January 1, 2013 Volume 27, Number 01
Dying rich: What's in it for me?
Leave a legacy by investing your money in others
By Henry Friesen | ChristianWeek Columnist
Photo by .michael.newman. via Flickr
What's up with the limitless desire to die rich? Is it the fear of ending up penniless and dependent on others? An obsession to leave as much as possible to heirs? Or is it simply human nature?
Canadians who survived the depression of the 1930s learned their financial lessons well. Simple lifestyles and "saving for a rainy day" became guiding principles.Baby boomers picked up where their parents left off. Many have become well-off thanks to hard work and thrifty habits.
Becoming wealthy is not a bad thing. But what is "wealthy"? For most it's a moving target. "I'd be wealthy if I had a little more," they say.
Often it's the affluence of our neighbours or peer group against which we measure our own wealth (or poverty).
And occasionally people sanctify their net worth by relating it to the super-rich and concluding they are relatively poor ("Compared to Bill Gates I'm a pauper!").
Why are we motivated to die rich? This question should be particularly perplexing for Christians. Is the goal of dying rich in keeping with God's idea of good financial stewards? When it gets right down to it, are our money goals about Him or us?
Take the worry of our money running out before we die. Canadians live in an amazing country, and it's not just because Prime Minister Harper tells us so. Between Medicare, OAS, GIS, CPP and a favourable tax regime, penniless pensioners are the exception in Canada.
Then there's the messy business of leaving an estate to heirs. Well-to-do parents often agonize over how much to give their children and when and how to give it. They would do well to ask, "Will more money help my children become better people?" instead of focusing on maximizing the inheritance and minimizing taxes.
Thanks to increasing life expectancy, heirs are often near pension age when their parents die. But many Christians take a limited view when making their estate plans. Their prayer appears to be "Lord, bless me and my wife, my son and his wife, us four and no more." A narrow perspective robs us of the blessings that come with responding to giving opportunities.
John Wesley famously said, "Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can." We've got the first two down pat, don't we?
But what about the "give all you can"? What holds us back? Do we fear living with an open wallet? Are we concerned about the economic turmoil dominating the financial news? Do we fear that our wealth is at risk?
Many years ago my aunt described her philosophy on the tension between financial risk and generosity with a rhetorical question. "Wouldn't it be unfortunate if our money was worthless some day and we hadn't given it away first?" she queried. Her cheque book was a testimony to her beliefs.
Leave a legacy by "investing" your money in others. And do it while you're alive and kicking so you can see the difference your investments have made. You can't take it with you!
Henry Friesen invests his money where it matters near Winnipeg.