The Flip Side of Paradise

Away from the beautiful beaches and lush landscapes of Caribbean serenity, I came across this lil cutie pie while on a countryside tour of Punta Cana last year. Barefoot and barely fazed, she strolled along a road devoid of hope and paved with neglect. Welcome to the flip side of paradise.

The level of poverty surrounding so many popular travel destinations is alarming. What a stark contrast to the pristine, all-inclusive, beach front properties that align the tourist centers of this beautiful city. At the time of my 2012 excursion, Punta Cana’s stats were astounding: inflation over 28%, public gas prices more than $6/gallon ($9 for private gas stations), and if your income exceeded $200/month, you were on your way. It’s the flip side  of paradise.

And yet, the locals were so incredibly kind. Content even. It was almost as if they had no idea a whole new world existed just beyond the sea. Shoot, the poorest sections of my hometown pale in comparison to poverty-stricken Punta Cana. But sadly, there is such a sense of entitlement where I’m from. The American mindset is to spend more, save less, look good, and buy your way out the bad. Seems we have a wealth of wants and no shortage of greed. It’s pretty ugly, if you ask me. We’re slaves to stuff here in the land of the free. We’re cowards to conflict in the home of the brave. Portions of our paradise are filled with polluted beaches and pools of blood built by the entitled hands of gun violence. It’s not all bad but we sure could do more good for our flip side of paradise.

We could all learn a valuable lesson from this lovely little lady here…

She caught my attention as we rode by on our countryside tour. She waved at every car that came her way and even threw rose petals at some of the vehicles passing by. How sweet!

So many of us who “have it all” believe (albeit subconsciously), we don’t have enough and that we have nothing of value to give others. We use possessions to purchase acceptance and we’ll go broke trying to fix relationships that simply can not be repaired with more “stuff.” Money can’t buy joy, peace, or forgiveness. But a sincere smile, a contrite heart, a warm embrace, a wave hello, a kiss goodbye… these are the gifts that keep on giving. The kind gesture shown in this pic teaches that you don’t need a lot to give a lot. I’ll never forget this little girl and I pray she grows up appreciating all the wealth in her big heart. She embodies the true essence of paradise.

Designer Baggage

Dear Bag Lady,

There are two things on earth that most women just can’t seem to do without: a sassy designer bag and a fabulous pair of shoes. Oh sure, trendy clothes and jewelry are also high up on the list of wardrobe “necessities”, but there is just something about rocking a piece of exclusive arm-candy coupled with a mean shoe game that will make a woman feel like she’s living on top of the world. Fortunately, stand-out shoes are a little easier (and often a lot less expensive) to come by. But the availability and affordability of a distinguished designer bag makes these must-have accessories so much more desirable.

So what’s in a bag? What would make a woman spend hundreds- if not thousands- of dollars on a piece of canvas or leather? More often than not, most women are willing to go for broke for a haute handbag. Huh? Have they no hope for the future? Don’t they know the importance of investing in appreciable assets (stocks, real estate, etc.) versus depreciating assets (ie., handbags and other apparel items)? Ok, I know that some women can honestly plead ignorance (they never had any positive financial role models to follow). Yeah, yeah, yeah. I get that . But at some point, one must realize that one has a future that will likely extend beyond the cuteness of today. Why would a young lady save up several paychecks for a Louis Vuitton, and not save a dime towards her own place to live? In my experience, there is only one explanation: pride.

The Entitlement of Pride

“I work hard for my money and I earn a good living. I should be able to buy whatever I want whenever I want it.” Sound familiar? Far too often, many women buy into the notion that having a big, bad bag draped over their shoulder is a sign of accomplishment. They’re “in control” of their life. They have “arrived” in the world. It’s a status symbol. They “deserve” it. Don’t misunderstand me- there’s nothing wrong with wanting nice things and working hard for them. There is, however, something incredibly insane about spending a paycheck or two on any luxury item, but having neither an adequate savings account nor an appropriate retirement and/or education fund. Let’s not even mention how many of these purchases are made with credit cards. You should be using that money to pay down your debt, instead of increasing it! But nooooo, you’d rather go further in the hole just to give others the impression you’re not broke. Living paycheck to paycheck but rocking a Gucci bag is not cute… it’s crazy. :-/

The Insecurity of Pride

Our society is so inundated with Hollywood glamour and the lure of logo-laiden apparel it appears to disqualify those of us who are not as concerned about keeping up with the Joneses (or the Kardashians, for that matter). At a very young age, most children learn to value brand named merchandise over generic goods. One is made to feel “less than” if one doesn’t buy into the designer label craze. So, we spend money we don’t have, to buy things we don’t need, just to impress people we don’t even like or know. All in the name of popularity. Some hide behind designer labels just to fit in. Men and women alike go out of their way to sport the latest fashions solely to be accepted by their peers. Too often, we clothe our selves in Couture simply to mask our own insecurity and dissatisfaction for who we are, what we are, and where we are in life.

Unpack Your Bags!

What designer baggage are you lugging around? Maybe it’s not a pretty pocketbook or even a snazzy pair of shoes. Maybe you suffer from some other unhealthy passion for fashion or a bad case of the “gotta have its” for gadgets. Whatever the case, take inventory of the contents: mounting credit card debt? no cash reserve? no retirement fund? robbing Peter to pay Paul? Robbing God to pay Peter? You will incur astronomical spiritual, financial and emotional damage for all this excess baggage. Girlfriend, you have to get it together! Chances are, you’re bankrupting your financial future by living only for today. Will you be willing to live out of your bags when you’re old and gray with no ability to retire? Entitlement is a heavy load to carry. And the more you give into it, the heavier it gets. Insecurity is just as bad. Insecurity begets itself. You have to constantly cover up your shame in order to function publicly. How unfortunate it is to weigh yourself down in an attempt to lift yourself up.

Again, there is nothing wrong with wanting nice things. But buying things with borrowed/stolen money (via credit cards, “bill money”,  robbing God of the tithe, etc.) or money that could be used to create financial stability- well, that’s just designer dysfunction. It’s also false advertising. What would you look like and how fabulous would you be (spiritually, financially and emotionally) if you weren’t afraid to reveal the woman hiding beneath the weight of entitlement and insecurity? The heavier your load, the easier it is to fall. And trust me when I tell you, it’s pretty hard to get back up once you’re anchored in pride. So, the next time you feel the need to splurge on yourself, carefully consider your money and your motives. Get to the bottom of your baggage. Check that heavy load at the altar, unpack the contents, and leave it all right there. Better to walk away from that emotional designer baggage with your head held high than to suffocate inside the pretty pouch of pride. You deserve some breathing room.

Practically Yours,

~The Practical Chick