Money, Happiness, and the Christian

I recently read Laura Vanderkam’s new book All the Money in the World: What the Happiest People Know About Getting and Spending. I have read a fair number of money books over the years, and overall I found this to be a refreshing take on issues of getting and spending.

This is not a budgeting book, it is not a get-out-of-debt book, nor is it the right book if you are needing advice on investments or retirement plans. This book takes a fresh look on how we think about work (the getting part), money (the spending part), and happiness.

What Else Could That Buy?

In the first chapter, and incidentally the one I thought was most helpful, Vanderkam outlines a different approach to spending money. In 2010 the average couple spent $1,988 on floral and decoration costs for their wedding. Could that money be spent elsewhere that would produce more happiness over a longer period of time? For instance, that $1,988 floral bill could allow you to give a $10 bouquet, once a month, for a solid sixteen and half years. That seems a pretty decent trade-off if you ask me!

When I started thinking about this in real life examples that fit my life style, I understood the point better. In the culture I live in, I am quite certain that my husband and I could go out tomorrow and spend $15,000 on a modest minivan and no one would think twice.

Assuming I had that money to spend, what if I instead decided to pay for a cleaning service twice a month? I would be able to pay for more than six years of cleaning for the same amount of money. I have no doubt, however, that it would raise more than a few eyebrows in my circles. How extravagant!

The point is not flowers, vans, or cleaning services. Rather, do we unthinkingly spend money on things because it is the cultural norm, or do we truly choose to spend on things that we value and that will genuinely give us pleasure and meaning?

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Giving, Where to Save in the Monthly Budget, and Retirement

  • Giving: I found this section difficult to relate to mainly because the examples were out of my league financially speaking. I thought she had some valid points in how to choose things we give to. Also, we would all benefit from being a “micro-philanthropist.” Meaning, no matter how much we give regularly, it would benefit us all to do small acts of kindness and giving. A $5 bill here, a coffee there, and so forth.
  • Budget: Would it be more beneficial in terms of happiness to lower our housing and vehicle costs, and up our grocery budget? A house gives us that one time surge of joy, but it quickly becomes normal and mundane. Good food can give us small surges of happiness more often.
  • Retirement: Is retirement really the end goal? Why not get a job you love and won’t want to retire from so early instead?

How does this fit in with my Christian worldview?

I have to admit that when I first started reading this I was a little uneasy. A book about money and happiness did not seem fitting for a Christian. I wondered how one could reconcile using money to produce happiness with a Christian worldview.

However, after reading the book I came away with a less judgmental attitude towards money in general, and towards how people spend it specifically. In essence, this book is not about having money at all. It is entirely about how you use it. A Christian would do well to think more about that. Whether you tend toward the frugal end of the spectrum, or the spending end, we must acknowledge that our hearts are deceitful. We can easily lift frugality up to being a virtue. We can easily spend without thinking to the point that we are negligent about saving for the future. A christian must constantly check his motives, and not let the act of spending or saving be the standard of spirituality.

I tend to think of money negatively. I try to squeeze one more penny out of every possible thing, and can send myself on a guilt trip over spending the smallest amount on something that is not “needed.” This book encouraged me to think intentionally about how I use whatever money I have, and less about how much more I can save or scrimp. However much or little we have, we can use it to maximize the values our family believes in, and to give generously. That is something I can wholeheartedly agree with as a Christian. Will it make us happier? I think so. Because it is not in the having of money, it is in the using of it.

What are your thoughts on money, happiness, and the Christian?

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  1. Hmmm. This is interesting. I think you and I have very similar attitudes toward money. I’m constantly thinking of ways we can spend less instead of thinking about intentionally using the money we have to to reflect our values. My husband has to remind me sometimes that money spent on something we don’t “need” can often be a very good investment in our sanity.

    • Johanna says:

      “very good investment in our sanity” ~ great way to put it and something I am finally starting to learn. :)

  2. Kristin J. says:

    Speaking of investments for sanity, I would totally forgo an expensive car in favor of 2x monthly cleaning. Ahhh. The book sounds really interesting! I appreciate all your thoughts. : )

    • Kristin J. says:

      Also, we do this in a small way with where/how we purchase certain items of food. For us, we eat meat a lot less but buy it local or from WF because of how it’s processed. Not everyone would agree with the decision, but it makes it more enjoyable for us.

      • Johanna says:

        Yes, exactly, it is all about choosing how you spend your money…even if it isn’t how someone else would spend it.

  3. I think the “sanity” word is key here. Not that I’m advocating extravagant spending as any means of an excuse to relieve life’s pressures, but in what others are saying here. And yes! I agree – ESP like the give and take for better quality food…etc. We are trying to work through this with our kids and the momentary happiness of stuff. Because it’s just that. Stuff. A few special items here and there will go a longer way with them then the latest whatever on the market. Trying to teach them to invest in memories rather than holding onto the things. Tricky. But this also allows for excitement in focused giving, plus more opps for fun, simple treats like a date with mom or dad, or a pizza night, spur of the moment ice cream cones, and so on.

    • Johanna says:

      I love that you are trying to teach your kids that. I think that is so important to start them off with a right perception of money.

  4. Do we unthinkingly spend money on things because it is the cultural norm, or do we truly choose to spend on things that we value and that will genuinely give us pleasure and meaning?

    Such a good line. I’ll continue to think about this.


  1. […] All The Money in the World: What the Happiest People Know About Getting and Spending by Laura Vanderkam. Normally when I read a money book I come away trying to find more ways that I can scrimp and save. This was a much more positive view and I came away looking for ways that I can use the money I have in a meaningful way. Read my thoughts on Money, Happiness, and the Christian. […]

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