Ramblings on Money

Yesterday I was reading my copy of the Summer 2005 Marriott Alumni Magazine*, and came across an article by J. Michael Pinegar, a BYU professor of Finance, entited "The Lord’s Goods."    After discussing issues of stewardship and consecration, Pinegar quotes one of his students as follows:

Money is one of God’s tools to help us become like him.  [As] with many of God’s tools, Satan manipulates money’s use and tries to bring us down…Money is the power of this world.  The priesthood is the power of heaven.  [When] we use money how God intends for us to use it, then He will also show us how He intends for us to use the priesthood.

This statement immediately provoked and intrigued me; messages against money and its evils flashed through my mind, from the Scriptures and from the Temple.  And yet I find it hard to argue against this student’s claims.  All things are God’s tools to help us become like him, in a general sense; although money is a human invention, I can see how its use and management can affect our ability to be in tune with the Spirit and to come closer to God.  Its misuse can damn us.

So then let me introduce for discussion this quote, and a couple of hypotheticals that many of you will no doubt find familiar.  First, let us assume that you are relatively wealthy, or at least have sufficient cash flow for now.  A sibling or other relative makes some poor financial decisions, and lacks the acumen or discipline to keep his or head above water on a going-forward basis.  They come to you and request a bailout, or cash to fund their immediate needs.  How do you reply?

Second, let us assume that you are relatively poor, and have become unemployed or put into some other situation that immediately threatens your ability to provide for yourself and your family?  To whom do you first turn?  What do you ask of them?

Third, a question: how much money do you wish you had?

* – It’s not really my magazine.  It was sent to our former roommate, but since he didn’t bother to get it forwarded we just kept it.  Each page is laden with guilt.


  1. I don’t understand on what he is basing the claim that money is one of God’s tools. No doubt money can be very useful, but the object itself doesn’t have a moral quality. Like other man-made tools, its usefulness to God depends on the means for which it is used.

    Priesthood power, however, is God’s tool–its power emanates from Him and He controls its efficacy. The priesthood is literally the power to act in His name–and God will not countenance an unrighteous act. I assume one of the reasons the scriptures talk about priestcraft is due to the importance of being able to discern between genuine exercises of priesthood and counterfeits. It makes some sense to say that we can apply lessons learned from the wise use of one stewardship to another, but it seems the student has the order of things reversed. When we properly understand our relationship with divine power we understand the proper posture to worldly power.

  2. Church policy is that we are to turn to our families before recieving assistance from the Bishop. As with everything, the helping of a sibling is on a case by case basis. Looking at my siblings, however, I would bail them out without any question.

    As for how much I’m shooting for: 100MM.

  3. D. Fletcher says:

    I suppose I need money like everyone else. I like nice toys, a lovely place to sleep, and daily food. But the pursuit of money…? It nauseates me.

    I’d like just enough money to not ever have to think about it again. $3 million would cover it. I’d like to get $6 million, and then I would give 50% away.

  4. Julie in Austin says:

    I wouldn’t give the sibling a cent until s/he agreed to a money management class, and I would not give any money to the sibling directly, but, for example, write the check directly to his landlord. We are called to help our families, but not to aid and abet their stupidity.

    Money can be–should be–a tool to help us become like God. It is a resource–like our time, our energy, etc.,–and how we choose to ue our resources reflects our willingness to follow God.

    We have enough money; I don’t feel that we need more.

  5. If a sibling came to me for a bailout after making some poor financial decisions, I’d give them enough to fund their immediate needs, i.e., pay the mortgage for a couple of months and buy food. If the sibling returned a couple of months later, I would sit down with them for a heart-to-heart about money, and find out what exactly happened, and what they’re doing to fix the situation. I would also talk to sibling and sibling’s spouse about how the money is being spent. I don’t mind helping out, but I’d like to be sure they’re not making other poor decisions with how they spend the money I’m giving them.

    Typically, I don’t wait to be asked. I’ve written three and four figure checks to help siblings with home and furniture purchases, and pay tuition. I also enjoy buying clothes for little kids, so frequently a niece or nephew will get half a wardrobe when I find a jackpot of cute clothes.

    Then I quit my high-paying lawyer job and now everyone knows not to expect much from me anymore. :)

    If I needed a bailout, I’d turn to family first (because they pretty much all owe me by now).

  6. Mathew, well said. Money and priesthood are fundamentally different. Money is simply a means of exchange, something that helps us assign relative value to goods and services. The greenbacks in my wallet are worth only what someone is willing to give me in exchange for them. I’m expecting Frank M. to back me up on this point. Frank, do they still use the coconuts and animal skins example in beginning econ classes at BYU?

    Steve, in answer to your question about what I would do if I became unable to provide for myself – I would probably shake down some rich lawyer from NYC!

  7. Prudence McPrude says:

    I refuse to even contemplate my being “not wealthy.” It’s so hard to imagine. It would probably be so despressing that I’d just curl up into a ball on the side of the road and die.

    I’ve actually had poorer relatives approach me for money. It’s so disgusting. Why can’t they see that it’s God’s will that I enjoy life’s luxuries while they struggle? Of course, maybe God would reevaluate their situation if they would actually live righteously for a change. But as it is, I suspect things are just as they should be, and I don’t want to deprive others of the growth experiences that come from their suffering, and from their having to watch me burn through hordes of cash like it’s going out of style!

  8. alamojag says:

    I agree with Julie’s point–give the help they need, not necessarily the help they ask for. We had some family members who were constantly asking us for money “for food.” Finally, we bought a boxload of groceries and mailed it to them. They never asked us for money again.

  9. Steve Evans says:

    You guys are harsh — you’d probably give quarter to a beggar without question, but you’re fine interrogating your family or choosing the type of aid they receive?

    I am with you, but the concern I have is that we adequately convey our love for our relatives to whom we lend money; clearly we want to instill good financial habits, discipline, etc., but maybe not if that comes at the expense of our relationships…

  10. Elisabeth says:

    I’m happy to help my brothers and sisters out financially. They’ve very rarely asked, and they always emphasize that it’s a loan not a handout, and will pay me back as soon as they can. And they usually have, although I don’t necessarily expect them to.

    Luckily, my family members are pretty careful with money (so far), so I don’t have to worry too much that they are throwing away my money down the drain. I’d worry about being too Shylock-ian in my money lending to family members, because I wouldn’t want to appear selfish and uncaring about their financial woes. But I have seen instances where siblings take huge advantage of their richer brothers and sisters (and parents), so I guess it’s a balancing act.

    As for how much money I’d love to have – I guess a couple of million so I could pay off my mortgage, put some money away for retirement, then quit my job and do something more productive
    with the rest of my working days to help others.

    P.S. Hi, Steve! How is your marathon training coming along?

  11. Steve Evans says:
  12. Elisabeth says:

    That is awesome. I can’t believe you ran 12 miles on the treadmill at the hotel after the bloggersnacker.

    Sounds like you’re doing really well! Good luck with the rest of your training (especially on those dastardly hills in Central Park).

    Sorry for the threadjack.

  13. Mark Simmons says:

    Don’t feel too laden with guilt, Steve. If your old roommate really wanted to read the Marriott Alumni magazine he could find it here: http://marriottschool.byu.edu/marriottmag/summer05/index.cfm.

  14. Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s

  15. Prudence, I just got struck with a bolt of lightning. Funny.

    My sisters and I have lent each other money through the years, most of the time it’s been a good thing, sometimes it’s caused a few problems. Lucky are they who have honest relatives.

    You asked how much money do–what did you say, want? I always start off fantasizing just putting down laminate floors and ripping up my old filthy carpet, which has seen kids and dogs and husbands tracking and doing all kinds of bad stuff. Then, I need new windows and a new front door, and the house needs to be painted….

    Pretty soon, I’ve built myself right out of my house and into a new three story mansion, with a cabin in the mountains, and my own private plane and pilot. And that’s not enough, I want all my family to have that, too.

    It’s never enough. Well, for some people.

  16. Steve, you’re training for a marathon in Central Park? Maybe I should start jogging again. I live a block away from there If you’re in the neighborhood sometime, let me know. Maybe I’ll jog part of the way with you (no doubt you’re much better conditioned than I am right now).

    When I think about having a lot of money, I find myself thinking about having the independence to fully pursue my dreams and not have to report to a 9-5 employer. That’s not the wildest dream I have, but it is one of them.

  17. Steve (#11),

    If the relatives had asked for money “to tide themselves over,” or something like that, then maybe I’d send money. But when they asked for food money and then told us the wife used it for a perm instead, we sent food the next time they asked for food money.

    And, no, I don’t give beggars money without question. I was stopped at a truck stop for gas one day and a guy came up, said he was hungry and asked for money. I told him I didn’t have spare cash (I put everything on my debit card), but I did have an extra sandwich I made for the trip. At first he was angry: “I don’t want food, I want money!” But he took the sandwich, and he ate it, too.

    To answer the last question, how much money do I wish I had? Just a little bit more. We’re making it (thank heaven for medical insurance!), but could always use just a little bit more.

  18. Steve Evans says:

    Alamojab, I agree largely with your approach, but at the same time I don’t think less of people that give freely without question. Sometimes I wish I had that kind of courage to be generous to a fault — it’s the kind of fault that is nice to have, IMHO.

    One of the approaches that hasn’t been discussed is to ask the person in need to open up their books to you; i.e., to see their expenses and income, and to work with them in creating a budget, a balance sheet, etc. Is it inappropriate to condition our giving on such invasiveness?

  19. lyle stamps says:

    Enough money to fund all my crazy and/or zion building activities:

    1. co-op cocoa farms in liberia run by the relatives of members in my philly ward
    2. enough single family homes in philly to lease to all dental/med students coming here, at a below market rate and/or with a refund for taking care of the place so they have a downpayment to buy after they finish school…
    3. etc.

  20. A woman I visit taught didn’t have enough money to buy decent Sunday clothes for her daughters. My companion bought a couple of lovely dresses for the children at the thrift store. Then, the woman’s Avon order was delivered – $25 worth of knick-knacks. That was more than my companion had spent on the dresses.

    It’s hard listening to people complain about how they can’t afford their electric bill, while at the same time I observe that they have a DVD collection full of current releases. It makes it hard to take their complaints seriously, and it makes me feel crummy for feeling so judgmental.

    I’d just as soon not know about people’s money troubles, because I’m no help, and I’m a know-it-all. Not a good combination.

    How much money would I want? $100,000.

  21. Ann has a good point. Sometimes people who don’t have enough money are simply spending it on the wrong things. There’s a little girl in our neighborhood who always wants to eat lunch with my niece because her mom “doesn’t like to fix lunch”. Well, they don’t buy lunch food. It’s a sad story until you find out about all the other little extras they can afford.

    I’m confident my siblings don’t do dumb things with money, so I lend it to them without question. And I feed the little girl whose mom buys dumb things instead of food for her daughter. But I sure wouldn’t give money to the mom directly because I know she wouldn’t spend it wisely. I’m not going to fund bad habits.

  22. I really struggle with this–my own spending habits are far from perfect, but having plenty of money gives me the luxury of doing dumb things with it and not having anyone judge me for it. It doesn’t seem fair to require that poorer people should be wiser in their spending than I am. I read a study a long time ago that found that welfare recipients and people with incomes over $100,000/yr both spent about 9% of their money on impulse/emotional/trivial purchases. That seems likely to me–human nature seems pretty similar across income distribution curves.

    I once heard Gene England give a talk on King Benjamin’s sermon, where he expressed his gratitude that the injunction was to “succor them according to their wants” and not according to their *needs.* Figuring out what people need requires judging; knowing what they want means listening to them. Often, when people have a few of their most urgent wants satisfied, they can start being more sensible about what their true needs are.

    I don’t think this always works, and sometimes I think we really do have to, as kindly as possible, help people by educating their desires. But I’m not sure that has to be the first step, and I think it’s almost always wise to delay our own impulse to judge.

  23. I want enough money to allow me to house-crash Steve and Sumer’s pad for a while, and then flee while leaving nothing behind but my magazine subscriptions.

    So, Steve old buddy, you’ve got a spare room now, right?

  24. D. Fletcher says:

    The specific example of a sibling needing money, I think is indeed troubling, and ought to be examined. One cannot be an “enabler” and allow everyone to take advantage. I think this has happened to my own parents, who seemed willing to bail everyone out at every opportunity. When they finally said no, it was taken as a real offense, even though they had been so generous in the past.

    And yet, making a judgment in every case seems wrong, too. I don’t have an answer for this troubling scenario, but am just pointing out that there’s difficulty in knowing what’s best, to take care of yourself and your future, or to help out someone in need.

  25. Iyle Stamps – we’ve been considering purchasing dress clothes for my hubby’s HTing family who have 5 kids and live in a crummy 2 bedroom apt. He thinks they need it. He says their kids wear the same things every Sunday but being far removed I’m not sure if they are as destitute as he thinks. (Maybe their daughter really likes that dress? or dress clothes aren’t that important to them with growing children?) I’m worried about offending if they aren’t really strapped for cash and we anonymously drop by some dress clothes. What does everyone think?

    On the family thing – I’d give them all I could if I prayed about it and felt right (everything is circumstancial) I’ve had the unfortunate priveledge of being the unemployed mooch of the family, and learned a lot about sacrificing that 9% Melinda speaks of. Like everyone else here you have a desire to give, but concerns about contributing to destructive behavior.

  26. I remember about ten years ago a friend of mine pulled out his worn copy of Brigham Young’s Journal of Discourses (guessing at the book title here) and showed me President Young’s proclamation (paraphrasing here) “that it is the duty of every member of the Church to gain as much health, wealth and power as possible, that they might wield great influence for good in the world” (remember, that’s a loose recollection of what I read). I believe the key to his statement is the motivation for getting the money, to do good. Money is just like a hammer, you can use it to build with, or to tear things down. It is, indeed, simply a tool. You can put $10-million in dollar bills in a vault and place armed guards at the door to watch it, and that money will never do good nor evil. It is when it is used by the individual that it magnifies a person’s values and beliefs, either for good…or evil. Good people will do good things with money, bad people will do bad things. It is our values, beliefs, actions and repentant hearts that we will be judged by…not the amount of money we have acquired. People who flaunt their lack of financial means as some sort of sign of righteousness or moral superiority are in as much danger as those who pursue money for the wrong reasons. Sadly, there are some among us who lack sufficient financial means because of laziness or lack of ambition, fear of failure, or the mistaken belief that money is evil. Maybe I’ve said too much.

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