Some Christians can afford to give donations to the poor. Others cannot afford to give anything, because their existing bills and family obligations are simply too overwhelming. This state of affairs is undeniable. But what is the underlying cause?
Christ wants us be generous, caring for those who are poor, sick, and imprisoned. In the Gospel of Matthew, we all know the story Jesus told about the Sheep and the Goats. What are the real challenges people so often face, making it difficult to fulfill Christ's teachings about Christian charity?
Let's take a look at two different groups of Christians — the Normals and the Frugals. We will consider their different approaches to everyday life, and observe the consequences experienced by both.
The Normals spend like a normal American family. They use debt to obtain material things and experiences they could otherwise not attain currently.
The Frugals rarely spend on anything other than absolute needs unless they have cash, and even then revolve their lives around finding experiences and possessions that give them similar enjoyment for a fraction of the cost.
Let's look at the largest areas of spending for each of them, and how it impacts their non-financial decision-making.
The Normals tend to buy cars on credit. Many lease, which leads to a cycle of perpetual debt for their cars (as well as much higher insurance rates, which are attached to cars that are leased or financed vs. owned outright).
The Frugals buy late-model reliable vehicles. They pay cash and aim to spend no more than 10% of their annual gross income on a vehicle no more than every 5 years (for a two-car family). They spend more, ironically, on maintenance. A lot more. They change the fluids, belts, filters, etc. on the appropriate schedule even if nothing seems amiss. In exchange, their 8-12 year old vehicles with 100K+ miles (when purchased) last another 10+ years.
The Normals buy almost everything at retail. They may look for sales, but do not consider used clothing, seeing it as something only poor people buy. They normally would not be caught dead at a thrift store unless it's for a vintage piece of clothing that cannot be bought new. They periodically use credit cards whose balance they don't pay off in full each month. Hand-me-downs are used sparingly or shunned, and even their children wear designer clothing.
The Frugals start with thrift stores and work their way up to retail, going through consignment stores for items that are unavailable in thrifts (largely modest and maternity clothing for ladies). They frequent garage sales and buy well in advance of their needs when a great deal appears, stashing it away for the months or even years ahead when they know such high quality clothing will be needed. They are indifferent to labels and brands....except insofar as those brands have longevity and can be used by multiple household members.
The Normals take a vacation or two a year, staying at costly hotels, taking in experiences that usually cost money. They have full cable TV packages, even though the spiritual and material deterioration from both is palpable. They feel embarrassed using coupons when dining out, or in using Groupon or other cut-deal specials. They buy books that they read once and then give away or put on a shelf.
The Frugals look for fun, family-oriented activities that cost little to nothing. Hiking, walks, nature explorations and low-cost cultural events (e.g. art and science museums) are a staple of their lives. They use libraries extensively, and figure out how to use Interlibrary loan systems to get hard-to-find books. When that fails, they purchase used books on Amazon, eBay or at Half-Priced Books to minimize their costs. Of course, they also wait for sales when possible for these lower-priced books.
The Normals eat out. They tend to equate status with where they dine, so they eat at places just a bit outside what their budgets can normally afford. Using coupons or asking for a deal would be almost unthinkable for anything beyond fast food. In grocery stores, they are brand loyalists. They sometimes try out private labels, but tend to believe that "you get what you pay for".
The Frugals eat out sparingly if at all. When they do, it is likely to be an amazing deal or freebie, something where the cost is similar to what they'd pay if they made it at home. They focus on fruits and vegetables and other healthy food choices, combined with simple but filling meals made from basic ingredients. They shop at Aldi's frequently, and make use of expensive grocery stores' loss-leader sales to stock up on expensive items that they can pick up below cost, using canning, freezing and/or general storage of items in bulk to lower long-term costs tremendously.
The Normals, having spent extensively on the above categories, need two incomes to make ends meet. As such, homeschooling is out of the question. They must therefore enter into the housing arms race, buying the best house in the best neighborhood with the best public school so their children receive what they believe will be a quality education. They will take on an enormous amount of house debt to do so, ending up with an impressive home that is barely lived in but which has tremendous maintenance, repair and tax expenses.
The Frugals have a division of labor that allows the Mom to stay at home due to their frugal activities. As a result, they can purchase a home near their Church, which is usually in a less advantaged area which is cheaper and allows for a less frenetic existence. They tend to save before purchasing, putting a significant down payment on their home based on savings begun years before they were married, and focus on paying off the mortgage quickly to provide financial buffer in case of a loss of the main breadwinner's job. They also tend to live in areas where the taxes are lower vs. the relative Normals homes because of the more modest amenities and schools.
6. Child Care and Education
As a result, the Normals spend an enormous amount of money on Child Care in the first few years of their children's lives. Some are blessed with parents who can provide this care, which frees up some extra money for other expenses. For everyone else, this creates enormous pressure to use birth control to limit their family size since - given their budgetary constraints - they can't really afford many children without completely imploding their financial lives. As a result, they breathe a sigh of relief when they can turn their children over to public (or if they're affluent, private) schooling. Life becomes centered on career and continuing to generate enough money to provide support for material goods and experiences. It will likely remain this way for the rest of their lives.
The Frugals' whole life is centered on Church and family. Their child care expenses are minimal because they have a full-time Mom in the home. Their education expenses are similarly low, especially since materials for the first child can largely be re-used for future children. Education gets better with each additional child as Mom and Dad learn which techniques work best, and because they know and spend most of their time together they know which approaches work best for each child, leading to maximizing their academic progress. They also avoid all of the spiritual pitfalls of schooling, replacing it with a Christ-centered curriculum. They welcome a large family and have created an environment where the marginal cost of each additional child is quite low.
The Normals have no money left over to give. Giving is sporadic and minimal.
The Frugals live beneath their means and give the first dollars to Church and the poor. Thus they live out the commandments of Christ in Matthew 25 more easily, living simply so that others may simply live.
It's a hypothetical example. Nothing happens exactly as in any hypothetical. But the general pattern has been worn in American society over and over and over.