This really is a gut issue … especially around food

At one point, wondering whether food ought to be part of these money discussions, I asked Lu what she thought.

She replied that the first question raised by many couples who came to her in financial straits was whether they’d have to change how they ate. (Maybe we’re back to the “tails” side of money!) Not whether they’d have to sell the house or move to cheaper rentals, or even get cheaper wheels. The food on the table becomes the defining characteristic of our essential condition.

Well, why not? One of the things many scholars love about the New Testament is that food is always present. (Our local rabbi says that’s because they were Jews, and noshing’s always an important aspect of social interaction.) Jesus does some of his biggest miracles and delivers some of his most powerful messages when food’s in the picture. Changes water into wine. Multiplies bread and fish. It all goes with Feasting and Fasting, which we’ll touch on in time. But maybe food says just as much now when we consider our spending — and our eating — literally, “consumption.”

For that matter, look back at the slang terms for money and how many of them have food connotations. “Smackers,” “clams,” “dough,” “folding lettuce,” “hardtack,” “mint,” “peanuts,” “cookies,” ”sugar,” “candy, “small potatoes,” “the mother’s milk of politics,” each with a different association.

By the way, Lu said her clients weren’t in line for more beans on their plates than before. Whew!

How much of your monthly spending goes for food? (Use a percentage, if you want.)

How much of that is dining out? Snacking?

Where would you feel deprived cutting back? Where would you want to spend more?

Do you have any dietary restrictions? Do you find they make you more aware of food in general?

Where do you most enjoy eating?

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Pay or pray?

For many of us, money and spirit have been split apart and compartmentalized. Either money is seen as tainted and spirit as good, or money’s role within God and spirit is repressed and devalued. We need to heal the split.

Agree? Disagree?

Survey your prized possessions

As these exercises demonstrate, money is about much more than dollars and sense. We’ve already touched on its relationship to time and labor, as well as its connection to possessions and wealth.

I remember hearing the comment once, “We Quakers don’t own much, but when we do, it’s the very best,” and laughing at the time. Nowadays, I know that most of us in America have way too much stuff — and not always of top quality, either. And that includes a lot of Quakers. Still, it’s an admirable perspective, I think — quality over quantity.

Jesus did say (Matthew 6:21 and Luke 12:34), “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” It was part of an admonishment against laying up “for yourself treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and thieves break in and steal.”

It almost sounds cynical. Or maybe it is.

I’ve tried to think of my possessions as tools. Even the house and yard. They’re things that are useful in making other things happen.

But even there, you’ll find exceptions. A painting? Seashells? All of my CDs, vinyl, cassettes, and the stereo system? Christmas decorations?

Where do we draw the line?

If you look around our house, you’ll shelf after shelf of books and music. Pots and stemware hangs over the kitchen. We drive a Prius and a 300,000-mile Camry.

What do they say about us?

What are your most-used possessions?

What are your favorite possessions?

Name one “status item” in your possession. Is it a clue to what you most value?

Welcome to the ‘gazingus pin’

Joe Dominguez has a kind of recurring purchase he identifies as a “gazingus pin.” For him, it’s power tools, if I recall right.

That one, by the way, is a common “guy thing.” For many, it means buying a top-of-the-line product for a simple weekend do-it-yourself project. I remember looking over at our attorney neighbor one Saturday and seeing he had a new Black & Decker circular saw and two shiny new Stanley sawhorses — and then I looked at the beat-up equivalents our professional carpenter was using at our place at the time. I had to laugh.

Thanks, Joe, I wouldn’t have made the connection if it hadn’t been for your earlier confession.

The gazingus pin is a category that accords you a special, personal delight. Maybe it’s art supplies, computer goodies, camping gear, books or recordings, chocolate. And then you plan to spend a little something accordingly.

I see it as being different from a “toy for adults.” It’s more frequent, for one thing, and possibly much cheaper, for another.

I also see it as being potentially healthy. At least it’s been for me as it’s allowed me to let pleasure enter my use of money.

To be honest, Lu and I differed in our interpretation. I see gazingus pins as permission for some simple self-indulgence, admitting the passions that give our lives depth and richness. But I’ve tended to be ascetic, even spartan, and find myself more likely to spend on someone else than myself. You know, let’s go out for coffee but walk right past when I’m alone.

Lu, on the other hand, wondered if they might be addictions we need to avoid. Maybe it depends where you’re starting in the ways you handle money. Or the credit card.

When I raised this in a discussion group, another consideration was voiced. Is this coming at the expense of a more pressing and essential item? A medical bill, for instance, or children’s clothing? Otherwise, if it fits in the budget, go for it, as one participant said.

My experience using this as a topic for a money workshop discussion has been illuminating. So far, the question has stimulated lively, joyous sharing. For some, it’s theater tickets. Others, dining out. Travel. An addition to a collection. A good cup of coffee in the workday. Presents to slide under neighbors’ doors in a retirement center housing. Christmas presents selected during the year. Cooking supplies and equipment. Things Barbara and Mary would have seen demonstrating the positive energy money releases when kept in the Light.

What’s your gazingus pin?

Do you see it as healthy?

How has it changed over time?

Could you spend less on it? Maybe finding it used rather than new?

When you identify others’ gazingus pins, can you use that as inspiration when it comes to gift-giving?

Toys for adults … or even your inner child

As I reviewed my spending and sought to define appropriate classifications, one category I overlooked altogether was “fun.” Maybe I should have had a clue from Penny’s Recreation category, but I was raised with a Calvinist background. You know, as in Puritan. So you wanna call it Recreation? Well, actually, we were more Methodist, the kind who had a basketball court and Ping Pong table. It was complicated.

I came to Quakers as an adult, though their approach to money also veered toward humility. Historically, they even eschewed everything they saw as “vain entertainments.” Not much help there, then.

My, was I ingrained to be responsible! Discovering that I could actually allow myself to have fun with money came as a shock — admittedly, one I’m still struggling with, but I least I know it can be done.

As a bit of background, one of my childhood impressions is of family vacations and knowing that my dad would have a rare blowup sometime during the week. It was always over a money issue. You know, we were going through too much in general or that something in particular was costing too much or something just broke. It’s still programmed in my psyche, though at least it’s no longer deeply buried there. These days, I can argue with that ghost, as needed.

The first crack in this outlook came when I was employed by a major newspaper syndicate and calling on an editor who was a third-generation heir to a family paper. In other words, he was financially secure. He even made a point that he had no need to go to a big convention the next week, since he’d never be looking for a new job. Let’s say that was an attitude I could barely fathom. As I was pitching new comic strips, features, and editorial columnists, I noticed that his coffee mug was sitting on its own little electric heater. I remarked I’d never seen one of those before.

He laughed and explained, “I believe in toys for adults. When we’re done, I’ll show you where you can get one. I have to go out anyway.”

So there I was, trying to sell him something, and he sold me instead. It proved to be a reasonable investment. You can find these just about anywhere nowadays, too — not the clever gimmick they were then.

Since then, the concept has provided me an insightful way of looking at purchases — those made by others as well as myself. Some, like the coffee warmer, are inexpensive. Others, like a sailboat or convertible, can be pretty pricey. (Where I live, summer’s only six weeks long — not much time for driving with the top down.)

These toys for adults wouldn’t always be found in a monthly or yearly spending plan, but I do think they can be a factor in our emotional decision-making. You know, maybe as a big splurge — even to reward yourself.

Do you have a favorite toy for your adult self?

Do you have a hobby? Does your spending there include toys for adults?

When are these purchases “healthy”? And when are they not?