The average American household earns $79,000 but faces a staggering $145,000 in debt. According to Relevant Magazine, nearly 40 percent of the food in America goes to waste, and about half of the world’s toys go to the U.S., even though it is home to only 3% of kids. There’s no doubt about it: we live in a consumer culture. It affects everything from our spending habits to our churches.
The word ‘consume’ literally means to destroy. So, today’s blog post discusses consumer culture, its relationship to building wealth, and 4 things you can do to kick consumerism to the curb.
What is Consumer Culture?
Consumer culture is really just that–an overemphasis on consuming rather than producing. Consumer culture has even created a form of Consumer Christianity. Many people come to church to consume a message and leave rather than to be an active part of the local church community. A key force behind the scenes of consumer culture is instant gratification.
In America, instant gratification is often right at our fingertips. Any question can be answered through a quick online search. Whatever food cravings we have can be satiated in a matter of minutes. Entire series of tv shows can be streamed without waiting for the next episodes to be released. We can fly anywhere on the planet.
Google, DoorDash, Netflix, and international travel are all incredible inventions. In its proper context, instant gratification is not a bad thing. It operates in conjunction with the pleasure principle, which is the driving force that compels human beings to meet their needs, wants, and urges.
However, it’s hard to isolate our desire for instantaneous activity to a specific section of our brain. We want immediate answers to the big questions of life, such as who we’ll get married to, when we’ll start a family, our career direction, and how we will get there. The hard truth is that there’s no shortcut to patience and faithfulness.
A negative result of consumer culture is that we are encouraged to think more about what we can get rather than what we can give.
Does Building Wealth Promote Consumer Culture?
Right now, you might be saying, “Billy, how can you critique consumer culture when you talk about money all the time?” In short, building wealth requires an entirely different mindset than the one consumer culture is promoting. In order to build wealth, you must focus on the long game. Instant gratification is not a part of the equation. Proverbs 20:11 (TLB) says, “Quick wealth is not a blessing in the end.”
As you build wealth, there will be seasons where you’ll have to blatantly reject instant gratification. Just ask any young couple who is in the process of saving for a down payment, or chat with any entrepreneur working hard to get their start-up off the ground. Frankly, people who build wealth are built different. They know how to go through seasons of lack and are brave enough to take risks with their hard-earned money.
Author Andrew Delbanco writes that we’ve claimed “instant gratification as the hallmark of the good life. What was lost was any conception of a common destiny worth tears, sacrifice, and maybe even death.”
As Christians, we are living for something bigger than ourselves. Building wealth is all about positioning ourselves to be generous. We have to be diligent about checking our mindset on this. We don’t build wealth so that we can consume more. We build wealth so that we can produce more for the Kingdom of God.
Here’s the truth:
Churches require resources. Nonprofits require resources. Community projects require resources. Whatever ‘God dream’ you have on your heart will require resources. It is naïve to think that everything will fall on your lap. If you want to actualize and eventually scale your idea, you must put yourself in a position to gain the knowledge, understanding, and wisdom it takes to build wealth.
Still, I know it may seem difficult to build wealth and reject consumer culture simultaneously. There’s a real tension there. However, I’ve found that walking in line with Truth often requires balancing some form of tension. So, here are four things you can practically do to reject consumer culture in your day-to-day life.
4 Things You Can Do to Curb Consumer Culture
1. Check Your Spending Habits
How does your budget look? Before you answer that, make sure you’re not using a credit card to spend money that you don’t have. If you’ve checked that box, I recommend budgeting using the 80/20 or 70/30 rule.
Here’s the breakdown: Expenses and ‘fun’ purchases shouldn’t exceed 70-80% of your budget. Then, you tithe 10% and invest 10-20%. This way, you can continue to build wealth through investing as you pay your expenses. (If you already have some consumer debt, the investing percentages can be devoted to paying down that debt.)
2. Wait to Buy ‘Toys’ with Passive Income
Most things you can buy will depreciate. For instance, the moment you drive a car off the lot, it’s not worth as much. The same is true for televisions, clothes, and smartphones. These are called liabilities. So, instead of using your earned income to buy things that depreciate, what if you waited until you could use money from your assets?
For example, let’s say you want to replace the television in your living room. This is clearly a want, not a need. Trust me; I understand the desire to buy fun things like TVs, guns, and cowboy boots (can you tell I’m a Texan?) This is where patience comes into play. This is where you have to intentionally shut down the allure of consumer culture.
My recommendation would be to wait to replace the TV until you can purchase a new one with the money you made from your assets. Instead of using the money you earned from a job, you would use the cash flow you received from your rental property, dividends from a stock, or passive income from a business. Not only does this keep you in a position to build wealth, but it creates enough time between your desire and the time of purchase so that you can determine how bad you actually want that TV.
3. Set a Target Living Allowance
Setting a target living allowance is great on both ends of the spectrum. If you are just beginning to build wealth, a target living allowance gives you something concrete to work towards. If you’ve already built some wealth, it can keep your finances intentional and your character in check. When Becky and I replaced our earned income with passive income and reached financial freedom, we asked ourselves how much income we needed to live comfortably. Setting a target living allowance for yourself does three things:
– Keeps you from getting addicted to excess
– Allows you to maximize your giving
– Allows you to maximize your passive income streams (which you can use to make a difference.)
Giving our tithes and offerings is a great way to remind ourselves of the true purpose of our money. It orients our hearts to be givers, not just recipients and producers, not just consumers. Pray about creative ways that you can be generous, and check out our blog post, 22 Bible Verses on Giving, if you need more biblical encouragement.
If you want to learn more about how to steward kingdom finances and build wealth God’s way, you might enjoy my new book release, God’s Road to Financial Freedom. It digs into what does the Bible say about money and provides action steps as well. God’s Road to Financial Freedom hits the stores June 21, and can be preordered here.