Is it morally OK to buy luxury items?

I remember being asked whether it’s OK from a spiritual perspective to own a luxury car. I’ve never been a car person (other than appreciating its getting me from point A to point B reliably and in reasonable comfort), so that’s not a question that I’ve personally had to grapple with. With that said, I do appreciate any number of luxuries, so the question made me consider what place such items should have in our lives.

There are two important questions to consider when making purchases. These questions take on added importance the more purchases move from needs to wants and luxuries. The first question to ask is this: Why are you making this purchase? Are you looking for the item to fill a void or impress others? If that’s the case, there is a problem.

St. Paul writes, “For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains” (1 Tm 6:10). Whether it’s attachment to money or what it can buy, there is a problem when one tries to fill a void in their heart with things rather than with God.

With that said, I can think of examples where luxury items don’t create that type of spiritual problem. Think of an engineer who has a special appreciation for how mechanical things work. A high-end car may be appreciated for the quality of its engineering and not be a status symbol at all. The appreciation for beautiful design may lead the person to a greater appreciation for God in much the same way that the beauty of nature points us to the Creator.

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The second question is whether there is a better use of the resources. Assuming one has fulfilled well all of their other responsibilities and has the resources available to spend on something else, the question may be asked whether giving the money directly to the poor or to a charity would be better than buying a luxury item? At first glance, that may seem straightforward, but it really isn’t that simple.

Where does the money go that is paid for a luxury car? Much of it goes to the workers and suppliers who helped make the car and bring it to market, and a portion goes to the owners of the businesses in recognition of the financial risks they have taken. These are good things. Would a greater good be done by giving the excess directly to the poor or to a charity? It’s possible, but not a given. It would depend on how effectively the money was put to use.

Much of the decision comes down to motive. Before making a purchase, ask yourself the following questions: Is the purchase encouraging an attitude of avarice or greed? Does the item mean more to you than it should? Is your attitude toward money causing you to be pre-occupied in such a way that your faith or family is being harmed? Is there a better use for the money?

Even if you conclude that a particular luxury isn’t creating a spiritual problem, this is an area that is easy to rationalize. Ask for guidance from a good spiritual director. As a wonderful priest once told me, as greater wealth is acquired, it becomes especially important to include some form of ascetical practice in one’s life in order to maintain a proper disposition toward God.

God love you.

Phil Lenahan is President of Veritas Financial Ministries (www.VeritasFinancialMinistries.com) and author of “7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free” (OSV, $19.95) and “Generation Next: A Catholic Guide to Financial Freedom for Young Adults” (Veritas, $24.95).