It’s no secret that Mississippi generally ranks first in the bad categories and last in the good categories. But, in this article on MarketWatch, we finally show up first in a positive category! (please pardon the artwork in the article…it’s not ours).

I love my State. I was born and raised here. And after 4 years in the happening city of Nashville, we returned to Mississippi. Why leave Nashville, many ask? Simply put, it wasn’t home for us. After being back for over 10 years now, we don’t see ourselves leaving.

So is $1 million enough for retirement? The article suggests this amount of money will get the average Mississippian retiree 25 years and 6 months of living, almost double that of Hawaii. So forget the islands, folks, come to Mississippi for good livin’!

So reader, do you have a number? Is it $200k, $500k, $1 million, $3 million, or more? Some investment company commercials sell us (not “tell us”) that having a number is critical to your retirement success. I don’t agree. I’d argue that living on a budget and not owing money is more critical to accomplishing your goals than a specific number.

We see it week in and week out in the office with our clients: Those who don’t owe money and live within their means experience far more freedom and peace than those who are working towards a number. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with having savings goals. Just don’t forget the other “nuts and bolts” of financial planning which are critical to success.

Speaking of “success,” I’m reminded of Tim Keller’s book Counterfeit Gods. Keller wrote this book in the midst of the Great Recession when many of our counterfeit gods were taken away, including money, power, and success. Consider the opening of this book (warning: it’s graphic):

“After the global economic crisis began in mid-2008, there followed a tragic string of suicides of formerly wealthy and well-connected individuals. The acting chief financial officer of Freddie Mac…hanged himself in his basement. The CEO of Sheldon Good, a leading U.S. real estate auction firm, shot himself in the head behind the wheel of his red Jaguar. A French money manager who invested the wealth of many of Europe’s royal and leading families, and who had lost $1.4 billion of his clients’ money in Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, slit his wrists and died in his Madison Avenue office.” And the list goes on.

How can we come to this point when life is no longer worth living? Despair. Consider this:

“There is a difference in sorrow and despair. Sorrow is pain for which there are sources of consolation. Sorrow comes from losing one good thing among others, so that, if you experience a career reversal, you can find comfort in your family to get you through it. Despair, however, is inconsolable, because it comes from losing an ultimate thing. When you lose the ultimate source of your meaning or hope, there are no alternative sources to turn to. It breaks your spirit.

What is the cause of this ‘strange melancholy’ that permeates our society even during boom times of frenetic activity, and which turns to outright despair when prosperity diminishes? [Alexis] de Tocqueville says it comes from taking some ‘incomplete joy of this world’ and building your entire life on it. That is the definition of idolatry.”

Whew…this can be hard to read. But how can these writings be helpful? Keller gives some tools at the end of the book to help identify where we may have idols:

  • Imagination: “The true god of your heart is what your thoughts effortlessly go to when there is nothing else demanding your attention. What do you enjoy daydreaming about? What occupies your mind when you have nothing else to think about? One or two daydreams are no indication of idolatry. Ask rather, what do you habitually think about to get joy and comfort in the privacy of your heart?
  • Money: Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there is your heart also. (Matthew 6:21). “Your money flows most effortlessly toward your heart’s greatest love…Our patterns of spending reveal our idols.”
  • For Christians: “What is your real, daily functional salvation? What are you really living for, what is your real – not your professed – god? A good way to discern this is how your respond to unanswered prayers and frustrated hopes.”
  • Emotions: “Look at your most uncontrollable emotions. Just as the fisherman looking for fish knows to go where the water is roiling, look for your idols at the bottom of your most painful emotions, especially those what never seem to lift and that drive you to do things you know are wrong. If you are angry, ask, ‘Is there something here too important to me, something I must have at all costs?’ Do the same thing with strong fear or despair and guilt. Ask yourself, ‘Am I so scared, because something in my life is being threatened that I think is a necessity when it is not? When you ask questions like that, when you ‘pull your emotions up by the roots,’ as it were, you will often find your idols clinging to them.

Keller goes on to give tools for dealing with idols. I highly recommend this book for everyone, including nonbelievers. If you’re reading this and struggle with a belief in the one true God, I’d recommend The Reason for God by Keller.

In closing, we all struggle with putting our hope and faith in things that don’t last (if we’re honest). Don’t let your ultimate hope be in accumulating a certain “number,” because once achieved, your happiness and joy will be short-lived.

Scott is the founder and a partner at Rivertree Financial Planning. Scott and his wife Helen currently reside in Jackson, MS with their three children Artur, Taylor, and Molly. They are members of Redeemer Church, PCA in Jackson.