By Seth Busetti
Learning the discipline of frugality is one of the most important steps to getting out of debt and living within your means. Unchecked spending is like a leaking hole in a row boat. You can paddle as hard as you want, but if the ship goes underwater what’s the point? But to follow that analogy, a lot of people are fixated on fixing leaks and paddling, but there is no shoreline in sight. Having a boat that is free of holes is important, but it isn’t an end goal. Living a frugal lifestyle is important to being a wise steward, but it isn’t an end goal either. You’ve got to be headed somewhere, you have to grow.
Consider the oft-cited Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30. The master entrusts a certain amount of money to his three servants. When the master returns later, he finds that two of the servants have not only protected the money, kept it safe and not squandered it, but they invested the money and grew it. The master gives these two heartfelt praise, for example:
“Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”
And the same for the one who received two talents. Notice, not only did they receive praise, they were promised a promotion! Stewardship is being defined here not just as the ability to minimize loss, but to maximize gain. Is this how you think of financial stewardship? Being a good steward means not just embracing that God gave you skills, talents, passions, resources, a job with a salary, an education, etc., but that you MULTIPLY those things!
Wait a minute? You might be wondering if I’m saying that a good steward will multiply their salary? Uh…yeah! And increase their education. And get promotions. And transition from being a consumer of resources to a producer of resources. Now follow the rest of the parable. One of the servants is given just one talent, and sure enough, the servant gives the master back that investment with no loss, safe and sound! Great, right? Not quite.
But his master answered him, “You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.”
This is a very challenging lesson. The master expected GROWTH. And I think this next part in verse 28-30 is the hardest thing to swallow. Our socially-conscientious minds might expect Jesus to have the master say, “this isn’t a competition, we’re all part of the team, and even though your part didn’t grow, nothing bad happened and overall we came out ahead.” Or perhaps we expect the master to be a bit more managerial, a good career coach: “hey, at least you kept it safe and I didn’t lose anything. I probably didn’t give clear enough instructions. Let me sit down with you and give some pointers.” Nope, the master didn’t say any of that. Here’s what he said:
“So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents…And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
That’s hard. Take it away from and give it to the most successful servant. This is Jesus talking. Not a wheeling-and-dealing 21st century business tycoon. Not a greedy Wall Street investor. Notice that the expectation is not that everyone gets 10 talents – there are different amounts of resource dealt out. But even if we’re only given 1 talent, the expectation is to double it. So my question to you is whether in your quest to be debt free, to reject materialism, to embrace a frugal lifestyle, have you missed the mark? If you’ve reached a roadblock in your finances, here are 7 ways that being frugal might be the cause.
- So Tight You Forgot to Tithe. It is possible to have a perfectly crafted budget where all your expenses perfectly balance your income, with no margins. Many families work within a financial system that leaves no room for tithing to their local church or congregation. They’ll start tithing again when finances get better, perhaps. But that’s not a tithe, a tithe is what we give before we pay our other expenses. The truth is that you can’t put this off and expect to grow God’s way. I understand that people can live a secular life, have no faith community, and still be debt free and financially independent. But I also believe that God has a unique plan for YOUR life and He is willing to move mountains to see you blessed and honored if you will honor Him. Jeremiah 29:11 is a promise, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” If this is an area you are struggling with, check out our most popular blog 5 Ways to Tithe When You’re Between Churches for some practical ideas to get your tithing back on track.
- Not Setting Growth Goals. We’ve got to set daily goals, incremental achievable goals. But if you’ve anchored your financial life around how low you can get your expenses, you’ve set your standards too low. You can be on food stamps and collect care packages from your local church and live an ultra-frugal lifestyle. Is that your goal? Frugality is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. Definitely get your spending under control. But don’t make spending your end-game. Or, like the 1-talent servant, the master may come back to find you’ve only returned what was given to you, with no growth, and then what little you had may be given to somebody else.
- Scarcity Manifesting as Frugality. Being frugal means getting a good deal, having a savvy business mind, making wise purchases, and living within our means. But frugality should not be connected to a perception of “should or should not” or “have and have not.” We often confuse being frugal with living in a scarcity mindset. Scarcity is when we feel like there isn’t enough to go around. Scarcity says if Jim gets the job or the house instead of me, then I will be stuck with the leftovers. Scarcity mindset believes you have to hold onto everything you have, drive the same car for 21 years, wear clothes until they get holes in them, perhaps because you can’t say when you’ll get something nice again. Scarcity mindset also believes that the rich get richer because they manipulate and steal from the poor. No doubt there are evil and selfish rich people, but there are also evil and selfish poor people. Frugality in the healthy context of financial stewardship is different, it simply says take care of your master’s stuff, and just be responsible not to be wasteful. Check your attitudes about scarcity and frugality. Have you stagnated financially because your frugal disciplines have devolved (or stemmed from) scarcity mindset – the feeling that there just isn’t enough to go around? I assure you, God has more than enough to go around and if you do your finances His way, He’s more than pleased to share with you!
- Spending Dollars to Save Pennies. Have you ever driven across town to save 5 cents a gallon on gas? What about hitting six different groceries stores to maximize coupon savings? Sometimes the numbers work out. But there is a limit to this reasoning. When we first moved to Houston I was a die-hard about tending to my own yard. Mowing, weeding, and trimming myself was a virtue passed down from my dad. Alexis and I lived in a small rental house, with small yards and simple landscaping. Grass and weeds grow fast here. It literally took me 2-4 hours a week to keep up. At the same time we had newborn twin girls. I would come home from my day job, duck in to give Alexis and the babies a kiss, then head outside to work on the yard. My family needed my presence then much more than we needed a manicured lawn. The cost to my family was high. We found a good lawn service that would do everything for $25 (and in a fraction of the time). Sometimes spending a little money up front is the better decision if it will save you time and stress.
- Buying Cheap Junk. In the short term, it may seem like a good idea to buy the cheapest clothes or food or appliances. If you are digging out from a deep hole of debt you may have to live this way for a short time. For the first 5 years of our marriage we couldn’t afford to buy nice furniture, so we got hand-me-down couches and chairs and hid them under slipcovers. That was a super frugal phase of life, not a permanent way of living. Now we are much healthier financially and have a lot more room to explore stylistic aspects of our lifestyle. We learned quickly after having kids and bigger dogs that buying the cheapest couch was not a good idea – cheap fabric stained and got dingy quickly, faux leather was even worse. So we discovered that if we spend twice as much on a decent leather couch, it lasts 4 times as long as the cheaper option. We also know this concept works for food too. Dirt cheap food tends to be cheap because it was mass produced with chemicals, stripped of nutrients, and has an infinite shelf life. There may be a short window of time (beans and rice, gazelle intensity phase) where we sacrifice quality food to dig ourselves out of a financial hole. But our bodies require real food. Check out the guest blog 17 Ways to Eat Real Food on a Budget to get some creative ideas from a budget conscientious dietician. The bottom line is that frugality does not require buying cheap junk, you can be frugal and still buy quality products. In the end the cheapest stuff may cost much more than buying for quality.
- Settling for the Status Quo. When we craft an aggressive budget to temporarily address a need such as quickly paying off medical debts, it can be easy to settle in to that framework as “normal”. Living like a college student in a dorm is normal if you are a college student living in a dorm, but it isn’t a healthy solution for a married couple with a baby. As your family grows you’ll want more stability. Check out the blog Are You Ready for Middle Aged Money? The same growth should happen in your career. When you start out you’ll be at the bottom of the org chart, and likely just happy that somebody wanted to hire you. But as your experience and skills grow and your value in the marketplace matures, you should find yourself leaving behind entry level positions and taking on more senior roles. But the status quo kills that. If you find that you have embraced the status quo and become content always being broke, always being at the bottom the totem pole in your organization and in your community, you lose the passion to grow, to get promotions, to pursue more advanced job openings. The status quo gives in to glass ceilings. It convinces you that you don’t have the education or qualifications or temperament to get past your current position. I want to assure you that the status quo is a lie and is definitely not consistent with God’s plan for you! Recall that the two faithful servants in Matthew 25 knew how to grow their masters money and saw promotion. The one wicked servant had no idea what to do with increase, he was afraid to fail, buried the money, and as a result lost even the little he had. Don’t settle for the status quo in your finances or any part of your life!
- Frugality Can Be Self-Centered. One problem with frugality is that it can be self-centered in that the only one that benefits is you. Do you leave a small tip when you go out to a restaurant? Do you split an entrée to save money? Skip an appetizer? This is great when you are trying to get out of debt. But there is another financial breakthrough that happens when you realize the waitress might also be working extra hours to get out of debt. When you eat well and leave a nice tip, you contribute to her employment and can be a source of blessing for her. The worker on your neighborhood yard crew is working long, hard hours at grueling manual labor to provide for his family. When you employ that crew, you help feed a family. Assuming you pay tithe, when you apply for that promotion and get it, your church also gets an increase in giving. Do your finances contribute to the good of others in increasing measure? Think about the implications of our frugal spending habits. When we buy cheap seasonal clothing (“fast fashion”) we may stay in budget, but we might also be supporting an international factory with poor labor practices. Fair trade products cost a bit more, organic and non-GMO food too, but that money supports better wages and treatment for others, better farming practices, and a longer-term view on sustainability and stewardship. One of the benefits of growing and maturing financially is gaining the freedom to look outside of ourselves and bless others. Certainly with periodic giving, but also when our life is overflowing with blessing and abundance, it can flow into the lives of others. I guarantee you, growing your salary and getting financially stable to the point where you can treat your friends to a pizza party or sponsor a kid from your church to go on a mission trip, will leave a much bigger impression than wearing a $7 shirt and driving a 19 year old car with 325,000 miles on it.
Hopefully you see that I’m not trying to convince you against being frugal, but experience shows that frugality can be a financial roadblock for so many people. Have you mastered the art of not spending, but now feel the weight of that lifestyle dragging on you like an anchor? Are your ready to move on to the next level, where money is a joy and a tool for good, and not just a discipline? Send us a note about your situation because we’d like to help! Alexis offers private and group coaching sessions and would love to partner with you on your journey. Or you can also schedule a session directly here.
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