When Being Frugal Becomes Non-Christian

“A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” Luke 6:38

The last few weeks, I have been itinerantly cleaning the home of a friend’s elderly relative, while that relative is in the hospital. This is the chance of the lifetime, my friend exults, because the elderly relative is determined and self-sufficient (good points) to the point that she refuses assistance or help (not so good — bit of pride there).

Being wise with our money does not necessarily mean being cheap with our money. The Misers, by 17th century Flemish painter David Ryckaert III

Being wise with our money does not necessarily mean being cheap with our money. The Misers, by 17th century Flemish painter David Ryckaert III

Speaking of pride, the elderly relative takes much of it in her frugality, and she is where she is, she repeatedly says, because she’s not a spendthrift.

Be that as it may, it clearly becomes obvious to anyone attempting to clean her house that the reason this has become so difficult is because the broom, which looks like what a witch would ride, consists of a few remaining determined straws; the wash rags have more holes than material; the vacuum’s belt broke years ago; the plastic bucket is cracked at the bottom; and there are absolutely no cleaning materials other than dish washing soap.

And while elbow grease is a great resource, when those elbows get into their later 90s, they don’t work as efficiently as they used to.

Frugal, Not Cheap

I understand frugality. As the mother of four children, managing a single moderate income, I learned from daily experience how to use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. But I also recognized the necessity of buying — if it couldn’t be found or made — the right tool for the right job. Expecting someone to create a professional product or put forth a top performance from cobbled together resources is unreasonable. (While The Little House on the Prairie stories are engaging and fun, but they tell stories first, and relate facts second.)

Into You inspirational original oil painting of woman and man on date with red car in front of hotel by Steve Henderson

It is possible to make others feel like a million bucks, without having to spend a million bucks. It’s all in the attitude. Into You, original oil painting by Steve Henderson

Frugality, when it is pushed to its extreme, becomes cheapness, and cheapness — which we find in the slavish obedience to the mantra, “Never pay retail!”, or the constant bargaining down (of the small, independent business owner, not the mega corporations) on price, or the paying of teen babysitters at the church half as much as an adult would make (because kids are “learning to give”), or the insistence that others within our responsibility  circles make do on ridiculously, severely limited resources when we have the ability to provide the means they need — does not, in any fashion, represent “good stewardship.”

And yet this form of “good stewardship” is frequently practiced and praised among Christians as pleasing to God. It’s a trap.

Good Stewardship Is “Good”

Years ago, when my husband the Norwegian Artist worked as a graphic designer for a small firm that depended heavily upon religious clients, two sweet little, fluffy white, cold-blooded women repeatedly showed up with jobs “for the church,” strongly expecting that, because the firm owner was Christian, he should cut them a very, very good deal. And while they were unfortunately not alone, among the many religious clients, in this expectation, the contrast of their syrupy exterior with the granite interior was especially memorable.

The better the deal and the deeper the cut, however, the less the firm owner — and his employees — took home, and while the little old ladies expected a top quality product, they were adamant that it be at a low quantity price. One could tell that they took great pride in this good stewardship, along with their regular tithing to the church (which they frequently mentioned as being an obligation of all Christians), and their cheery greetings “in the name of Jesus.”

For some reason, it fell a little flat to my ears.

It is important to remember that, when we talk about good stewardship, it is not to be achieved on the backs of, or by the sacrifices of, others. Also notable is that good stewardship is not something in which we take pride, denoting a deeper faith in Christ.

Good stewards manage their money and resources well, and as Christians, the money and resources we have been given are a means to bless others — all sorts of others. What measure are we using?

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes, where I encourage Christians to live our Christianity, as opposed to studying it to death in a weekly small group. If you like what you read, please pass it on through the social media buttons at the bottom of the article.

Posts complementing this one are

Defining Success

Three “Christian” Teachings Jesus Didn’t Teach

None of Our Children Attended Harvard

This article is posted in Hearts for Home, Shine, Shine On, Thoughtful Thursday, Witty Hoots, Our Simple Life, Embracing Change, Front Porch, Favorite Things, Daily Cup, Thriving Thursdays, Sincerely Paula, Anderson Grant, Mom Resource, Wise Woman, Family Fun Friday. Homemaking, Mom Club, A Little R and R, Women with Intention, The Thrifty Home, While I’m Waiting, Wholehearted Home, Wake Up Wednesday, Moonlight and Mason Jars, Work It Wednesday, Pat and Candy, Grandma’s Ideas, Turn It Up Tuesday, Totally Terrific Tuesday, Coastal Charm, Time Warp Wife, Life of Faith, My Joy Filled Life, Monday Meanderings, Mama’s Moment, Mopping the Floor, Keep It Simple, This Is How We Roll, Pintastic, From the Farm, Home Matters, That Friday Blog, Flash Blog, Grace and Truth, Link Party, The Party Bunch, Freedom Friday, Friendship Friday, Friday Booster, Soul Survival, The Shabby Nest, Awesome Life, Dare to Share,

About This Woman Writes

Carolyn Henderson is the marketing manager of Steve Henderson Fine Art. In addition to her This Woman Writes blog, Carolyn writes a regular art column for FineArtNews, an online newsletter for artists and art collectors.
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15 Responses to When Being Frugal Becomes Non-Christian

  1. coachmbrown says:

    Carolyn, may I suggest we recognize that what we define as frugality is merely a symptom of something much deeper in the heart and mind of the person. It is interesting you speak of an older woman in this instance. Before we judge “frugal” behavior, we should stop and ask what is the real cause of her frugality. What happened in her lifetime that causes her to “pinch and save and get by with far less”? Our outward manifestations are but symptoms of what truly is the perceived illness.

    • This is true, Coach Brown — our outward behavior very much indicates what is going on, which is a bit disconcerting!

      As Christians, however, don’t we want to seek out, find, understand, and eliminate these irritating, quirky behaviors that can turn others away? I’ve known very very good people, quite kind and compassionate, who have been singularly off putting because money is such a factor in their lives. Some of them freely admitted the issue, and wished it did not exist. Others were in denial. The worship of money is not something limited to the very, very rich.

      The elderly relative is simply an example of where the absurdity of frugality can take us — it’s amusing, less so when one has to work with and around a person like this, but not so bad because her frugal issues really do more damage to her own life than they do to others. It’s a sad thing, but will remain a sad thing in her life as the issue remains unresolved.

      The latter women, however — the fluffy cold-hearted little old ladies — they are sharp, canny, crafty, and cunning in a way that would make a worldly financier proud, and yet they are less honest than a worldly financier because they espouse the words of Jesus, while their very actions damage the lives of others around them. They were proud, inflexible, demanding, and callous, and any message they gave about Jesus was one-dimensional. It is this attitude that I see promulgated within places and people who call themselves Christian as a sign of “faith” — get the most out of people that you can, for the least amount possible, because it’s all in the name of Jesus.

      But all Christians are part of Christ’s holy priesthood, not just those with non-profit status, and when a graphic artist is pressured to part with his skills for nothing, because it’s for God, then the person demanding the freebie just took away funds that the graphic artist, at his own discretion, could have used to bless others.

      “Christians are cheap,” someone told me once, and, given the experiences they recounted, and those I have found myself, I was unable to disagree. John 13:35 tells us that the world will know we are Christians by our love for one another, not our ability to spend little, and demand much.

      • coachmbrown says:

        Good points for certain, but again as my Christian Counselor professor reminded me, look below the surface for the real hurt. Maybe it is the pain they are suffering from that has drawn them to the church. The Bible is rife with stories of imperfect people within God’s family. Does that justify actions that seem as a affront to God? Very likely, but most all of us carry one or more deep hurts that causes us to struggle. Often Christians are overly generous and benevolent but for all the wrong purposes – the anti-frugal spirit prevails. Is that more or less wrong? Any form of covetousness or adultery in the heart or flesh God cannot ignore but he also calls for a repentant, contrite heart response, and he is patient and persistent in that aim. I know the point you made. I struggle with similar attitudes in the church, where it should not exist, but where else is a better place to deal with the root of the evil that causes such behavior? Please accept these thoughts as food for thought, not condemnation. Keep up the conversation. Certainly our churches need to open their eyes, ears and hearts to how to deal with sinners in their midst.

        • I agree with you, and any issue that is brought up is an issue for someone, something that draws from pain. This is my ultimate point: If you’re not there, don’t go there. The message — frugal cheapness — as a composite message filtered through teachings in the church and in the religious arena, does not need to be accepted. It’s loud, it’s pervasive, it’s demanding — let’s let it go.

          Yes, we love people who have issues with it — we all do! But we do not have to bow to the demands of this philosophy, nor accede to its demands.

  2. lesliesholly says:

    You raise some interesting questions! It’s one thing to freely give to your church. It’s another to face demands from it that affect your ability to make a livelihood to care for your family. My husband is an attorney who is exceptionally generous regarding payment terms and I sometimes have to remind him that his first duty is to make sure his family’s needs are met.

    • Many years ago, some friends of ours were struggling financially, and it was a serious issue to find food to put on the table. They began to wonder, “Should we pay tithes? Because frankly, the money that we give to the church now would cover our food expenses and take this extreme pressure off.”

      Of course, we know the standard answer to that — “Give and it will be given to you.” But after a long period of not having money magically appear to make up their deficit, they began to question and wonder. Eventually, they chose to use their money to feed their family, because that was their primary obligation, and serving their family — as you remind your husband — was the first duty to be met. If we don’t meet the needs of those for whom we are immediately responsible, that’s a bit of an issue.

      There comes a point, in all our lives, when it’s just us and God, and the conversation excludes commentary from others. There is a security in walking with God as a friend, as Abraham did, and in doing so, we will often be called to do something out of the ordinary, out of the norm, out of what “everyone else” in the church is doing. That part is disconcerting, especially as we find ourselves going against the flow of the religious community, but going against the flow of the religious community, quite frankly, is part of the Christian experience. Jesus wasn’t abhorrent to the religious leaders because He was kind, compassionate, forgiving, and accepting — He was abhorrent because He upset the status quo.

  3. JES says:

    Great points! Being frugal is different than being cheap and unthoughtful! A Christian should be generous to others (hence practicing the golden rule) while being practical with themselves if there is a need for it. Cheap is a poor representation of Him. Thank you for sharing at the Art of Home-Making Mondays!

  4. Thanks for joining in the fun for Thursday Favorite Things Blog Hop!

  5. Pingback: Mama Moments Monday {Link-Up} - A Mama's Story

  6. I understand where you are coming from. Not an easy subject to write about and you handled it well. My only thought with the 90 year old is that some of us have a very limited income. I appreciate you sharing on Fridays Blog Booster Party #24

    • Money is never an easy subject to write about, Kathleen — because we’re all very sensitive on the matter!

      I understand limited income, and I know it comes in all age groups. Actually, in today’s global economy of the best for just a few, more and more people deal with the concept of limited income. It is for this reason that we have to think, all the more, about where that income goes, and the many and various non-profit, volunteer, and religious organizations that operate under the assumption that people ought and should support them, will have to justify the money that we receive. So also should the government organizations that take without asking, and when citizens are given the rare choice to determine whether they will voluntarily tax themselves, they need to be more willing to say, “No.”

      My friend’s 90-year-old relative, incidentally, is from the disappearing era of retirement pensions from private (not public) businesses, and is fully able to fund the cleaning materials I have needed to get her house ship shape.

  7. Jann Olson says:

    It is hard to take help from others, but I’m so glad that you were able to get in and help this elderly woman out. Sometimes, people are so use to things the way they are they don’t see that the rags need replaced etc. It might have more to do with change than we realize. Thanks for sharing with SYC.

    • So true, Jann – and it brings up an important point: We are consistently told that it is more important to give than to receive, but there is much to say in the ability to receive. When someone gives us a gift of their time or resources, and our immediate response is to reject it, we are effectively rejecting that person. Not a good thing to do.

      From this elderly relative of my friend, and people like them, I learn the way I DON’T want to do things — if I am blessed to make it to my 90s or 100s, I don’t want to arrive with an attitude of not needing others (when, realistically, we all do!), and not accepting gifts out of a misplaced sense of pride.

      So, when the dish rags get holes in them, I change them out!

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