Joy and finances

September 1, 2010 | Viewpoints | Number 17
Dori Zerbe Cornelsen |

Is it realistic to contemplate joy as a potential outcome of setting financial priorities? In our increasingly complex financial world this may seem naïve.

A fairly common metaphor for managing money that Mennonite Foundation of Canada staff use has three jars: one for share, one for save, one for spend. Nathan Dungan has developed this metaphor as part of his Financial Sanity program on sharesavespend.com. This idea is not new in this column and has even generated some pointed response when potential percentages of income have been attached to the three-jar metaphor.

It was with interest, then, that I read an article in a recent edition of MoneySense magazine called “The joy of spending.” It presented the dilemma of a couple who were unable to rid themselves of their anxiety about money because they were “extreme savers,” savers with significant financial assets with which they couldn’t part. The solution offered by a financial counsellor was to “set up three ‘money pots’—one for savings, one for emergency cash [six months’ to one year’s worth] and a third pot for . . . ‘regret-free living.’?” The couple adapted well to this system with their regret-free pot now funding two Caribbean cruises per year. “We’re spending without stress for the first time in our lives,” one spouse gushed.

Given this outcome, I wonder if the educator thought to suggest generosity—the “share jar”—as a solution to the real financial anxiety this couple was experiencing. It is possible that generosity was presented as a “regret-free living” option, although the emphasis of the article was on the couple’s joy of spending on themselves.

Moving from stockpile to shopper isn’t a great financial success story, according to author Matt Bell in Money Purpose Joy. In the quest for more, either more savings and investments or more stuff, both forms of this common North American consumer financial identity become caught up in a cycle of declining returns, which only feeds the desire for even more to be happy.

The root of true joy in our lives is generosity, Bell claims. He reminds his readers that we are made in God’s image and that generosity is at the heart our creating, saving God. Therefore, generosity is part of who we are as well. “When we don’t give, or give only token amounts, we resist our nature and deprive ourselves of one of life’s greatest joys,” he writes. “When we give, we live in harmony with our design. That’s why being generous provides us with so much pleasure.”

There are many generosity stories that confirm the joy of giving. On boldergiving.org, a website dedicated to sharing stories from philanthropists to encourage more giving, Molly Stranahan, heiress of the founder of the Champion Spark Plug Company, stresses, “I experience every day that being generous enhances my happiness.”

“Giving infuses life with joy,” writes Randy Alcorn.

Perhaps it is time that more of us plan our finances with an expectation of joy as a return by giving generously.

Dori Zerbe Cornelsen is a stewardship consultant at the Winnipeg, Man., office of Mennonite Foundation of Canada (MFC). For stewardship education and estate and charitable gift planning, contact your nearest MFC office or visit MennoFoundation.ca.

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