Sitting with a friend in the banking industry the other day at lunch, I asked him what the bank does when someone pays off a mortgage. I wondered if they did some kind of ceremony or celebration. I was envisioning perhaps a little ceremony where the branch manager might come out and shake the person’s hand and congratulate them, or something along those lines. He looked back and said, ‘No, not really.’ I asked him why they didn’t–after all, that is a huge life accomplishment. He said they don’t have a plan because it pretty much never happens. I asked him: ‘Then, what typically does happen?’ He said, in his experience, people keep moving to different houses. Each time they move, they upsize or upscale–hence the mortgage never gets paid off.
At the same time, a few weeks ago I noticed in several conversations the common sentiment that men feel too busy–and we lamented that we have very little time to talk with one another. That can happen at certain stages of life–married with small children, in particular–but overall it appears in our culture that it is increasingly hard to find time to get together.
Both of these conversations got me thinking. I believe we are a society that is over-leveraged–both financially and time-wise.
How do we get into this position? For many of us, I believe it goes back to the house decision. We stretch to buy the biggest house we can afford, in the best area, with the best upgrades we can get. As a result, we are stretched every month when it comes time to pay the bills. We make other commitments along the same lines, with schools, cars, vacations. What it all adds up to is a continual feeling of strain, wondering if we can keep this carnival of plates spinning.
The only way to get off the merry-go round is to decide to do something different. If the logic says not to commit to a house payment that is greater than 25% of your income, why not cut that in half? What if we tried to live on half of what we make? To some that may sound outrageous or downright impossible. However–to expose the mindset that we all face–does it not seem that, no matter how much we make, it is never quite enough? Our lifestyle grows to match our income. What if we refused to give into that mindset? We could live with a comfortable margin and stop being so pressured.
What is the ultimate goal of living with margin? Certainly it would not be a good thing to trade the idol of materialism for the idol of financial security. Rather, the goal is that when needs arise we are more free to give of our time and resources. We will not, like the Pharisees exposed in Matthew 15, feel that whenever someone asks us to help, that we have already ‘korban’d’ (dedicated) all our time and wealth to our property or a lifestyle that has actually started to run us. Paul urged the Ephesians: ‘that each should do something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need’ (Ephesians 4:28). We will be more free to evaluate situations and help where we feel it is best to do so.
I always congratulate my friends when they buy big beautiful houses–we all appreciate nice things. However, if we are able to speak meaningfully into each others’ lives, perhaps we need to be saying–what is the smallest house we can practically live in? What choices can we spur each other on to make which will lead us all to greater freedom in our future? It would grant a freedom which enables us to be a greater blessing to our families, our churches and for the Kingdom of God.