There’s this ugly gloating monster inside of me that loves to tell people how comfortably we can live on a low income. Yup, we’re near the poverty line. Yup, we’re homeowners. Yessiree, we eat organic food and don’t break the bank doing it, because- get this- we grow it ourselves! Sure, I can my produce- it’s how we survive. Mmmhmm, we paid for our kids’ births ourselves and cloth diapered and breastfed and we all wear hand-me-downs and we’re doing just fine, thank you very much.
It’s funny how frugality can become an idol. The lowest spender deserves a prize, right? It’s like a contest- who can get by on the least money without any help? Don’t get me wrong- I am all for frugal, prudent living. But it can quickly become a source of pride if you’re not careful.
God must have decided I needed a piece of humble pie a couple of years ago. It was the spring I was pregnant with my daughter, when Tim had only one year of grad school left. When we sat down to rework our budget and the painful reality set in:
We couldn’t make it on the money we were bringing in.
I checked and double checked it. We kept coming up a thousand or two short. I didn’t know what else we could cut. We already didn’t have TV service, we are smart shoppers, my clothing budget is practically zero, we grow a lot of our food, and we needed internet service so Tim could finish his degree.
He almost quit grad school, because he felt like maybe the money wasn’t worth having the degree. But he was SO close, and we had already invested thousands in this thing, and you only have so much time to complete your credits before the ones you already have become null and void.
We never do this- purposefully go ahead with something we feel we can’t afford- but we decided he needed to just finish the degree.
There went the dreams I had of not having to drive a half hour to teach every week. The hope of taking our kids for ice cream on the spur of the moment. The desire to let J have private piano lessons or go to camp in the summer or attend art class all the time with the middle class families.
Suddenly, I found myself compulsively hanging laundry on the line so that I wouldn’t spend the money on running the dryer. I would ask Tim to fire up the mud oven so I wouldn’t be paying to run our electric oven. I literally thanked God for the vegetables from the garden as I picked them. This was the summer I learned to bake sourdough. It was when I really took interest in foraging & my husband’s desire to fish (with a $1 lure and a broken pole). I needed all the free food I could get.
That summer, I wore my newborn baby as I canned the produce that came in from the garden. I had my mom and friends come over to help watch the kids so I could continue storing all the food that would get us through. Anything we needed for the garden or home was purchased second hand, traded for labor, or gifted to us. Any meals offered after my daughter’s birth or invitations to dinner were gratefully accepted.
That was the year we didn’t eat out much at all. It was the year I started writing drafts for this blog, in hopes that I could turn a long-time hobby into a business that would allow me to work from home while being with my kids. It was the year I was painfully conscious of our bank account.
I don’t know how it happened- maybe I picked up a couple extra students, maybe I saved enough on grocery bills, maybe we had enough people who helped us at the right time- but somehow, we never came short. We never had to worry. Everything always worked out- and we were still able to pay our midwife, still able to live with heat in the house, still had plenty of food on the table.
It’s funny- once we really needed to be frugal, it stopped being a game to see who could spend the least. I started getting quieter about my pride, because the whole thing was- frankly- a little embarrassing. Frugality wasn’t a choice then- it was a necessity, and it’s not exactly cool to keep turning down your friends on fun activities because you don’t have the money to join them.
But it also taught me to be more grateful. More hard-working. Less judgmental. A little bit quieter about my mad frugal skills. (Though now that we’re doing alright, it’s still easy to forget that sometimes. Me and my big mouth.) And more thankful for my sweet family.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t there more to life than food and more to the body than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky: They do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you more valuable than they are? And which of you by worrying can add even one hour to his life? Why do you worry about clothing? Think about how the flowers of the field grow; they do not work or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these! And if this is how God clothes the wild grass, which is here today and tomorrow is tossed into the fire to heat the oven, won’t he clothe you even more, you people of little faith? So then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.” –Matthew 6:25-34, Net Bible.