The gifts of time and money
I recently took a class where I was challenged to look at my relationship with money. How do I feel about money? My mentor shared a story about a time in her life when money was very tight and she felt very stressed about making ends meet. She hated money. Then as her financial situation improved, she found that her stress and feelings didn’t improve automatically. She was still stressed about money and hated worrying about it.
Her story resonated with me. I have experienced poverty. I remember walking through a store at Christmastime with my young son. I walked through the aisles of toys and felt a deep desire to be able to buy things. I had dreamed of someday being a parent and the joy of giving gifts to my child. And now it was my son’s first Christmas and I couldn’t even afford to buy food. I left the store empty handed and sobbed in the car feeling like a failure as a parent and as a human. The shame of having no money penetrated deep into my soul. I was filled with stress and worry. In truth, my son was too little to care or even notice about not receiving a gift, but I felt the shame of not being able to give him something. It was so painful. Our family worked our way out of poverty through education, training, experience, careful budgeting, hard work, and time. I can now go to the grocery store without carefully calculating the cost of every item to avoid the shame of having to return something at checkout because it exceeded my meager allotment of cash. And yet, until my mentor shared her story, I hadn’t realized that my worry and dislike of money has not evaporated simply because we have enough money for our needs and even some of our wants. I hate money. I want it, but I hate it. I don’t even want to think about it. I realized that this is a problem I need to address.
My mentor suggested that I write all my negative thoughts about money in a journal. Then tear up those negative thoughts and create positive statements about money to replace the negative ones. She suggested two statements: “Money is a tool the Lord gives me to do his work,” and “Money flows to me and creates value as it flows through me.” She explained the necessity of giving in order to be able to receive. Statistics show that those who give to charities make more money than those who don’t. I remember reading a book on creating wealth and the author counseled readers who want to succeed in business to set aside a percentage of the budget for charity. It seems to be a natural law of some kind. Giving enables receiving.
I was intrigued by her statement that money flows to me and creates value as it flows through me. What does it mean to “create value”? What is value? My first thought was using money to make more money, but that wasn’t what my mentor meant. She talked about her goal of buying a swing set for her yard and saving to reach that goal. The swing set creates value by having a place for her children to play. She also mentioned donating to help the victims of the recent hurricanes. Her donation added value by helping people in need. My mind is beginning to open to a whole new definition of “value.” This means that money spent on rent or a mortgage payment creates value because it provides shelter for a family, money spent on a family vacation creates value because creates memories and family time, money spent buying a tree might create value by adding beauty to our backyard. Going on a date with my husband creates value by allowing time for bonding.
Value isn’t an accumulation of stuff. Spending money that you don’t have doesn’t improve happiness or quality of life because it compromises financial security and causes stress. When contemplating a purchase, it might help to ask the question, “Does this add value to my life?” Money flows through us, we earn it and spend it, but the idea that we can choose to spend it in ways that create value makes that flow more satisfying and less frustrating.
I have spent hours pondering my relationship with money and recognize that I need to improve. I never thought about having a “relationship” with an inanimate object, but it’s true. That led me to think about my relationships with other things. I’ve been thinking about my relationship with time.
Those same positive statements that my mentor used regarding money could also be applied to time. “Time is a tool the Lord gives me to do his work,” and “Time flows to me and creates value as it flows through me.” That realization led me to do a journaling exercise on how I feel about time and pondering what use of time “creates value.”
In a recent conversation with a friend, she lamented that she hadn’t completed her goal of cleaning and organizing a spare room in her house. She wanted everything to look perfect since she is expecting visitors. Instead of completing her to-do list, she had attended parent-teacher conference and spent time talking with her daughter. She also attended the temple. As I thought about my friend’s day, I thought that she used her time much better by setting aside her to-do list and taking care of the people in her life, including taking care of herself through attending the temple. I suggested that she close the door to the spare room and enjoy the time with her visitors. Aren’t doors wonderful? It’s okay that everything isn’t perfect. There is a place called “good enough.”
In the past I always thought that the definition of using time wisely was lots of check marks on my “to do” list or an impressive amount of busy-ness, but now I am re-thinking my expectations. What things do I value? I value my family, I value my health, I value my relationships, I value beauty and love. I value service and helping others. I value my physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and financial well being.
Using these standards, I can ask the question “Does this add value to my life?” for my choices of using time. I cleaned the kitchen, did this add value to my life? Yes, it was a great use of time because it helped create order and beauty in my home. I made dinner, did this add value to my life? Yes, it was a great use of time because we ate together as a family and made connections as we talked about our day. I read scriptures today, did this add value to my life? Yes, it was a great use of time because it helped my spiritual well being. When my plans for the day are interrupted by a person who needs help, did this add value? Yes, a person to be loved is always more important than a problem to be solved.
I do a lot of things during the day that are repetitive and not very exciting, but with a new perspective I can find joy in doing simple things and that add value to my life and the lives of others.