During a seminar in Buffalo, N.Y. a few years ago, noted author and financial adviser, Brooke Stephens, said, “How you handle your money is a reflection of how you feel about yourself.” Many of us, including me, may not want to admit it, but there have been times in our lives when we did some pretty stupid things with our money. We spent all we had and then some; we ended up with more month than money; we bought things we thought would bring us satisfaction but later found they had little lasting value.
As mature adults now, our financial mistakes and indiscretions should be used to help our young people, many of whom find their self-esteem and self-worth in their possessions. And, sadly, the more they pay for those things, the greater their perceived self-worth. Shahrazad Ali once said, “Black folks brag about how much we pay for things, and White folks brag about how little they pay.” Our economic empowerment will never come from spending alone; it will come from ownership of production capacity, distribution channels, real estate, and businesses through which we circulate our dollars among ourselves.
Our lifestyles are definitely reflective of our penchant for purchasing “top-shelf” items and, thus, illuminate our need to impress others with those items. For instance, the television commercials featuring various brands of alcohol being promoted by Black icons of the rap music industry carry the subliminal message of being accepted and affluent. Clothing and shoe commercials lull many of us into a continuous state of “I gotta have that.” The automobile ads, especially the high- priced autos, feature all kinds of reasons for going into debt for seven years to drive them. And it goes on and on.
When do we get off this train of consumption? How do we begin to establish self-control when it comes to how we handle our money? How do we immunize ourselves against the disease of allowing our wants to morph into needs simply because of a commercial, a billboard, or a cute jingle or saying recited by some superstar? A lot of our purchasing habits really do reflect the saying, “We buy what we want and beg for what we need.”
Jonathan Weaver, pastor at Greater Mt. Nebo A.M.E. Church, in Bowie, Md., and founder of the Collective Empowerment Group, conducts a daily prayer teleconference (712-432-0255; access code 372536#). In a recent session, Pastor Weaver stated, “Know the difference between needs and wants. You need transportation to get to work or your business, but it doesn’t mean you need to buy a $50,000 car. What you need is a ticket to get on the metro or subway or bus fare. You need to have some clothes, but you don’t need a $10,000 mink coat.”
Weaver went on to add some very important tips, such as, avoiding the use of credit cards, and refraining from “window-shopping,” because you may be drawn into the store and buy something you did not consider until you saw it. (“Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things…” Psalm 119:37). Marketers, to their credit, know how to turn a consumer’s wants into needs. So, beware of all the ways to get your money out of your pocket and into someone else’s.
It all boils down to what Brooke Stephens said about how we view ourselves. We have been so programmed to believe that having “things,” especially the best and highest-priced things, is the key to our personal value. We are mesmerized by luxury and excess and have become obedient consumers who will rush out, sleep out, and even knockout someone else just to have the latest fashion, gadget, or whatever anyone is selling.
Maybe we can change our tenuous and abbreviated relationship with our money by holding on to it a little longer. Maybe we can educate our children and guide them in such a way that they will not make the same mistakes we made when it comes to handling money. Maybe we can gain a new and different perspective on ourselves as a people and as individual consumers. And, maybe, just maybe, we will take that first giant step toward economic self-reliance and achieve a proportional level of ownership and control of income-producing assets in this country. After all, we have been here since it began, yet we lag far behind where we should be economically, slavery and mistreatment notwithstanding.
I believe those of us who have been through some “stuff” and made poor decisions in our lives have an obligation to at least share our experiences and use them to help others. I know I have been down a few economically dead-end roads, and I do not want to see our children go down those same roads. I am sure many of you feel the same way. So don’t be ashamed to admit you messed up a few times – or a lot of times, for that matter. When it comes to our money, we simply must change.
The Bible says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21 NIV). Where is your heart these days? When will you derail the madness of shopping ‘till you drop?
Jim Clingman, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati and can be reached through his Web site, blackonomics.com.