Monday, April 30, 2007

Should I choose not to be frugal?

Today I read a thought-provoking post on frugality by Tim Challies. I agree with much of what he writes concerning the heart issues of money.

I am not feeling well enough to write a full response. However, Like Merchant Ships was created in part to demonstrate that you can live well on one income--NOT to be obsessed with cake pans or any other material items. (Though when you find a stack of fifty aluminum loaf pans for a penny apiece, it's easy to be generous with the banana bread. Likewise, free couponed toiletries for family shelters.)

Sure, I can afford to buy new t-shirts made in China--but is that choice on higher moral ground than recycling clothing from a thrift store? Goodwill will be the first to tell you its mission is NOT to provide low-cost clothing but to give meaningful work to those with barriers to employment.

Each month I receive almost a hundred emails from people seeking to live on one income, from mothers who don't want to leave their babies in daycares but are afraid they can't afford to stay home. People also write to thank me for showing them that living on one income doesn't have to be ugly.

In a perfect world, that might not be as holy as urging others to own less--but it's a start.


Anne Marie@Married to the Empire said...

I see the blogger's point to a degree, but I don't think you need to defend your blog against that sort of criticism. I am one who has been blessed tremendously by your blog. Many of us are in need of better money management, and your blog is a great testament to the beauty and rich life that can be achieved through careful frugality. I've never thought of your blog as being about gathering stuff.

Meredith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Meredith said...

I've always thought a weakness of this blog is in failing to discuss the fine line between finding treasures and fulfilling needs. I always worry that something I've posted will make someone else buy something they don't need. Reading Challies' essay made me worry about that.

I do feel the need to defend the idea that thrift stores are only for the poor. We need to recycle more than ever. If shopping secondhand teaches a person anything, it's that there's already TOO MUCH STUFF floating around the world. The last thing we need to do is start buying more new stuff.

nancyr said...

I totally agree with you. I will not apologize for buying at thrift stores, and I am not poor. Neither am I rich. I will not apologize for buying pretty things (second hand)to make my house more welcoming and comfortable.
I also donate more than I purchase.

Jennifer said...

I think this is a great article that really got me thinking. Did the rich get rich by spending carefully and saving money? Probably! Why wouldn't they continue to spend carefully even when they have money in the bank? People that spend a lot of money are typically not rich. It is those that are careful that save a lot. I totally agree with you on the recycling issue. This country has too much stuff in general!

Anonymous said...


I was wondering what your thoughts would be on this whole topic. You are an absolutely phenomenal example to so many women, of creating beauty with less. You are gifted. Very gifted. Thanks for always sharing your ideas and creativity. You inspire me. And I think much of the reason, as I have told you, is because you are one of the few that emphasizes beauty on a budget. Not just blah colors and a submission to the tweed factor. I look forward to all your daily posts. Keep them coming. You are so good at what you do!


Shannon said...

I think his main point - that money can be an idol on either end of the spectrum - is a good one. How we spend is very much a heart issue and should be about what God is calling us to, not about how much we can hoard or how much we can throw away.
The beauty of your blog, though, and the element that is missing from his article is that God has called us to be good stewards of what He gives us. As wives we're to care for and provide comfort for our families and for others as we're able. The Proverbs 31 wife's family was "clothed in scarlet" and she "opened her arms to the poor." To do that with what He provides for us (usually through our husband's hard work), we have to be wise - and I think that's where your blog shines. I have learned so much and been so inspired to be a good steward of what He's blessed us with.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading the post to which you linked. It struck a chord with me.

I believe that at one time I started to cross the line between doing best by my family's budget and being addicted to finding deals as a hobby in and of itself. Reading the Tightwad Gazette had been so transformative for me that I became zealous to a fault: The balance was starting to fall toward neglecting some of the routine chores of my home in favor of scouring stores and ads and other sources to score amazing deals, and then of course silently--dare I admit smugly?--comparing my "thrift" ability with others. In addition to feeding my familiy, I accumulated too much stuff that I never used--most of it second hand, but still, I couldn't pass up a great deal on items I would utilize in future projects (that never happened.)

These days I look on thriftiness differently--with a more "holistic" perspective now that my family has a few more dollars than in years past.

I think we have a problem with over consumption and over production of food and goods in this country. I don't think it is ever a bad idea to reuse clothing and material goods by buying them second hand, so long as you are doing it responsibly. I, for one, am considering buying second hand as a rule.

Your blog has been inspirational to me. I agree with the previous commenter who mentioned that you bring beauty to your home--and that's a true gift--with your thrifty treasures. Thank you for sharing.

p.s. A post of mine from earlier this month that is somewhat thematically related to Tim Challies's post is on my blog (click my name if interested).

Anonymous said...

I hope the link works better this time. (Click name)

Someone Beautiful said...

Hi Meredith, You do a great job illustrating how you purge and keep things fresh. That is really important to share because some of us are packrats either way, and you are a great example of having more beauty and less clutter. Thanks for the reminders. :)

GranMarty said...

Two words come to my mind: creativity and stewardship. Both good words—and biblical concepts.

One of the reasons I lurk your blog (together with a few other addicts that I happen to know and love) is because I love your creativity. You bless your family by creating beauty and peace. You find ways to give special gifts (such as to your husband). Your creativity reflects love and sacrifice.

Clearly you enjoy being creative. Creativity for its own sake is also a good thing. It is a reflection of the image of God. And it glorifies Him. As Eric Liddell said, "When I run, I feel the pleasure of God."

The other reason I love your blog is that you exemplify good stewardship. You teach good stewardship to your children. All our behavior around the things, both material and immaterial, with which God entrusts us are a measure of our stewardship.

We absolutely should look inside ourselves - as in "Search me and know my thoughts..." Our motives are always suspect, always open to examination. "the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked." And that's what grace is all about.

And that's what I see in you from what I read: grace.

pomo housewife said...

I don't think it is wrong to enjoy nice things in moderation, nor to store things one will need. Mindless consumption is far worse.

I also disagree with the thrift-store comment, as I've heard that most people who shop there also donate. I know I've donated far more good-quality goods that I have ever bought. The 'gleaning' comment was interesting though.

I find that I am willing to pay full price when I get superb service and good products, and pay extra for local and organic. But in order to afford this, I have to be conservative in other areas.

To spend some reasonable time gathering, mending and making is part of the enjoyment of housekeeping. Its a typical male attitude to reduce woman's work in the home to the essentials done as drudgery tacked on to a working day.

Baleboosteh said...

Dear Meredith, I hope to read the article you link to later when more time is available but I just wanted to leave a quick comment and an overdue and heartfelt thank you for your blog. We are frugal as a matter of necessity but your blog daily gives me inspiration not to give up and to find contentment in necessity.
Bless you!

Tracy said...

Meredith- Your blog is fantastic. I love to come here and read your ideas. Your habits are helping others and you are also teaching your children great stewardship lessons! In a world so consumed with debt and credit you are teaching us to be content with what we have and to use it wisely. I really appreciate you!

Anonymous said...

As usual, the commenters here say things better than I can!

It was not my intention to drum up support for Like Merchant Ships. It just seemed like Challies was criticizing a subject that is the heart of this blog, and I should make a stab at balancing that opinion.

Anonymous said...

I see both your points -- we need to be careful what we spend (I've gotten better at garage sales for the kids clothes) but also purge and bless others with what we no longer use but is still in good shape.

Like the others have said, frugalness can become an idol as much as materialism.

Anonymous said...

As long as you are using your resources to your best abilitity, and blessing others as you go what's the problem?
Sometimes "hording" can be prudent and the best use of resources, and it can allow for resources to be redirected to help others directly and indirectly. I have always felt that collections for instance can bless humanity in many ways.
Being a wise consumer allows me to channel money into savings, which is something that our nation desperatly needs right now.
Keep up the good work here on the blog. This blog inspires me, because I see a woman trying to reinvent constantly, and be her best.

Indie Pereira said...

I think the idea of leaving things for gleaning at the thrift store is silly. There is always plenty more at the thrift store.

The area where I have thought about leaving stuff is trash picking. It would be easy to take everything and sell the stuff that I don't need, but if there are clearly others who are interested then I just leave what I can't use myself.

I think that finding a deal can sometimes give you a high and you feel like you have to do it again. We have to be disciplined enough to only take what we need. I know that I sometimes overdo it with the kid's clothes.

Anonymous said...

Challies makes some good points about how thrift alone isn't always good.

I find, however, that it doesn't take me any more time to shop for discounts than to spend full price on items. I think it's just as difficult to find things I want in malls as it is in thrift stores, plus if I shop only in affordable places, there are fewer places for me to spend time scouring for good deals.

Also being thrifty helps me be patient and gives me more time to decide whether I will truly use a new purchase and makes me more appreciative of things when I do find them. So I think it improves my life in ways beyond the financial.

Similarly, being thrifty helps you be creative, and your creativity makes your life better and, as your other commenters have posted, inspires others to have more fulfilling lives as well.

I'd like to give you some ideas on how to make it less likely that you will inspire people to buy more than they need, but I'm not sure I have any. You could occasionally talk about purchases you resisted and why you resisted them. Occasionally mention purchases that turned out to be mistakes, why you thought they would be good, and how you discovered they weren't.

No one likes feeling bad, but if a criticism hits home in some way, it can help you make your life (and your site) even better. Good luck to you!

Carrie J said...

I left a comment earlier and thought it went through, guess not. Briefly, I think some people confuse the term frugal with being stingy. Even though I agree in principle with what he said, that was the feeling I got from his post. There is a huge difference.
I feel, like others here, it is our responsibility to handle what God has given us to the best of our ability. Doing so allows us the flexability to bless those around us including our families.
Darn, I had written a good post before and now I can't remember all my points. Let it suffice that I enjoy your blog and others like it. To me it is no different than talking about a job or hobby we share in common.

Janel said...

Meredith, God knows your heart and why you do what you do. If you've got the wrong heart attitude about it, I'm sure God will let you know. Maybe there is something you need to change in your attitude or thinking. Then again, maybe not.

God knows why I'm frugal too. It's my prayer that he brings things into my life that will help me to serve him better and then I wait for them to show up. God opens doors in ways I can never imagine. I've never had to search for the perfect cake pan, because it turns up a day or so before I get the "nudge." Although I intentionally try to spend wisely, I don't pinch pennies because I do think that robs God. I have also seen the "widow's oil" time and time again. God does provide. I don't know how he pulls it off, but he sure does!

I think Tim's final quote summed it up very well:

"I guess the long and short is that money can be as big an idol when you seek not to spend it as it can when you do nothing but spend it. Frugality in and of itself must not be an end in itself but must be a means to a greater end of bringing glory to God and of serving others. Ever and always it is a matter of the heart."

Stick with that and you won't go wrong! {{hugs!}}

3boysmama said...

That is an interesting take on thrift stores... leaving the deals for someone else who might need it more. I've never thought about it that way. Don't say that I agree, but interesting none the less.

I've rethought my ideas about used children's clothes as I've had more children. I think it is worth the $$ to buy new (albeit on sale) clothes because i have 2 boys. The yard sale clothes I have from my 1st son are usually too worn out for my 2nd son. If it buy used clothing now it has to be a good brand that I know will last. Now I'm pregnant with #3, so I might have a 3rd boy to save clothes for!