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The divine art of penny-pinching

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March 1, 2012

By Jeanne Hunt

Many of us have had our incomes cut in half in the last few years. Recession, retirement and job losses have us wondering how to survive with less. In my mind, these events are God’s way of calling us to a deeper, more satisfying life. Failure is often God’s way of turning us in a new direction. Sometimes we just need to “come down where we ought to be” (in the words of the Shaker hymn).

Our life in the first world is very comfortable. Perhaps the Divine One is suggesting that we need to cut back on this cushy way of being and live more frugally. Could it be that the decision to live more frugally is a holy thing? It could even be called the “divine art of penny-pinching.”


This divine art is a real challenge for those of us who fill our tanks twice a week, eat in restaurants more than we eat at home, and go shopping for recreation. It is time to redirect our lives so that spending money is not crucial to our happiness.


My good friend Mary taught me the ropes of penny-pinching. Mary left a lucrative job in Michigan because her husband came to our town for his job. For the sake of love, Mary makes a home and family life that are rich with satisfaction, celebration and happiness ― for half the money. What knocks my socks off is that Mary’s marriage and home life are stronger than ever.


It is so clear that we cannot buy the good life. It comes free of charge. I watch Mary and Michael work together to be content. They make sacrifices for the other’s happiness. I am beginning to see that weaning ourselves from a fat budget can make us richer in ways that have nothing to do with our bank accounts.


Personally, I am having the time of my life being a penny-pincher. I was paying for my lunch at a local eatery when I was annoyed by some old curmudgeon in front of me who was arguing with the cashier about his bill. He noticed the ugly look on my face and apologized, “When I look at these receipts, I save about $10 a week. That’s a six-pack of my favorite brew waiting to happen!”


Following his lead, I tried taking my own receipts seriously. In one month, I saved myself $37. That old curmudgeon is a prophet. If I could, I’d send him that six-pack!


In God’s language, keeping track of our pennies is simply good stewardship and good sense. So, here are a few penny-pinching tricks that are making God smile: Buy gas in the middle of the week and only buy a prescribed, budgeted amount (for my little six-cylinder, it’s $35). The purchase must get you through the week. You will find yourself thinking of ways to save trips and gas. Do your body a favor and drink water instead of soda. Buddy up with a friend and share magazine subscriptions. Start packing your lunch. Instead of shopping for recreation, take up a new avocation ― learn to knit, write a novel, raise chickens ― whatever makes your heart soar.


A note of caution: Every so often, call a truce and do something extravagant for yourself and those you love. I’m talking about the Scrooge factor. Too much pinching can make your heart shrivel up. So, on the rare occasion, eat one piece of fine chocolate (but not a whole box). Fill the tank and go for a drive in the country. Buy a pricey anniversary card for your sweetie. It is all a matter of balance. In these holy days of Lent, join me in the divine art of penny-pinching. “Money isn’t everything,” says the Lord.

Hunt is the evangelization and catechetical advisor for Franciscan Media.

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