Culture At Large

Spending too much on ourselves?

Andy Rau

I don't think too many people will disagree with me when I posit that Americans spend too much money on themselves. What's your reaction to this post criticizing billionaire Charles Simonyi's choice to spend $20 million on a space tourist trip?

What I do question is splurging so grotesquely on a fantasy adventure. But then I wonder, who am I to talk, really? I have splurged on family and personal adventures to an extent I could afford probably less than space tourists can afford their $20 millions. On the other hand, if we let inconsistency stop us from pointing out the flaws in others' behavior, we would have to remain silent far more than I have any intention of being.

So, consider all the things a space tourists could do with $20 million. If used for charitable purposes, it would be deductible, so call it more like $30 million. That is a lot of kids to send to college, even more to escape the gravitation of rotten public schools, and thousands of kids you could yank out of the holes they live in in Lima or Rio.

Many Americans (and perhaps most everybody) would respond to this critique with the defense that you're free to do whatever you want with money you've earned. But as Christians, we believe that we're stewards, not owners, of our wealth.

So where do space tourist trips fit in the scheme of stewardship? It's easy to condemn when the number involved is $20 million. But what about the $1000 you spent on a new computer last year? The $200 car stereo? The $150 iPod, the $60 dinner date with your spouse? The $15 DVD you bought, the $5 trip to McDonald's when you could've packed your own lunch for less money?

That's why I personally find it so hard to critique other people's expenditures, no matter how non-stewardly they may seem from my perspective; the question can be swung far too easily back in my direction, and I confess I find it difficult to perceive the gray area between stewardship and spending on myself.

We live in a world where there are plenty of good causes that could use the measly $3 you're about to drop on a cup of coffee--and tools like Paypal make it easy for you to donate to the cause of your choice at any time. What do you do when you see a $20 non-necessity that you want to buy? What system do you follow to help you determine whether that purchase is moral, or whether you ought to forget it and write a $20 check to the church instead?

Topics: Culture At Large, Business & Economics, Money