Forbes has been tracking the wealthiest of the wealthy for almost 30 years. In 2013 they located 1,426 of the little suckers from quite a collection at the low end with only...only....$1 billion, all the way up to the Top Dog, a Mexican in telecommunications who, with his family, is worth a neat $73 billion. Billion, as in a 73 followed by not three, not six, but nine big ole' zeroes.
What do people with that kind of money even DO with it? I can't conceive of it, although I have wondered if one of them got a well-crafted, genuine, earnest letter from, say, a 55-year-old woman in Florida, he or she might sit down at some desk handcrafted by blind eunuchs who eat fire just for kicks and write out a nice hefty check. Or cheque, depending on his or her location.
How hefty? Well, for cheap entertainment, let's think about what to do with a nice round number. One million dollars. That wouldn't put a cramp on anyone's billionaire style, and it would change not only one life, but many. I like that idea. Instead of giving a billion dollars to build a library or clinic, how about a measly million to turn my world upside down?
Maybe you've seen the t-shirt that says, "Dear Lord, please let me win the lottery." I rarely buy a ticket; the odds are pitiful, and the money - regardless of what they say- hasn't done for education what it should have done. But there is that thought. I think I could handle a million big ones. A million small ones, for that matter. I would be thoughtful, prayerful, circumspect.
How would I spend, use, fritter it away? Hence the title: it's cheap entertainment thinking of such things, sort of like drawing rough floor plans for your dream home. Even if you never get it, it's fun to think about what you like and why. But $1 million is a lot to spend, and of course, to save. Hmmm.
$1,000,000 - 10% off the top for a tithe = $900,000. How quickly we dropped to 5 figures! But that's the way I was taught and that's the way I've lived, and it works. Even unchurched, godless, heartless business tycoons have learned along their financial journey that you can do more with 90% than you can with 100%, if you've been generous with that tithe. It is a principle of the universe, and if you discard it only because it is also biblical, or because you equate it with pompadoured charlatan televangelists, you ignore it to your peril. Time and time again, in a feast-or-famine construction existence as a young couple, we saw everything come together when on paper, we were headed for ruin. Paid for four babies with no health insurance. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Tithing works.
Reciprocity. Sowing and reaping. "You can't outgive God." It's true, and it's not about having the minister drive a BMW or claiming things. God gives us everything good in our lives, and asks that we give just a fraction back to build up the kingdom of God on earth. We may have different ideas about how that's lived out, but as a principle, stripped of all the peripherals, it works. I don't know why it works, or how it works, I just know that it does. If you don't believe me, put it to the test. (That's scriptural too, by the way, in Malachi 3:10.)
Where to tithe, that's a tougher question. Our old church in North Carolina, and the church I worked for there, would certainly qualify for donations, as would a local crisis pregnancy center, a few emergency fuel/food concerns. Maybe plant a few orchards in Israel, that kind of thing. Put my money, literally, where my mouth is with my most personal concerns. We haven't found a church home in Florida to date; still looking. Human nature being what it is, I would be tempted to call up a few ministers to sweetly 'splain why their church would NOT be a beneficiary, but that's just me being a little ugly.
$900,000. We have three living children, three grandchildren, three parents. How best to help them? No debts, reliable transportation, safe and adequate housing, done. The Bible teaches that it is the glory of parents to give to their children, and our parents are all tithers, thus they are not - in their 80s or there 'bouts, in financial decline. Two unmarried daughters could use stability, solvency, and a couple of fantastic weddings if and when the time should come. Our son might just get that house on the golf course he's always wanted, perhaps not fully funded, but helped along. Trusts for the grandchildren. College funds.
Let's say we spent a neat 1/2 a million that way, $500,000. That would leave only $400,000. My, it does go quickly! Maybe some new cars, better gas mileage? Cautious investments? We've rarely had enough extra money to invest, but we probably should have done without in the past in order to build up our retirement funds. $400,000 wouldn't last forever, but it could be put to work and last a really long time, especially if we're still working, saving, tithing...
And just for the heck of it, I'd enjoy sending a woman I know who is in a loveless marriage the financial means to leave, go where she thinks she'd be happy. The worst that could happen would be that she'd learn it wasn't about the location, but about herself. That would be a worthwhile expenditure.
We spent a wonderful year in India working with wonderful folks we could trust to let us know where extra money would really, really help. Buy back some child slaves. Support missionaries. Buy goats.
I think of the young woman who is so dependent on her husband that he controls everything, her behavior, her thoughts, her ties with family. With money of her own, maybe they could achieve a bit more balance at home. Maybe he would finally show her the respect she should receive.
Or the nice guy who is having trouble finding work - what fun to set him up in a business.
I'd like to take out a full page ad in every major newspaper and tell a certain vehicle manufacturer what I think of their putting what they knew was an unsafe car on the road years ago. I'd like to buy every older model of that car at fair market value and have a gigantic meltdown. Recyle the potential death traps once and for all.
Scholarships. Good causes. Making a real difference in a few peoples' lives is more up my alley than sending money to an organization. And it really wouldn't cost that much to effect lasting change, in so many cases.
Maybe David would finally take that trip to see the Grand Canyon. I'm pretty sure I would go up to Holly's Haven in Lillington, North Carolina and get highlights put in my hair, and even spring for a manicure.
I manage little mini-vacations fairly regularly for my sanity's sake, just get away from it all and breathe. I'd still do that, but instead of bopping around Florida, I'd love to see the world. Go back to India. See the Louvre. Take a ride in a gondola.
I could run for office! On second thought...
Cheap entertainment, like I said. Now it's your turn. What would YOU do with a million dollars?
(c) Ellen Gillette, 2013