Hey. My name is Ben and I can assure you I am no expert on finance. I grew up in a family that chose to be poor. My mother was a teacher who spent 14 years teaching in California, then we moved to New York... none of those years transferred to her pay or to her retirement. She just retired last year at the age of 69 and had to take a penalty. My dad was the son of a preacher man, a choir director, and an antique dealer from the age of 20 til the day he died. We grew up in a town with more cows than people just outside of Cooperstown, NY. They followed their passion instead of chasing the dollar. 

About 95% of my wardrobe was hand me downs from my 5 year older brother - and the other 5% was my one new shirt and one new pair of pants for the first day of school each year - and don't forget the new pair of socks from Grandma and Grandpa each Christmas. 

We were poor. It got worse when we traded one small town for another. Because we couldn't sell the first home, we owned two homes for 8 years until one winter the pipes froze and burst and flooded the place. The insurance company offered us a generous sum of $25,000 and we were so desparate to get out, we took it.

I always knew other kids had more than me. It became somewhat obvious when other kids brought me toys to play with when they would come over to my house. But honestly, it was ok. I was blissfully ignorant to the almighty dollar. I still had 3 meals a day. I had as much milk as I could drink. I had a roof over my head. I had a family that loved me - for the most part. 

Then it all changed...

Junior High started - I went to a K-12 central school, but the junior high and high schoolers used a separate side of the building. It became painfully obvious that I was five years behind the times. I didn't have a discman. I didn't have air Jordan's. I didn't have the friendships with the cool kids anymore because I didn't have the cool stuff. I was still wearing a winter coat that was made in the 80's - which is back in style now btdubbs.

I realized very quickly that money makes the world go round. And I wanted it. 

Once I had this epiphany I started doing anything I could to get my hands on as much money as possible, as quickly as possible. I even began my own company at 14 and was buying and selling Abercrombie and Fitch clothing. (Don't forget we lived in a small town and the nearest mall was over an hour away - also this was before anything and everything was easily accessible online.) I was finally starting to fit in again. I was running with the big dogs. I was buying friendships and spending every dime I made to make it to the top of the popularity precipice.

It wasn't enough. I wanted more...

I could barely afford to pretend I had the lifestyle of everyone else, so when something new came out that I couldn't afford, I started stealing. Walmart, school, summer jobs, pirating movies, games and software. Everything was up for grabs. I had to have more and that was the only way to get it. 

Once I turned 18 - I was at least wise enough to stop stealing out of fear of going to jail. Then a new dilemma became apparent. What career path should I choose to make as much money as possible so I can have everything I want. I knew what I was called to do from the age of 11 - but that is a story for another day. 

At this point my parents made too little to help with school, but too much to get any kind of financial aid. 8 years of student loans - undergrad and doctorate degrees don't pay for themselves. Fortunately, I reconnected with a high school sweet heart from youth group during those years and she made an honest man out of me. Brought me out of a downward spiral and back to Christ.

Still, it is so easy to get caught up in the next big thing, or that sweet vacation, or that new car that runs on nothing but air. Whether you don't have two nickels to rub together, or make six figures, it doesn't matter. There is always something better, newer, stronger, faster. Always something we don't have. 

It really hit home about a year ago reading through the beginning of ecclesiastes. Solomon - the wisest and richest man ever to walk the face of the earth - is miserable! 1:8 says "Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear we are not content." 2:11 "But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless - like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere." 

It isn't until later in life when Solomon obtains the true key to happiness: realizing everything we have is a gift from God - and can be take away because it is not ours in the first place; and contentment: "Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don't."6:9

It is a constant struggle, but one worth fighting. Stop looking for the next big thing, your neighbor's bigger boat, the mailman's nicer car... "True Godliness with contentment is itself great wealth." 1 Timothy 6:6.

"Contentment makes poor men RICH, discontent makes rich men POOR" - Ben Franklin

Again, I am no expert when it comes to finances, I can't tell you where to put your 401k, but I do know that contentment is a shift in the heart. It only becomes available to us with God's help and you can only seek God's help by investing time with Him. I promise you that will pay dividends beyond your expectations.

I also know that life doesn't get better when you get "there". That new promotion, raise, bmw 7 series, whatever... Life gets better and more fulfilling by wanting what you have. Not to mention it also removes the stumbling blocks that prevent you from obtaining true wealth - and having it available when God wants to use you to further his kingdom.

-Ben Cotter

 
 

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