Welcome to the series ‘More with Less’. On the first Friday of every month I’m going to share a simple, effective way I’ve found to save money and live a meaningful life with fewer possessions. It will range from recipes and DIYs on making things you would normally buy to cultivating contentment (but no coupons – I don’t do coupons). But before I begin sharing about the practical aspects of how to live more with less, I’d like to share my journey with money and how I came to my views on frugality, money management and finding joy with fewer belongings.
Usually when someone writes about saving money it’s because they’ve experienced financial turmoil and worked hard to come out of it. That’s not me. I’ve made my fair share of bad spending choices (buying a brand-new car while in university was not the greatest life decision) and am a recovering compulsive buyer (hence the car). What has taught and is teaching me to be frugal and to see the blessing of owning fewer things is living on small incomes in small spaces and recognizing my total dependence on God for provision.
When we moved to Hungary in early 2009 we had almost no money, a student loan and, when translated into US dollars, small salaries. If we were going to travel, enjoy life in Europe and eat we had to economize and simply not spend money on things that weren’t necessities. My Hungarian friends unintentionally showed me just how ridiculous my American material expectations were (my baby did not need a playmat, exersaucer and a swing) and slowly my ideals changed. We weren’t inundated with advertising and while materialism was most certainly present, most people simply did not buy things just to have them (a positive remnant of Communism). Energy was put into relationships and not accumulating more stuff.
Two and a half years later we moved in six suitcases to Canada and another small apartment and income. This is where the rubber met the road. It’s one thing to not spend when you live in a small town, surrounded by people who spend less than you do and you know you’re going to Sweden next weekend. But what about downtown big city with coffee shops around the corner, an all-natural, organic baby store down the road and consumerism running rampant? Solution: decide it’s time for your husband to go to grad school, debt-free. Beyond food, shelter and the occasional date we didn’t spend hardly anything. Everything we had went to paying my student loan and saving for Ryan’s tuition. It was hard. I agonized over every item I put in my cart at the grocery store and worked diligently to make as much from scratch as possible. I learned a lot about saving money on everyday items, distinguishing between ‘wants’ and ‘needs’ and finding security outside of the size of my bank account. It also freed us up to be generous as we continued to tithe 10% of our income and hosted more people for dinner and shared more batches of cookies than I can count.
It’s been easier in Oregon since we’re in a small town again but there’s always something I want, something needing repair or a child outgrowing clothes. As much as I would like to never spend money, it’s simply not an option. And I don’t want to be a Scrooge – money is meant to be enjoyed, not hoarded. Through all this I have seen God meet our financial needs again and again. Whether it’s been through a job, selling something or a gift we’ve never wanted for anything.
Choosing to live more with less is a daily choice for me. Some days I want to get rid of everything we don’t absolutely need, sleep on the floor and have the kids play with cardboard boxes. Other days I want to go to downtown Portland and buy out Sur la Table and Powell’s books. But most days I live in the tension of a small budget and big dreams. It’s lots of little choices that add up to large dividends, knowing the payoff will come later.
Come back on Wednesday for a bonus installation of ‘More with Less’ where I will share about how to think about money. I hope to see you there!
What is your money journey? What are some lessons you’ve learned?