thoughts on excess :: spending

7 book review

This is the final installment of my 3-part book review to evaluate media usage, waste, and spending in my own life.  See Part I : Media and Part II : Waste for the full series!

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How many places do you use your credit card?  Jen Hatmaker looked at her family’s bills from a recent month and saw that they had used their credit card in 66 different locations, not counting repeat purchases.

Here on vacation in Virginia today, I was in the car watching strip malls go by out my window.  Chick-Fil-A… Michaels… a grocery store… Starbucks… CVS… a cute plant nursery having a sale on all their plants… a thrift store… Barnes & Noble… Target… one after another these glitzy names appeared on signs, lulling me in to browse, eat, enjoy, and spend.

Suddenly using my credit card in 66 different places in a month didn’t seem that hard to do!

For the month of cutting down spending, Jen decided that her family would only shop in 7 different stores (including gas, groceries, online bills, and for any medical emergencies.)  This chapter was a lot of fun to read, especially as her friends got creative with bringing her food or taking her out for meals.  In lieu of Starbucks and Chipotle, Jen also began to invite people into her own home for coffee dates, meetings over lunch, and family get-togethers.  She said she loved the impact on her friendships and her humility as she opened her home and let her friends see her mess, her real life, and shared what she had with them.

I loved this chapter for two reasons.  The first was that it inspired me to just say no to spending, a habit that Elliott and I have tried to cultivate together.  He’s better at this than me… surprise!  I do enjoy shopping; I love to find a good deal; I love new, pretty things. I have also found that reading magazines like Martha Stewart Living with home decorating suggestions or perusing blogs like Cup of Jo with beautifully curated gift lists only make it harder to say “no” sometimes.

But still, in real life, both Elliott and I do try to spend only after careful consideration.  I repair the holes in his socks before he buys new ones, our children wear almost entirely thrift and second-hand, and my designer jeans are hand-me-downs from my sister-in-law’s roommate.  (Wow, lots of hyphens in that sentence.)  Also, outside of routine purchases, we try to discuss any spending together before we lay down our cash.

The other reason I loved this chapter is because it made me grateful that I live overseas.  Life is simpler in semi-rural Sicily, far away from the cornucopia of retail in the States.  There just aren’t as many places to spend your money.

For example: eating out.  It’s harder to do in Sicily than in Virginia.  In our little town in Sicily, there are no fast food joints (unless you count pastries and gelato, which we sometimes do).  Very few places offer take-out.  Coffee is rarely served “to go”; Italians drink their espressos standing up at the coffee bar.  In our town, only one kind of ethnic food is available.  (Italian, in case you couldn’t guess.)  I find that shopping in another language and with different brands is a deterrent to my spending as well.

Contrast this to visiting the States, where I couldn’t wait to buy and eat Pizza Hut, Chick-Fil-A, Take It Away, and sushi!

Jen found that people offered these reasons when they wanted to spend their money:

  • It’s no big deal.
  • I can afford this.
  • I’ve worked hard for my money, so I can spend it how I want.
  • I want this, back off.
  • I deserve this.
  • Other people spend way more.
  • I still have money in the bank.
  • What’s the big deal?

Do any of these reasons sound familiar to you as you admire at a pair of shoes on sale or consider treating yourself to a milkshake?  (Note: I did both these things in the past few days!  And gave in to both of them, too!  I’m a work in progress here.)

As I look back over my life, I am amazed by how much money has come and gone through my fingers.  From my weekly allowance as a child to my nurse’s salary to our shared income now, a lot of money has been given to me and spent by me.

Where has that money gone?  So much of it has been frittered away rather than thoughtfully stewarded and budgeted towards real needs… both of my own and of others.  After reading this chapter of the book, I am more motivated to keep a careful account of our money, to say “no” to unnecessary or vain spending, to budget for things of quality and beauty that will last, to reevaluate our giving and tithing, and to:

Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,
yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

Luke 12:27

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What about you?  Does your family make a habit of saying “no” to spending, or would you like to make this a habit in your life?  Do you live overseas?  Does this make spending less money easier or harder for you?

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13 Responses to thoughts on excess :: spending

  1. Carrie July 15, 2013 at 9:53 pm #

    This sounds like a great chapter. I was just in the States for a visit, and you said it perfectly – it was so much easier to spend money! I like the challenge to thoughtfully budget. Thanks for posting!

    (I did however find a copy of Nuture Shock for $3 at a thrift store. I am excited to read it after hearing about it from your post.)

    • Becca July 20, 2013 at 10:12 pm #

      Thrift stores and good books… go you! That’s good spending, I think.

  2. Alica July 16, 2013 at 3:28 am #

    This was one of my favorite chapters. It is so easy to “nickel and dime” money away. If I have cash in my wallet, I tend to stop here and there for little things. I am also thinking about the chapter where she talked about using one family car. During the school year, our son takes the car because he has track practice after school, and it’s over at a very inconvenient time for me to pick him up. That definitely limits my trips away, and it’s interesting… when I don’t have a car, I don’t spend as much money! That might seem obvious, but…… :)

    • Becca July 20, 2013 at 10:11 pm #

      Ugh… if I have cash in my wallet, it’s so much easier for me to spend, too! Good thoughts.

  3. Joy @ Caspara July 16, 2013 at 3:35 am #

    Great questions! I’ve been thinking about reading this book, so it’s interesting to read how it has been challenging you!
    With our recent move to Hawaii, it feels like we do nothing but spend money. Everything costs so much more. I’ve gotten rid of so much to fit into our smaller “new” house, but also had to buy so much to make it work. I’m thinking lots about it, but still having to spend!! Ugh!!
    When we were stationed in Spain, though, it seemed like spending money happened a lot too, because getting out of my house to interact with the local community was usually through buying something — cafe con leches, a scarf at the gypsy market, OLIVES!!!! (Oh, I miss those olives!!!)
    But in regards to our spending, I have just a few more things I need for this house, and then I think I will go on a spending hiatus. Or maybe it’s just wishful thinking… ;-)

    • Becca July 20, 2013 at 10:11 pm #

      I think this comes with moves, Joy… and you have four kids to worry about as you set up a new house! I am considering overhauling a corner of our living room to make it into a “Montessori classroom space” and thinking about the $$$ seems out of character… but important! We are given money as a blessing and then can turn around and spend it wisely for our families… as you have done and as I’d like to do!

  4. Jen July 16, 2013 at 10:01 am #

    This is one of the good things about living in Germany. They don’t accept debit cards in stores. So, if I am shopping and want something, it has to be cash. I find a don’t make the impulse purchases I would if we were living in the states.

    Now, sometimes it’s not so great – say I see a great deal on something but don’t have enough cash. I have to go to the ATM, and that isn’t always feasible with a toddler (no drive through ATM’s) so often I just don’t buy it.

    • Becca July 20, 2013 at 10:09 pm #

      It sounds like maybe you are following Dave Ramsey’s principles, Jen? I’ve learned so much from his books and have so much respect for him. Go Germany for helping you to say “no”!

  5. Sarah July 16, 2013 at 4:33 pm #

    You know, I think I really need to read this book. Living overseas has made me realize how very much I like stuff. I realized this not because it’s easier to spend money here, but because I have so much MORE of it here. In the States my money doesn’t go very far. When I was living with my parents and raising support while nannying and substitute teaching, I was pretty careful with money. But here in Cameroon, things are so much cheaper, and I find myself using that as an excuse to spend more. Eating out at even very nice restaurants is much less than it is at home. Clothes are cheap. We have a lot of yard sales when missionaries or diplomat families leave. And I find myself constantly thinking “hey, I live in Africa, I’m a missionary, and I make sacrifices all the time. I can splurge on this.” I give myself permission to indulge my love of stuff. That definitely falls under the category of “I deserve this.” Thankfully (and I really think that this is thanks to the Holy Spirit), I’ve become aware of this tendency and can talk myself out of a lot of impulse purchases. But the desire to acquire stuff is still there.

    • Becca July 20, 2013 at 10:07 pm #

      What an interesting thought, Sarah. I remember thinking this way in India and Pakistan; I could never save my allowance! Too many pretty and cheap things to spend it on. I hope this makes you AND me more aware about frittering away our money on little things rather than saving it and spending thoughtfully.

    • Ukrainian girl in Canada July 26, 2013 at 11:22 pm #

      I really appreciate this topic Becca. Because I too try so very hard not to overspend, and even when I’m really good and I know better, there is still that voice in the back of my head that whispers and tells me that I’m missing out on things that I”m not buying right now. The desire is always there, ALWAYS. Resisting the temptation has gotten much easier over the years, but it doesn’t mean I”m completely immune to turn away and never desire things that I don’t REALLY need. It’s an everyday battle for every women I think.

  6. Heather July 17, 2013 at 6:51 pm #

    Yep! It’s one of my least favorite things about living close to a city – beautiful store next to beautiful store next to beautiful store. I’ve learned to stop tempting myself by watching TV, reading “beautiful things” blogs, and browsing through stores. I even get tempted at the thrift store! It’s a bit crazy. I think I need to read this book. Really. Thanks for your reviews and thoughts on this. It’s one of the reasons I love this blog. It’s refreshing and challenging and real. Hope your trip back home was uneventful. Welcome back and enjoy the lack of temptation. :)

    • Becca July 20, 2013 at 10:05 pm #

      Thank you, Heather, for your encouragement! I get sooo distracted by all the beautiful blogs out there — more even than stores! — and have to remind myself that, ultimately, I want to be “refreshing and challenging and real” more than pretty, trendy, or untrue to myself (or the Lord!).

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