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Following the Leader


Last week I had the amazing opportunity to take my 13 year old son on a brief ski trip.  It’s hard to get much one-on-one time with five kids, so we were both really looking forward to not only the skiing but also just some quality father/son time away together.

As we were on the lift, it kept taking us right over where they were doing ski school for some little kids, and it was fascinating to watch.  The way they were teaching them was to have the junior skiers simply follow directly behind the instructor.  They’d turn as he would, “pizza wedge” together, and the little ones would do their best to imitate the instructor’s form and stance.  It was much better than how I’d likely teach which is by allowing them to fall and learn the hard way what not to do!

In this way, the skiers were both building confidence and developing habits. When it comes to our money habits and personalities, they don’t just happen on their own.  We learn them at an early age and they often get reinforced by many repetitions.  We can certainly change them, but by the time we’re adults they can be so ingrained that they’re second nature.

Who have you followed?

If you’ve never done it, it’s a good idea to stop and think about the people who helped shape your money habits and personality.  How did your parents and siblings handle money growing up?  Do you find yourself a carbon copy of one of them, or perhaps the exact opposite?

My parents were both savers.  Thrifty has always sounded nicer than cheap, really.  I suppose we had to as my father was a restauranteur and we would have seasons of feast followed by famine depending on how the restaurant was doing.  Add that to the cost of raising five kids, and it makes a little sense in hindsight why I would see my mom washing out Ziplock bags to reuse them and why we always bought the generic brands of things.

Most of the lessons we learn regarding money aren’t ever spoken – rather we observe and follow in their footsteps.  My parents never had to tell me that it’s better to buy the less expensive option, I just observed and did the same.  Many of these habits aren’t good or bad in and of themselves, but they can be ruts that we fall into.  They can also be ways that we judge others who may not see things the way we do or make different choices than we would.

So take some time this week and think through the spoken or unspoken lessons you learned early on.  List out your core values regarding money, and see if you can trace those lines back.  If you’re brave enough, think through the ways your money personality can be a blessing as well as a curse, both to you and to others around you.

Who are you following?

I’m certainly an average skier at best – I can mostly stay on my skis without falling, but I know my limits and stay off the really steep terrain.  On our trip last week, I mounted up the courage to go down a couple of the terrain runs.  At the top, folks would briefly stop and take turns going down the run.  Watching others make different choices about whether they were going to go for the decent size jump or over the tamer section of hills, I decided to follow the chickens like me and go for the latter option.  The jumps looked like fun but a torn ACL didn’t sound like it would be!

We’re all following others with our finances in this season as well.  Our money habits may have started developing at an early age, but who we surround ourselves with currently plays a big part in our spending habits as well.  I watch too many young couples in particular end up in circles of friends who may earn more money than them and want to do a lot of fun things together like going out to eat or going on vacations. Expenses that might not strain one couple could be a huge strain for another, but they don’t want to seem or feel like they aren’t able to afford it so they end up going along for the ride and experiencing stress and strain on their finances and marriage as a result.

Peer pressure is very real, even for older, more mature folks.  When friends upgrade their homes or cars, there’s naturally something inside us that wonders if we should be doing the same.  The same is true for the colleges we send our kids to (or don’t), having the latest technology, fashion, Stanley tumblers (is this really a thing!?), etc.

On the other hand, your peers might be living very simple lifestyles.  I have several clients who are millionaires and yet have lived in the same small home for 40 years and live mainly off of Social Security income.  Their friends have simple pleasures that don’t require a lot of money.

Who are you following currently?  While we’d like to think we’re immune to peer pressure and the influence of others, that’s just simply not the case.  So think through how you’re being influenced by those around you. If you’re married, talk through the honest ways that you can be unwittingly affected by the choices your friends are making.  And how is media or social media affecting you?  I’d love to think I’m strong and wise enough to not be swayed by it, but it’s probably more foolish to think that than anything else.

Following Jesus

Paul charged the believers to “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). Ultimately, our ideal is to follow Jesus, to follow others who follow Jesus, and to be imitators of Him for the benefit of others.

In all of our money decisions, habits and baggage, its best to lay them up against Scripture.  Are there things you’re doing that need to change in light of it?  I’d love for the Bible to tell me what an appropriate lifestyle is so that I can live accordingly, but if I’m honest I’d just use it in a pharisaical way to justify myself and look down my nose at others who didn’t have their act together as much as I did.  Instead, we have to be prayerful and intentional about not loving Money or the things it can do for us.  That might be from saving it up and having a large balance sheet, or spending it more carelessly than we should.

Many of our habits feel ingrained, but we can always be learning and growing.  So be mindful of who you’re following, and how you’re leading others down the trail.