The word “frugal” has a negative connotation to some. When you think of someone being frugal, you think of a tightwad or a tight-fisted, miserly person, but the opposite is true. Webster’s definition of frugal is: Using economy in applying your resources, or being wise with your money. Being frugal is learning to live within your means. The opposite of being frugal is to be wasteful, or to use your money unwisely.
When you do not join the rest of the world as a careless consumer, and you choose to make frugality your way of life, you are making a life decision. If you don’t make that life decision, your foundation will be weak, and you’ll end up having relapses in your spending. To become frugal, you must develop a discipline to avoid spending money on your weakness; be it vacations, a bigger house, more clothes and shoes, little whatnots for the house, or another cute outfit for your children. When you begin to develop a discipline to resist these unnecessary purchases, you will begin to change and become strong enough to resist temptation. The key is to stay away from those things that incite the temptation to spend.
Do you read home decorating magazines, or do you look at pictures of the latest high-tech toys that are on the market? Does it stir a little discontent for what you already have, and what you would like to go out and spend more on? I am suggesting that you don’t read those magazines and stay out of those websites that make you want more of whatever you’re hooked on. Window-shopping in the mall will only cause you to feel unhappy and give you a sense that you are depriving yourself.
Is this way of life a sacrifice? By no means! If you are trying to achieve a goal in spending less, then it could never be a sacrifice. If you have made a life decision to direct your life so that you are no longer a consumer, then you need to change that old sacrificial attitude to a healthy goal-oriented attitude. You will no longer be a part of the world that worships the “money god,” and no longer allow it to have control over your life.
When you begin to live a frugal lifestyle, it will help you to live more simply. Since gaining money gradually becomes less of a focus of your life, your attitudes and opinions will begin to change concerning where and how you live. You will notice that it begins to touch almost every aspect of your life. We can look back into history and see that some ancient civilizations had proponents who cautioned against loving “things” too much and losing sight of what was important.
In our country, there have been several points in time when Americans have been frugal and desired a simpler life. The Puritans and Quakers were two groups who tried to live in moderation in the way they dressed, and the influence money played in their lives. Both groups, although different in many ways, believed that wealth would prevent them from knowing and living a life devoted to God. As both groups prospered through hard work and diligence, they struggled to keep their close walk with the Lord. But some learned that it was the love of money and the craving for possessions that actually caused several to leave their simple lifestyle. It was only a matter of time that the frugal lifestyle was forgotten by them and by our country also. Money was a personal trap, and was the eventual demise of living simply.
There were points in time when frugality was a necessary way of life in our country. The government actually encouraged people to live frugally and do it with vigor. This war-induced simplicity asked Americans to reduce their wants, to cut down on their standard of living, to buy less, to work less, and to consume less. The sad thing is that it was short-lived. As soon as the war effort was over, it was the patriotic thing to go out and spend, in order to rebuild a strong economy; but moderation is truly what the Lord wants for all of us.
The Bible’s View on Possessions
You will see in the following Scriptures that there is a connection between our spiritual health and our possessions. In Haggai 1:6, the translation in the Living Bible says so plainly, “You plant much but harvest little. You have scarcely enough to eat or drink, and not enough clothes to keep you warm. Your income disappears, as though you were putting it into pockets filled with holes! ‘Think it over,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘Consider how you have acted, and what has happened as a result." Jumping to verse 9, it reads, “You hope for much but you get so little. And when you bring it home, I blow it away - it doesn’t last at all. Why? Because my Temple lies in ruins and you don’t care. Your only concern is your own fine homes.”
Haggai was talking about the reconstruction of the Temple, but the message has application for today. The people of that time were more concerned with their material possessions, and were not placing God first in their lives. The Word shows clearly that God can cause our money to disappear when we don’t place Him first.
Another example is in Deuteronomy 28. There is a list of blessings that are connected with being obedient to the Word, which were given by Moses as part of the Law. He says that if you worship other gods, just as money is a god for many people, several curses can fall upon your life; one of them being that you will sow much but reap little. It will be as though you are spinning your wheels and getting nowhere.
In 1 John 2:16, the Bible tells us that the enemy uses these three things, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, to entice us to sin. The pride of life is the desire for the finest schools, the best clothes, and the attitude that you won't settle for anything but the best. It is a desire for the things of the world. Matthew Henry says that "Yet these vanities are so alluring to the corruption in our hearts, that without constant watching and prayer, we cannot escape the world, or obtain victory over the god and prince of it."
Just as in the time of the Puritans, God doesn’t have anything against money. What He doesn’t approve of is when believers and unbelievers have placed money before a closer relationship that He desires with them. If a life is focused upon the attainment of money and things, then there’s a very good chance that this person will have money as their god - even if it is difficult for them to admit.
Where’s the Balance?
Would you have ever thought that Jesus was a frugal person? He was - look at John 6:11-13. When Jesus was breaking the bread, He also collected the crumbs. After the breaking of the bread, He did the same thing with the remains of the fish. I’m sure the people of that time would have thought He was wasteful, if He had just allowed them to lie there.
In Proverbs 11:24-25, the Word says that there is danger in holding on too tightly to your money. Did you realize that being a tightwad is what happens when frugality is taken out-of-balance? God actually wants us to be generous givers, but at the same time He doesn’t want us to waste our money or use it unwisely. The world tells you to hold on tightly, where the Word says to loosen your tight little fist and be generous.
The message that the world sends concerning holding onto your money has nothing to do with the way they have been personally spending it on themselves. They just can’t see themselves as helping those in need, because of their own fixation on holding onto it.
Living on Less
When you live in a world that adores money, and you have decided that you want to be free of that way of thinking, you can begin by being frugal. Some of your family and friends may think you’ve lost it - but that’s the thrilling part! I believe the Lord is calling His people to be wise with their money, because we don’t know what the upcoming years have in store for us. Simple living is enjoying less stress, living within your means, living with less stuff, focusing on a healthier lifestyle, and placing God first in your life. Simple living is not about poverty or deprivation. Frugality is a step toward learning to live in moderation, so that you can have more peace of mind.
~This article was originally written for Kindred Spirits Journal, Issue #21, 2007.