Living More-with-Less

Money & Stewardship


Money, money, cries the whole world: this is a saying I remember my mother repeating in Low German. So true. Much of the world's dynamics revolve around money. In my early adulthood I was very preoccupied with money. At the end of each year I would count my (meager) assets and compare them with the previous year, always expecting there to be a gain. And in most years there was a gain, in spite of a church salary that many thought inadequate. (Mostly the gain was due to inflation, but a gain nevertheless.)

Now in my elder years, I have lost much of my interest in money. When I get my monthly statement, it sometimes remains unopened for days. My frugality continues: I live in a hundred-year-old house that will never be featured in Better Homes and Gardens. When my wife was living, she and I had two cars with a combined mileage exceeding 300,000 miles. We were comfortable. Yet money doesn't interest me as it used to.

What accounts for this change in attitude? I'm not sure. Is it that I have climbed up Maslow's hierarchy of needs to the point where my urge to accumulate money has diminished? Maybe it is the mellowing of age. Having spent thirty-four years with Mennonite Central Committee and seeing something of the world's poverty no doubt played a role. Whatever it is, it feels liberating for me.

Edgar Stoesz, Akron, Pennsylvania

Joy in wanting less.

You need not become an ascetic (one who renounces their body and all worldly things) in order to live slowly, but slow livers just don't need as many material possessions because they readily find satisfaction in the ones they have and the non-material parts of life. There is less desire to trade up on purses, houses, shoes, schools, zip codes, and vacations. Once you recognize that your actual needs are far more basic than your perceived needs, you will begin wanting less.

This move toward decreasing your consumption must come from a joy in the lightness of having and wanting less. If you attempt to motivate your consumption behavior using the negative approach of deprivation, you will fail. For every act that feels like deprivation, there will be a corresponding binge. For every act of martyrdom, you will go off the rails. You need to be excited about moving toward this freer, less cluttered place where your footprint barely leaves a mark.

Kedren Crosby, Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Straight teeth and haircuts.

When our son needed braces, we discussed the option of exchanging work as payment for dental services. Our orthodontist was very fond of my husband John's sculptures and was interested in working on our payment in that way. Our son received the dental work he needed, and our dentist is the proud owner of an original sculpture. He has since become a collector of John's work.

The local hair stylist was also interested in purchasing some of John's work, so we have a running tab at his salon. As our tab grows, he purchases more art work and John always has a nice haircut. The upside—other than straight teeth and the haircuts—is that both of these gentlemen have become trusted and loyal friends of our family. We have all benefited from these arrangements in many other ways than we originally envisioned.

Phyllis Mishler, Goshen, Indiana

Power of a dime.

For years, people in our congregation have saved their pennies for Mennonite Central Committee's "Penny Power" relief and development projects. Then several years ago, one of our members suggested that we start our own "Don't Spend a Dime" campaign. The intent was two-fold: (1) to encourage young and old to save all of our dimes as a way of raising funds for specific mission projects and (2) every time we see a dime, to remind ourselves to pray for the church in mission.

Each year, our Missions, Peace, and Justice Committee chooses a project for us to support and highlights it in the congregation with announcements, pictures, or some kind of story-telling. Then generally in spring, the dimes and any other donations to our current project are brought forward as part of our Sunday morning offering. Over the years, "Don't Spend a Dime" has gone toward health kits, water projects in Brazil, blankets for refugees in Sudan, and other projects around the world.

April Yamasaki, Abbotsford, British Columbia

Scrap the plastic.

As a bookkeeper for an independent business, I've begun to realize how much local businesses lose when customers pay for their purchases with credit cards. I know that it's tempting to put everything on a credit card that accumulates some sort of reward, but these dividends and plane trips are not ultimately free. You may not directly pay for them, but the businesses where you shop do.

Although merchant fees are just a small portion of a purchase—often between 1 and 2 percent—by the end of the month, a hefty fee has stacked up that cuts into the ability of a small business to survive in an economy heavily tilted in favor of big businesses. I regularly see fees top $2,000 (U.S.) per month, even $3,000 during the holiday season.

For our business, this approximates the cost of employing another two or three part-time employees. Of course, it is better to pay with a credit card than to avoid shopping at a local store because you're not carrying enough cash with you. But paying in cash or check is one more way residents can lend financial support to their local and independent businesses, with no extra cost and only a minor inconvenience. Another possibility is buying gift cards from local businesses to which you periodically add money.

Michael Hanson, Corvallis, Oregon

For more information

Green America: Formerly known as Co-op America, Green America contains information and programs about fair trade, climate action, green energy, and socially responsible investing.

Mining Justice Campaign: Mennonite Central Committee in Canada engages in advocacy for mining justice.

Mennonite Economic Development Associates: An organization committed to creating business solutions to poverty. Involved in international microfinance, loans, and mentorship programs.

National Green Pages: A directory of products and services "for people and the planet." Committed to sustainable, socially just principles.

Ten Thousand Villages: One of the world's largest fair-trade organizations.

Fair Trade Certified/TransFair USA: A nonprofit organization that allows U.S. companies to display the fair-trade label.

Global Exchange: An international human rights organization that promotes environmental, political, and social justice, with a fair-trade program.

Good Stuff? A Behind-the-Scenes Guide to the Things We Buy: A free, downloadable guide to the environmental and social impacts of the products you buy and use.

List of Barter Networks: Contains links to over one hundred of the barter exchanges that have developed internationally.

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