At my desk with paper and pencil, I clearly print out our monthly bills and the amount of each. Slowly, I add the columns. Sighing, I subtract them from our income. “How can we possibly live on only one income?” I think, anxiously. My stomach whirls in turmoil, keeping pace with other anxious thoughts racing through my mind: “How will we pay for the baby’s shots? How will we buy shoes for our baby? What will we use to buy food? We can’t live on one income!”
My husband, Steve, and I had hoped that I would be able to stay home with the baby, but now I feared it was a financial impossibility. Calculating the amount of our bills was my daily exercise in worry.
Our son’s birth had postponed serious thinking about money. For a while, the fascination of caring for this little one filled my thoughts and time. But soon grocery shopping brought my unresolved worries back to the forefront. Armed with coupons and a list, I marched into the store, prepared to squeeze every drop of value from our grocery allotment. Yet, time and time again, halfway down the list, three-quarters of our money was spent. I would panic. One time I desperately wanted to flee from the store without the groceries. Breathing deeply to calm myself, I recited portions of the 23rd Psalm. After purchasing the groceries, I made it home and decided that I had had enough. Fear must be conquered!
I knew that my worry was displeasing to God. I also realized that my fears were for the future. In the “right now” we had enough money. Jesus’ words addressed my worries: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.… Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more valuable than they?”
As I thought about this Scripture, I remembered my great-grandmother who had lived to be 97. In one of her letters she wrote me: “I want you to remember the words of one of my favorite verses: 'I have been young and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.'”
To combat my fears, I concentrated on that verse. It was God’s Word, and my great-grandmother, who had spent nearly a century here on earth, had testified to its truth. I meditated on that verse, and it became a part of my thinking. As the months passed, my husband and I saw God’s provision in numerous ways. Our garden and our fruit trees produced bountiful crops; we received unexpected gifts of clothing; and friends helped us with house repairs. These personal examples of God’s provision bolstered my faith.
Along with physical provision, God showed us the joy of disciplined spending. In the Bible I had read, “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.” I had shrugged off the impact of that verse with a wry, “Well, I must love money because I could always use more!” Now that verse irritated me! With less available money, my love for money seemed to be increasing.
I read a book on money management written from a Christian perspective. I shared the book with my husband, and together we applied some of the principles it taught. We found that money management could be accomplished with praise and thanksgiving. We tried to remember that everything we have comes from God. We wanted our attitudes toward spending money to be determined by Scripture, not by the consumer mindset of our country.
By working together to decide which items could be eliminated from our family budget, we found that sometimes one person’s luxury was the other person’s necessity! Eliminating budget items involved discussion and compromise. Continuing to develop this newfound discipline of money management, we would ask: “Do we really need this? Can we do without that? Is there a less expensive item we can use instead?”
Then I soared right past discipline to stinginess. I was even tempted to suggest that we decrease our tithe. I thought, “God is reasonable. Surely he doesn’t expect 10% of an income that has been cut in half.” Or, “I’m sure God is pleased with our decision that I stay home with our son,” and, “My time is worth a lot, so he must not expect us to tithe now.” Steve mentioned that perhaps this tight-fistedness was worry disguised — another desperate attempt to find security by clinging to money.
Steve’s comment and his own generosity motivated me to conclude that, even in disciplined spending, my trust must be in the Lord. We continued tithing, and our awareness of and gratefulness for God’s provision increased. In giving to the Lord we acknowledged — not only with our words but with our actions — that everything we have comes from him.
Looking back — two decades later
Reading this article 21 years after it was originally published reminded me of God’s amazing provision for every one of our family’s needs — whether financial, physical or spiritual.
Our family lived on one income for about a decade. I was thrilled to stay home with our kids and I know that the relaxed pace we were privileged to follow benefited all of us.
During that time, God provided for us, often in surprising ways. Once, we spent every dollar in our checkbook for a down payment and closing costs on a new home. I remember sitting on our new porch, wondering how we’d pay for groceries for the next few days until payday. That very moment, an acquaintance pulled into our driveway with a trunk full of produce. “I just felt that I should stop by and ask if you can use any of this,” he said and offered us enough fresh vegetables to see us through a week.
Despite God’s consistent reliability, in the years since writing the original article, I’ve done my share of worrying. Fretting never accomplishes anything. Faith and trust work better. However, I no longer believe that my worrying displeases God any more than my child falling while learning to walk would displease me. God is a loving parent who helps his children each step of the way — even when we worry.
When considering tithing, we still believe and practice honoring God with everything he’s given us. We aspire to generosity and giving more than a tenth of our income. However, during hard times, I don’t rigidly count the percentage. For example, we endured the illness of a family member and a lot of our resources were allocated to help with that family member’s care. During that time, I learned so clearly that God looks at our hearts, not the amount of the checks we write and place in the offering plate.
If you are considering the possibilities and challenges of living on a reduced income so that you can spend more time with family, I say: do it. I believe that God will honor your choice and provide for your every need. You can live on a lot less than you think. Your reduced income may mean you have to go without name brand clothes or brand new cars, but less time spent out of your home will get you something money can’t buy: time with your family at a more relaxed pace.