My Cause for Alarm is Another's Riches

originally published on

Today I checked our bank account and saw that we have a whopping $150 to last us until our next paycheck. It was startling because it’s the first time our finances have been that low since we’ve been married. We’re in no danger, we get paid in a few days and our bills are paid up… but it was startling.

I think it’s a healthy thing to know for a little bit what living on a tight budget is like again. It wasn’t really that long ago when I was college… $150 would have been like a gold mine that could stretch out across a whole semester. It’s amazing how quickly our perspectives on money can change.

$150 seems so limiting right now – it means we can’t go out and have a nice meal. It means that I can’t buy a new video game. It means that one of our cars isn’t going to get used for a few days (it needs a new battery). Even though it feels so limiting, we have so much stuff. We have a roof over our heads, groceries to cook, and DVDs to watch.

It alarms me that $150 can be so startling to me. We’ve had people in our church who struggle for rent and groceries every week. In the past I’ve spent $150 on a whim for gifts, for toys, for something selfish.

It seems strange what seeing $150 in your bank account can make you think. When I first saw, I thought “oi – we’re poor.” But we’re not poor. We don’t have a right to claim being poor at all. We have no idea what it really means to be poor.

I almost struggle with knowing what poor means. If we only had $150 and no paycheck coming next month… then maybe I’d have a sense of being poor. I have hope, though, because I know that money is coming. I don’t know what it feels like to not know when the next time we’ll have money is. College was only a few years ago… and yet have we been so “successful” that we’ve forgotten what it’s like to be struggling for money, having friends pay for dinner and being content with just what we already have?

I’ll be honest – I don’t want to be poor. I don’t want to not know when the next paycheck comes. I do, however, want to hold on to that moment when I saw $150 in my bank account. I want to remember how startled I was and concerned I was at that moment. And then – to know that what I think is a cause for alarm is riches to other people.

So how do I hold on to that memory? How do I begin to relate to someone who is homeless? How do I gauge what wealth is to me against what wealth is to a friend? How can I complain when I think I have little, but truly have too much?