(If you need to know what this is all about, start with the first post in the series and click through the succeeding links. Also, as posts are added links will be placed in that first post to each one.)
Today, I Want to…
Buy Something Worth Treasuring.
People want your money. That’s why advertising and marketing is a hundreds of billions of dollars business each year. We see ads online, on billboards, on t-shirts, on pens, in junk mail, with e-mail, on the radio, on television, at the movies, and on the list goes. Even the most conservative figures about the number of marketing messages we receive daily are pretty astounding. At an average rate of 245 marketing messages per day, that’s just over 1 every 4 minutes throughout a 16-hour day. Think about that. Every four minutes you are getting some message that says, “Spend your money here.” In fact, just to be painfully honest, just by scrolling down this page and reading this post, you’re getting 16 marketing messages.
The marketers want us to know that their products are the best. They spin. They light up. They flash. They save money. They make you look better than your neighbor. They make you look sexy. They cause beautiful men and women to be attracted to you. They are neat. They will balance your checkbook. They will make you lose weight. They will cause you to be the talk of all the neighbors. Spend your money on the latest whatever and all your wildest dreams will come true. (In fact, click on that book to the right and make a purchase. It will make you a better Christian. Oh wait, that makes it 17 marketing messages.)
But do we want to spend our money on just anything? Or do we long for something more fulfilling, something we can treasure, value, and hold on to indefinitely.
Obviously, you are going to spend money. Obviously you are going to spend money on some things that have no lasting sentiment or value. You have to purchase your needs. Food, clothing, personal items all have to be on your purchase list. You have to get from one place to another in our culture. Therefore, transportation is going to be on the list somewhere. Surely, getting some fun items should be on the list as well. In my opinion, every one should have an iPhone. (Does that count as a marketing message?) I’m sure you’re going to want some status symbol items. A BMW is nice or a Lexus.
However, think about every one of those things just mentioned. Do any of them have true lasting value? Clothes wear out. Food passes. Cars break down and rust. IPhones become obsolete. Status symbols lose their status. Fashions change. I’m not saying don’t buy them. I’ve bought them, well, except for the BMW or Lexus. I’m just saying if we think we’ll find something meaningful here, we are mistaken.
So many times we are absolutely certain if we were just able to buy that one particular item, everything would be okay. If we could get the house in that certain neighborhood, the flooring that would make the house just right, the widescreen, flat-panel television that would allow us to entertain our friends, the designer clothes that would let us fit in, then we would be okay. Then we would be happy. We finally save up and get it (or worse we drop it on a credit card and regret the purchase every month for years). However, after a few days, weeks, months it just no longer does the trick.
Somewhere in the midst of the spending frenzy, if we want to get fulfillment out of our money, we need to buy something worth treasuring. We need to buy things that will have a lasting value attached to them. We need to buy things that really can provide some kind of fulfillment, something we can hang on to as important.
The Most Important Treasures
Sadly, so few of us really know what to purchase like that. Too often we are stuck thinking about intrinsic material value. So we start looking to purchase an heirloom as if we can manufacture the emotion of sentiment by purchasing something expensive. It just doesn’t work like that. You might buy the most expensive diamond ring. Its cost won’t suddenly make it something to treasure.
So, how do we buy something worth treasuring?
I can’t help but think of what my wife is going through right now as I write this post. Her dad died a year and a half ago and passed on a little money to his children. Marita has been very clear. She doesn’t want this money to just enter our general fund and be frittered away paying off debt, eating out, and just buying stuff. As she has been thinking what to do with the money, she has taught me about where the true treasures are. Memories. That’s right, memories.
While I insensitively tell her this is the perfect time to purchase that new iMac or widescreen television I’ve always wanted, she wants to purchase something that will cause her to remember her dad. She doesn’t want something that will break down in a few years and be tossed in the trash. She wants something that will call to mind everything her dad means to her. I think she is on the right track.
The fact is my desire for the iMac or the TV is really the exact same problem my son had a few days ago when he had two dollars burning a hole in his pocket. We went into a gas station and he wanted everything he saw that was less than two dollars. He saw this little lollipop whistle with a goofy game at the top of it where you flip a lever and try to put a little ball through the basket. He thought it was the neatest thing. After all, it is a lollipop, a whistle, and a game all at once. That’s like buying three things with just two dollars. What could top that? I tried to explain to him, “Ryan, it’s junk. It’ll be broken before the day is over. It’s a waste.” The TV I long for is bigger and will last longer, but is my desire for it much different? Sure, it seems exciting. I think it is entertaining. It will provide some form of pleasure for a time. But in the end, both it and the lollipop game will break and end up in the same landfill. That is their destiny. There is no treasure there.
But a memory…what a treasure. A memory can be brought out again and again. It can be relived in the heart and the soul. Buying a brand spanking new BMW may make you look good. But give it a few years and its paint will fade, its status will diminish, its leather smell will dissipate. However, buy a rusted out old car that you restore with your kids? That is a treasure. Even after the car falls apart again or you sell it, the memory of your time working together still lives on. The conversations, the successes, the accidents, the feeling of accomplishment and a job well done are invaluable. I’m not saying you should never buy the BMW. I’m just pointing out that is not really a treasure.
Memories for Sale
Buy a trip. One of Marita’s fondest memories of her dad is the family trip to Disney World. I still remember the trip I took with my parents on which we went to Carlsbad Caverns, the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Mt. Rushmore. I tell stories about leaving Abilene, Texas when it was over 100 degrees and getting to Yellowstone while it was snowing. We had to go into town, buy new clothes and sleeping bags just to make it in our tent. I love to laugh and tell the story about how Mom and I bundled up in layers of sweats to go to sleep even though Dad tried to convince me a real man sleeps in just his shorts no matter what. What a laugh I had the next morning when Mom told me our real man got up shortly after I went to sleep and put on some clothes. That was 25 years ago, a year before my mom died. I don’t know how much that trip cost my parents, but it is certainly a treasure for me.
Buy souvenirs. Souvenirs are great ways to store up memories. I have a shelf of mugs that were purchased on the trip I just mentioned and on others. Every time I look at that shelf, I remember those times together. After he retired from the Air Force, my dad ended up running his own heating and air business. His main supplier was Lennox. Some of my most prized possessions are the Lennox drinking glasses and mugs that we now have and the “toy” piggy banks modeled after vintage Lennox trucks. As far as piggy banks and drinking glasses go, there’s nothing special about them. But every time I see them I think of my dad. I think of putting on coveralls and crawling under a house or into an attic with him. I think of his work ethic. I think of his generosity. By the way, he died in 2000. You better believe I treasure the memories.
Buy a camera. Capture the memories. Digital cameras make everything so nice. Just take pictures and load them on to memory cards and sticks. Print them out and make scrapbooks. Label them to give reminders of exactly when and where you were. Every day I see pictures of my children when they were infants. I don’t ever want to lose those memories. I love to look at pictures with my kids on our trips. I love to see pictures of my family (well, most of them). One of the most treasured gifts I have is a small scrapbook my wife gave me for Father’s Day one year. On several pages she pasted pictures of my dad and me and then a similar picture of one of my children and me. Every once in a while I just get the book out because I need a good cry, a good laugh, a good memory.
Buy a video camera and use it. I’m not saying subject all your friends and neighbors to your memories. But they are your memories. Record them. Play them back. I treasure the video my granddad has of me as a toddler swimming with my mom. Granted, the one he has of my younger brother as an infant while I can be heard in the background singing some crazy made up song in the bathroom is not so good. But Marita treasures that one.
Buy things that remind you of the people in your life. Of course, sometimes these can be handed down to you for free. However, there may be something a friend of yours owned and you found a match for it. Buy it and let it remind you of your friend and loved one. I lived in England as a child and my parents collected Boson heads and plates. Even though Marita thinks the plates are hideous, she lets me keep one in our bedroom because of the treasure it is to me.
Buy games. Talk about memories in the making. I don’t know how many times my kids say, “Hey Dad, do you remember when we played such and such and this or that happened?” Like when Ethan likes to say, “Hey Dad, do you remember that time we played chess and I beat you in four moves?” This usually starts an avalanche of laughter and memories for the whole family. Some of our fondest memories with family and friends involve games. All I have to do around Marita and her siblings is mention Greg Louganis and “The Fish” and we are on a roll of game memories because of a great night of “Beyond Balderdash.” If you ever meet Marita’s brother, Seth, you’ll have to ask him about it. I have a picture of a completed game of “Go” on my phone in which I totally trounced Ethan after he had talked so much smack that he needed a lesson. I bring that up for a good chuckle with the kids now and then. Or then there is the time when Marita’s cousin told our friend he thought she was the worst “Farkel” player ever and she came from behind and stomped us all. (By the way, in the interest of honest disclosure, those links are affiliate links. Can you blame a guy for trying to make a little extra cash in this economy?)
It’s the Value, not the Cost
You don’t have to be rich to buy things of value. All you need is memories. Sure, some experiences may cost a bit. You won’t pull off the Disney trip cheaply. But many experiences don’t cost much. I think of the poem “Salutation” by Ezra Pound in which he mocks the rich for their pretentions and stuffiness, while highlighting the experiences the poor can enjoy.
O generation of the thoroughly smug
and thoroughly uncomfortable,
I have seen fishermen picnicking in the sun,
I have seen them with untidy families,
I have seen their smiles full of teeth
and heard ungainly laughter.
And I am happier than you are,
And they were happier than I am;
And the fish swim in the lake
and do not even own clothing.
The issue is not the cost. The issue is the value. Don’t waste your life trying to buy something that costs a lot. Make sure you buy something worth treasuring. Make sure you buy some memories.
(Come back next Wednesday as we discuss Crying Tears Worth Shedding.)