Sunday, June 12, 2011

When Scrimping Becomes Too Much

What do we do when scrimping and saving becomes too much?

Recently I had a very heart-felt discussion with a woman who is roughly twenty years older than me and someone I admire.  The subject was finances.  She shared with me that due to circumstances beyond their control, she and her husband were in debt.  These are two people who have been financially responsible their entire marriage but now find themselves in their current situation.  This dear woman told me that when they found themselves in debt, they had to make a decision.  Did they scrimp and save taking every fun thing from their lives to pay off the debt quicker?  Or did they leave themselves a few sanity-saving things like school tuition and modest family vacations which meant they would be in debt a little longer but would have spent that time enjoying each other more?  She said that the decision, though incorrect in the eyes of others, was to still do some of the things that gave them joy as a family and to chip away at their debt as best they could year by year.

As I drove home after our conversation I began to think about what my reaction might be if I were faced with a similar situation.  As of this moment we are able to manage our finances and I often mentally pat myself on the back at all that I do to stretch a dollar.  But after talking to this woman, I realized that I am one catastrophic event away from being left under piles of debt by a situation over which I had no control.

This led me to think if it happened to me, what would I do?  Would I call a family meeting where I announced there would be NO MORE family vacations, camps, restaurant meals, lattes or retail clothing purchased in our house?  Would I whittle the grocery list down to bread, bologna and milk?  Would I tell my family that every ounce of energy expended every day would be for the sole purpose of paying off the debt?  At what point would it all be too much?

As One Cheap Mama, I know the value of living frugally and I am constantly striving for ways to do it better.  But after the conversation with my friend, I'm not so sure that turning frugality into an obsession at the cost of daily joy is the best way I can spend my limited days on this earth.  As a Christian, I believe  every word in the Bible and the Bible promises that my life will be filled with struggles.  I have come to understand that finances will always be a part of that struggle.

I, of course, fantasize about how easy life would be if only I would win the lottery or discover that some dear distant great aunt had left me a vast fortune.  But the reality is that I will most likely live out the rest of my days working within the confines of a budget, struggling to be financially responsible with what God has given me.  And I don't think that's a bad thing.  I think there's a lot to be said for someone who has worked hard, lived responsibly and therefore has an honest appreciation of the blessing in their life.

Yet knowing all of this, I still wonder how I will react if I am ever placed in a similar situation to my friend.  I'm not sure the answer is cut and dry and I'm sure the answer is different for each person and family.  But the conversation has got me thinking nonetheless.  I want to make sure that my desire to live frugally doesn't overpower my desire to find joy in each day.  And if that joy comes in the form of an overpriced cup of coffee where I got to spend an hour filling my soul with the conversation of a dear friend, then maybe it was worth it.

I want to ensure that as I stretch each dollar as far as it will go, I also stretch each day enjoying as much of it as possible.

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