Frugal Fall: Why be Frugal?

“Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have.” – Philippians 4:11 (NRSV)

All this month COMPASS blog post writers have shared thoughts about being frugal, but we never necessarily pondered why to be frugal. I think that’s a fair question.

community of friends

Being frugal for my wife Allison and I allows us to be able to share time and resources together with friends, in community together, like gathered here for a potluck.

On the practical side, being frugal gives you more opportunities to save and more flexibility with all your resources, which I wrote about earlier in October. That can be especially important in this holiday season time of year, when expenses can be higher. (In the coming weeks we’ll share some ideas about how to be frugal around Thanksgiving and Christmas.)

Today though, I want to think more about the biblical and faith reasons for being frugal. For me, it’s really about being content.

Sometimes being frugal is a necessity because of life circumstances: a lack of income or unexpected expenses. But being frugal can also come from a desire to be generous. My wife and I try to be frugal by living on a budget and using coupons when shopping. We do this not to be stingy, but to be able to give more to our faith community and concerns and needs in the world that we are passionate about. We do this also to have resources and income to provide gifts to family and friends, and to host and welcome people into our home for an occasional meal or experience. Granted, our current income limits these possibilities, but we still like to do this.

An example of being sports fans, gathered with our friends to root on the Seahawks in the Super Bowl (Feb. 2014) against the Broncos.

An example of being sports fans, gathered with our friends to root on the Seahawks in the Super Bowl (Feb. 2014) against the Broncos.

Allison and I are sports fans, and have found that we can create some times to gather with friends (new and old) while watching our favorite football team, the Seahawks, or even a good baseball game, as we are now in the midst of the World Series. During these sporting events, potlucks are our best friend. Instead of going out to a restaurant to watch the game, we invite people over and each shares a little for the food and beverages. The game is fun, but what really is great is that we are having a good time with community, while being frugal.

We do this because we like to be with others and because it’s something we can do within our means to be generous, to share, and be content.

With Thanksgiving and Christmas coming soon, how can you be frugal while still being generous, and living abundantly? Or, if you’re feeling called to be frugal, what’s your next step to do so? What’s a step you can take this week live more abundantly?

The answers to these questions will be unique for each individual person. For me, abundant life—a life I believe is a gift and really life (1 Timothy 6:19, NRSV)—is a life full of meaning and purpose in work and vocation, and a life in relationship with loved ones and neighbors. This is a life of community, and at least for Allison and me, by being frugal in some ways, I think we’re able to make our resources stretch a bit more to create community with others.

What does being frugal mean or look like in your life?

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Talking about Faith and Finances- One Couple’s Experience

During September, the COMPASS blog is digging deeper into the topic of conversations about money by sharing different perspectives, questions, and approaches. As we continue the series today, I am excited to welcome my friends Pastors Amanda and Jeremy Ullrich to the blog. They have very recently purchased their first home which led me to want to hear their story. In hearing it, I have decided that our conversation will make for a two-part series. Today’s post will shed light on how they as a couple have grown since getting married and attending seminary, especially related to talking about money together. The next post will be specifically about their experience of buying a new home.

Amanda and Jeremy with my wife Allison and I

Amanda and Jeremy with my wife Allison and I, after Amanda and Jeremy graduated from seminary.

Timothy (T): First of all, Amanda and Jeremy, thank you so much for being willing to share your story with me, reflecting on how you talk about faith and finances, and how those conversations have led you into very recently purchasing your first house.

Jeremy (J): We are excited to share our story, and hope it helps other young adults and young families in having these conversations.

T: Amanda and Jeremy, how do you have conversations about faith and finances? What challenges have you faced in having these conversations?

J: Good question Timothy. Having these conversations has been a growing process for sure. We each grew up with different understandings and familiarities when it comes to talking about and managing money.

Amanda (A): We had no clue what we were doing when we started.

J: I felt like I had some clue, but I admit, I didn’t know much. I think we were both raised with the idea that, ‘if you don’t have it, don’t spend it.’’ Because of this, we were naturally inclined to not want to spend, especially as we were paying for college and seminary. We were, and really are, inclined to want to save, and live frugally as much as we could. But that looked differently for both of us.

A: When we were first married, it was really difficult to have money conversations.

J: My dad and uncle invested for a long time, including investing in me. For example, growing up, I showed heifers (cows) at the county fair, and after showing they would be sold. All the money that was raised from those sales became scholarship money for me. This was an early opportunity for me to earn some income, and to do some good work by caring for the cows, walking and feeding them.

A: My sisters and I had an allowance growing up. At some point, once I became a teenager, my parents helped set up a checking and savings account for me.

A: After getting married, Jeremy and I didn’t have credit card until two years into marriage and seminary. I think the biggest reason why we didn’t get a credit card until then was because we were afraid of having a credit card. We changed our minds in large part because of financial counseling we received which moved us past our fears to the possibilities. We have learned that when intentional and careful with a credit card, and using it as a tool to build credit, and pay it off right away every month, having one can be a good thing. We actually now have two credit cards now- one used for purchases at a single store as well as for gas.

J: While in seminary we received coaching from a financial coach, and that was a very helpful thing which really helped us grow in our ability to talk about money. In fact, one of the things we did early on which was probably most helpful was that Amanda and I both created a financial autobiography. It was so helpful to hear and dig into our financial stories from growing up. That helped us understand each other so much more.

T: In looking at your finances, how often do you have conversations about them?

A: As a couple, we go over our finances, credit cards, checking accounts, etc., at least once a month. In fact, every transaction that we make I enter into a spread sheet, under a certain tabbed area. This helps us, review, make adjustments, and cut back as needed with our budget.

J: Even though we have figured this out, we still have conflict over finances. I am a bit more of a spender than Amanda, and more quick and willing to spend. In seminary, it was really difficult, because when shopping for something, Amanda and I sometimes had differing opinions about whether a purchase was really a need. These moments of conflict sometimes affected our respect and trust for each other. So it was important for us to talk it out and take some time.

A: For example, Jeremy really wants to get a treadmill. He wants to invest in his health. At first I didn’t see the need, but after talking it out with Jeremy, I have come to see the potential benefits.

J: Through our money conversations we have learned to compromise, but also to learn and hear each other’s opinion. Especially in seminary we tried to always avoid impulse buys, and any unplanned big expense. Now, we are slightly more lenient on that, but we definitely have price limits.

Pastors Jeremy and Amanda Ullrich

Pastors Jeremy and Amanda Ullrich

A: Perhaps the best thing that that has come from our conversations is that our communication between each other has definitely increased over the years.

T: What have you two learned in the process of having these money conversations?

J: We have learned that sometimes we aren’t in the right spot to talk about money. Sometimes it might actually be more painful to talk about than helpful. We have had to realize that these conversations also have to deal with conflict management. As finances are both stewardship and ministry, they also reflect one’s core values. What you spend your money on shows where your heart is. To reflect on this takes time and space. Sometimes we may not have the time or mental capacity to have that reflection together, because of stress from work and life. It’s important then to set a time to come back to the conversation with each other.

A: We have also really learned how to address conflict in a healthy way!  By doing so, we don’t let conflict, or any potential conflict, create more distance between us. We have also been reminded over the years of the gifts of our friends, and have collaborated with them to help strategize and have these conversations.

T: Over the years, and with the purchase of your new home recently, what new questions about faith and finances have emerged for you?

A: We want to tithe to our congregations and give beyond that to different groups, causes, and nonprofits. We are still working to figure out the best model for us to have the most impact with our giving.

J: At the same time, we are facing the reality that a huge part of budget in our congregations is for our salaries. As pastors, we have to wrestle with what does it mean to steward the gifts we have as a congregation.

A: Trying to decide how much money to put down on the house was interesting. And I’ve been wondering especially about how to talk about these issues, and stories, in the pulpit more regularly.

J: I think about the story of the rich man, who is told by Jesus that he needs to sell all his possessions. What does it mean to have finances and still follow Jesus? That’s the point at which it becomes a tension. There seems to often be a fear or focus on finances and financial situations in tension with following God. For instance, who are really worshiping when we think about and use our finances?? God? A checkbook? A bank account? It can be a constant tension. I have come to believe that it is important to live into that tension.

T: What hopes and dreams do you two have?

J: I hope to have a growing family someday, and to be able to care for it well.

A: In addition to that, I hope to be able to pay it forward, as we’re both so grateful for all that we have received and do receive.

Pastors Amanda & Jeremy and their dog Lola

Pastors Amanda & Jeremy and their dog Lola

T: We will pick up the conversation in our next post as we turn to Amanda and Jeremy’s decision to buy their first home.

About the Interviewees: Amanda and Jeremy Ullrich are a clergy couple in West Texas, both serving their first congregational calls as ordained pastors. Their family currently includes their wonderful dog, Lola. Together they are tackling the world’s largest puzzle, which includes approximately 33,600 puzzle pieces, because “everything is bigger in Texas,” and “why not go big or go home.” While attending Luther Seminary, they lived next door to Allison and Timothy Siburg, and that was the start of a beautiful friendship.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Talking about Faith and Finances during Life Transitions

During September, the COMPASS blog is digging deeper into the topic of conversations about money by sharing different perspectives, questions, and approaches.

Inside our car while moving cross country

Inside our car while moving cross country

Talking about money can be hard under what we might consider normal circumstances. But it can be even more difficult to do during times of life transitions.

My wife Allison and I have just gone through one of these times as we have moved across country and started new jobs. Allison is serving as a pastoral intern in a congregation and I am serving as the congregation’s mission developer. These are exciting roles, but their hours, expectations, and location are new and different.

Our new jobs have changed our budget for the longer term. But we also had other one-time expenses like moving costs, costs related to starting or ending services (like utilities), and insurance changes.

Because transition times can sometimes come unexpectedly, you may face expenses that you did not anticipate. Allison and I had to move before the end of our former apartment lease. That made for some hard conversations and choices. In order to make the leap into our new grand adventure, we had to pay to break our lease at our former apartment. Our budget and savings took a noticeable hit.

I believe it was the right thing to do, and I am grateful that Allison and I have done it. However, it was not an easy process. It helps knowing that we did this in part because of a call into new ministry roles. It helps also because of how welcoming our new faith community has been, and how doors have just opened to opportunities and relationships. All of these feelings are great, but they don’t solve the issue or challenge of talking about money.

How do you talk about money- especially when you are going to have to spend a large amount of it- unexpectedly?

Allison and I have found that the conversational practices we have developed for talking about money under normal circumstances serve us well during unexpected times too, such as:

  • When we are having breakfast, and can look at our budget and related spreadsheets.
  • When we are out for a nice walk around a lake or in a neighborhood we share and listen with care to each other’s thoughts about the possibilities and our hopes, fears, and dreams.
  • When after processing our emotions and budgets, we come up with a budget and a strategy, we revisit it every week or so to see if it’s realistic or not.
  • We talk to God about it. We pray, we listen, we hope, turn our fears over, and then trust.

Allison and I on a quick summer trip last year to see a couple friends of ours be ordained as pastors.

Allison and I will be fine. But this recent life change and experience has reminded me that these money conversations aren’t always easy. Thankfully we have found ways that work for us for talking about our faith and finances together.

What ways have you found in your own life? What questions do you have in talking about money and your faith in your own life?

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Planning for the Fall- Stewardship and Young Adults

Where has all the time gone this summer? Can you believe that it is already August? For many faith communities, the end of summer is prime time for planning and finishing fall programming and ministry plans.

How do you engage young adults like these in your stewardship plans and ministry?

How do you engage young adults like these in your stewardship plans and ministry?

How does stewardship fit in?

During August, COMPASS will provide conversations and ideas for faith communities about stewardship for young adults: a core component of our focus to provide space and conversation for young adults about faith and finances.

Questions that we’ll think about this month may include:

  • How do you communicate, teach, and preach about stewardship with young adults in mind?
  • In what ways can you engage young adults in stewardship practices?
  • Do you teach children about stewardship concepts, and if so, how do you build on that experience as they grow older?
  • In what creative ways do you work across generations to facilitate conversations about stewardship, faith, and finances?
  • How do you see God at work in your stewardship ideas and plans?

As we discuss, share, and imagine this month, you will hear from some new guest writers including Adam Copeland, the newly appointed director of the Center for Stewardship Leaders at Luther Seminary, as well as from young adult pastors and other pastors and lay leaders who are experimenting with creative ways to engage young adults in stewardship.

If you are willing to share some ideas in the form of guest post, we would love to hear from you! Please let me know if you are interested via a comment below.

In the meantime, here’s one more question for you to consider: How do your experiences with faith and finances shape your understanding about stewardship, and how do they influence the stewardship story of your faith community?

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.