So if financial health doesn’t consist of a person’s income, what does it consist of?
A household is like a little economy. We all need food, clothing, and shelter to survive. So a household needs an income in order to continually replenish these things by way of exchange. Moreover, if our income exceeds the costs of those basic needs then we have a surplus that we can choose to spend on luxury items or services, save, or give away as charity.
Beyond that, our households are tied to certain cultural norms and status symbols which we consciously or unconsciously strive to meet or obtain.
I think financial health begins with mindfulness; being aware of what we are spending our money on and why. Without this mindfulness we can be very much like the addicted gambler at the slot machine. We buy another pair of shoes when we already have ten pair at home, the same way the gambler pulls the handle of the slot machine, both expecting happiness from the next purchase but finding none.
There is a Chinese proverb from the Tao Te Ching that speaks to this issue: He who knows enough is enough will always have enough. In America, no matter how much we have we always seem to want more.
And more is not enough.
How can we practice mindfulness with respect to our money? Why am I going to the store? Do I have a list of things I need, or am I going to look for something I crave? Are there certain things I compulsively buy whether I need them or not? I heard of a girl in college who had 125 sweaters.
Is what I’m buying bringing lasting satisfaction, or am I only scratching an itch?