This post is written by contributing writer, Alina from Good Old Days Farm.
It seems like everybody’s talking about the economy these days. “Recession”… “Unemployment”… “Inflation”… “Increased Taxes”… “Tighten your belt”… “Get on a budget”… If your pocketbook is starting to feel a wee bit pinched, let me tell you friend, I can totally relate!
One day in 2010, my husband came home from his job as a software engineer and announced to me that he wanted to become a farmer. I thought he had lost his mind! After all, software engineers make great money! Farmers… well, farmers make great vegetables, but it sure isn’t a get-rich-quick plan! That first year that he was farming our family took a 75% pay cut. Seventy five percent! Our house payment alone (which didn’t change) went from being 15% of our total income to being a whopping 66% of our income!
So when Leigh Ann asked me if I could write a post about being frugal, I thought to myself, “Oh yeah… I know a thing or two about that!”
Even though we were making significantly less money than we had been, our family still managed to avoid spending more money than we were actually bringing in! Our situation changed radically, so our lifestyle had to change radically… but it is amazing what you can do when you need to! And honestly, after the initial adjustment period, life didn’t feel nearly as hard as I had expected! After hearing our story, people often ask me, “How do you do it? How do you save money when money is so tight? Where do you cut back when everything in the budget is so necessary?” It’s a good question.
What if I told you that the secret to saving money is not in writing out your monthly budget and making your numbers behave? (Although you should definitely do that!) What if I told you that the secret lies within your heart?
You see, since we began farming I have learned that living frugally does not need to be just something we do out of necessity. It can be a lifestyle, an art form, a spiritual discipline to put us in a place where we can bless the world around us with our excess!
Yes. We live on 25% of what we used to live on. and we have discovered that we still have excess.
The secret is in clearly understanding the difference between a want and a need.
As Americans living in the twenty first century, there are a lot of things we think we need. It’s almost impossible to walk into a store and come out again empty-handed. There is so much in there that we “need” and it is all marketed to us in such a compelling way.
My father-in-law is a bit eccentric and has a unique way of looking at the world. One day. we were driving past a garbage dump together. “That’s the end of shopping,” he said. “The beginning of shopping is at the store. People shop and buy a bunch of stuff and six months later all that stuff they bought is there in that garbage dump and people are back at the store buying more stuff.”
How true. According to The Story of Stuff, 99% of what we buy is thrown away in less than six months.
What has happened to us? How did we get caught up in this business of want-want-want, need-need-need? The American Dream used to be that everyone could come here and have a little house with a little garden and be out of debt and not under the oppression of anyone. Now the American Dream seems to be that anyone can come here and have a huge house, and live close to several huge chain grocery stores and have a laptop and a smartphone and an SUV and anything else your credit card company will approve you for.
Our grandparents didn’t live this way. They lived through the Great Depression. They knew that the way to make a dollar stretch is not by running out to the store every few months to buy the latest-greatest thing. The pioneers who settled this country didn’t live this way. They went to the store for supplies once or twice a year. We haven’t always been a country of excess.
Just a few months before my husband’s big announcement, friends of ours living in Haiti lost their home to the earthquake in Port-Au-Prince. As I adjusted to our new lifestyle, they were adjusting to a new life, too. In my mind, I began taking them shopping with me. Every time I was at the grocery store and tempted to put something in my cart I would ask myself, “Do I really need this item?” At first, I found that the answer to that question depended on how badly I wanted the item. If I wanted it badly enough, I could justify it in my mind as a “need.”
“I need this because it’s healthy.”
“I need this because it will make my life easier.”
“I need this because [fill in your own blank here].”
I can’t remember what the item was now, but one day while I was standing in Walmart struggling with whether or not I should make a particular purchase, I thought about my friends in Haiti, still living in tents after the earthquake. I began to wonder, “What if they were suddenly transported from Haiti to Texas and standing here with me now? What would they think of this purchase? Could I justify it to them, or would they roll their eyes and think I am completely ridiculous?”
And that question has changed everything.
It’s not just Haiti. There are people in many, many countries who don’t have the excess we have. People who live simply. I lived in Guyana for a year and there I had a friend who died of cancer without fresh water to drink. Did you realize that there are still people dying without access to a glass of clean water? I had purchased vegetables and herbs and other things that I thought would help him, but it never even crossed my North-American mind to make sure he had water.
The key then, is focusing on what we have and not on what we don’t have. There will always, always, always be things we don’t have. Are you really going to ruin your life grumbling about it? Or are you going to choose contentment?
I’m not saying that it’s wrong to purchase anything more than the bare necessities. There are people in the world who don’t have toilet paper, but I still think it’s ok to buy toilet paper! This is not about being legalistic and purchasing only the bare minimum to survive. This is about searching your heart and coming to an agreement with the Holy Spirit about what He wants you to spend money on. Are you truly being the steward God would have you be of the resources He has given to you? Are you glorifying Christ with each and every purchase you make? Before our farm began producing anything, we managed to whittle our grocery bill down to $140 per month to feed our family of five. When we asked ourselves if there were ways we could do better… ways we could be less extravagant… the answer was yes. Even at that level, there was room for improvement.
Ann Voskamp visited Haiti recently and her remark was, “The American Dream is about having much. God’s dream is about giving much.”
Are you living the American Dream or are you living God’s Dream?
“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)