Why do with less?

One of the reasons we decided to do the 30 Days of Nothing is simple: bills. Our daughter’s health issues this summer used our medical savings plan faster than we’d anticipated, and I’m eager to get things paid off. We don’t have much debt, and I get uncomfortable when the bills stack deeper than usual. But there’s a deeper reason to take this journey, one I haven’t talked a lot about this year. It has to do with the concept of entitlement.

Currently I’m sitting in a coffee shop with a Mexican mocha steaming in a cup in front of me. Once a week I take a writing day, and this is just what I do: head off to a coffee shop, and plow through some writing assignments undisturbed. Thinking of next week, I’m not sure what I’ll do on my writing day. Part of me thinks, oh, it’s $3. Let’s call that an essential. I’m entitled after rassling a zillion kids all week long.

But that sense of entitlement is a tricky thing.

I’m entitled to a cup of coffee, even though I can make something just as good at home. I deserve a new blouse, even though my closet is bulging. I earned the money (or at least the stellar credit rating) to buy a new car- never mind that my 10 year old paid-for rig is still chugging along. And the chipped-up vinyl floor in my kitchen– no one’s floor should look like that– we really should do something about that. Or so the thoughts go in my mind.

Meanwhile, the coffee farmer who grew my posh coffee can barely feed his family. My closet could clothe half a village, and the clothes I just discarded from my little girls’ room could clothe the other half. My 1998 Ford Econoline would make most people in this world feel as rich as a sultan (though, granted, the gas would bankrupt them). And kitchen floors in homes all over the world are just dirt.

How much am I really entitled to? And if I didn’t have such a large sense of entitlement, what could just a bit of my excess accomplish for someone else? Tough questions. Questions we’ll be thinking about this month.

{ 45 Comments }

  1. Thank you Mary for putting my exact thoughts into words! I struggle with balancing the American lifestyle with my first-hand knowlege of how the rest of the world lives… I have been so blessed, but I wonder if I’m doing enough?

    “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Luke 12:48

  2. Your post really made me think. I have been struggling with doing the 30 days of nothing because I LOVE to shop. I often tell myself that after a long day I am entitled to go to target and pick up a few things I want. I hope this month I will be able to reflect and decide what really is important to me and my family. Thank you for posting this today!

  3. Our trip to adopt our daughter in 2005 definitely changed our views about personal entitlement. Our daughter’s birth county is the economically poorest county in her province, which is one of the three poorest provinces in China.

    We have expendable income every month. We typically choose to not spend it. We no longer ask ourselves “can we afford it?” Instead we ask ourselves “do we need it?” and, if we don’t need it, but rather want it, then we typically wait for quite sometime until we splurge.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. And I love LeeAnn’s Scripture choice.

  4. I am actually just finishing a month of this challenge. I sort of took it on by myself.

    It is amazing how many things we buy because we feel entitled. When I started the month I would see things in the store and think I needed them. But I didn’t buy them because I was on a challenge.

    About half way through the month I realized I only need to buy things that we truly need. Like when the toilet paper is down to the last roll or two, or when the bottom of a kids shoe starts to come apart from the rest of the shoe.

    We are so trained to feel entitled by commercials and ads that we have lost sight of shopping for need rather than want.

    It took me a few weeks to break that habit but now when I go shopping I ask myself, “Do I really NEED that or do I just WANT that?” There is a big difference.

    Good luck with your 30 day’s.

  5. Geesh, that should read

    Good luck with your 30 days of not spending!

  6. Really good points. Really puts things into perspective!

  7. Ahhhh…. something I was just wrestling with yet again today, as I wrote our “distant son” in Ethiopia. We met him while there bringing home our daughter. He’s constantly close to my thoughts. May God give us His wisdom as we each seek to discern the difference between want and need. And may it free us up to give more to others.

  8. Mary, thank you for posting this thoughtful reflection. It’s such an important issue that feels as if it’s often be overlooked by the church. When we’re asking these questions (and living out answers), it makes sense of who Jesus is to people in powerful ways. You rock. –Ali

  9. My family has been on this same journey for this past year! I think you hit the nail on the head with the idea of “entitlement” – unfortunately it’s pervasive in the American church as well. It’s almost expected that you are improving your looks, your wardrobe and your house. I’m getting to the point where I can’t look at a possesion without thinking how many children “it” could feed or the medication it could supply to someone who can’t afford it, etc! I hope there is a revolution of simplifying and that we would actually encourage each other to spend less (not just to be frugal, but to be generous!)

  10. We are planning to do the 30 days here. I hope to post our choices on my blog soon.

    You hit the nail on the head with entitlement. Thanks!

  11. Great post, Mary! You hit the nail on the head (and stopped me from purchasing some scrap supplies that I had in my shopping cart!).

  12. Thanks for this post. I’ve been struggling with this recently. Just this week DH has been car shopping. Our oldest daughter is getting her driver’s permit in September and with her (potentially) driving to/from work & school we thought a 3rd vehicle would make our lives ever so much easier. Initially we thought we would buy an inexpensive car for her and just yesterday I thought to myself, “If we’re spending money, why can’t I have the new car and she can drive my old one (that’s paid for).” After reading this post, I realize that’s not what we need but what I want. I think I’ll suggest to DH that we postpone a vehicle purchase.
    Thanks for bringing this to the forefront.

  13. Excellent post. Thanks 🙂

  14. OK, I totally understand, and agree with most of what you’re saying. But you’ve worked hard to be where you are and you shouldn’t feel too guilty over the things you wrote about. If you tithe or give to organizations who support the unclothed, unfed, underhoused, etc., then you have no reason to feel remorseful about your coffee/car/floor. We give clothes to Goodwill all the time because I like to think of people buying good clothes for next to nothing! Heck, I buy good clothes at Goodwill!

    Anyway, ramble over. If it bothers you, don’t do it. (simple, huh!)

  15. It’s all about your perspective in the moment, isn’t it?
    We are so ridiculously wealthy compared to much of the world, yet perhaps “deprived” by comparison to our American neighbors or , certainly, the portrayals of our neighbors given by slick advertisers. Politicians pandering for votes play to our sense of entitlement, talking about Americans who don’t know how they’re going to make it… “make it” meaning something entirely different than what it means to a family in a famine-stricken area of Africa. It’s a challenge not just to keep your head on straight but to even figure out what straight is.

  16. I spend more each month on World Vision sponsorships than on food for myself. I very rarely buy anything, like say, clothes, or books, or gas for my car, or anything at all. Unless I need it for work. And whenever my circumstances improve and I have more money on hand, I increase my scheduled donations first, and then look at what I can do for myself. I’m still disgustingly rich compared to most people in the world, but at least I feel like I’m sharing as much as I can afford, and hopefully a little more some times.

    I applaud your effort and hope you find what you’re looking for.

  17. Excellent points! One of our favorite books to read is Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I think the reason it is so appealing to our whole family is they worked together to produce what they needed. They didn’t feel they were entitled to this or that. Their reward was their own hard work and ingenuity and in the end they were happy and content.

  18. Excellent post. Our ( New Zealand) culture is also one of entitlement. It’s is so pervasive that you have to be deliberate about resisting the idea of what we are entitled to. I find our children so easily absorb this idea, especially through advertising which just makes them want, want, want. Restricting TV really helps with this (actually none of us watch tv because we moved our furniture around and now the aerial doesn’t reach the plug hole.) and also I don’t read junk mail. Also, I try to teach my kids that we don’t go to the shops/mall for entertainment. We go there if we need something.
    I like Laura’s comment above. Frugality is one thing but frugal alone can make one stingy. Frugality and generosity is where the fun really begins because you can see how much of a difference you can make in the world by forgoing a few luxuries. We are incredibly blessed in the west! Even many of our poor are far better off than thousands in undeveloped countries. We need to start with gratitude.

  19. Urgh!! Oh, the heartburn that this post is causing me. Thank you, Mary, for the challenging thoughts.

  20. I think of this almost daily. I wrestle between being thankful for what I have and being embarrassed that I have so much–even worse, embarrassed at how much of my possessions are things about which I may have used the words, “I need…” when I bought it.

  21. Yes, it is SO hard to wrestle with these questions – necessary though. Thanks for giving us a reason to think more about them.

    Heidi

  22. You are entitled
    to this time.

  23. This is such a great question…I suggest watching a short video – from the Nooma Series by Rob Bell called “Rich”. It really put things into perspective for me and really makes you think..

    It is a short 12 minute clip and very powerful…you can see a preview of it here..

    http://www.nooma.com/Shopping/ProductDetails.aspx?ProductID=316

    Enjoy your blog! Thanks for sharing!
    Shelley

  24. Mary, i read you blog often and i have gotten so much from it since i started reading, i often think of things you’ve written as i go about my day and i just wanted to let you know that you inspire me !! I have been thinking of taking up your 30 days of nothing challenge but i just dont know if i can do it, but even if i dont officially play along i will defintely be thinking twice about what is an essential in our house and if i really need to run to the store
    Thanks again for your great blog and
    Thanks for sharing so much with us
    cassandra

  25. Brilliant post to start our 30 day challenge, Mary. I have been focussing on the “need” rather than the “want” for the past 2 years out of necessity, and it has become a habit. I am going to be looking for many more ways to cut my spending in the next 30 days. Entitlement is a big word. I need to think more.

  26. I am really excited about the challenge. This entry touched me becuase I was just moaning to my dh last night how hard September was going to be. I really am not a shopper but three of my children have a Therapy appointment for sensory intergration disorder for 2 hours daily 10 days in a row, starting 9/8. During the past loops for this my youngest and I have wandered through stores to kill the time. THat led to picking up little things here and there. THis time I will just have to be more creative in how to kill that time. My family is having a big meeting today on our “not buying it month”.
    Blessings,
    Dawn

  27. Hmm. Interesting stuff, Mary. I understand your discomfort with entitlement. That said, one thing to think about (just as an example) might be taking a look at where your coffee comes from. The farmer who grows the coffee depends on people to keep buying coffee. If everyone stops buying that coffee, the farmer is out of a job. Perhaps it’s possible to go beyond the entitlement issue (which might be considered a personal issue) and investigate how to be a more conscious consumer (more of a global issue). I’m just kind of thinking as I go here, so I may not be getting my message across very well. Off to think some more…

  28. So Beth’s comment above really got my memory stirring! When I was in campus ministry, several of my students got involved in an effort to choose out of buying items produced by sweatshop labor. But this created a huge rift in the fellowship because other students were saying things like, “If we stop buying Nike shoes than the children in sweatshops are out of jobs.”

    And I guess that’s true, but the fact is that the farmer growing coffee (unless it’s Fair Trade) and the kiddos in sweatshops are not making a sustainable living. If we only bought fair trade coffee, then the multinationals who are really making the money would simply have to pay their coffee farmers and shoemakers a living wage. This is a solution that those folks can live with, though it cuts into our “pockets” more.

    My husband and I have struggled with this for a long, long time. We try to live very simply–but we chose that simplicity to make space for justice for the poor in our broader world. We realized about three years ago that this meant if we wanted coffee or shoes or bananas (three biggies), we needed to support fair trade economy. It means a lot fewer cups of coffee and pairs of shoes and bunches of bananas, but we drink, wear and eat in peace.

    BTW, there is an excellent documentary about the coffee issue, and specifically how it connects to Ethiopia called “Black Gold.”

  29. Mary– I read you every day. I find you an inspiration because your life is extraordinary though, to you, it may be ordinary. Here’s what I see — a mom, raising a family of 10 children (amazing to this mom of three), opening her home through adoption, keeping focused on the important things in life, staying humble, devout, and upbeat. You’ve inspired me in so many ways and now you’re inspiring me to consider doing 30 days of nothing. Am I brave enough? We shall see. 🙂

  30. That’s a very astute observation. While I don’t always go to the extreme of thinking about people in foreign countries when I consider whether what I want is a need versus a want (entitlement), I do often find myself thinking, “Is this a waste of money down the road?” It’s stopped me from buying many a things and asking myself, “Will I really be happy paying triple for eating out?” has helped me go to the grocery store instead of a restaurant.

  31. I think it’s great to be wise with our money and generous with others, at the same time I don’t want to feel guilty for enjoying the blessings that I have. So many of God’s servants in the Bible were very wealthy, because God blessed them in that way. When I read the Bible it seems that God enjoyed blessing them. Don’t get me wrong I can totally see what your saying and it’s good to think and pray on it. I guess I’d be curious what you think about it biblically. Is it wrong to enjoy your financial blessings, if you are tithing and being generous?

  32. Kathrin from Germany says:

    I love the post and feel the same way. Sometimes I think it’s good to simply realise it.

    Kathrin

  33. Considering 30 days of nothing here. Thank you a thousand times, Mary.
    God’s not finished with me yet!!!

  34. What a great post Mary. You summed it up so well. I feel the same way.

  35. Great post. I like the way you think. I will be checking back frequently.

  36. mom in ohio says:

    Thank you. I just found your blog. While I usually am one to remind myself how rich we are compared to much of the world…this week I had a crazy meltdown and literally (and I am ashamed to admit) cried myself to sleep one night b/c I was tired of feeling “poor”. My toilet seat is cracked in half, my kitchen floor is coming up, my freezer is broken. But still we make do just fine. I am really looking forward to reading about your month. I am desperate for some new inspiration!

  37. Excellent post. I’ve been thinking a lot about this and this post has helped me continue to do so.

  38. Wow! Yes!

    I echo the first commenter, who quoted Jesus’ words that of those whom much has been given much will be demanded. How those words spoke to me in South Africa last month.

  39. Linda Shields says:

    I’ve always wondered about one thing you mentioned: How does refusing to purchase coffee help out those who earn “too little” from it??? I really cannot wrap my mind around that. Isn’t too little better than nothing at all? Seriously, I’d like someone to ‘splain it to me!

  40. Thanks for giving me something to think about… I will mention this too my husband of course this means he has to give up his 8 dollar or computer magazines woo hooo !! lol

Trackbacks

  1. […] read THIS POST on the 30 Days of Nothing Challenge, and I was intrigued. Basically, the challenge is that for the […]

  2. […] realize the difference between  privileges and true needs. You can read more about the challenge HERE if you’re […]

  3. […] for doing this include a disturbing sense of entitlement and taking control of our spending.  It will be difficult, as anyone who did in September can […]

  4. […] Why do with less? Share and Enjoy: […]

  5. […] $1.64 quite frequently and I often feel like I’ve earned it. I read a great article about entitlement recently and it hit me so hard, I just can’t justify this expense any more (at least not when […]