Are You Frugal or Miserly?

A woman limits her family to 2-minute showers and one light bulb. Another issues daily toilet paper rations and reuses dental floss.

The economic depression of 2009 forced many individuals to step back and take a long hard look at their finances. Unemployment, lower wages, and a higher cost of living prompted many to seek new (or old) ways to stretch their dollars. Coupons, thrift and consignment stores, and Craig’s List became trendy and socially acceptable. TLC even jumped on the bandwagon by producing TV shows such as Extreme Couponing and Hoarders to highlight some of the worse examples of thrifty and/or compulsive living.

As Christians, we’re called to be good stewards of the resources God gives us, but how do we know whether we’re frugal or miserly? 

Here are several questions to ask ourselves: 

1. What are our motives? 

If it’s to stick to a reasonable budget, live within my means, or save in order to get out of debt or make a major purchase without using credit, we’re probably okay. If it’s to hoard money for the sake of storing up riches, we may have a problem. Jesus cautioned the rich man who hoarded wealth

2. Do my money-saving actions devalue people and relationships? 

 If I embarrass my family by my over-the-top penny-pinching ways, fail to meet their basic needs, or abuse store employees in pursuit of a bargain, I have crossed the line.

3. Are my practices legal? 

Using coupons in a way that disregards their terms, taking from a restaurant anything beyond what I would normally use with my meal, and illegally downloading movies or music are a few practices spotlighted in a Growing Money articled called “Money Saving Strategies that Are Actually Illegal.” Even saving money for a “good cause,” doesn’t justify breaking the law.

4. Am I trusting money for security? 

While we’re called to financial responsibility and instructed to prepare for the future, it’s easy to trust in our savings or our thriftiness instead of God. When we base our security on the amount of money in the bank instead of God’s ability to provide for us, we’ve exalted money to a position of idolatry. This is sin.

5. Am I giving money away or keeping it all for myself?

I know one woman who places her coupon savings in a jar every week and donates the money to a crisis pregnancy center. Another practices thrifty living so she can support a child through Compassion International. A third makes her coffee at home instead of stopping at Starbucks so she can give regularly to missionary friends in Spain and Mexico. One of the best ways to ensure our financial priorities are in order is to include generous and substantial giving in our monthly budgets.

As a believer, I’ve found that even good things like financial stewardship and fiscal responsibility can become unbalanced. The best way to ensure this doesn’t happen is to recognize money’s true purpose—to meet our needs and the needs of others and support God’s kingdom work. Pope Francis commented on society’s relationship with money by saying, “Money has to serve, not to rule!”  I couldn’t agree more.

Jesus cut to the heart of the matter in the account of the greedy rich man in Luke 12.

And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. (v. 29-31)

So we must ask ourselves, are we frugal, or are we miserly? If we examine our lives and ask God to reveal our hearts, I think we’ll have our answer.

What about you? How have you balanced frugality and generosity? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below and bless us all.

And if you’d like to peruse websites that embrace biblical frugality, here are a few of my favorites:

Mary Hunt’s Everyday Cheapskate  

Jenny Martin’s Southern Savers 

Jonni McCoy’s Miserly Moms

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the self-check. I try to be frugal. I need to make sure that I am generous, too.