We have all heard the adage that “time is money” which is often attributed to Benjamin Franklin in his writings of Advice to a Young Tradesman. Such an idiom of course means that our time lost can’t be regained. The book of Proverbs has a similar connotation relating to agricultural labor in which “He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, But he who pursues worthless things lacks sense” (Prov 12:11).
Recently, I had the conversation with my daughter concerning a need versus a want. It was a good lesson for her to recall that not many of us live by, including myself. A year ago, our family made the decision to discontinue our Amazon Prime account. I was tired of seeing the over usage of delivery drivers sending packages that were nice to have that we didn’t really need. How easy it is for us as a society to click a couple of buttons and automatically buy a product only to be discarded or forgotten about later. It is easy to spend our money on items we want, but items that we don’t need.
We made the decision to discontinue the only steaming service of Netflix last month. We are a family of cord cutters not spending on cable tv or other streaming services. The reason is not necessarily one of frugality, but one of priorities. Of course, such subscriptions do cost money, but such an attempt was not necessarily to live frugally, but to make wise choices with the time spent together as a family. The money and time we lose by pursuing our independent pursuits and own self-serving vainglory by being glued to an electronic piece of equipment is a habit that can misplace one’s priorities.
Conversely, it can be easy to be so frugal so as to not be good stewards. I know of some people that are so frugal they become what are known as penny pinchers where the joy of living is taken away. Storing up a certain amount of treasures on earth does nothing for us in the afterlife. The Gospel of Matthew reminds us to “not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal” (Mt. 6:20-21).
As Peter’s epistle reminds us “each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Pet. 4:10). How can we best utilize our precious time and financial resources God has given to us this day?
Take for example the joy of cooking together instead of paying for takeout. How much of one’s household budget is spent on coffee, take-out and other luxuries that can be used for a greater good such as a donation to a local charity, someone in need such as our neighbor, or savings in an emergency fund? Of course, one could argue the money spent toward an establishment supports the wages of another, but not at the cost of being indebted to overindulgence. One source calculates that an average of 40% of American household budgets are spent on takeout (https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/consumers-spend-40-percent-of-monthly-food-budgets-on-restaurants-on-average-according-to-popmenu-study-301586386.html).
Another item one should take into consideration is limiting screen time at the dinner table and also during times of leisure. According to Insider Intelligence, an average of 4 hours and 30 minutes are spent on digital media and electronic devices (https://www.insiderintelligence.com/content/us-time-spent-with-connected-devices-2022). Acknowledging one another’s presence without the use of a distraction should be considered.
The subject of debt as being antithetical to the virtue of being good stewards and being frugal with our precious gifts God has given us is something to be considered as well. As St. Paul reminds us we should “ owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Rom. 13:8). Ensuring that we are not slaves to our credit cards or other financial constraints is crucial for our ability to be good stewards. Ensuring that an emergency savings fund is established for those trying times so that we can give the best version of ourselves is important in the religious life. US household debt is now at $16 trillion (https://www.reuters.com/markets/us/us-household-debt-tops-16-trillion-amid-rising-inflation-2022-08-02/). What kind of society could we live in without a debt crisis?
Lastly, the abuse and tendency of us as a society to overconsume and obtain more than needed is a major problem. According to one source, the average American contains nearly 300,000 items in their home with 1 in 20 being clinical hoarders (https://www.saybrook.edu/unbound/more-more-more-overconsumption/).
Let us examine our roots so that they may flourish and bear good fruit for the wellbeing of not only ourselves, but for one another as well. As the prophet Jeremiah reminds us of, “He is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: It fears not the heat when it comes, its leaves stay green; In the year of the drought it shows no distress, but still bears fruit” (Jer. 17:8)