me back to the question - why is money such a huge issue? I guess that, on the one hand, it's about a lack of trust that God will keep His promises to us. On the other, I have a need to provide for my family - to see them cared for - and I want to give them the very best because I love them. But ultimately, I guess it's just greed, plain and simple. I want more. I want to be better than the Jones', not just equal to them. And that, I guess, demonstrates a fatally flawed understanding of the derivation of my self-worth and what brings meaning to life.

Next question - how do I fix the problem? (in one simple easy-to-follow DIY kit, please).
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