Yesterday, I had a reader unsubscribe from my mailing list. The reader allowed for the possibility that he might not be right, but did say, “I believe being to[o] frugal is like being to[o] greedy.” He goes on to share stories of people he knows who have bought something from a yard sale only to try and return them at a department store. While he wishes me the best, he warns me to be sure that I’m not “heading down the road of hoarding things.” Reading in-between the lines, the reader is suggesting that this blog promotes a form of frugality that doesn’t honor God and looks more like greed than generosity.
The comment was so inconsistent to my mission for this blog that I wanted to respond publicly.
Is Frugality Akin to Greed?
I gladly concede two correct points in the readers response.
1. It is possible to be so frugal that it turns into greed.
For those of us who are frugal, we can sometimes find a sense of righteousness in our frugality. I’m not promoting that; I’m just being transparent. It’s hard not to feel good about doing something good. Still, I’ve always said that saving money can be as much a sign of greed as spending money. Saving money can become an end in and of itself – an end motivated by greed.
Consider the two following spending and saving personalities:
Jane is a spender. She wants to go out and enjoy a nice diner, and then she wants to go to the theater. The evening would cost $400 for Jane and her husband John. John is a saver. He’d much rather eat at home and watch something on TV because he doesn’t want to spend the money. He’d rather have an extra $400 in the bank.
Ultimately, this is a very complex situation to analyze, but I’d like to assert that neither is more honorable to God if the only option is to spend it or save it. Ultimately, both are selfish options (not that I’m suggesting both are bad options all the time).
Is there a way to use frugality for the sake of the Kingdom of God?
Frugality for the sake of frugality can be greed. However, what I promote through this blog and practice (as faithfully as possible) is missional frugality. Missional frugality is a frugality that is motivated by a love for God and a desire for the Kingdom of God. It is not motivated by greed. As such, frugality is a tool to free up resources for the kingdom of God.
I simply don’t know a better way to honor God with our resources. Frugality here is not the enemy. Greed is. Spending here is not the enemy. Greed is. I don’t promote frugality so you can pad your bank account. I promote frugality so you have more resources for the kingdom. I believe it’s the best way I can honor God with what he has entrusted to my family.
2. It’s easy to head down the road of hoarding things.
I think without guarding my heart I could easily hoard as many things as possible. Actually, I know it. Because we’re aware of the corruptibility of our hearts, my wife and I have tried to be intentional about creating a financial approach that tries to protect us from the temptation of greed.
How we include missional frugality in our financial plan:
We have a paid for home and don’t have any debts. As such, at the end of most months, we have some ‘yet-to-be-distributed-funds’. We could buy a lot more things every month, but we choose not to. What we do to protect ourselves from the grip of mammon is persist in a giving regiment. In addition to giving 10% of our income, we also give away 50% of what we don’t spend each month. The other 50% is currently going towards savings for a specific purpose. The 10% we usually give to our local church, and the extra giving money we give to organizations associated with missions and to works with the materially poor.
By giving away half of our ‘extra’ funds at the end of the month, we’ve tried to give ourselves some generous incentives not to spend our income each month. We know that if we’re able to save money in any given month, we’ll be able to use half of that money for Kingdom purposes.
It’s certainly not a foolproof system, but its function is to remind me that our frugality is not for our sakes alone, but for the sake of the Kingdom.
And yes, we’ve got a lot of growing to do when it comes to generous giving.
One final point of clarification:
I don’t endorse cheating or ethically inappropriate activities so that you’ll have more to give. I think buying something from a yard sale and trying to return it to a department store is unethical, and I would not ever suggest that as an appropriate course of action.
How we earn our money is a way to honor God in a similar way to how we give our money.
Do you agree that frugality can be a sign of greed? What do you do to protect yourself from that danger?