How Frugal is Frugal?

piggy_bank_3Our resources in mortality are limited: time, energy, money, etc. are only available to us in finite doses. It is my personal belief that Heavenly Father did this intentionally, so that we could learn valuable principles of stewardship. Of course, stewardship means taking responsibility and protecting someone or something. Often, this means applying principles of thrift and frugality.

Applied correctly, thrift and frugality are freeing and empowering. They allow us to do more with less, to set priorities, and to learn to budget. Taken to an extreme, they become oppressive and smothering.

My Attempts

As a young, newly-divorced mother, I did this to my kids. I remember cleaning the “art center” in our apartment and finding nearly 10 unopened boxes of crayons. My children were always begging to use the art center, and I was generally finding excuses why they couldn’t. In the back of my mind, I feared that the resources would be consumed and I wouldn’t be able to provide more. There was some odd comfort in having the resources, and I missed that preserving them to be used later was depriving my children of valuable experiences now.

I also did it with books. There were a couple of years where I haunted used book sales, usually near the end of the sale when there would be “fill the sack” specials. I would let the kids each fill a sack, and I would fill two or three. It wasn’t long before I had boxes of books stacked so deep in my tiny apartment that we lived with a few small open spaces connected by “dog runs.” I was hoarding books. I had no time to read them, but I “needed” them. After all, books contain knowledge, and knowledge is power. Therefore, having books must be the same thing as having power!

Not everything about these behaviors was bad: my kids learned to love reading, and they saw the principles of saving at work. Unfortunately, I think they also learned to feel that limited resources were a sort of punishment and that the only way to be content was to have more than you needed.

Now that years, time, and experience separate me from those events and patterns, I can see how crazy they were. I can see how draining they were, and I can see where I misapplied good ideas and created a damaging atmosphere for my kids.

20/20 Hindsight

If I could go back with the knowledge I now have, here’s how I would like to think I would live:

  • I would let go of the fear of “not having enough.” This is completely out of step with gospel principles. The Bible clearly teaches that God is aware of a bird that falls in a field. The scriptures also teach that Heavenly Father provides for His children and desires to give them good gifts. The fear of scarcity is not from God. I would live by the principle that, once I have done the best I can do with what I have, I have every reason to believe and trust that heaven will provide the rest of what I need in due time.
  • I would teach my children to enjoy all the moments of life. I would sit down and spend more time coloring and creating with them. I would teach them that it’s o.k. just to be a regular person with a regular life, and that wasting life trying to have more once you have enough is pretty pointless and often leads people to feel a bit miserable. I would teach them that having family makes them the richest people in the world.
  • I would show through my example that “stuff” is a counterfeit power. Sure, it has some clout if you have enough of the right stuff, but there is always the fear of losing the power or having someone steal it from you. True power can’t be taken or stolen, and is only found in being obedient to God’s commands and following our Savior. True power is not in what you have, it’s in what you can do for others.
  • Most of all, I would teach them that, if they truly love Heavenly Father and our Savior, Jesus Christ, are willing to follow Them and keep the commandments, there is NEVER anything to fear. There will be hard times and tough days. There will be events and circumstances that feel like they will break us. But, in the end, God wins.