Without planning, vow of simplicity can be anything but simple: Rick Kahler

Rick Kahler
Local Columnist
Kahler

Last week we explored one type of money belief, an unconscious vow of poverty that can lead to self-sabotage and harmful behaviors around money.

But what about those, like members of some religious orders, who consciously make vows of poverty? Does that also lead to harmful money choices?

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First of all, a conscious vow of poverty is more accurately described as a vow of simplicity. It is a commitment to live a simple life with as few of the trappings of materialism as possible. Such vows are part of the traditions of various religions, including Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity.

Most Catholic priests, for example, do not take a vow of poverty, but rather are expected to lead a life of simplicity equal to that of the people they serve. Members of Catholic orders like the Franciscans and Jesuits commit to living simply and holding property in common but not personally.

No matter how convincing the outward appearance of poverty may be, those who take vows of simplicity or poverty are still supported by money from some source. For members of religious orders, that source is often donations. For individuals, it might be their own earnings, communal earnings or support from families. While leaders, such as the heads of religious orders or charitable organizations, might not personally own assets, they can have access to and control over vast amounts of money and property.

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Perhaps the most famous person noted for choosing a life of simplicity was Mahatma Gandi, who reportedly died with a net worth of one dollar. Despite the meagerness of his personal possessions and lifestyle, his fame and influence necessitated dealing with and providing for throngs of followers and visitors. A close friend of Gandhi, Sarojini Naidu, famously told him, “Do you know how much it costs every day to keep you in poverty?” Another contemporary, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, said “I spend less than Gandhi on his tours despite traveling first-class.”

One aspect of a conscious vow of simplicity can be choosing to minimize the importance of possessions or accumulating money. This is not necessarily the same as seeing poverty as inherently virtuous. Gandi himself called poverty “the worst form of violence.”

Others may choose simplicity because of a belief that wealth is evil, money corrupts and poverty is somehow morally or spiritually superior. I once participated in a seminar through a school where the leaders embraced a vow of poverty. They railed against capitalism and anyone engaged in the field of banking or finance, who they said were doing the devil’s work. Yet the school was continuously asking supporters for money — most of which had been obtained from the very “evil and corrupt” system the school denigrated.

Another mindset related to a vow of simplicity is a belief that the universe or one’s higher power will provide all of one’s basic needs for life. Supporters of this behavior look to a variety of religious texts and teachings to support their mindset. In Christianity, a common source is the “lilies of the field” passage from Matthew 6:25-34. I find it interesting that while more than 25% of the parables of Jesus and more than 2,300 Bible verses are on topics like wealth, possessions, tithing, saving money, greed, money mindsets, contentment and investing, nowhere does Christ suggest his followers need to live in poverty.

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Like an unconscious vow of poverty, a conscious vow of simplicity can result in failing to provide for anything beyond one’s immediate needs. Having no thought for the future can manifest in the lack of insurance protection or retirement savings. The eventual result can be financial dependency on family or social programs that is stressful and anything but simple.

Rick Kahler is president and owner of Kahler Financial of Rapid City.