We live in one of the most affluent cultures the world has ever known. And we are constantly bombarded with costly, manipulative advertising whose purpose is to prompt us to spend money. Advertisers usually stress the importance of image rather than function. For example, automobile ads rarely focus on a car as reliable transportation that is economical to operate; instead, an image of status or sex appeal is projected.
Reflect on the claims of TV commercials. No matter what the product—clothing, deodorants, credit cards, cars, beverages, you name it—the message is communicated that the “Fulfilling, beautiful, wrinkle-free life” can be ours if we are willing to buy it. Unfortunately, this media onslaught has influenced all of us to some extent. George Fooshee, the author of the excellent book You Can Beat the Money Squeeze, so aptly states, “People buy things they do not need with money they do not have to impress people they do not even like.”
The following graph depicts how the artificial, media-generated lifestyle influences our lives. The bottom curve represents our income—what we really can afford to buy. The next curve illustrates how much we actually spend. We make up the difference between our income and spending by the use of debt, which creates slavery, financial pressure and anxiety. The top of the graph demonstrates what advertisers tell us to buy. It’s an image-conscious, expensive lifestyle that claims to satisfy the human heart’s deepest needs. When we want to live this counterfeit, media-induced dream but cannot afford it, we suffer discontentment, envy and coveting.
None of us is immune to the lure of this message. Recently a sharp-looking van in a television commercial caught my eye. Our family has a second-hand, 11-year-old station wagon painted an unattractive yellow. This advertised van was perfect for our family—just the right size and color. I even rationalized that this van would be better suited for use in ministry. I found myself spending half an hour each day studying beautiful, slick brochures, admiring new vans on the highway and daydreaming about driving one. I was hooked! The yellow station wagon seemed to get more unsightly every day, while the van went from an “I want it” to an “I need it” category.
From time to time we all get hooked on something we think we must buy—a car, home, camera, boat, you name it. Once hooked, it’s easy to rationalize a purchase. Please remember to seek the Lord’s guidance and the counsel of godly people when making spending decisions.