We’ve just started the season of Lent, the 40 days before Easter in which Catholics pray, fast, and engage in acts of spiritual self-discipline. We do this in preparation for great feast of Easter, which celebrates the Resurrection of Christ. Easter is the greatest holy day of the Christian year (even above Christmas) and it is appropriate to prepare for such a holy day by engaging in spiritual practices.
Each of us makes daily choices to lead a godly life or to follow the temptations of our world. Often our attitude toward finances can be influenced negatively by the Seven Deadly Sins, which are pride; greed (or avarice); envy; wrath; lust; gluttony and sloth. The Catechism calls these ‘capital’ sins because they can lead to other sins.
All of these are especially relevant in the area of finances and spending. Below are some traps it is easy to fall into:
Pride is a feeling that you are more important or better than other people. All human beings suffer from overconfidence, but Americans more than anyone. A prideful person can be overly optimistic about their ability to pay back debt, maintain their employment, and avoid any financial emergencies. But we all have those times when the car needs repairs, the washer breaks, there is a trip to the emergency room, or a secure job is suddenly pulled out from under us.
Our pride can get in the way of preparing for these inevitable emergencies by saving for an emergency fund. The question is not IF you have an emergency, but WHEN that emergency will happen and how well you will be prepared. Don’t let pride get in your way.
Greed is a selfish and excessive desire for more. It is an insatiable quest for wealth or gain. We can easily fall into the trap of greed by overbuying on those small items we purchase, but don’t really need. We also justify our greed by talking ourselves into spending too much money on a large purchase because we deserve it.
After all, if you are spending $20,000 on a good used car, why not pay just a little more every month to get a new car? The monthly payments are not that much more if you spread them out over a few more years. Focusing on the monthly payment, not the total price can mean paying thousands of dollars more in interest charges.
If you are buying a house, the realtor may show you homes which are thousands above your anticipated purchase price. And once you see that more expensive home, it’s easy to fall in love with it and so hard to back down to the smaller home. This is another case where looking at the monthly payment not the total cost is dangerous. Being greedy about what you deserve rather than what you need is a sure way to pay more money.
Envy is painful or resentful awareness of what someone has that you lack, joined with a desire to possess the same advantage. We often justify our spending based on what others around us are buying. If the neighbors just got a new one, it’s easy to feel like we deserve one too, no matter what that thing is and whether or not we really need it or will even use it. With easy credit, we can talk ourselves into buying many things that were formerly considered luxuries, but we justify it as a need “because everybody has one.”
Wrath is a strong vengeful anger and often comes in the form of blaming others for your financial mistakes. Many people are angry at the lender when they can’t make payments on an item. However, the lender is not responsible for making sure you don’t overspend – you are. Developing a strategy for your own personal finances is your responsibility. No amount of wrath can justify your irresponsibility.
Lust is a strong desire for something, and it takes on many forms. It would be hard to find more than a handful of people who hadn’t lusted for a particularly desirable item at some point. And many times, lust takes the form of internet pornography, which is a very large hidden industry. It’s estimated that Americans spend between $10 billion and $13 billion on adult entertainment. That facet of lust often contributes to overwhelming debt.
Gluttony is greedy or excessive indulgence. You deserve that cookie so go ahead and eat it and maybe a couple more for good measure. While you’re at it, buy the bedroom set you can’t afford but deeply desire.
As a nation, the United States is both plainly fat from eating too much and overstuffed in the materialistic sense. The message from society in general can sometimes be: You work hard, so splurge. It’s very possible to have a house full of stuff and no money. Just like eating food for no good reason other than the fact that it’s there, buying stuff just to have it is a dangerous game.
The advertisers know people will react to items on sale. If a $100 item is on sale for 60% off, you can easily justify that you saved $60. But did your savings account increase by $60? Or did you really just spend $40 and not save $60?
Sloth is apathy and inactivity. Dealing with your finances can be easy to avoid as it takes some effort to get things organized and managed. However, ignoring your finances can have severe consequences. Avoiding problems is easy. Solving them is hard, especially if you are facing past due bills, looming college costs or retirement in a few years.
The first step is including God in your finances: “If therefore you have not been faithful in the use of worldly wealth who will entrust you with true riches?” Luke 16:11
So you can choose to commit these 7 deadly sins, or work on bringing a little temperance into your financial life. The Catechism defines temperance as follows: “Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable (CCC 1809).”
The virtue of temperance is a good spiritual discipline for this season of Lent and will help you avoid the Seven Deadly Sins.