We are approaching Thanksgiving Day here in the United States, and then Christmas and the wonderful season of gift giving next month! I thought this would be a really good time to think through the concept of choosing carefully how we use the finances the Lord has given us.  *smile* While you are thinking of gift ideas for your families I encourage you to consider these principles for making an income stretch further before you purchase. And also see Part 2 for a list of practical ideas which we implement to make an income stretch further.

 

We have had many questions asking if we have any input on how families can do life well on a small income. Here is a question I recently received.

“Hi Erika, I’m a single mother of seven and I am having the hardest time with budgeting, trying to figure out how to make $2000 a month work. If you have any ideas I would greatly appreciate it.”  ~ S.M.

I would love to share with you what we have learned from the Lord on this topic.  *smile*  There are two parts to this post.
Part 1
Principles for making a smaller income stretch further

Prioritize what the Lord prioritizes

It can be hard to live in the world and not be focused on it’s priorities and opinions.  *smile*  But it’s an invaluable skill to develop.  We can focus on what the World says is important – such as eating out at restaurants weekly, going on expensive vacations annually, and purchasing entertainments regularly such as movie theaters, expensive sports equipment (watch for a future post on this soon!), and big toys such as jet skis.  But having this focus can cause us to feel fearful or inferior if we’re not being able to provide for our children what the world says we should be able to.  But these things are not what the Lord says is important at all.  (Now please don’t misunderstand me, there is nothing wrong with these things in and of themselves; they are simply not necessary for a fulfilling and joyful life.)

The Lord promises to provide what we need…but what does that mean exactly?  And who defines “need”?  I used to define it very differently than I do now.  *smile*  And I spent many years questioning the Lord, and not trusting Him to provide for us because the provision I was experiencing from the Lord wasn’t matching up to what I wanted.  I felt resentful and bitter about the Lord’s provision or in my naive opinion, lack there of, and felt that He promised something to me (abundance) but then wouldn’t deliver.  But actually it was my definition of need that needed an adjustment.

“But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” ~ Philippians 4:19

“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?  Look a the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?  Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?  So why do you worry about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow:  They neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For after all these things the Gentiles seek.  For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But seek first the kingdom of God and all His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” ~ Matthew 6:25-34

What we need, from what I’ve learned, means basics but not necessarily wants.  The Lord promises food, but not specific types necessarily, or from restaurants.  *wink* We may need to budget carefully and meal plan carefully in order to make foods stretch over the week.  We may need to change our tastes from steak to chicken, or maybe to meatless vegetarian (which is way better for you anyway, we learned from our research to save money!  *smile*).  God provides shelter, but not necessarily a large house that’s furnished perfectly to one’s taste.  We may have a spacious home, or we may live in the basement of another’s home, but either way we can keep it clean and orderly, and add happiness in little ways such as cutting out paper snowflakes or drawing on the glass with window markers.  God promises clothing, but it may not be from the most expensive department stores.  It may not even be new.  We may need to become expert used clothing shoppers, but we are warm and even pretty, and can be thankful for the clothes we have.  God promises love, guaranteed in abundance from the Lord, and hopefully from some family, church family, and friends but not necessarily guaranteed from all of those.  His provisions are not limited to these things, these are just some examples.

When we consider what’s really important, and choose to be content and thankful, then we can feel “rich” in the Lord’s provisions no matter the amount or type.  And it doesn’t mean that we’ll be in that same place and amount of provision our whole lives!  It’s just for now, for a season.  The Lord loves His children, and He has great plans for them – we just need to wait on Him, trust Him, and enjoy the ride.  *smile*


Choose contentment and thankfulness

For the first several years of our marriage I complained to the Lord, telling him that I was tired of having just the bare minimum and only the basic needs met.  My husband has always been a very hard working man, but still I was disappointed with our life style.  I desired more comfort.  I didn’t want to choose contentment and thankfulness because I thought by doing that I would be settling in to remain where we were financially forever.  But that was a lie from the enemy of our souls.  By choosing contentment and thankfulness for what we had, and still being able to express my hearts desires to the God of the universe who cares deeply for us, I found great freedom and peace and happiness.  And I learned some strategies for helping me be content and thankful.

For one, I never go “window shopping” as an activity, walking around the mall or storefronts looking at things I would like to have.  That just creates discontentment, envy, jealousy, and self-pity.  Rather I keep a little list at home of gift ideas that I think of for myself (and lists for all the members of our family), things I come across in my weekly grocery and errand shopping or things I just think of on my own.  Our family likes to exchange gift ideas for occasions such as birthdays and Christmas, and so with a list going I have some ideas to offer someone who asks, or if I receive a little gift money then I can review my list, pick the most important idea for myself and enjoy buying that gift.  So when the money is there, then I shop and I get to purchase something I’ve desired.  I also choose to be thankful in my thinking through out my days.

This took a lot of conscious effort at first, finding things to be thankful for at any given time of day and in any circumstance.  But with practice I’ve developed not only a more natural ability to be thankful, but also the ability to list things in my mind that I am thankful for.  Not that I’ve “arrived” by any means – but I’m so many light years ahead of where I used to be.  *smile*  And sometimes I still need to remind myself to be thankful and to consciously rehearse in my mind the blessings of a situation – even out loud! *laugh*  When the toilet is over flowing, for example, I can choose to be thankful that the water is fairly clean toilet water that time, that the water did not sit against the walls too long causing big-time water damage to our house, that I was home to take care of it right away, that it’s during nap time so that I don’t have to simultaneously manage lots of young children, that toilet water doesn’t stain clothing, etc. I’m not thankful for the situation – I’m thankful in it.  The point is, we can know what to do in most situations to help improve our whole attitude and outlook on life, and we need to do our best to choose it.  It begins in our mind.

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…”  ~ Romans 12:2


Change the way it looks, and enjoy it!

Sometimes getting by on a small budget means changing the way “fun” or “blessing” looks to us, so that we do not feel deprived.  Instead of eating out at restaurants, we choose to grill hamburgers in the backyard.  We can get nice, fresh veggies for the burgers, whole wheat buns, chips, and pop, and even pretty plastic plates from the dollar store or from Wal-Mart for a couple of dollars, and use those plates over and over in the summers for years, and not come close to spending what we would spent at a restaurant.  The meal is sometimes enjoyed with just our family, and sometimes we invite over company to enjoy it with us – and we still save a ton of fun.  And we choose to capture the fun and funny moments on camera, and laugh together, and not have anybody saying about restaurant food, “I don’t like this food” or “This has too much cheese…”  *chuckle*  We have learned to love our simple family times, and to be content and thankful in that without feeling deprived by what we don’t have.  Here are some of our kids with another family’s kids whom we enjoyed a picnic dinner with recently.

We love to take a trip to the Seattle Aquarium to explore the sea life there – but we’ve also become very content and very much enjoy going to the Puget Sound waterfront at a beach near us and doing our own tide pool explorations and beach explorations there without the expense of the entrance fee to the aquarium.

We would enjoy going to big time fair grounds and doing all the rides and eating all the fair food that we could hold.  But rather we have learned to very much enjoy our simple county fair here in town, to spend our time looking at all of the animals and doing the free kids events and crafts, observing the crafts and people’s skills on display (or entering in to those ourselves).  We bringing our picnic lunch to eat and only buying two or three larger fair food desserts to share as a family.  And we go to the fair on the first day it opens, before 3:00 pm, when there is a discount offered on the entrance fees.  The older children have started earning money for their own ride passes, so I take them back to the fair in the evening to do that if they choose to.  We have a great day, and don’t spend very much money.  We took a desired event – changed the way it looked to use and enjoyed it.  *smile*

The church family

The Lord has given us the blessing of a local church body (which we are intended to be members of; committed to, held accountable by, known by), and it is intended that we take care of one another to a certain extent.  Not only do we fellowship, learn, and worship together, but we are intended to share the gifts the Lord has given to each of us to build up the “body” of believers.

“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”  ~ 1 Peter 4:10

“Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.  We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.”  ~ Romans 12:4-6a


For example, in the Bible the book of Romans chapter 12 lists these gifts:  exhortation (encouragement), giving, leadership, mercy, prophecy, service, teaching.

1 Corinthians 12 these gifts:  administration, apostle, discernment, faith, healing, helps, knowledge, miracles, prophecy, teaching, tougues, tongues interpretation, wisdom.

Ephesians 4 these gifts:  apostle, evangelism, pastor, prophecy, teaching.

This church family is important for the single parent left alone to be both father and mother to the children.  If a single parent does not have her own biological family to lean on a bit for support and help, if something needs to be fixed around the house, for example, and she simply does not have the skills nor the money to help herself, then her church family can really make a huge difference in her life.  If she needs advice there are pastors and elders and church members to aid her; if she needs the garage door repaired, surely there is someone with practical handyman skills that can repair her door easily. 

Of course the sharing of these gifts is a benefit to anyone within the church family, not just single parents!  But especially so to those who are in greater financial need and perhaps would not be able to receive the help needed if it were not available from people as a ministry gift to them without charge.


Immerse ourselves in the Word

We need to remember that God gives us His Word for our lives, and we need to seek that out every single day.  We need to believe in the Lord’s love for us, and then immerse ourselves in God’s Word, learning where to go when we are in financial need and trying to do the best for our families.  We can go to the Lord for direction, encouragement, hope, reassurance, provision, and guidance.  The Bible contains letters to us on every subject we could ever seek answers on.  But we need to spend time in the Word every day, and we need to learn how to listen to the Lord’s directions.

The Lord promises to take care of His children. *smile* But we need to align our mind with His. We need to prioritize what He prioritizes. Choose contentment and thankfulness in what He has given us. Sometimes we need to adjust our expectations and go with the flow better, and stop fighting His plan. We need to share our gifts and abilities with others in need (not always without any compensation of course, as there is a time to be paid for our work efforts and a time to just offer them as a gift – after all, the Lord gave us the gift of the abilities in the first place). We need to immerse ourselves in His Word so that we can find peace and comfort there, instead of worrying or becoming overly fretful about our financial situation.

Most importantly I desire to encourage you to develop a new way of thinking about a financial situation – both in principle and in practicality.  Having a smaller income does not mean some one is a victim, so we need to abandon that worldly mentality.  People have lots of choices.  But they often feel like they don’t want to, or shouldn’t have to do these kinds of things I’ve shared in this post.  Well – you can hang on to that if you want to.  But I guarantee you it won’t serve you well.  Believe me, I know.  It’s so much better to follow the Lord’s lead for our lives, and to trust Him that He knows what is best.  *smile*

Blessings on your efforts,