A Penny Saved Is . . . Not Much

My mother is a little bit obsessed. Apparently now Taco Bell tacos are too expensive for her. Last night, when I called her to ask if she’d like me to bring her a couple of tacos, she couldn’t get past the price. “I used to buy two of them and they were $.39 each.”

I resisted the temptation to say, “Yes, and you earned $12.50 a week working at Sears in 1940.” Instead, I just told her I’d bring my supper to her house and eat.

Once I arrived there, having changed my plan to Subway, she brought up the price of tacos again. Happily, she didn’t care what a meatball sub set me back.

We’ve had discussions of money before. She’ll pick up pennies from the pavement from her walker. Honestly, I think she’s just proving that she still can. Yesterday, I paid $1.14 for something at QuikTrip. Handing the cashier $1.15, I said, “I don’t need the penny.” Please don’t tell my mother. Out in the parking lot, a moment later, I saw a penny on the ground and let it lie. What’s wrong with me?

Of course, I joke about her obsession with small prices, coming up with things she could do if she really wanted to economize. How about getting rid of that car you don’t drive anymore? But I have my own hang-ups. Why in the world does my son drive miles away from his home to buy premium cups of coffee? It’s extravagant in both time and money! Shaking my head, I mutter, “It’s his money.”

I suppose that pennies do add up to make dollars, but what can you do with a single dollar these days? Am I being wasteful and a bad steward? After all, didn’t Jesus say this?

Whoever is faithful in very little is also faithful in much, and whoever is unrighteous in very little is also unrighteous in much.–Luke 16:10

And didn’t he criticize the guy who took a single talent and buried it to keep it safe? Don’t forget that he had the disciples pick up all the leftovers after feeding 5,000. Maybe my mother is on to something here. Whatever we waste is what we will not have in the future. Whatever we abandon won’t be on our balance sheet going forward. If I waste (or pass up) money, time, or other assets, I’ll not have their use tomorrow. This is the truth behind the Broken Window Fallacy. You can’t build the economy long term by breaking things. Time and possessions represent money, so wasting them is wasting money.

All of this is true, but I think it is an argument built on an unexamined premise. Should all of stewardship be expressible in terms of dollars? Is the bottom line truly a quantity of currency? Let’s say that it’s not. If that’s true, then what is its measurement?

Now my brain hurts. It’s so much easier to turn off unused lights and shop the sales at the grocery. And Taco Bell? Those tacos aren’t $.39 anymore!


So You Want to Win the Lottery?

All that glittersI’d love to have a bucket full of money come my way. Wouldn’t you? Every day, it seems, I watch people clog the checkout at QuikTrip as they agonize over their Lottery ticket purchases or gleefully collect the $25 they “earned” after buying $50 in tickets. (And they typically give that “winning” back for more tickets.)

In case you’re tempted by the lure of easy money, consider the fates of 21 Lottery winners who wound up being Lottery losers. This one is typical.

David Lee Edwards split a $280 million Powerball jackpot with three others, a win that came while he was unemployed and living in his parents’ basement. After taxes, he received a lump sum of $27 million. He bought a $600,000 house, a $1 million fleet of cars, a $78,000 watch, a $1.9 million jet, 200 swords and other medieval weapons, and a $4.5 million fiber-optics installation company. He also married a woman 19 years younger than he was.

Within a year, he had spent $12 million. The house was soon lost to foreclosure, his wife was arrested for stabbing a boyfriend, and David died at age 58 in 2013.

A jet and 200 swords? Wow. Beware of what you hope for. Jesus warned his followers about the lure of wealth: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Luke 16:13). In my experience, when we serve God, the money, though not in epic quantities, will come along for the ride.