A cautionary tale of greed

A couple of days ago, the Guardian carried a story about Dave and Angie Dawes who had won £101m in the Euromillions lottery. The Guardian report that their son, Michael Dawes, took them to court, complaining that the £1.6m they had given to him was simply not enough. The article explains how the son and his partner managed to squander the money given to them in the space of one month, even giving some away to friends themselves.

Baffled by how the money could have been spent so quickly, and unaware that substantial sums had been given away by his son, Dave Dawes continued to transfer some funds to his son’s account. The Guardian report:

Michael took this as a demonstration that his father would cough up whenever asked, and this therefore buttressed his strange conclusion that his dad would financially support him for the rest of his life…

By March 2013, Dave and Angie Dawes called a family meeting and agreed to pay off some of Michael and his partner’s debts but that no more funds would be forthcoming…

Michael Dawes has not spoken to his father and stepmother since a falling out at her birthday party when he demanded £5m more and verbally abused Angie Dawes. He has also accused them of being arrogant and ungenerous of spirit.

Leaving aside the rights and wrongs of playing the Euromillions lottery (not a discussion I want to get into here), this story provides us with yet another cautionary tale about the love of money and the road to contentment.

I have never so much as seen £1.6m in one go. I think my attempts at saving have, at their peak, reached the heady heights of around £4k and were duly wiped out by the need to replace our car some years ago. Alas, we have since had to replace that car and didn’t have the money to even buy an old banger outright. Such has never really concerned me. Likewise, The “dream” of home ownership is a chimera for most of my generation and, to be frank, this has never really bothered me either. In fact, until Reaganomics and Thatcherism took hold, the idea that owning your home was a British dream was not as self-evident as we are commonly led to believe (see herehere and here).

I do not say these things wistfully, it truly doesn’t bother me at all. I have spent my life shifting from one rental property to another, both throughout my childhood and now as an adult with a family of my own. I have never known the supposed security of vast savings in the bank nor a home that I (or my parents) own. In fact, the example set to me by my family was largely one that suggested money in the bank means you have more than you need and thus better think about giving some of it away. I am sure I’m not as generous-hearted as many members of my family but it has helped me inasmuch as I am rarely anxious and troubled when I have no savings (which is most of the time).

The reason I share this is because I’m not convinced my set up – even if contentment levels about it may vary – is all that unusual for my generation. Millennials have a tendency to spent their money on holidays and travel, buying ‘experiences’ rather than homes and savings. The reason for this isn’t too hard to grasp. With most priced out of the housing market and rental payments so high that savings are not readily set aside on top, only those with wealthy parents have much hope of getting a foot on the property ladder. Given that for many such things are too far out of reach, they choose to rack up experiences instead. This is compounded when we consider that Millennials value authenticity and stories, which are more likely to be gained from travelling and are eminently cheaper to obtain than homes and savings.

It is this that puts into context the arguments of Michael Dawes against his millionaire parents. They shared £1.6m of their fortune with him and yet this was deemed ‘not enough’. Dawes jr demanded a further £5m from his parents. When they determined that this would not be forthcoming, arguments ensued, family ties were cut and now a rift exists in the Dawes family. Michael Dawes claims his parents were not generous of spirit; his parents claim they have shared their wealth among the family and even set up a charity. They were generous enough to give their son £1.6m – an eye watering sum the likes of which most people will never see in one go – and yet, it seems, it simply was not enough.

Jim Carrey put it well when he said:

I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.

Contentment will never be found in the size of our income and no matter the value of your savings, things will never quite feel secure enough. As many investors will tell you, we’re only one Northern Rock away from losing it all. We may feel it’s safer than putting it on a horse, but how quickly we think too highly of our own insights and intellect, deceiving ourselves into thinking we understand markets and stocks. Many a pension – one time safety net for old age – are now worth less than the money put in. Homes have become the investment du jour but, as with anything, the bubble will eventually burst. Nothing can continue to rise in perpetuity. No investment is ultimately safe – even simply collecting on the interest from the bank carries some risk. And all of that is before we begin to think of the unforeseen costs and disasters that frequently befall us.

Note the words of Paul:

Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Tim 6:6-10)

The road to contentment is not money but Christ. As Jesus himself said:

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. . . . [For] your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” (Luke 12:22, 30–31)

Let Matthew Dawes stand as a cautionary tale. You may be in receipt of millions but, as Jim Carrey so powerful says, it will never be enough. The secret to contentment is hidden in plain sight:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.

Honour the Lord with your wealth
    and with the firstfruits of all your produce;
10 then your barns will be filled with plenty,
    and your vats will be bursting with wine. (Proverbs 3:5-6, 9-10)