Friday, October 2, 2009

How to Be Stealth in Frugality

That we live below the poverty line.

At Church:

When we first moved, we went to a church where they knew Dan was going to college and that he worked at Walmart. They put two and two together and started trying to give us stuff. Someone even bought us a turkey at Thanksgiving. Turkeys were $0.39 per pound at Thanksgiving. I was trying to convince Dan that we should buy two. We did not need a turkey given to us. We didn't feel that we could fellowship as brethren if they couldn't get past this difference. We know they were just trying to help, but it wasn't a big deal to us that we weren't wealthy; it was a big deal to them.

The church we go to now we found through some of Dan's coworkers. There are several other Walmart workers there and they are pro stay-at-home mom. We don't feel poor there because it's not an issue. Some people may have put two and two together, but it's not an issue.

If we have someone over, and I make them a meal, do you know that they think? They think I'm some sort of gourmet cook, making everything from scratch. I won't generally spout the price per pound of flour verses tortillas, but if they are interested, I might share how easy the recipe is. They think my husband is lucky to be cooked for.

On the Streets:

People who see us on the streets don't know we're "poor". We have a nice car, in good shape. I think it's real pretty, too.

We don't leave the house looking dirty and everyone has normal looking clothes, even name brand clothes.

Our Family Knows:

They know Walmart isn't the best job around. Without going into too much family dynamics, we get a mixed reaction about our situation.

Dan's family is poor. Dan grew up poor. They don't expect us not to be poor. They're not frugal though. It's interesting to see people who are poor, but choose not to be frugal. They don't have debt, they just spend all that they make when they really don't need to.

My father's family is poor, although academically accomplished. My dad and uncle went to Oxford; my aunt went to Cambridge. They don't see wealth as a sign of accomplishment, but are more interested in discussing world political leaders with Dan. They are content in their lower income, as we are in ours, and are pleased with how my life is turning out in general. They are the ideal for us in many areas, much to my mother's chagrin.

My mother's family is wealthy. When I got married, my mom told me to reconsider, that being poor is only romantic for so long. She does not approve of my lifestyle, but has softened and likes Dan a little bit more than she once did.

Her parents are a little more supportive, as they were poor when they started out. They think that being poor is a stepping stone for wealth, and assume that that is what we are seeking after. They think Dan will be getting a salary comparable to the pastor that their church employs in Cape Cod, which is a wealthier area in Massachusetts.

Who reads my blog?

My father reads it, and I've told my aunt and step-mom about it. I told one brother who comes to see pictures of the kids and agrees with my ideals. I've told a few friends from our home church, but I'm not sure they read it. I think my older sister would like it, but she just had a baby, is going to school and works full time, so a lot of the ideas may not work for her.

No one on my mother's side and no one on my husband's side of the family knows this blog exists. We're close with my husband's family, but I don't think they'd like to see some of the criticism for this blog. I think they'd worry about me and I don't want them worried. I think my mother's family may actually be offended, as a lot of what I say here is an affront to their more affluent lifestyle, but maybe not.

How do others feel about your frugality? Or if you live below the poverty line, how do people respond to that?


kooolaidred said...

A great many people I know live below the poverty line so I generally think about how people may respond to to it.

Most of us try to help each other the best we can. We trade things back and forth that our children may need. Babysit for each other when we can and there have been more than a few times that we've fed each other. Money generally doesn't trade hands because there isn't much to be handing out.

I will say this, last year my children received items from a church for Christmas. At first I was not going to pick it up because I felt that there were other people who needed it more than we did and I didn't like that we'd been singled out as "that" family.

My children's great grandmother on their father's side, who has lived and managed under the poverty level for a great many years, got onto me. She said that when people give, they give because they want to. That in giving, that they also receive a blessing and by denying them the opportunity to help someone, that I am denying them not only a blessing, but also the opportunity to grow as a person. That I should take the gifts and then work toward paying it forward.

I thought about it for a long time because I know that when I give what little I can, I feel that I've done something good for my community and the people I love.

I've held that close to me for the past year now because I do have a lot of issues with pride and my pride has brought greater hardship to my children in the long run than was ever necessary. That's why I've made a point of bringing up yours.

As much as you say poverty is not an issue to you, I think you're fooling yourself.

Emily said...

koolaidred, We don't have a problem with people giving, but we do have a problem when it distracts from worship and fellowship, and in this situation, it did. We don't go to church to get stuff, we go for fellowship and discipleship, and that wasn't possible in this situation because they saw us as different. We didn't feel like we could fit in under these circumstances and that wasn't going to change.

KAR said...

How was it distracting? I just like specific details and given what the situation may have been, I may be able to see your point of view.

Barbara said...

I find it interesting that you dont receive from people as a gift and blessing from God. The Bible clearly says that we are to share what we have with others. In our early years of ministry, many times we were blessed with food or other items from church members. They often considered that part of their tithe to the Lord. I am now in position to give back more, God has blessed us in our ministry so that we have extra to give. I make a lot of homemade jelly. I tithe my jelly. When I give it to someone, it doesnt mean that I see them as too poor to have jelly. I see them as a person that I can share my blessings. I think that you really need to seek God about this attitude. Is it just a pride issue? God has a way of dealing with our pride. It isnt always a pleasant experieance.When your husband is a pastor,many people will be bringing you things for your family.They will be offended if you reject their gifts. You cant change churches when he is the pastor.Please consider my words carefully with prayer . Being a Pastors wife is not an easy job. You will be a position to teach and show other women how to serve Him. It is a huge responsibility. Babs

Anonymous said...

I am not under the poverty line, but I do try to live as frugally as I can. I am going back to school either next year or the year after, and I think my family sees my decisions being completely a result of that fact. They assume that I want to have as much saved up as possible so I'll have to take out smaller loans. Their one complaint is that my neighborhood is not 'safe' enough. (For the record, my area is fine; I truly believe that when they say unsafe, they really mean too far away from them!)

While my parents would never do certain things, like hand wash laundry or give up eating out- which is fine; they have more than enough money to do so, I like to think that I've made them at least a little more 'green'. They walk places more often, eat less meat, eat a little less in general, buy fewer things and make a bit less trash than I remember there being when I lived at home.


Emily said...

To anyone who disagrees with our decision to not take from the church, I think you need to reread the paragraph on the topic. I don't think I could have been more clear. They treated us differently. That's not what church is about.

KAR said...

Maybe that was your opportunity to teach the church members something about the world and themselves.

Emily said...

KAR, maybe, but we were new to the church, and were in no position of influence to teach. We love the church we are in now and it is a better fit all around, so we definitely see God's hand in bringing us to where we are now.

KAR said...

You are always in a position to teach. People who are capable of learning will do so by understanding the experiences of others in addition to understanding their own experiences. You teach by being who you are.

Anonymous said...

What is your church's view on tithing? Do you feel any pressure to help support the church, financially?

Pam said...

My mom thinks I am crazy. My MIL and her mother are my mentors.

I love you and your blog, but I see gifts from others as a blessing from the Lord. When the Lord lays it on a person's heart to be a blessing to me, I would be robbing THEM of the chance to be a blessing if I refused it.

Several Christmases back, our pastor encouraged the families in our church to find a family in our church to bless. The idea was to take money from your own Christmas budget and give it to someone else instead of spending as much on yourselves. Not long after that, the church secretary called me to her office and gave me a pretty little package. Inside was a clear plastic ball ornament containing $300 and a note from an annonomous giver. I cried all the way home because the Lord had put us on the heart of someone who chose to obey, and as a result, I was able to buy gifts and foods for the various Christmas parties. Each year, I hang the ornament on the tree as a reminder of God's provision, the generosity of others, and as a hope that someday, we will be able to bless someone in that way.

It sounds like the situation at your former church was a little different, making you feel awkward. I am glad you found a church of more like-minded families.

Emily said...

Anon, I have never felt pressured to tithe at any church that I have attended, and I'm not real sure what our church's doctrinal statement says about tithing.

Pam, I agree that giving is a blessing in many situations, and I too have been blessed by many fellow church members. Thank you for acknowledging this was a different situation.

Meg said...

Emily, I understand why you found another church. I'll throw my own experience out, so that maybe some people can understand your situation a little bit better.

I used to attend a church. It was a nice church in a nice area of town, most of the congregation was middle to upper middle class. Their children always had the latest styles, most of them drove newer cars, and the majority of them had no problem throwing out hundreds of dollars for their child to take a number of mission trips with the church. They often had play dates with the youth group, where the children would go to Christian concerts, putt putt golfing, or just out for pizza. They would say "bring x amount of money for Saturday's outing, meet at 6!!" After many church services, a large number of people would get together and go to dinner.

None of those things made them bad people, they were actually very wonderful, loving, caring, and giving people.

Then came XYZ family. The children in XYZ family had pressed and clean clothes, but somewhat dated. They drove an older mini van, but still decent. Their mother was a SAHM and their father worked a day job somewhere. Their kids did outings on rare occasions, and offers to meet other church members for dinner at a restaurant was always replied to as "thanks, but no thanks."

They weren't poor, but they weren't wealthy. Their children were well taken care of, and they were amazing people, but it was evident they didn't have the funds like many other members of the congregation.

Over time, it became evident to the church that this family wasn't exactly the same as the other families in the it started. If there was ever any food left over after a gathering, someone would always make sure to package it up and try to give it to XYZ family. When XYZ family declined dinner inviations to various restaurants, church members spoke up and offered to fund XYZ family's dinner. When their children didn't do youth group outings that required extra cash, someone offered up to fund them.

That in itself wasn't wrong, it was extremely gracious of the church members. BUT, when the adults in XYZ family insisted they were doing just fine, and someone else could be better served with all that leftover food after a gathering, people took it as prideful. It wasn't pride at all, XYZ family had plenty of food from their garden and their children were far from starving.

So it went, the church consistently offered up services and funds to XYZ family, and never bothered to realize that just because XYZ family didn't have a lot of money to do the things everyone else in the church did, didn't mean XYZ family was somehow deprived, so people pushed, and pushed, and pushed, and rarely took no for an answer. Eventually XYZ family left, because all they wanted to do was come to church and enjoy the fellowship, not be constantly pushed to allow their children to do pricey activities and partake of food they didn't need.

As Christians it's important to be charitable and giving, but we also need to realize that not everyone desires to live the same lifestyle as the next person.

Pam said...

One more thought...

Being "poor" is merely a mindset. Low income does not equal poor. You are only poor if you allow yourself to think that you are. Also, the amount of money you have does not determine your "wealth". You can be rich in other things besides money.

People who have a lot more money than I do may still choose frugal practices because they want to be a good steward of what God has given them, or because they want to help the environment.

Keep doing what you are doing. You are a great mom of (soon to be!!!) 3 kids, and you are teaching them lessons that are more valuable than money could EVER buy.

alison said...

I stay at home with 3 kids while my husband finishes up a PhD. We live within our means. MY family "understands" that we'll be upgrading our standard of living when he's finished and making a nice, fat professor's salary. Even though that isn't our actual plan. It's hard to tell them that we stopped using our car because we can't afford to replace the transmission...but that we also don't NEED our car. We bike everywhere. It doesn't take longer. It's better for us and the environment. We've had several people at church ask us if there's something wrong with our car, and I'm comfortable enough with our situation to laugh and tell them the saga, and give permission to share our situation with our pastor. And if he asks if we'd like church help, he'll also understand when we deny it.

So, we have the amusing situation of being poor because we have to, and wanting to live a minimalist lifestyle that isn't going to change when our income does. It'll be interesting to gauge reactions to a lack of lifestyle change with a 1000% income change.

Rachel said...

This post makes me think of two women who once attended our church. They lived in nice homes in middle class neighborhoods, and had nice vehicles. Both were college educated. They were at this time SAHM. But they often commented on how "poor" they were. I heard Charles Stanley, pastor of First Baptist, Atlanta, Ga. once say that saying you are poor is insulting to God, who is providing for you in the way that He sees fit. Poor is a state of mind, not a reality.

As Emily often points out, no one in the U.S. is really poor. We have the highest level of living than any other country. Even the poorest American is richer than many people in the world. Emily does not call herself poor. The world calls her poor because she does not have what they have, the things that are considered so important. Most people cannot even imagine not having a cell phone, cable t.v. or a newer model car. These things mean nothing to me. I do have a cell phone because I often have to evacuate for hurricanes, and it is how I stay in touch with other family members during this time. I also travel alone quite a bit, so it is a good thing to have on hand. But I can also afford to have it. If my husband lost his job tomorrow, and had to take a job at half what he makes now, the phone would be the first thing to go. I listen to Clark Howard on the radio, and he said that when he advises people in dire financial straits to turn off their cable, they react as if he had suggested they stick a knife in their heart. THAT is pride. I would rather have my comforts in like than honor my debts.

One time the secretary of our church called and asked me if I would come on Monday mornings to answer the phone for a couple of hours so that the staff could meet. I told her yes. She said they would pay me xx per hour. I said no, I don't want to get paid. Later I decided to take the pay so that I could take my son out for hamburgers at McDonalds, something we didn't get to do. Our bills were being paid, so we did not need the money, but sometimes it is nice to have money for the little extras, like a happy meal. God provided the opportunity for me to earn that money. I believe in giving, yes. But if someone in the church had wanted to give me money to take Matt out for hamburgers, I would not have been as accepting of that situation. So I truly understand all that Emily is saying.

rabid segue said...

Don't you miss travel?

Emily said...

rabid segue, I'm not really sure what you mean. Can you elaborate?

Anonymous said...

I agree that being poor is a mindset. I have no problem with your lifestyle as long as your children have food in their bellies and a roof over their head - which clearly, they do.

It may not be the food I would feed my family...but it's food, nonetheless, and it's obvious that you are doing your best to educate yourself and strive towards a diet that you feel is the healthiest.

You guys are happy! That is the most important thing! There is a big difference between families that are POOR and whine, complain, and make it obvious to their children that they don't have money in a really negative way. Their children grow up feeling "less than". Martyrs.

You, however, feel BLESSED by what you have and so that's what your children see. They don't see you guys complaining about not having enough. They see two happy, content, in love (may I assume? lol!) parents grateful for all their blessings!

I see absolutely NO HARM in this at ALL.

Once your kids are teens their perspectives on your lifestyle very well may change - but then they'll be old enough to do something about it (like get a job) but for right now, I think you are doing a great job and just wanted to say I admire your glass-half-full way of thinking!

Anonymous said...

My husband and I are both pastors - he works full time and I work 15 hr/wk. We are by no means rich, but certainly not poor. We don't really discuss finances with our family and our congregation seems to think we are well compensated as people have never offered us anything. I find money and budgeting to be a matter of priority. If you truly want something you'll find a way to make it happen, even if it means sacrificing elsewhere.

I am curious though... Do you feel particularly called to serve the "poorer" churches in Maine? You never seem to dream outside this box...

Emily said...

Anon, as far as we know, this is where we are called, to the poorer areas of Maine. We are open to that changing and are listening for God's direction, but that is where we feel God is leading us.

Blessed said...

My best friend just sent me the link to your blog, and it is automatically now a favorite. ; ) We are also a 6 person family living in a 550 sq ft house (an old summer cabin that needs a lot of work, which we are slowly trying to do ourselves). We also homeschool. We also live below the poverty line--although that is really misleading to say, because we happen to live in one of the most expensive areas in the entire U.S., on Monterey Bay, CA. So even though my husband makes a LOT more money than your family does, it is well under the average out here, and we are barely able to afford our mortgage (which is miniscule for this area, but would buy a huge house in other parts of the country) and are not sure what the future holds for us, housing wise. But we are by no means poor, and can afford the things that are important to us.

In fact, I completely agree with what some of your commenters have said, about poor being a mindset. My MIL hates our house and our choice to live in such a small, rustic space. She says we are living like poor white trash and that our children are growing up on the "wrong side of the tracks" and as they get older will face social stigma from living as we do. I think being "poor trash" is your outlook, and a lot of trashy people live in really big, fancy houses.

This same MIL also gives us lots of lots of stuff, and NOT out of love but as criticism, to show us what terrible parents we are for not giving these things to our kids. And it is all stuff we don't need, don't want, and take just because we are trying to build that relationship. I have always really struggled with this issue, as I have bins in the crawlspace of things we don't want but are just hanging onto because we are not free to give them away (MIL would be really mad and hurt, and it is just not worth it), and we have such a small house we do not have room for anything that is not used or loved. BUT God showed me something so cool: He showed me that if I had nothing, He would expect me to be content, to be grateful, to trust Him. So I have the opposite of nothing--an overabundance--and still, He expects me to be content, to be grateful, to trust Him. So that is where I am, just trying to live daily in awareness of His blessings!

So much more I could say, but I will force myself to stop and just say thanks for writing, and I look forward to sharing in your journey a little bit. : )

And the tumbleweed trailer is so cool!

you should look into the possibilities of a treehouse too, since they also allow for getting around building codes in many areas. : )

Anonymous said...

Poverty is a mindset, not a way of life. If you have little in worldly standards, but have love(most importantly Christ), you are rich. Your Father owns the cattle on a thousand hills, so you have the richest best friend in the world Who can and will give you what you need and when you need it. I think it's awesome how you stretch a dollar and are an excellent steward of what God has given you!

Anonymous said...

You may have already shared this and I missed it (or don't want to share it any therefore haven't), but I would enjoy an inventory of what you consider to be essential items, the things you wouldn't want to be without... With your crock pot obviously going on that list :-)

Anonymous said...

I have just found your blog, and although I don't follow many blogs yours is going on my list. We also live "poor" according to society's standards, and do without some material things to make sure I can stay home with our daughter. Most of our friends who know don't understand, and it has made a strain on some relationships. I know this is worth it though. Thank you for sharing your story.

The Fiskeaux Family said...

I would love your easy tortilla recipe!

Emily said...

Fiskeaux Famiy, Sure, I posted it here. I'd love to know how you like it if you try it.

Anonymous said...


I just stumbled onto your blog a few days ago and I LOVE it!! I've been reading all of the posts and comments:)

Please try NOT to take to heart all of the negative comments. I think the way you and your husband have chosen to live your life for Christ is very honorable. It saddens me to read the cruel things people write. Honestly, if they are so offended by your lifestyle, then why are they reading your blog???

Keep up the good work, and good luck with your soon(hopefully) labor and delivery!

Anonymous said...

"As Emily often points out, no one in the U.S. is really poor. We have the highest level of living than any other country. Even the poorest American is richer than many people in the world. "

That's not true. Go to any city and you'll find homeless people begging on the street. There's no denying that they're poor--they can't even put a roof over their heads or buy food. Sure, the US in general is wealthier than other countries but when it comes down to individuals, some citizens are in worse shape financially than people in the 3rd world countries.

MamaMay said...

Ok, Emily, I love you! I completely understand being called to be "poor". We were the "poor" people in our church and everyone wanted to help us... then the credit crisis hit and all of a sudden we were rich and giving advice to all the people losing their homes (we lived in Fort Myers, Florida at the time. Lehigh Acres, less than 5 minutes from our church, had something like 90% of the houses foreclosed on which was worse than Detroit. Schools went from having 30 students per class to less than 10 per class.) We went from being "the poor people" in church to being "rich". It was VERY weird and we helped several families adjust by helping with food budgets and showing them how to live on less. Sure their credit was trashed but they could feed their kids which was more important than their credit score anyway.

Penniless Parenting said...

Emily, I have to admit, I agree with you on many aspects but I don't necessarily agree with you on this post.
I live in a neighborhood and am part of a community in which most the people are not well off. Standard procedure here is to buy most things from second hand stores. When our financial situation takes a turn for the worse temporarily, we can mention our tough financial situation to our friends without losing respect in their eyes and without them pitying us, because they were us once upon a time and may be us again in a month or two. While I don't say my exact financial situation to my friends, they know that I'm not exactly rolling in dough because they know that my husband's job is minimum wage and my job barely earns any money. They actually usually overestimate how much money I have, because when free food deliveries come to the poor in my area they say "oh that's for really poor people, not you..." but I sometimes want to ring their necks and say "How do you know if I'm really poor or not, if i could really benefit from that free chicken?"
People did get a bit of a rude awakening as to our abysmal financial status when, at the community-wide celebration of the birth of our second son, we served all homemade food instead of the usual catered affair, and the foods that were served were cheapo foods as well. That, combined with the fact that the celebration was in my home and not in a hall helped people realize that we're not well off financially.

I try not to be embarrassed of my financial status. I am publicizing my blog through my friends on facebook, etc... I don't mind all my friends knowing that we make very little money. I am actually quite proud that we're handling this tight money situation quite well, and proud to share any tips and ideas I can with the world... I would be embarrassed if we were both lazy bums who did not work and hence were in a bad financial situation. But as my husband works 12-16 hour days some days and the rest of the time 8-10 hour days, and i work from home... if we're not making it financially, then its not for lack of trying. So no embarrassment there. Shame is for when you are doing something wrong. When we are trying but still not succeeding, its obviously because G-d willed it to be so.

When some people did help me out financially, by giving me some of their charity (after I gave birth, for that month our combined income was only 50 dollars more than our rent alone, so we were in a really really bad spot), I try to remember one thing.
We have a prayer that we ask God to help us out financially, to give us an income, preferably not through the hands of man (charity), but through His hands alone (income). Whether its through His hands or through His messengers' hands (charity), its money that G-d decided is meant for us. If He wills us to get it this way instead of through work, then He has his reasons... But I will accept money offered to me, even if I won't actually go around begging for alms...

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