In 2009 my husband, Charles, quit his day job as a circuit design engineer to work full-time on a toy. When the toy was still in its design stages and we were living on savings, we invited a family over for dinner. My friend, also an engineer’s wife, said, “Monica, when the money starts rolling in from selling this toy, let’s talk. I’ll show you how to spend money.”
I only chuckled, wondering if she said that because of the low-end metal futon she was sitting on—our only living-room furniture besides the bookcases and the giant bean-bag my mother-in-law sewed. Did our fifteen-year-old Ford Escort seem too outdated? Maybe she was embarrassed to eat at our “dining table”—a plastic Walmart folding table we butt against the four-person dinette whenever dinner guests come?
She must have thought we were living lean until we started making a profit, but our spending was the same as when Charles brought in a senior engineer’s salary. Why did she assume we’d spend more when we started earning more? Surely she sees this is a value of ours, a lifestyle?
After all, my husband still wears the shirt he wore on our first date over twenty years ago. Charles and I still use bath towels we got as wedding gifts. I find the drying performance of a slightly threadbare towel about the same as that of a towel fresh out of Bed Bath & Beyond. We’ve never bought drinking glasses. Instead, I reuse jam jars, though that bothered friends enough that they showed up at our house with a brand-new set of drinking glasses. For cross-country ski trips, we modified the old ski rack my in-laws used when they were newlyweds by attaching wooden rods fitted with rubber furniture feet to replace the original suction cups that had disintegrated. Voila! Ski rack with rubber feet, good as new.
People don’t realize when they criticize or disdain our low-budget lifestyle, they disdain a decision we made early in marriage after reading a book by the founder of Gospel for Asia. The author, who is from India and had never worn shoes before he was 17, described his first visit to the United States:
From the moment I touched foot on American soil, I walked in an unbelieving daze. How can two so different economies coexist simultaneously on the earth? … What impresses visitors from the Third World are the simple things Americans take for granted: fresh water available twenty-four hours a day, unlimited electrical power, telephones that work and a most remarkable network of paved roads.
The statistics contrasting the affluence of American Christians with the poverty of Christians in other countries influenced us most powerfully. For example:
A friend in Dallas recently pointed out a new church building costing $74 million. While this thought was still exploding in my mind, he pointed out another $7 million church building going up less than a minute away …. The $74 million spent on one new building here could build nearly fifteen thousand average-sized churches in India.
Numbers and comparisons like these fueled our quiet, fierce resolve to ignore the criticism and free ourselves from any external opinions of what we’re supposed to have or how we’re supposed to live.
The word tithing comes with a hard numerical ceiling, so that one who tithes, if we stick to the dictionary definition, is limited to 10 percent. I prefer the words giving, generosity, and sharing. No upper limit on those words. As a pastor once said, referring to the widow who gave all she had, “It’s not how much you give; it’s how much you keep.”
Several small decisions early on added up to a lifestyle of normal habits. Here are some practical ideas we implemented:
- We started with percentage-based giving but eventually determined to keep our spending constant, regardless of income. When we get a raise, our spending remains the same—at the pre-raise budget. Instead of using the extra money to spend more, we use it to give more.
- We shifted to thinking of expenses in annual terms to get a true picture of how much we’re spending. Twenty bucks at a restaurant every week doesn’t feel like big spending each time, but twenty times fifty-two weeks does.
- Any time one of our grandparents gave us a big monetary gift, we didn’t treat it as extra spending money; instead, we put it all toward our mortgage principal, freeing up money for more substantial long-term giving down the road.
- We began designating our annual tax refund for giving.
Several Nepalese couples have opened their homes to adopt orphans and abandoned children. They need financial help to continue feeding, teaching, and loving their adopted children. A seminary in northern India trains and equips pastors and ministers in a way that restores entire villages from the despair they used to live in. They use financial gifts to support their families as they plant and pastor churches. They need gas for the motorcycles they ride to train Bible teachers in another village. Our thinned-out towels and makeshift dining table have a direct connection to all of this. We skimp for a reason.
Should Christians (or Christian businesses) tithe? How much money should I give away? Does God want me to take a vow of poverty and give everything away? Will God punish me if I don’t tithe? How do I balance my budget of needs and wants with the biblical command of giving? If you’ve ever asked these questions to find out exactly what tithing means and how it applies to you, you are not alone. We’ll explore the concept of Tithing in this High Calling theme, and we invite you to follow along. Ask questions, offer your insights, and help us keep the conversation going.